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Saturday, July 23, 2016

Seoul, Get Ready To Have A Blast This Summer!

Alrtight, alright, alright, all you party people out there; here’s an important announcement to make: The hottest party organizers in town are back and this time around, it’s going to be one hell of a party. You got it right, Nepz Party Rockers In Korea (NPRIK) are back with yet another happening event and this is going to be the coolest one ever. The event titled ‘Summer Pool Party’ is the first Nepalese pool party event to be taking place in Seoul. The event scheduled for Sunday, July 31st is taking place at Seoul Sports Manridong 2 of 2 in Jung-Gu, Seoul; from 12 PM to 10 PM. Early birds get a ticket for ₩ 25,000 and it will cost ₩ 30,000 at the door, along with a complimentary drink. The event will have an open swimming competition as well and you got to show them what you got. DJ Ave will be spinning the discs at the event that will have every drink you need and any Nepali food you have been craving.

So, all you party people out there, get your dancing shoes ready for the most amazing Nepali event taking place this summer. Get more details on NPRIK’s Facebook page HERE.

See the poster below for more details.

summer

The post Seoul, Get Ready To Have A Blast This Summer! appeared first on NeoStuffs.

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Our Family’s Strategies for Saving a Mint on the Back-to-School Season

It’s an annual tradition of sorts for parents all across the country. The summer starts to wind down. They get a letter from the school telling them about their student’s enrollment for the next year and who their teacher is. They start seeing hints of “back to school” at the store and in their mailbox. Their children are dressed in clothes that are almost too small and are worn from a summer of play.

It’s time to start thinking about going back to school.

When I think about the fact that we have three school-aged children (our youngest starts first grade this year), I can’t help but wonder where the time has gone. Here we are, though, with our children chattering at the dinner table, comparing thoughts about teachers and letting their younger siblings know what to expect in the coming school year.

This, of course, means that our three children are going through the “back to school” process all at once. That means buying school supplies, replacing grubby shoes, purchasing clothes that are appropriate for the fall and early winter here in Iowa (the temperature starts dropping in September and we can have some really cold days by mid-October), and so on.

No matter how you slice it, it’s an expensive period. School supply shopping and clothes shopping for three children at once? Ouch.

Over the years, though, we’ve developed a number of strategies that really help with cutting down on the back to school expenses, and this year, more than ever before, we’re putting them to the test.

We Utilize Tax-Free Holidays

Many states offer tax-free holidays throughout the year on certain types of goods. These tax-free holidays offer a chance to shop for particular types of goods without paying any sales tax on your purchases, which saves money buying locally. On top of that, many stores offer sales on the tax-free items on those days.

In Iowa, for example, the state offers a tax-free holiday on clothing and footwear on the first weekend in August. Because of that, many people buy school clothes on that weekend and retailers often offer big sales to attract all of those buyers. It’s a perfect time to buy things like shoes and some clothes.

Other states offer tax-free holidays on other items, from clothes and computers to school supplies and shoes.

Because of this tax-free holiday and its timing, it sets the schedule for our back-to-school shopping, at least in the clothes and shoes department. We use a few additional strategies in the days before the tax-free weekend to minimize our spending during that weekend.

We Actively Swap and Hand Down Clothes

At some point just before the tax-free holiday, we spend some time evaluating our clothes. What still fits? What’s worn out? What can be handed down from our older children to our younger ones? What can our youngest one hand down to younger relatives? What hand-me-downs from older relatives are finally the right size for our children to wear?

This kind of evaluation helps us figure out what we actually need. It also allows us to get plenty of use out of the clothing that they wear, plus we are able to “pay it forward” with regards to the clothes that were handed down to us.

Surprisingly, this process doesn’t take all that long. We just take out all of the clothes and make several piles – one “keeper” pile for each child and a “hand-me-down or giveaway” pile. We then figure out the “keeper” pile for each child and see what’s needed.

We Shop for Clothes Secondhand First

Before we jump into buying new clothes during the tax free holiday, we do some shopping at secondhand clothing stores first. We try to fill the holes in wardrobes there first, as the prices are far lower than what we’ll find during the tax-free holiday.

We can afford to be really selective when doing this, but at the better local used clothing stores, there is usually a lot of good used clothing almost every time we visit. Yes, some of it is worn and, yes, some of it doesn’t suit our children’s tastes or sizes, but all we have to do is find one or two items and the trip is well worth it.

On a typical used clothing trip, we find three or four outfits for each child, which drastically reduces our tax-free holiday clothes buying needs.

We Shop for Supplies at Home First

What about school supplies?

Our first tactic is to simply “shop at home.” We go through all of our art supply boxes and closets, looking for school supplies from previous years, and determine how many of them are still usable.

Things like pencil cases, backpacks, erasers, pencils, pens, rulers, and so on from previous years can almost always be reused. We also often have new supplies from previous supply shopping trips (see below), so there’s even more savings.

We usually just collect everything that might be reusable, dump it all out on the kitchen table, and mark the reused things off of their school supply lists.

We Take Advantage of Summer Yard and Garage Sales

Our area tends to have constant yard sales all throughout the summer. Different cities and towns host city-wide yard sales all throughout the spring and summer and many individuals have yard sales outside of those dates, so if you’re willing to visit sales, you can often find them.

What do we buy there? Everything that works for back to school. We’ve picked up clothing, binders, rulers, art supply boxes, and protractors at yard sales in the past year or two, all of them for literally pennies and all of which wound up being used by our children at school.

As always, going to yard sales is like rolling the dice as you don’t know what you’re going to find or at what quality, but I seem to always find a handful of gems during a day of hitting yard sales.

We Use Flyers

A lot of stores – both clothing stores and more general department stores – issue flyers in the week or so before Iowa’s tax-free weekend and they’re virtually always loaded down with clothing sales. So, a few days before that tax free holiday, we sit down with those flyers and plot out where we’re going to shop for clothes.

A few weeks after that, the department stores start in with strong back to school sales on their school supplies, so, again, we’ll sit down with the flyers and see what’s on sale that matches up well with their school supply lists. We often end up hitting multiple stores because of the quantity of items we’re buying; it actually warrants two or three stops if the biggest bargains at each store are different.

Honestly, it’s not always the same stores. Sometimes we have a gift card for a particular store, which swings the balance. At other times, we’ll have a coupon that gives us a certain percentage off at a certain store, which also can really swing the balance. Sometimes, we buy many of our supplies at a dollar store. It really just depends on what’s going on this year, and we figure that out by looking at lots of flyers.

We Use Coupons, Too

Often, there are coupons in other places besides flyers for back to school items. For example, we’ll browse Target’s Cartwheel coupon app looking for additional coupons. Although Target might not be the best choice overall, coupons can certainly help if you’re choosing Target for other reasons (such as a gift card or a percentage discount) or because they have one or two specific highly discounted items in their flyer.

For us, coupons are the icing on the cake rather than the main course for saving money on back to school shopping. Coupons represent a small additional discount – I liken it to printing off dollar bills if we’re buying lots of items – but the bigger discounts come from planning around tax-free holidays and finding the best bargain prices from the flyers. Coupons just add additional discounts to the pile.

We Get Plain Notebooks and Folders and Allow Children to Decorate Them with Stickers

Stores love to sell notebooks and folders with popular cartoon characters and pop culture figures depicted on them. Of course, stores also love to mark up those items to an absurd degree compared to the plain-covered items right next to them. It’s pretty hard to justify paying $2 for a notebook with Pokemon on the cover when there are functionally identical plain notebooks stocked right next to them for $0.10.

Unsurprisingly, though, our kids gravitate straight toward the notebooks with characters on them. They want to have the “cool” notebooks at school, and I understand that.

One way we “compromise” on this issue is by buying just plain notebooks and folders, and then letting the children pick out a pack of stickers with which to decorate the folders and notebooks, however they’d like. If they’re into Star Wars, for example, they could buy a pack of Star Wars stickers and put the stickers all over. They can also use art supplies at home to add whatever decorations they’d like to their notebooks.

Doing this gives our children a great deal of creative freedom, creates a great art project for them to work on in the days before school starts, and also saves us quite a lot of money as the much cheaper notebooks more than subsidize the cost of a few packs of stickers.

We Limit the Items where Children Can Choose

With many of the items that we’re buying during the back to school season, there are loads of potential items for our children to choose from. There are infinite variations on shoes, shirts, pants, notebooks, and on and on and on.

Naturally, our children want at least some input into this conversation. They don’t want to wear shirts in colors they dislike or carry a notebook with a popular culture figure on the front that they dislike, either. My oldest two children have somewhat more specific tastes as well – my oldest one has very, very specific tastes in pants, for example.

Our way of handling this is very simple. We tell them that we’re going to do the selecting of the items, but if they find similar items at the same price, we’re happy to substitute them as long as the other items aren’t offensive in some fashion (for example, we won’t let our children wear shirts with offensive slogans or clothes with tasteless cuts or something like that).

This gives our children significant freedom of choice. At the same time, it also teaches them to look at the prices when they’re picking out clothes and other items. They can’t just grab the one that they want – they have to think about the prices, too. It doesn’t cost us a dime and it makes everyone involved happier.

We Allow Them a Small ‘Budget’ for Items Beyond the Minimum

Of course, sometimes they spot an item that they “must have.” Maybe it’s a new backpack that’s nicer than the model that we chose for them. Perhaps it’s a sturdier and higher quality notebook (something I personally can identify with). Perhaps it’s a pack of really nice gel pens. Maybe it’s the coolest t-shirt they’ve ever seen.

We handle this by giving each kid a small “back to school allowance” that they can use to “upgrade” any of the items that we might purchase for them. For example, if we’re going to spend $8 on a shirt that they don’t like and they spot one for $15 that they love, they can “upgrade” that shirt for $7 out of their “back to school allowance.”

This allows us, as parents, to come up with reasonable shopping lists for each child that are reasonably balanced from child to child. We don’t spend more on one child than another (outside of the variances in their back to school lists), so any situations where one child has something “nicer” than another child is solely due to their own choices.

It also helps us to teach our children how to budget and how to not be jealous of the things that others have while also keeping our overall back to school spending in line.

We Buy Extras of the Items for Our Older Children If the Bargain Is Big

As our children grow older, the items they need for back to school purposes become more consistent. They need pencils. They need pens. They need notebooks. They need erasers. Those things pop up year after year after year on their lists.

Our children are also progressing through the same grades at the same schools as their older siblings, so the “back to school” list one of them had one year is usually identical to the list that their younger sibling will have in a year or two.

Because of that, we keep our eyes peeled for huge loss leader discounts, like boxes of pencils for a quarter or notebooks for a nickel or composition books for a nickel or rulers for a quarter. When we find those sales, we’ll buy two or three or five or ten of the item right now, knowing that we’ll be able to use them for the next few years during back to school time.

We keep these extra items in a box with our other art supplies so that when the back to school period happens, we can just pull out that box of unused school supplies and use them to take care of a healthy portion of our list before we ever leave the house.

Basically, this allows us to stretch those top-notch sales across multiple years of back to school shopping.

There’s a secondary benefit to this approach, too. Often during the year, our children will come home and announce that they’re out of pencils or that they lost their ruler. In those situations, we can just turn to that box of very cheap supplies we bought in bulk and pull out the exact items that they need (most of the time).

We Watch for Potential Art Boxes

One item that often pops up on our school lists is the art supply box. They need something to keep their markers, colored pencils, scissors, glue and other such materials in when they’re not actively working on an art project. The teacher usually gives some free reign regarding the specifics of the box.

Of course, if you actually buy an art supply box at the store during the back to school rush, they tend to be fairly high priced unless you buy a very simple and basic one.

Our solution is simple: we’re always looking for potential art supply boxes. We don’t just use the ones that are placed out with the other back to school items. Instead, we watch for all kinds of variations on the idea, from lunch boxes to interesting plastic containers, and sometimes those items fall into our laps for free.

For example, we were given some great little plastic containers with hinges on them when a friend brought some cookies and told us to just keep the container. That container became an art supply box for our daughter the next year and she decorated it herself with some of her “back to school” stickers (see earlier in the article).

Final Thoughts

For some, it might seem a little early to start thinking about “back to school” needs, but the reality is that school starts for many children within the next few weeks and many of the best back to school strategies require a little bit of time and patience. It takes time to shop for clothes at several different stores, for example, and it takes time to look at the flyers from several different stores to figure out which ones offer the best deals on the items you need.

What’s the reward for all of that effort? The reward is that you’re going to save a bundle of money on the back to school shopping that every parent seems to have to deal with. You’ll have plenty of supplies for now, supplies tucked away for the future, and plenty of well-fitting clothes in good shape, all purchased at very low prices.

It just takes a little bit of time and planning to save a lot of cash.

Good luck!

The post Our Family’s Strategies for Saving a Mint on the Back-to-School Season appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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Should You Ever Refinance a Car Loan?

More than half of used cars and a full 86.3% of new cars were purchased with a loan in the first quarter of 2016, according to Experian. The average new car buyer borrowed $30,032 for 68 months for their new ride, while the average used car buyer borrowed $20,723 for 66 months.

Compare those figures to last year’s, and you’ll notice an expensive trend. Each year, Americans commit to borrowing more money to buy both new and used cars – and to repaying their loans for an even longer stretch of time. Remember when most people took out a car loan for 48 months or less? These days, people are spending so much on cars, they’re forced to drag those monthly payments out longer than ever – and even up to 84 months.

Worse yet is the amount of interest we pay collectively. As the Experian study notes, the average interest rate on new cars was 4.79% early this year, while used cars financed at a dealership carried an average rate of 7.81%. Used car loans using independent financing, on the other hand, came with an average interest rate of 12.22% that quarter.

Imagine a $20,000 loan at 12.22% for 66 months. After forking over $418 per month for five-and-a-half-years, you’ll have paid $27,566 for a car that is now worth just a few thousand bucks.

Heck, even at 4.79%, you’ll pay a lot of interest to drive your new car off the lot. With the average new car loan of $30,032 set at 4.79% for 68 months, you’ll wind up spending $34,352 and forking over $505 per month for almost six years of your life.

Either way you cut it, that’s a high price to pay for a depreciating asset.

Should You Ever Refinance a Car Loan?

If you find yourself with a car payment you can’t really afford, you have several options to consider. Unfortunately, none of them are all that attractive.

First, you can attempt to sell your car or trade it in for something cheaper. If you owe more than your car is worth at this point, however, dropping your car is much easier said than done unless you’re willing and able to make up the difference in cash.

The second option is to bite the bullet and pay off your car. It might take a while, but you can save money on interest and speed up the payoff process by making additional payments towards your car loan. As long as your auto loan doesn’t come with prepayment penalties, this is a smart option to consider. Unfortunately, if you’re struggling to make your monthly payments in the first place, it’s pretty unlikely you’ll be able to pay more each month.

Lastly, some people also consider refinancing their car loan. While that might not seem like a great idea, there are times and situations where doing so actually makes sense.

Three Situations When Refinancing Your Car Loan Might Make Sense

Just like refinancing your home can help you save money on interest and lower your monthly payment, the same situation may apply to your car. Here are a few instances when refinancing your car loan might make sense:

  • Interest rates have dropped. If interest rates have dropped considerably since you purchased your vehicle, you might save money by refinancing your car at today’s low rates. This is especially true if you believe you can get a loan with a rate that is considerably lower than what you’re paying now.
  • Your credit score has improved since you took out your loan. If your credit score has improved dramatically since you purchased your new or used car, you might qualify for a much lower interest rate when you refinance, which could help you save quite a bit of money. Consider that 12.22% interest rate in the above example — that’s what many people are paying if they’re unable to qualify for dealer financing, probably due to less than perfect credit. If your credit score improves enough to secure a more reasonable rate, such as 5%, the savings would be tremendous.
  • You need a lower payment to avoid default. If you’re struggling to afford your car payment and worried about defaulting on the loan, refinancing into a new loan with a lower rate or longer term can help provide some breathing room. Just remember that extending your loan for a longer period of time will typically cost you more in the long run, not less. However, that’s a trade-off worth making if it spares you a default.

What to Consider When Refinancing a Car Loan

Refinancing a car loan can make sense in the situations described above, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t risks involved. Before you pull the trigger and jump into a brand new loan, you should consider these potential disadvantages:

  • Extending the length of your car loan can lead to paying more – not less – on your loan. While lowering your monthly payment can improve your cash flow, that doesn’t mean it will help you save money in the long run. By refinancing your car loan and extending the length of repayment, you can wind up paying more for your car than if you had simply stayed the course with your original loan.
  • Lowering your monthly payment could leave you ‘upside-down’ on your loan longer. If your auto refinance extends your repayment period, you might build equity at a much slower rate. Meanwhile, your car will depreciate in value. As a result, you might owe more than your car is worth, or be “upside down” on your loan, for a longer period of time.
  • Watch out for prepayment penalties. The vast majority of car loans don’t charge a prepayment penalty, but that doesn’t mean that yours doesn’t. Make sure your existing car loan doesn’t charge a fee to pay off your loan early. If it does, you’ll need to factor the cost of that fee into your decision.
  • Refinancing isn’t always free. Most of the time, you can refinance your auto loan without incurring any additional fees for doing so. Still, you should always inquire about fees or charges with your chosen lender before you pull the trigger.

If you’re stuck with a car loan that doesn’t fit in with your lifestyle, refinancing is one option to consider. If you choose this route, however, it’s important to remember that refinancing won’t automatically leave you better off.

To benefit as much as possible from your refinance, you should opt for a new loan with a lower rate and an equivalent or shorter repayment timeline if possible. That way, you’ll get the benefit of a lower rate without paying on your car loan longer.

If you have to extend the length of your loan to qualify for some reason, you can always continue paying the same amount you paid before — with the peace of mind that you could make a smaller payment one month if money gets tight. As long as your new loan doesn’t come with prepayment penalties, you can pay it off as quickly as you want – and still save money on interest along the way.

The Bottom Line

Refinancing an auto loan can be a smart move in certain situations, but other times, it might only extend the pain. Make sure to run the numbers and consider both your short-term and long-term financial goals before you get tied up in yet another loan you’ll have to pay off.

It might also pay to ask yourself why you keep borrowing money in the first place. If all you need is basic transportation, buying a used car and paying in cash might leave you wealthier in the long run.

Related Articles:

Have you ever refinanced an auto loan? How much do you owe on your car, and what is your monthly payment? 

The post Should You Ever Refinance a Car Loan? appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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Friday, July 22, 2016

Sanjeet Shrestha’s New Music Video Has Prakriti Shrestha With Her Hubby Dearest

2013 blockbuster film ‘Hostel’ introduced some promising new talents to Nepali cinema and one of them was, Prakriti Shrestha. The Kathmandu girl who already had won thousands of hearts with various music videos such as ‘Ko Hola Tyo’, ‘Honey Bunny’, ‘Purnimako Chandrama’, ‘I Love You’ and more; became a promising new name in the film industry with her debut film. She continued to do some other films, including ‘Utsav’, ‘Zindagi Rocks’ and ‘Aavash’. She was undoubtedly one of the most promising new comers to have entered the industry in the recent years who had almost everything that could make her the next big thing – good looks, decent acting skills, a lot of film offers and a huge fan following. We were quite surprised when she got married and moved to Australia with her husband, Sudeep Neupane, in 2015 and left a good career behind. As her fans, we were sad to see her go; but we were happy for her because she chose what made her happy. The couple now resides in Melbourne and the two are enjoying their good life together. Well, that’s the thing that matters the most.

The couple had starred in a music video for Sanjeet Shrestha’s ‘Juni Varilai’ when they were in Nepal. It had become quite popular as Prakriti’s fans saw the real-life couple on screen for the first time. A sequel to the song has been recently released and we are happy to see the couple again. The song titled ‘Juni Varilai 2’ is written, composed and performed by Sanjeet Shrestha; and the beat is produced by Brijesh Shrestha. The music video featuring the beautiful couple is shot by Ravi Dhungana and directed by Rupert Gurung in Australia.

Listen to this beautiful song below and let us know what you think of it.

The post Sanjeet Shrestha’s New Music Video Has Prakriti Shrestha With Her Hubby Dearest appeared first on NeoStuffs.

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Best Car Insurance Companies of 2016

Price: It’s the single most important factor for a lot of car insurance shoppers. Choosing a policy based on rates alone could cost far more out of pocket when filing a claim, however, and, statistically speaking, that will happen to each driver at least once every 18 years. It pays to get the right amount of coverage, whether it’s the cheapest package or not.

The best auto insurance companies have more than just competitive prices; they also offer versatile coverage options, superior customer service, a solid financial report, and an excellent shopping experience. I researched all of those factors and discovered that only four of the nation’s biggest insurers impressed me enough that I would recommend them to family and friends.

Find the Best Car Insurance Rates

Enter your ZIP code below and be sure to click at least 2-3 companies to find the very best rate.

Best Car Insurance Companies: Summed Up

Car Insurance Companies Best For…
Amica Best Overall
State Farm Customer Service and Interaction
The Hartford Policy Options
USAA Members of the Military

How I Picked the Best Car Insurance Companies

First, I conducted an in-depth analysis of 15 auto insurance providers. I gathered data on 86 different features (like a 24/7 claims center or discounts for electric vehicles), organized them into 12 categories, and scored each company on a 100-point scale. Below are the categories I used, along with the weight each one was given in the test.

Category Test Weight
Policy Coverage 13%
Vehicle Coverage 13%
Driver Discounts 11%
Policy Management 10%
Getting Started 9%
Mobile 6%
Payment Options 10%
Claim Management 8%
Support 6%
Additional Benefits 6%
Vehicle Discounts 5%
Learning Materials 3%

Next I incorporated learnings from auto experts, insured drivers, and third-party studies into my evaluation and calculated the final scores. I organized this research into three distinct categories, which are outlined below.

  1. Claims and Price Satisfaction: I looked at J.D. Power’s 2014 Auto Claims Satisfaction Reports, Insure.com’s Best Car Insurance Companies for 2014, and Consumer Reports’ 2014 Car Insurance Ratings to get a bird’s-eye view of the industry across the nation. I also conducted a survey of 100 insured drivers who had filed a claim within the past 12 months.
  2. Ease of Shopping: I applied for quotes from over 15 auto insurance companies to evaluate the shopping experience. I also considered J.D. Power’s 2014 Auto Insurance Purchase Experience Ratings, which asked customers about their personal take on local agents, call-center representatives, and websites.
  3. Financial Strength Ratings: I used A.M. Best to gauge financial stability. Any company with a “B” grade or below is considered vulnerable, so I chose companies with an “A-” or above.

The Best Car Insurance Companies of 2016

Amica: Best Overall Car Insurance Company

Amica was the strongest company overall in my research, and ranked number two in J.D. Power’s 2015 customer satisfaction report — that means out of 11,469 surveyed drivers, it had the second highest satisfaction rating among more than 20 different companies. It also received the highest Consumer Reports rating among auto insurance providers. Consumer Reports even noted that an overwhelming number of customers reported “relatively few” problems during the claims process.

Pros

  • A high J.D. Power satisfaction rating: Amica received a perfect score in 4 out of 7 categories in J.D. Power’s 2015 auto insurance study.
  • High financial stability ratings: Amica boasts a “Superior” financial stability rating from A.M. Best, which is the highest rating available.
  • No repair facility restrictions: Unlike most every other insurer, Amica has zero restrictions on which body shop you use for repairs.
  • “Platinum Choice” coverage: Amica offers an additional tier of coverage called Platinum Choice, which costs more, but includes identity fraud monitoring, full glass coverage, prestige rental coverage, and rewards for good driving.
  • Best array of coverages: Amica offers the most driver and vehicle coverages of all my top recommendations. Its list includes GAP insurance and interior vehicle coverage, which aren’t offered by State Farm, The Hartford, or USAA.

Cons

  • Quote process is less than desirable: Whether you start online or over the phone, you will eventually wind up on the phone to get an official quote — that can tack an extra 20 to 30 minutes to the process.
  • Fewer driver discount opportunities: Amica is missing a few key driver discounts, including pre-pay, low mileage, and military discounts. Consequently, it scored only 46 out of 100 in my driver discount evaluation.
  • Few online resources: There are a few FAQs on the site, but Amica lacks in-depth online materials to help customers get a complete grasp on their purchases without having to talk to someone. Additionally, some policy changes require direct assistance from an Amica agent, which can be time-consuming.

State Farm: Best Car Insurance Company for Customer Service and Interaction

State Farm is the largest car insurance company in the nation, per Insurance Journal in 2016. Fortunately, it’s also one of the best — especially when it comes to the customer service experience. In 2015, State Farm received high praise from J.D. Power for its service interaction and claims handling. And of all the insured drivers I surveyed, it received the most positive remarks by far.

It is incredibly easy to get in touch with State Farm. You can call one of the company’s 18,000 agents, go online, or even send a picture of your damaged car with your smartphone using the Pocket Agent mobile app. Compare that to Amica, which doesn’t allow you to connect with an agent via an app, or file a claim through an agent. State Farm also gets high marks for a pain-free shopping experience that lets prospective customers call their local agent or chat with a representative online if they have any questions.

Pros

  • Superior claims handling: No other insurer makes it easier to file a claim — a fact corroborated by its high service rating, 18,000 agents nationwide, and excellent mobile app. Sure, most other auto insurers offer the basic trifecta of phone, app, and email contact to agents, but State Farm’s is the easiest to use by far.
  • Great financial standing: State Farm has an A.M. Best outlook of stable, and a “Superior” overall rating — the highest given.
  • Best online quote tool: Out of all the competition, State Farm has the simplest online quote tool. In less than five minutes, it’ll guide you completely through the process, replete with thorough examples of coverage options.

Cons

  • Missing a few common driver discounts: Like Amica, State Farm lacks two extremely common discounts: pay-in-full, and automatic pay. These two discounts don’t save a ton of money, but are definitely nice options to have — and are offered by my third pick, The Hartford.
  • Lacks a couple of important coverages: Unlike its competitors, State Farm doesn’t offer stacked uninsured motorist or new car replacement coverages. That could be a deal breaker for someone who lives in a state with an incredibly high rate of uninsured drivers.

The Hartford: Best Car Insurance Company for Policy Options

The Hartford is only the nation’s 11th largest insurer, but it still packs a punch. In fact, it had the highest score in my 12-category feature evaluation (92 out of 100). It also offers a wide range of policy options and benefits (including rates based on how much you actually drive your car and a new car replacement program for cars totaled shortly after purchase) and was the only insurer to score a perfect 100 in my vehicle-discount evaluation.

Pros

  • Mechanical breakdown coverage: Mechanical breakdown insurance helps cover the cost of repairs that aren’t covered by your car’s warranty. The Hartford is the only one of my top picks that includes this coverage.
  • Useful policy benefits: The company provides not only a solid set of coverages, but also a great selection of policy benefits. For instance, frequent travelers will appreciate The Hartford’s towing and roadside assistance programs.
  • Excellent purchase experience: The Hartford is one of two national providers to receive a perfect “Overall Purchase Experience” score from J.D. Power.

Cons

  • Less-than-average claims satisfaction: The Hartford received a perfect score in my claims management evaluation, but according to J.D. Power, customers are still less than satisfied — it received only a 2-star rating for service interaction.
  • Fewest online educational resources: The Hartford offers the fewest online learning materials among this field of competitors.

USAA: Best Car Insurance Company for Members of the Military

Throughout my research, I found that the company’s stellar reputation holds true. If you are a member of the US armed forces, or are related to one, there is no better option than USAA.

It is one of the three highest-rated automotive insurers in the country. The only downside is its limited availability: USAA only services the immediate families of active and former members of the military. Given those restrictions, the quote process is a bit more intense compared to its competitors, but that’s a small price to pay for its exemplary service.

Pros

  • Rated no. 1 nationally for purchase experience: USAA received the only perfect score in J.D. Power’s 2016 report.
  • Solid financial stability: A.M. Best gives USAA the highest possible stability rating: “Superior.”

Cons

  • Membership restrictions: USAA is only available to members of the military and their immediate family.
  • Missing three key vehicle coverages: USAA doesn’t offer GAP insurance, interior vehicle coverage, or new car replacement coverage.

Other Car Insurance Companies to Consider

Progressive

Progressive is worth noting due to its variety of discounts and special coverages that could shave a decent amount of green off your monthly bill. For example, the Snapshot tool allows Progressive to reward you based upon your driving habits. Have an anti-theft device? There’s a discount for that too. The company also offers pet injury coverage — which is included with collision, and comes standard in most states. However, Progressive’s scores across the board were only average, and I couldn’t justify recommending it over my top picks. And, despite what Flo, Progressive’s famous, peppy insurance cashier, would lead you to believe, its mobile apps ratings average out to just under 3 out of 5 stars.

Erie Insurance

If you live in the South, Midwest, or Mid-Atlantic regions, Erie Insurance is worth your consideration. Erie has consistently received high marks from J.D. Power and Consumer Reports, but didn’t make it into my top four recommendations due to limited availability — it only serves residents in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and certain parts of DC.

Outside of that, Erie is one of the best commercial auto insurers, offering policies that come standard with coverage for road service, lawyer fees, and loss of earnings. It also has particularly comprehensive coverage options that include extras such as money toward rental cars after a crash (this is usually an add-on policy with most insurers).

Auto-Owners

Auto-Owners Insurance is available in 26 states located primarily in the South and Midwest. It uses an agent-only model that promotes customer relationships, so if you prefer talking to a human being, Auto-Owners is a great choice. The company also scored a nearly perfect score in J.D. Power’s 2015 satisfaction report, falling short only in the realm of its rental car experience.

States Serviced by Auto-Owners:
Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin

Choosing the Right Amount of Coverage

Let’s say I live in Florida and cause an accident that injures another person to the tune of $40,000. If I only have the state’s minimum bodily injury protection ($10,000 per person, $20,000 per accident), I’d be responsible for the remaining $30,000. But, if I had purchased more than Florida’s minimum — say $50,000 per person and $100,000 per accident — I wouldn’t have to pay a single dime out of pocket.

Sure, upgraded coverage means a higher monthly premium. But which would you rather do: Pay an extra $80 a month or wind up owing a lump sum of $30,000 out of pocket? It would take an accident-free 30 years to spend the same amount on the extra coverage. And remember: statistically speaking, you are going to get in a wreck every 18 years. Hopefully, it’s nothing more than a fender bender, but if the worst should happen, you’ll appreciate being fully covered.

That’s why it’s incredibly important to understand what type of coverages you need, and how much coverage you need, before you start shopping for a policy. And in the same vein, it’s also crucial to compare rates that include more than your state’s minimum required coverages (which you can find online at your state’s DMV). You do not want to be the victim of a serious accident only to find out after the fact that you’re underinsured.

Below is a comparison of the coverages offered by my top four auto insurance companies, and a breakdown of each type of coverage.

Vehicle and Policy Coverages Amica State Farm The Hartford USAA
Bodily Injury Liability
Personal Injury Protection
Property Damage Liability
Rental Car Coverage
Stacked Uninsured Motorist Coverage X
Uninsured Motorist Property Damage Coverage
Pet Injury Coverage X X X X
Collision
Comprehensive
GAP Insurance X X X
Interior Vehicle Coverage X X X
New Car Replacement X X

Types of Auto Insurance Coverages

Bodily Injury Liability: Coverage against bodily injuries to others in an accident that is your fault.

Personal Injury Protection: Coverage for injuries sustained by the driver or any passengers, often including medical bills and lost wages.

Property Damage Liability: Coverage against property damage to another party in an accident that is your fault.

Rental Car Coverage: Coverage for your rental car if it is damaged or stolen.

Stacked Uninsured Motorist Coverage: Coverage that allows you to combine or “stack” the individual limits of coverage on multiple insured vehicles in the same household.

Uninsured Motorist Property Damage Coverage: Coverage that protects against property damage caused by an uninsured or underinsured motorist.

Pet Injury Coverage: Coverage for injuries to your pets sustained in an auto accident.

Collision: Coverage against any damage resulting from a collision.

Comprehensive: Coverage against any non-collision vehicle damage including fire, theft, or vandalism.

GAP Insurance: Coverage that pays the difference between the actual value of a totaled car and the balance remaining on an auto loan.

Interior Vehicle Coverage: Coverage of personal belongings inside of the car, like your clothes, sound system, or purse.

New Car Replacement: Coverage that will replace a totaled car with a brand-new version if it is less than one year old.

You should shop for a policy every two years

Contrary to popular belief, car insurance companies don’t just calculate rates on risk alone. It goes much deeper than that. Welcome to the world of “price optimization,” which is the practice of setting rates based upon how much insurers think customers are comfortable paying. Simply put, it’s a way to maximize profit.

In 2013, Earnix found that 45 percent of larger insurance companies analyze a ridiculous amount of customers’ personal data (like social media posts, credit scores, and web shopping habits). Then, they churn the data through a proprietary algorithm that estimates how likely you are to shop around. By doing so, they can charge you based upon a perception of your level of comfort, raise profit margins, and do it all without causing you to lift an eyebrow.

The best way to prevent falling victim to this practice is to shop for a new policy every one to two years. Companies are aware of your online activity, so the more quotes you get, the less likely you are to be tagged as someone who won’t jump ship for a better deal. Plus, it helps you find a policy rate that reflects you as a person and isn’t based on predictive analytics.

Find the Best Car Insurance Rates

Enter your ZIP code below and be sure to click at least 2-3 companies to find the very best rate.

Should I use an agent or go online?

Depending on which companies you consider, you may have to decide whether to do business with an insurance agent or purchase a policy online. If you value face-to-face relationships and personal service, it’s hard to beat an agent. But all agents aren’t created equal. Some are “captive,” meaning they sell car insurance for only one company. Others are “independent,” meaning they can sell car insurance for multiple companies. Here are a few things you should consider for each scenario.

Using Captive Agents

The biggest benefit to captive agents is that many aren’t primarily motivated by commission. That means they have less of a reason to “sell you” and more of a reason to spend quality time educating you. Going with a captive agent also makes sense if you’re already committed to a particular company. Additionally, they will know their company’s policies and coverages from top to bottom.

Using Independent Agents

Independent agents have special access with several companies and help you to find the best rate available. However, some companies pay higher commission than others, and that means you may face pressure to choose a particular company or coverage plan.

During my research, I interacted with several independent agents who refused to give me a single detail about higher-priced plans. Despite my persistence, I was repeatedly asked, “Why would you want to consider something that costs more?” and did not get the information I wanted. On the flip side, if your rates go up after committing to a policy, independent agents are best-suited to help you negotiate a lower price.

Shopping online

Some companies allow customers to do business directly online. If you’re a self-starter, this could very well be the most convenient option. And in some cases, it may also be the cheapest option.

The biggest downside to buying a policy on your own is the risk of underinsuring yourself. Buying the wrong policy, or a policy that doesn’t have state-mandated coverage levels, could cost you a pretty penny if the worst should happen.

The Bottom Line

Remember: The cheapest auto insurance is not necessarily the best. My advice is that you first determine the exact coverages that you need, and then shop around for the most affordable policy. And the best place to start your search is with The Simple Dollar’s quote tool below. Just type in your ZIP code to shop and compare rates from my top recommendations (State Farm, USAA, Amica, The Hartford) and more.

Find the Best Car Insurance Rates

Enter your ZIP code below and be sure to click at least 2-3 companies to find the very best rate.

The post Best Car Insurance Companies of 2016 appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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Personal Finance and Grit

A few weeks ago, I made an offhand mention in a reader mailbag about the wonderful book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth.

Duckworth defines grit in very simple terms – it’s simply perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Since long-term goals are a huge part of personal finance success, there’s naturally a lot of overlap between this idea of grit and some of the smarter strategies for your money.

Grit offers up a four-step recipe for, well, grit:

Step one: Identify a burning passion.
Step two: Practice it with commitment.
Step three: Find inner purpose in your work.
Step four: Persevere when things get hard.

Together, these elements significantly improve the chances of an individual succeeding at a big long-term goal.

The problem with terms like this, which is similar to the problem that one might find in other similar business and “big idea” books, is that it doesn’t really dig down into how to translate such talk into day-to-day practical use. Things like “identify a burning passion” sound great, but how do they really work when it comes to real life or when it comes to more mundane things like retirement savings?

I actually find that the “grit” framework here lines up pretty well with my own experience of making a big, tough goal work – yes, even with money goals.

Applying the ‘Grit Steps’ to Money Goals

Why do people struggle with long-term money goals?

That’s really the $64,000 question, isn’t it? If we truly understood why people didn’t succeed at the goals they come up with for themselves, then it would be easy to help almost anyone with an adequate income to save for retirement and achieve their dreams.

But it’s not that easy. We’re tempted by things. The very resource we need to achieve things like a secure retirement or a better rebooted career – money – is the very resource that drains out of our hands due to the temptations of modern life.

Can Duckworth’s framework really help with that challenge? I say yes, and here’s how.

Step One: Identify a Burning Passion

I think this is the very point at which people get into trouble with long-term money goals. It is hard to be passionate about retirement or other long-term financial goals.

Many people, when they’re young and they’re at the point in their lives where retirement savings is the easiest and most beneficial, find it very hard to visualize retirement. They can scarcely envision themselves getting old. They almost can’t imagine having a pile of money in the bank that would sustain them in retirement age – try talking about having multiple millions in savings to a 23-year-old making $35,000 a year. All of it feels so incredibly out of reach.

That’s why it’s important to not focus on the money and not focus on the idea of a traditional retirement. Both of those things are unrelatable as can be.

Instead, focus on what you think would be the absolute best things you’d love to be doing with your sixth and seventh decades on this earth. Starting at about age 50 or 55, what would you do if earning an income were no object?

If this were me, I’d get into my vehicle and start towing a camper around the country to visit every single national park. I’d camp at each one for a good week or two. I’d hit the Alaska parks in the summer by driving through Canada. I’d walk trails and backpack around every day until my somewhat older bones begged for rest, then I’d head back to the campsite and build a fire and crash for a few hours with my wife, reading books until the daylight faded away.

That. Sounds. Awesome. Just the thought of spending six months to a year of my life (or more) doing that sounds beyond incredible to me. It gets me excited just thinking about that.

That’s my burning passion. It’s that picture of my wife and I visiting all of the national parks, walking on trails together without a worry in the world. I want that picture so bad I can taste it.

It’s a long-term goal. It’s not entirely realistic at this point, with three relatively young children at home. So, what do I do? I keep that goal in mind each time I make a hard financial choice. When I choose to save, I remember that big beautiful picture.

What’s your amazing vision for the future? What kinds of things do you dream about doing?

Step Two: Practice It with Commitment

Once you have that big vision in mind, ask yourself what you need to do to make that big vision become a reality.

Most financial goals start with one key element: You’ve got to have a lot of money in the bank. It might be enough for retirement, or it might be the initial investment you need for a business. Whatever your dream, it usually starts with a pile of cash. A good retirement target for most Americans is $1 to $2 million.

From there, it’s all about breaking down that pile of cash. Start off by asking yourself how many years there are until you’re 55 or 60 or 65 or whatever your target age might be. Perhaps there are thirty years left, which is good.

The next question: How much do I have to save each year, assuming an average of a 7% annual return, to make it to my target number? This requires some number crunching, but here’s a rough estimate for you – divide your total target number by 100 and you’ll be pretty close to the amount you need to save each year to hit your thirty year target. So, if you want to hit the $1 million mark in 30 years, divide $1 million by 100 and you’ve got yourself an annual goal of $10,000. The more you save, the faster you get there; the less you save, the slower.

Divide that by 12 and you have your monthly goal (about $850). Divide the annual amount by 52 and you have your weekly goal (about $200). I suggest dividing it down so you know how much you have to save each and every pay period.

That is your goal, each and every week (or each and every month). It’s your recipe for achieving your dream.

How do you turn it into a commitment? Automate it. Sign up for automatic contributions to your retirement plan at work. Set up a Roth IRA on your own and set up automatic contributions to that. Set up a normal taxable investment account and set up automatic contributions. You want that savings to occur without even having to think about it, so that the commitment doesn’t waver even when life gets crazy and your big goal isn’t right at the front of your mind.

Step Three: Find Inner Purpose in Your Work

Most people view their jobs as drudgery, something they have to do in order to have “fun” in their spare time. I tend to view my work differently – I view it as the time and energy I’m trading right now to have that amazing goal later on. Every time I do an exceptionally good job, I secure my current work and put myself in line to earn more money, which means my goal moves closer and closer to reality because I can save more each week/month/year.

In other words, I tie that big beautiful goal of mine into my daily motivation at work. Every single day that I hit a home run in my professional life, I bring that goal a little bit closer because I’ve increased my chances for better pay.

Still, that’s an external motivation. What about internal motivation? Having both kinds of motivation is kind of like setting off a rocket at your back, propelling you to career success.

Internal motivation is different for everyone. Some people are motivated by the desire to improve themselves. Others are motivated by curiosity. Still others are motivated by helping others or by doing creative things or by the big overall mission of their work.

Even if you find your job miserable, there is likely something about it that you value. Maybe it’s the quiet moments when you can do interesting work. Maybe it’s the camaraderie with coworkers. Whatever it happens to be, accentuate it. Look for opportunities to maximize that part of your job while still pleasing your employer.

In other words, don’t try to build internal motivation on a weak structure. Look for the motivation you already have, then look for ways to do that thing more, whatever it might be.

Step Four: Persevere When Things Get Hard

There are times when this journey is going to seem terrible. The goal is going to seem way too distant. You’re going to feel like you’re giving up things you want today for it and it’s going to seem like a bad trade. You’re going to completely loathe your current job.

At those moments, the difference maker is perseverance. Put your head down and push through them. If possible, look for a way to move around the problem by finding a new job.

What you’ll find is that over time, the bad parts of life tend to fade away and the good parts remain and grow stronger. Your mind naturally discards the bad and keeps the good. That’s why most of our memories are positive ones (yeah, there are always a few negative ones, but they’re usually far outnumbered by the good ones). Our brain holds onto the good stuff.

This is also where automation helps. In those dark moments, it’s often easy to stop pushing toward those big goals, and if you left things up to your own means, you’d probably choose to stop saving. Automatic savings makes that much harder – rather than just passively choosing not to do anything, you have to actively turn it off, and most of the time, you won’t do that.

Final Thoughts

The recipe for grit for your financial goals is simple. Dream up a big goal. Break it down. Automate your steps toward that goal. Motivate yourself at work, internally and externally. Push through when it’s tough and rely on that automation.

It’s that very recipe that will make it possible for you to stick to that big goal year after year, and then before you know it, that goal will start seeming more and more and more real as you get closer and closer to it. Suddenly, you’ll have that big vision you dream of.

It’s up to you – and a little bit of grit.

The post Personal Finance and Grit appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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I Sat Through a High-Pressure Timeshare Sales Pitch (and It Wasn’t the Nightmare I Expected)

Enduring a high-pressure timeshare presentation was never on my must-do list. Then again, it’s not that difficult to lure me in with the promise of a cheap vacation when all you’re asking for is two hours of my time.

It all started when I received an offer from Holiday Inn Vacation Club: five nights at the Holiday Inn Orange Lake Resort in Orlando, Fla., for a grand total of $299. That’s just $59-ish per night in case anyone is counting, and the trip included a two-bedroom condo with all the comforts of home and then some.

We’d planned to take our kids to Disney World one day anyway, so I went ahead and pulled the trigger. And since we had a two-bedroom condo, we invited my daughter’s best friend and her parents along, too.

There was just one little catch. All we had to do in exchange for this great price was sit through the dreaded and infamous two-hour timeshare presentation on site.

This was annoying, yes — but I figured it couldn’t be that bad. While timeshare presentations are notorious for their brutal and unforgiving sales tactics, there was no way they could force me to buy into it… right?

The Timeshare Pitch

The presentation itself was scheduled for our third day at Orange Lake Resort. This was after we had already visited the Magic Kingdom, and we’d decided to make it a pool day for our crew. So we left our kids with our friends from home and set out for our presentation. We weren’t sure what to expect, or how miserable the sales spiel would make us.

When we arrived, we had to fill out the basic paperwork you might expect – a questionnaire gauging our interest in travel, a signed sheet that confirmed our annual household income, and an affidavit that said we don’t work for the resort or one of its affiliates.

Then we were off. The first salesman we dealt with, Darren, stole us away for a golf car ride around the enormous resort. Riding from building to building, we got a feel for the place, visited two furnished timeshare models, and saw all the pools, lazy rivers, and splash pads for ourselves.

Orange Lake Resort in Orlando is undoubtedly huge – it feels more like an actual town than a resort. We were actually impressed with the grounds themselves, the way each lawn was manicured with precision, and how the entire place looked clean and fresh. But we knew our joy ride would be over soon, and the heavy sales pitch would begin.

Once our tour was over, we were taken to a sales building where we were offered snacks and coffee or water. Then our salesman set down with us to discuss our travel and vacation goals.

“What are your travel dreams?” he asked, flipping through photos of his own family vacations.

I have to admit, he had taken quite a few. From hiking in beautiful mountains to staying in top resorts in Hawaii, Darren had seen and explored a lot.

Since I was deeply curious as to how timeshares work these days, I didn’t let on right away that we weren’t interested and, instead, let him continue. And that’s when I learned the many ways timeshares have changed over the years.

Timeshares, Then and Now

The timeshares of the past were much more fixed and rigid than some offered today, Darren told me. Where you once got a fixed week or set of weeks each year without much flexibility, some of today’s timeshare programs, including the Holiday Inn Vacation Club, function with a point-based system instead.

With a point-based system, timeshare owners are able to pick any week or dates they want – and can get “discounted stays” that cost fewer points if they travel at off-peak times. As an added bonus, the points system allows people to book partial weeks or long weekends, and book larger or smaller accommodations based on the size of their group on a given trip.

Our sales presentation went on to include more details on the various resorts you could book using the points system. Members can use their points for resorts outside of the immediate Holiday Inn Vacation Club network, including at InterContinental Hotel Group properties in Italy, Amsterdam – almost anywhere. They can transfer points to their IHG Rewards account as well.

That was pretty cool, I thought, because the old way timeshares were sold – with rigid fixed weeks at one resort – doesn’t work for everyone. Personally, for example, I prefer to travel Tuesday through Tuesday, because flights are almost always cheaper. Plus, I really hate the idea of being forced to travel the same week every year.

Saying ‘No’ to the Hard Sell

I thought the new points structure was pretty cool, but I was immediately turned off by the next segment of our presentation – pricing. We sat and listened while Darren explained our options, noting that you pay an up-front price for your timeshare, but are also responsible for property taxes and annual maintenance fees that varied depending on your package.

While there were several levels of pricing and point accumulation, by and large, the timeshares we looked at started at around $17,000.

My husband and I braced ourselves for the hard sell. Because, as we all know, high-pressure sales tactics don’t necessarily ramp up until you actually say “no.”

When we finally got the point across that we were absolutely, unequivocally not interested, Darren seemed to take the hint. He still came back with a few zingers and follow-up questions, but he eventually relented and let us move on.

Of course, he was only the first sales person we would have to turn down. A few minutes later, Darren’s manager showed up to find out how we could possibly turn down their offer.

We already travel a lot on our own, we explained, and we do so rather frugally. I was honest about the fact that I liked their product, but also that it wasn’t for us. Darren’s manager seemed to understand and let us move on – again – to our last and final salesman.

This guy was charged with making a last-ditch effort for our business, plus driving us back to our car when we were done. He spent a few more minutes going over their packages and explaining what we could be missing out on, then invited us to come back for another inexpensive timeshare trip.

My husband firmly told him “no,” this time, and he seemed fine with it.

“We just want you to enjoy yourself and come back,” he said, adding that we could still book this hotel and stay at any IHG property whether we bought a timeshare or not.

Then he drove us to our car and that was that.

Common Misconceptions About Timeshares

I have to admit, my husband and I expected a lot more pressure than that. We have heard countless stories of timeshare sales techniques that were brutal and bullying, and we have heard many, many people say that their timeshare presentation lasted much longer than was planned.

Ours took two hours on the dot, and we never felt overly pressured or bullied in any way. I could tell they were pushing us at times, but it wasn’t so bad that I felt defensive or uncomfortable in any way.

I liked the timeshares themselves – with their large living areas, multiple bathrooms, and the many other resort options you can book with your points.

With timeshares, what bothers me is the fact that you pay for ownership upfront, then continue paying for maintenance fees and taxes as long as you’re an owner. And you might end up owning them much longer than you ever intended – some timeshares can be extremely difficult to sell.

In that respect, I tend to believe that a timeshare is an awful investment. I mean, why spend that money when you can easily rent hotels or condos online, for any dates that you want, and without restrictions or rules to follow?

When I later explained that point of view to Pat Connolly, chief customer officer for Orange Lake Resorts, he basically said that timeshares were never meant to be an investment that grew in value.

“In reality, it is an investment in yourself, your family, and the time you spend together making memories,” he said, adding that timeshares offer something else you can’t get when you book through VRBO or Hotels.com – continuity.

“The other issue is that people do not understand the type of accommodations and flexibility timeshare provides,” he said. “Our resorts provide larger accommodations, more resort amenities, extra activities, and a consistent vacation experience.”

After spending several nights at the resort, I can totally see that now. Not only was our condo nicer than anything I have ever booked through VRBO, but there were nonstop resort activities going on, from outdoor movies to contests and games. Plus, there were myriad on-site restaurants and arcades to visit. When you rent a vacation condo to get more space, you don’t always get these options.

Another woman I spoke to on the property, a timeshare owner, echoed these same sentiments to me. After saying that she owned several timeshares, including one through Holiday Inn Club Vacations, she told me it was the best money she spent each year.

“I like the routine of it,” she said, adding that she likes to visit the same resorts every year at around the same time. And because she has a timeshare, she is guaranteed a certain type of room and a certain level of quality she has come to expect.

“It’s like prepaying your vacation for your entire life,” she told me. “That’s how I see my timeshares at least.”

Circling back, her explanation sounded similar to what Connelly told me. “Vacations are a personal benefit, not a typical financial investment that seeks traditional financial returns,” he said.

It’s hard to argue with that. I mean, is a brand-new, $40,000 truck a good deal or sound investment? Probably not, but lots of people love their vehicles and enjoy buying one every few years regardless of the fact new cars depreciate in value in the time it takes to accelerate from zero to 60.

And the same can be said for nearly any grown-up toy purchased for our enjoyment – like a boat or a jet ski, for example. All of them can bring you joy and help you make memories with your family — but there’s no denying their value drops like a rock.

Timeshares aren’t really much different, except that you’ll pay for ongoing maintenance and fees for the rest of your life or until you sell it or pass it down. But for some people, apparently, it’s worth it.

Is Sitting Through a High-Pressure Timeshare Pitch Worth It?

It’s true that I found their product puzzling. But then again, I tend to find most items people spend money on confusing as well.

Personally, I like the idea of booking whatever vacation I want whenever I want, without the worry of rules or dates or points or anything else. My husband and I also try, as a rule, to never spend too much on depreciating assets.

Finally, I would never commit voluntarily to a scenario that required me to fork over cash for taxes and maintenance for the rest of my life. Not only does it not fit in with my lifestyle, but it sounds scary as hell.

Still, we got a very cheap vacation for our trouble, and it wasn’t that hard to say “no.” And if anyone asked me, I would definitely suggest sitting through a timeshare promotion to get a cheap or free hotel deal for your family if you’re the type who can stick to your guns. At the very least, you’ll get a tour of a property you might want to visit again in the future.

The key to resisting the high-pressure sales component is standing firm in your decision to decline. Simply say “no thanks” enough times, to enough salespeople, and they will eventually relent.

And no matter what, always remember that no one can force you to buy anything. No one. Your vacation dollars are, and have always been, yours to spend — so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Have you ever sat through a timeshare sales pitch? How does your experience compare? Also, we would love to hear from timeshare owners: How do you feel about your purchase? Was your timeshare a good deal?

Related Articles:

The post I Sat Through a High-Pressure Timeshare Sales Pitch (and It Wasn’t the Nightmare I Expected) appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Fresh Tunes: Pradeep Chapagain’s ‘Mann Parcha’

A fresh new love song is here all the way from Sydney. Pradeep Chapagain has released a new song from his album ‘Quarter Tone’. The song titled ‘Mann Parcha’ is written by Pradeep himself and composed by Sanjeev Singh. The song arranged by Maharaj Thapa is mixed and mastered by Suraj lal Joshi. The music video that features Yogi and Punam is shot, edited and directed by Aashiq Regmi.

Watch the music video below and let us know what you think of it.

The post Fresh Tunes: Pradeep Chapagain’s ‘Mann Parcha’ appeared first on NeoStuffs.

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Best Credit Report Site

I am guessing that a lot of The Simple Dollar readers already know their credit score. Even if you can’t recite the exact numbers off the top of your head, you probably know the general range. (I’m in the mid-700s.) I am also guessing that a lot of readers don’t regularly check their credit reports. Sure, there are a few of you who have calendar reminders to get your free, federally mandated credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com, but the rest of us haven’t looked at a credit report in years.

The problem? One out of every five people has an error on at least one of their credit reports. That’s direct from the FTC. Even worse, 5 percent of those errors “could lead to…paying more for products such as auto loans and insurance.” So you need to be checking your three credit reports for errors. There was an error on one of my credit reports, and there might be an error on yours.

The Simple Dollar’s Top Picks for Best Credit Report Site

It took me around 19 hours to research and review 22 different credit report sites to find which was the best to improve — and protect — your credit.

I was able to eliminate more than half of the services right away because they didn’t provide a complete set of credit reports and scores. Dan Crimmins, financial coach with the firm Crimmins Wealth Management in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, and author of award-winning financial blog Roots of Wealth, explains: “A good service should provide credit scores and credit reports from all three credit agencies: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. These reports allow you to verify that the information is correct and that no one is stealing your identity or committing fraud using your accounts, Social Security number, or other personal information.”

Yes, Crimmins is referencing both credit monitoring and identity theft monitoring, both of which are essential components of a top-level credit report site. (Some services bill themselves primarily as a credit report site with identity theft monitoring included, and other services consider themselves an identity protection tool that also track credit reports and credit scores — the marketing doesn’t matter as long as you’re getting all the necessary information.) To make my top picks, I also looked for credit report sites that offered educational tools to help you improve your credit, from calculators to help you predict your future credit score to articles and blogs to help you make smart personal finance decisions.

MyFICO: Best for People Who Want to Improve Their Credit

Logo for myFICO 150

The Fair Isaac Corporation, now known as FICO, is one of the biggest names in credit scores. It makes sense that its credit report service would be focused on helping you get that FICO score as high as possible. It’s also what puts the company at the top of my list — myFICO makes it so easy to track and improve your credit score. It’s $30 per month, which is more expensive than the three-bureau options offered by my other picks, but if your credit needs work, the extra cash is totally worth it.

MyFICO contextualizes your credit reports.

I don’t know if you’ve read your credit reports recently, but they are not designed to be understood at a glance. You have to figure out, on your own, that “COMENITY BANK/ATYLRLMC” means “Ann Taylor MasterCard.” (It had great rewards.) Then you have to look at every box representing every month that you’ve had that card open, to make sure there aren’t any errors, like a reported late payment when you’ve always paid on time.

Full Size Screenshot of myFICO Credit Report

MyFICO’s credit report comparison tool, including reports from Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.

MyFICO gives you everything you need to know about your credit reports on a single screen. If you want to see anything in more detail, you can click through and learn more about the positive and negative items on your credit reports — and whether you need to dispute anything.

Identity Guard and IdentityForce both combine your three credit reports into a side-by-side comparison report, which makes it slightly easier to compare information collected by each bureau. However, the services don’t contextualize that information, which means you’re still doing the work of translating credit-report-ese into comprehensible language.

AnnualCreditReport.com, of course, does none of that. You get your three credit reports for free, and you’re on your own.

Screenshot of Experian credit report

An Experian credit report provided by AnnualCreditReport.com.

MyFICO’s Score Simulator shows you what you can do right now to improve your credit.

This is my favorite myFICO feature. The Score Simulator allows you to test out various scenarios that might affect your credit, from applying for a new credit card to making your next few payments on time instead of late. (MyFICO doesn’t judge.) If you’re thinking about applying for a home loan, myFICO gives you a list of credit-building actions to consider (and simulate) so you can see what your credit score might look like three months down the road.

You’ll notice, as you use the Score Simulator, that each of the three credit bureaus treats these actions slightly differently. Consolidating my credit card balances, for example, might make my TransUnion score go up by 10 points and my Experian score go down by 10 points.

Screenshot of mrFICO Score Simulator

MyFICO’s Score Simulator lets you see how different actions could affect your credit scores.

If you’re curious about why doing something like consolidating your debt can make one credit score go up and another credit score go down, it’s because the three bureaus each analyze and value credit data differently. (For more on that subject, read myFICO’s “Why are my scores different for the 3 credit bureaus?”)

If you want to get your credit score as high as possible, maybe because you’re apartment-hunting or shopping for a loan, take some time to figure out exactly which steps will get you there. (The Score Simulator lets you combine actions into multi-step scenarios, like “pay down your debt” followed by “increase your credit limit.” It’s that thorough.) Even if you only have one month to improve your credit, myFICO can help you boost that score.

Identity Guard and IdentityForce both offer credit simulator tools, but they don’t include myFICO’s graphics and they don’t give you as many simulation options. They also don’t suggest steps to take before applying for a mortgage or an auto loan. You can still test scenarios and their potential effects on your credit score, but the tools aren’t as versatile as the one myFICO offers.

MyFICO graphs your credit score’s ups and downs.

MyFICO and Identity Guard both include mobile apps that allow you to view your credit score and receive alerts, but myFICO’s app has an extra feature: a graph that illustrates how your credit score changes from day to day. (This graph is also available in the desktop interface.)

My TransUnion score, for example, went up after I made my monthly credit card payments and went down after I charged a few purchases to my credit cards. My Equifax score went up and stayed up. My Experian score didn’t change.

Split screenshot of myFICO Score Graph

If you’re right between two credit categories (like “good” vs. “very good”), you can use these graphs — and the data they provide about why your credit score changed — to bump your credit score up into the higher category right before you fill out an apartment application or do something else that might involve a credit score check. Even if you’re not on the cusp of a better credit category, it’s still fun to watch the numbers go up and down. MyFICO is the only service I tested that provided a credit score graph, which is one more reason why it was my top pick.

MyFICO provides a quick link to the dispute process.

MyFICO made it very easy for me to start the dispute process for the one error I found on my Equifax report (it listed a former address as my current one). I followed a link from myFICO to Equifax’s site, and from there followed the instructions to file a dispute — and learned that this error appeared to have already been resolved. Credit reports are constantly pulling in new information about you, so it looked like Equifax had already figured out its mistake. If the error hadn’t been resolved, it would have been relatively simple to submit my current address; after that, it’s on the credit bureaus to confirm the information and update the credit report (or deny the dispute request).

All of the services I tested included links and/or instructions to help you dispute errors on your credit report. MyFICO provided the most visible links, although Identity Guard provided the most thorough instructions. (It was through Identity Guard, not myFICO, that I learned that the bureaus are supposed to respond to credit report disputes within 30 days, as well as what to do if you don’t get a response or if you disagree with the response.) However, it’s worth noting that when it came time to file my own dispute, I clicked the link at myFICO because it was the biggest.

Screenshot of myFICO dispute links

MyFICO monitors your credit — and your day-to-day transactions.

MyFICO keeps an eye on your credit report for any changes that might represent potential identity theft, such as a new credit inquiry or an address change. It also tracks your day-to-day transactions, kind of like Mint, YNAB, or other personal finance tools — but myFICO doesn’t care if you stick to your budget. MyFICO just wants to make sure that every transaction that hits your credit cards or bank accounts is actually yours.

Both myFICO and IdentityForce offer transaction monitoring — Identity Guard does not — and I should mention at this point that I almost neglected to set up myFICO transaction monitoring because its dashboard was a little cluttered and my eyes never went to the below-the-fold, off-to-the-side spot that told me the feature wasn’t turned on. However, once I got the monitoring set up, I found, once again, that myFICO was offering the superior monitoring tool.

With myFICO, you can set up alerts to notify you every time one of your accounts has a transaction over a certain dollar amount. That’s what IdentityForce offers too, but here’s where myFICO does it one better: With myFICO, you can also set up balance change alerts to flag any unusual spending patterns. The idea is that if you usually put $200-250 on your credit card every month, myFICO will let you know if there are charges over that amount. Those charges just might be from an identity thief. (Even though they’re probably from you.)

MyFICO alerts you of potential identity theft threats.

On the subject of identity theft: MyFICO also constantly searches black market websites for your personal information. Identity Guard and IdentityForce also scan black market websites, but myFICO was the only service that sent me any black market alerts during the testing period.

This isn’t to say that I was 100 percent thrilled with myFICO’s black market monitoring. During the testing period, I received four alerts indicating my information had been found on a black market website. Three of the alerts were out-of-date — like, myFICO wanted me to know that one of my passwords had passed through a black market website in 2013 — but one of them was current.

The trouble was that I couldn’t tell what information had been stolen. MyFICO’s alert explained that my email address and one of my passwords had been spotted on a black market site, and that I needed to change my password, but it didn’t give me enough information to determine which password it was. (All I got was the big long string of letters and numbers that websites use to hide my password, not the actual password I had created.)

So I called myFICO’s customer service, conveniently open 24/7, and spoke to a person who told me which password it was. All in all, this wasn’t a great experience. I didn’t like that I couldn’t tell which of my passwords had been stolen, and I didn’t like receiving notifications that one of my passwords might have hit a black market site in the past. (I do mean notifications, by the way. Every time I received a message from myFICO, I got it via text, email, and app alert, simultaneously. If you use myFICO, I suggest turning at least one of those notification tools off.)

Still, I liked that customer service was open 24/7, and I liked that they were able to immediately address my problem. I also appreciate that MyFICO was the only service to warn me of a potential identity threat alert, even though it could have skipped the alerts from events that are now several years behind us.

MyFICO includes an educational blog and an active forum.

Here’s one more thing that MyFICO does better than its competitors: personal finance education.

Identity Guard, IdentityForce, and myFICO all have educational resources and articles, but Identity Guard’s and IdentityForce’s resources are written to provide information rather than inspiration. MyFICO includes a personal finance blog with posts like “Does your credit impact your health?” and “The do’s, don’ts, and what-ifs when choosing a credit card.” It’s not The Simple Dollar, but it’s a great resource — and so is the MyFICO forum, where you can talk to other forum members about personal finance issues. (There’s a whole section devoted to relationships and money.)

With its Score Simulator, its forum, and the tight watch it keeps on your transactions and personal information, myFICO is ready to be the credit mentor you’ve always wanted. Just call it your credit score Dumbledore.

Identity Guard: Best for People Who Just Want to Monitor Their Credit

150-pixel Logo for Identity Guard

Identity Guard is a credit report site for people who want set-it-and-forget-it protection. MyFICO is ready to make you an active participant in your heroic journey toward better credit, but Identity Guard is perfectly happy to let you check in once a month or so. Or, you know, wait for the company to contact you. It’s $15 per month for all three credit bureaus, and it includes a free 30-day trial.

This isn’t to say that you can’t use Identity Guard to improve your credit. As I mentioned earlier, the service includes a credit analyzer that lets you test different scenarios and their effect on your credit score, including scenarios that can be completed in the next month.

Screenshot of IdentityGuard Analyzer

Although you don’t get myFICO’s simple credit report overview, Identity Guard does let you view all three of your credit reports side by side, which is a good way to see if they’re all showing the same information or if one of them might have an error.

Identity Guard’s mobile app is pretty basic — just your credit scores, a news feed, and the option to receive alerts — and it doesn’t provide the fun credit score graph that myFICO includes. However, the app is still useful because it gives you a summary of the factors that influence your credit score, in case you want to see if any of those factors can be improved. (In my case, I could boost my credit score by taking out a mortgage or an auto loan — which would also mean buying a house or a car, so I’m not going to do that.)

Here are a few of Identity Guard’s other strengths:

Identity Guard makes it easy to see if you’re fully protected.

I love Identity Guard’s dashboard. It’s a quick and easy overview of your protection. As I mentioned above, myFICO’s dashboard was so cluttered with information that it took me several days to realize I hadn’t activated all of its features. Identity Guard gives me a one-stop check-in.

Screenshot of IdentityGuard dashboard

In case you’re wondering why I didn’t turn on the computer-monitoring services, they’re Windows-only. (Sorry, Mac users.)

Identity Guard literally sends you comforting words.

I would like to share the best email I have ever received from a company, ever:

Adjusted Screenshot of IdentityGuard email

The other credit report sites sent me emails telling me I needed to log into my account and review transactions or deal with identity theft false alarms. Identity Guard told me there was nothing I needed to do.

Identity Guard also sent me a one-month anniversary email that stated: “Good news, from what we can tell no notable activity has been detected with your personal information. If any new activity occurs, we will promptly alert you.” Identity Guard doesn’t offer transaction monitoring, so that explains why I wasn’t getting transaction alerts, but I had wondered why Identity Guard wasn’t sending me the same black market alerts that I was getting from myFICO. It looks like Identity Guard tracks black market sites differently, and only considers “notable activity.” (Which, after my experience with myFICO’s black market alerts, might be a good thing.)

Identity Guard gives you thorough instructions.

MyFICO and Identity Guard were both pretty good at providing instructions and explanations, but Identity Guard was the only site to thoroughly explain the credit report dispute process, how long the process might take to complete, and what to do if the credit bureaus don’t respond within the required 30 days.

The whole time I tested Identity Guard, I felt very secure and comfortable. I knew why it asked me to connect my bank accounts and credit cards, and I knew when I had completed all the steps required to protect myself. If myFICO is your credit score Dumbledore, Identity Guard is the wards around Hogwarts — ready to keep you safe while you go about your day.

Best Credit Report Site Honorable Mentions

150-pixel Logo for AnnualCreditReport.com

AnnualCreditReport.com is the free credit report site developed as a response to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003, aka FACTA. The federal government and the credit bureaus agreed that all of us have the right to one free credit report from each of the three bureaus every year, and AnnualCreditReport.com is where you go to get them.

Can you get by with just AnnualCreditReport.com? Absolutely. Ryan Guina, founder of Cash Money Life and The Military Wallet, explains: “Many people do well with pulling one of their three credit reports every four months. This way you are constantly checking for errors throughout the year and do not get blindsided by a poor score when you need your credit.”

Be aware that the free version is a little more labor-intensive. AnnualCreditReport.com is super bare-bones, and the website looks like it hasn’t been updated much since 2003. The site provides a few educational resources, but you have to do the work of pulling your credit reports — which only takes roughly 10 minutes, but still — and scanning them for errors and potential identity theft issues yourself. You also have to remember to check one of your three credit reports every four months, if that’s your plan.

150-pixel Logo for Identity Force

IdentityForce provides all of the essential tools you need to monitor your credit report and boost your credit score. It’s got credit report monitoring, transaction monitoring, identity theft monitoring, and a simulator to let you see how opening new credit cards or transferring balances might affect your credit score. But none of its features are better than the competitors, and at $24 per month for the package that offers daily credit monitoring, it’s about $9 more each month than Identity Guard and only $6 less than myFICO. It offers transaction monitoring, but not balance change monitoring; it has a credit simulator, but the simulator doesn’t have graphics, and it doesn’t have a mobile app. I elected to give IdentityForce an honorable mention.

Don’t discount credit report sites just because you’re on a budget. The best credit report sites are worth the money.

I know The Simple Dollar is all about thrift, so I asked Joe Saul-Sehy, host of the Stacking Benjamins podcast and former financial advisor, why all of us budget-minded individuals should pay a little extra for one of the best credit report services, which will be a few dollars more each month when compared to the lesser quality options. Here’s his response:

“Great question, and ALWAYS the first question you should ask yourself before using an add-on service. ‘Am I getting more for the extra premium I’m paying?’ In the case of myFICO, you get ongoing credit monitoring, so that if someone dings your credit report, you receive notification of the event immediately and some steps to help you resolve the issue. There are also credit suggestions to help you raise your credit score. Identity Guard not only looks at your credit score, but also monitors black markets and exchanges to quickly alert you if your identity or credit accounts have been compromised.”

Since myFICO, Identity Guard, and IdentityForce all offer monthly subscriptions, you could sign up for a credit report site for just a few months, check your credit report, dispute errors, and run a few simulations. That would be the thrifty way to get the benefits of a credit report site without paying for a long-term subscription. If you like what you’re getting, or want to spend more time focusing on improving your credit score, you might decide that the credit report site is worth the money.

Think of credit report sites as “preventative maintenance.”

Even if your credit is good, you can still benefit from a credit report site. Here’s more great advice from Saul-Sehy:

“I’m a proponent of preventative maintenance … so I want to consider my credit reporting service before I need it. That means that, early on, I want to know how to look at my credit, scour through details on the report, and how to interpret my score. Those are all easier activities to learn than they sound. It’s like riding a bike.

By starting early you’ve accomplished a few things.

  1. You know how credit works so you’re less likely to get into trouble or be surprised later.
  2. You’ll take actions that improve your credit intentionally instead of accidentally backing into good credit.
  3. When you need credit, it’s always available.

Plus, you’re less likely to need it often because you’ll see early on how much a poor credit score can hurt you.”

I really appreciated the insight into my credit that I got while testing different credit report services, especially the myFICO tools that showed me just how much my credit score went up and down each month, and how it could continue to go up if I kept paying off my debt. I understand my credit report and my credit score, and what I need to do to, as Saul-Sehy puts it, “improve my credit intentionally.”

Don’t let a credit repair company ruin your credit.

If you’re considering using a credit repair company to improve your credit, be aware that there are a lot of unscrupulous credit repair services out there. It will also cost you hundreds of dollars for a service that might not actually do you that much good. The Simple Dollar has a guide explaining how to tell if a credit repair company is a scam, and I’d suggest reading that thoroughly before signing up with any sites. (Beware of any company that claims it can give you a “new credit identity,” because that identity is very likely to be stolen.)

Even the good credit repair companies are only going to be able to do the same kinds of things you can do on your own, like analyzing your report for errors and starting the dispute process.

You can improve your credit in the short term, but it’s also important to think long term.

When you start poking around a credit report site, you’re probably interested in how to get that credit score up as soon as possible. There are a lot of ways to improve your credit in the short term, but it’s important to know that your credit is also likely to slowly improve over the long term if you continue to practice good credit habits.

There’s also this thing called “aging your credit,” which essentially means that the longer you have a credit account open and in good standing, the more influence it has on your credit score. (This is also why people advise you not to close out credit cards after you pay them off.) If you have negative items on your credit report, from late payments to bankruptcy, those items will have less influence on your credit score over time and many negative items disappear completely after seven years.

So think of what you can do today to improve your credit, but also think of what you want to start doing now to make sure that your credit looks good as it ages. If you need help, use one of those credit simulator tools I mentioned earlier, and see what might happen to your credit in the next few years.

The Bottom Line

Even if you’re already well-acquainted with your credit score, it’s still important to regularly review your credit report and monitor it for errors and potential identity theft. The best credit report sites take care of the monitoring for you while giving you tools and advice to help you improve your credit. If you’re looking to power-level your credit score, try myFICO. If you’d like a general monitoring package, consider Identity Guard. If you’re on a budget, go to AnnualCreditReport.com for your free annual credit reports — but make sure to read them carefully, because one out of five of us is likely to find an error.

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