How to make your home more energy efficient

Saving money is important to everyone. Whether it is during difficult economic times or when attempting to save money for a vacation, retirement or a special purchase. There are many tips for saving money but, many are asking how to make their home more energy efficient to save money. Here are some simple and inexpensive ways.
  • Timers - use timers on the lights in your home, especially in those rooms where you tend to gather with your family. Set the timers so they automatically turn on at dusk, and turn off at bedtime. In general, this will mean that your lights will be off far more than they are on.
  • Energy-saving light bulbs - the new energy-saving light bulbs can save you several dollars a year.  While they may cost you upwards of $8-$10 initially, they not only longer, but they use far less energy than standard light bulbs. If you replace all of the bulbs in your home, you can save a substantial amount of money over the course of a year.
  • Filters - check the filters in your heating and air conditioning systems to ensure they are not clogged. Replacing or cleaning filters will ensure that your system will run far more efficiently. The more efficiently heating systems run, the less energy will be required. If you do not currently use permanent filters, consider investing in them.
  • Close the curtains - take advantage of natural solar energy in the wintertime by opening your curtains when the sun is highest and closing them once the sun goes down. In the summertime, close the curtains when the sun is highest to prevent the home heating up. This will save money on air-conditioning or cooling costs.
  • Shower heads - replace your current shower head (if it is not already a water saver) with a more efficient unit. This will allow you to save a considerable amount of water over time. In your kitchen sink, replace the tap with an aerator to save water.
  • Thermostat - put your thermostat on a timer so that you are not heating and cooling your home while you are not there. These timers can be set so the temperature when nobody is at home is lower, saving a considerable amount of energy. Thermostats can also be used for lowering the home temperature when everyone is sleeping.
  • Weather stripping - check your doors and windows to ensure the seals are tight. If not, use inexpensive weather stripping to tighten up the seals. This will mean that the warmer air will stay in during the wintertime, and the cooler air will stay in during warmer weather.
  • Ventilation systems - ensure that your home ventilation system is cleaned regularly. Buildup of dust and other debris can result in a far less energy efficient system. Keeping ventilation systems clean is another way to make your home more energy efficient.


These are just a few tips for saving money by making your home more energy efficient. There are several options including energy audits which are often provided free by your utility company. These simple tips will cost very little, and the savings can add up very quickly.

How to lock your credit report

There are currently eleven states in the United States that allow you to lock your credit report even if you have not been a victim of identity theft.. These states are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey,  and North Carolina.  In addition, the states of Texas, Vermont, Illinois, and Washington allow victims of identity theft to lock their credit reports.

In order for you to lock your credit report you first will need to contact the three major credit reporting agencies. When you contact them initially you should request from them information about what procedure they find acceptable, though the process is fairly standard for each of them.  You will also want to find out if they charge a fee to lock your credit report.

As a rule, if you have been the victim of identity theft, you are allowed to lock your credit report without paying a fee. For those who are trying to protect themselves from identity theft, there may be a small fee which is typically less than $20.00

Information

Each credit reporting agency will require that you make your request to lock your credit report in writing. You should include the following minimum information when writing to a credit reporting agency to lock your credit report:

  • Supply your name including your first name, last name (maiden name if applicable), and any middle initials. Be sure to include any additions to your name including Jr., Sr., etc.
  • Include your current home address.  The major credit reporting agencies will also require that you include a listing of your last five (5) years residential addresses as a way of validating your request.  Experian also requests that you include proof of your current address such as your drivers license, utility bill, bank statement or other form of validation.
  • Your social security number must be included in your request along with your date of birth.  These will all be used by the credit reporting agency to validate your request that your credit report be locked.
  • If you have been the victim of identity theft you should include a police report, or a copy of the complaint that you filed.
  • A check, money order or credit card information to pay the fee (where applicable).


This information should be sent to the major credit reporting bureaus via certified mail (since it does contain personal information).  The FDIC provides all consumers with information regarding their credit rights and the names of the three major credit reporting agencies.  The names and addresses of the three major credit agencies are:

Equifax
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, Georgia 30374

Experian
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, Texas 75013

TransUnion
P.O. Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92834

If you are concerned about identity theft, or you have been the victim of identity theft, you may want to know how to lock your credit report. If you live in one of the states that allows a consumer to lock their credit report, this is a good method of protecting yourself from identity theft.

How to handle collection agencies

The tactics used by collection agencies can often be intimidating.  For someone who has never dealt with a collection agency, they can be frightening.  Unfortunately, companies that are owed money will only spend so much time trying to collect what is owed before turning the debt over to a collection agency.  More people than ever need to know how to handle collection agencies.  Here are some tips for dealing with professional collection agencies.

Remember the goal of collection agencies

One of the first things that consumers need to understand is that a collection agency does not get paid unless and until payment is received on the debt that is owed.  This means that they will try a variety of methods (not all of them ethical) to collect payment.  Most people who have debts that are in collection do not do it as a method of getting out of paying the bill; they simply have financial issues that prevent them from doing so.  This does not deter a collection agency; they will do their level best to trip debtors up and try to make it sound like the consumer does not intend to pay the bill.

Telephone calls from collection agencies

Once telephone calls from the collection agencies start, they cannot only be demeaning, but they can also border on harassment.  The first thing a consumer should do when receiving a call from a collection agency is make note of the date, and the time of the call.  The reason that this is important is that collection agencies may only contact consumers after 8am and before 9pm.  In addition, individual states may have more strict regulations that should be available on their website under consumer protection regulations.  Typically, this is the office of the Attorney General of the state.

How to stop telephone calls

Credit collection agencies are prohibited from calling consumers at work if they are advised that this type of call is frowned upon by an employer. In addition, if consumers request in writing that the credit collection agency stop calling them by telephone, they must do so.  This request should be made in writing and sent via registered mail to ensure that the consumer has proof that it was sent and when. After receiving this type of request, collection agencies may only call to advise you they are taking no further action or that they intend to take the matter to court.

Educating consumers

It is critical that consumers educate themselves about their rights if they are in debt. Many states have statutes of limitations as to how long a debt may be collected. This date is based upon the last date that a payment was made. The limits on debt collection vary from state to state, some as few as three (3) years and some as many as ten (10) years.  While credit collection agencies may continue to contact consumers regarding debts that are past the statute of limitations, they cannot take the consumer to court for these debts, if they do, the best defense is that the debt is past the collection statute of limitations.

Not all collection agencies are difficult to deal with, but many do depend on an uninformed consumer as their primary target.  Unfortunately, many collection agencies do not want a consumer to understand their rights as this lack of knowledge makes their collection job far easier, allowing them to collect their commission.  Most people feel that if they are having financial challenges that they have no alternative but to put up with ongoing telephone calls from collection agencies.

Consumers need only talk to a collection agency one time. Communication should remain professional. Consumers should not allow collection agencies to trick them into agreeing to make small payments without knowing their rights under the Collection Act. The most important thing consumers need to learn about how to handle collection agencies is to know their rights as a consumer.

How to get extended unemployment benefits

For those who are currently unemployed, you may need to know how to get extended unemployment benefits.  Since the job market is so difficult at this time, many people are finding their benefits have run out or are due to run out.  Fortunately, there are extended benefits that you may be eligible for if you know how to apply for them.

History

New legislation was passed in 2009 that allowed those who are collecting unemployment to extend those benefits past the usual allowable period. These additional benefits can add an additional thirteen weeks to your existing eligibility period.  It is important to note, not every person who collected unemployment will be eligible for extended unemployment benefits.  Some states where unemployment rates are high may also provide benefits that extend beyond the federal program.

Contact

The easiest way to determine if you are eligible to get extended unemployment benefits is to contact the state agency that handles inquiries and claims. A website has been set up for every person to easily identify the agency that is responsible in their state.  America's Service Locator allows you to select your location and you will be presented with the agency information.

Filing a claim

If you have an existing unemployment claim open, the agency who is handling your claim will notify you if you are eligible to receive extended benefits. If you have exhausted your benefits prior to the extended benefits period being open, you should contact your State Unemployment Insurance Agency to determine if you are eligible to re-apply for extended unemployment benefits.

Requirements

Your obligations under the extended unemployment benefits period will remain the same. These obligations include (but may not necessarily be limited to)

  • Filing weekly claim forms
  • Actively looking for work
  • Reporting any/all income
  • Reporting job seeking activities


Other helpful information

Not everyone is aware of it, but if your state participates in the specialized program for entrepreneurs, you may be eligible to collect unemployment benefits (and extended benefits) without actively seeking full time employment.  These benefits were created to give unemployed workers an opportunity to start small businesses.  As of February 2, 2010, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Pennsylvania offer these programs.  You can find out more by contacting them directly if you are eligible for unemployment benefits or for extended unemployment benefits.

Being unemployed is extremely stressful.  Watching the days tick away on a calendar knowing your unemployment benefits are going to expire adds to that stress. When you are faced with the possibility of your unemployment benefits expiring, take proactive steps to get extended unemployment benefits. The added weeks will give you the added comfort that you can continue to look for a job and continue meeting your financial needs.

How to determine if you qualify for refinancing your home

Since interest rates are currently low, you might be considering refinancing your home. If you currently have an adjustable rate mortgage, you might be considering refinancing your home to a fixed rate mortgage before your adjustable rate goes up again. Before you go to the bank to apply for refinancing, you should first answer some simple questions that will help determine if you quality for refinancing your home.


  • Payment History - The first question you need to ask yourself is if your mortgage payments have been current.  Most lenders will not consider refinancing your home if you have been more than thirty days late in the last twelve months.  This means that all twelve of your last payments have been received by your lender 30 days or less after the payment date.
  • Home Value - The current value of your property is a crucial point in determining if you qualify for refinancing your home.  If you have a FNMA (Fannie Mae) or FMAC (Freddie Mac) guaranteed loan you may be eligible for refinancing under special programs.
  • Monthly Income - You must be able to prove a steady source of income. Many lenders will require that you have been on your job for a period of twelve to twenty-four months. This may be waived if you were laid off and later re-employed in the same field.  Most lenders will require that you provide them with your last four pay stubs (some will require only two while others may require more).
  • Monthly Expenses - Numerous expenses will play a role in your ability to qualify to refinance your home.  You will need to list car payments, insurance payments (home, auto, life and medical).  In addition, credit card payments, and any other revolving credit lines will impact your ability to qualify for refinancing your home.
  • Credit - Outside of your mortgage payment you should verify all other credit obligations.  Although lenders are primarily interested in your mortgage payment history, other payment history is certainly a consideration when you are trying to determine if you qualify for refinancing your home.  If you have had payments that were overdue by more than 30 days, be prepared to offer a full, written explanation for the reason.
  • Property & Income Taxes - While you might think that your taxes are not important in determining if you qualify to refinance your home, they are in fact very critical.  Your property taxes must be up to date. In addition, you are going to be required to present a minimum of two years of completed federal tax filings (and some lenders will require three while some will require only one).
  • 2nd Mortgage or Equity Line - If you currently have a second mortgage or equity line, you may find the combination of that credit plus your current mortgage means that your home value is insufficient to refinance your home.


If you have addressed all of these items, you are now prepared to speak with your bank or your lender and ask how to determine if you qualify for refinancing your home.  There are several very good programs that are available to help homeowners refinance their home and make them more affordable.