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The new year is thought of as a fresh start -- and if citizens of the world fail to take action to protect the planet, we might not have many fresh starts (or years ahead of us) left. That's why many homeowners are making a pledge to be more energy efficient and eco-friendly overall in 2020. But if you don't want to take on massive renovations or even sacrifice your relative comfort, can you still be sustainable?

The answer is a resounding "yes." By implementing some simple changes, you can make your home more environmentally sound, reduce your carbon footprint, and maybe even save some money in the coming year. Here are a few ways to go about it.

Add Some Green

If you want to go green, you might want to add green. That might mean spending some green up front, as well, but most people will tell you that it'll pay off in the end. Not only can landscaping add as much as 14% to your home's resale value, but it can potentially do wonders for your surrounding community. In fact, one tree can remove 26 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air each year, equalling 11,000 miles of car emissions! Although it may mean a bit more yard work for you to take care of, planting some trees can improve air quality. And if you're strategic about where you place your trees, you can provide some shade that will keep your home cooler and reduce how hard your HVAC system will need to work. Planting a vegetable garden can allow you to save money on groceries, as well, while focusing on native plants can support local wildlife (like our endangered and oh-so-important bees and other pollinators). Ultimately, a more self-sustaining life will translate to one with greater energy efficiency. This is also a great option for the almost 43 million renters in the United States who can't modify their homes to their liking.

Seal the Escape Routes

This section may sound extreme, but we're not talking about barring your windows and doors completely shut. Your home's doors and windows need to stay accessible to you, of course, but they need to keep air from being able to travel in and out. If there are gaps, you'll end up wasting energy. In fact, 30% of a home's heating energy is lost through its windows. That means you're paying extra for your HVAC system to work overtime. And since a good portion of your home is probably made up of windows, you'll have a bit of work to do to ensure your home stays comfortable and your bills stay low. Conduct an assessment of where your home seems drafty and seal or caulk any areas where air can escape. You may also want to call in a professional to take a look at your home's insulation, as air can easily escape through the attic, roof, or crawl spaces. These small adjustments can ensure the warm or cool air stays inside and the extreme weather stays out. Subsequently, you'll feel a lot better in your home and won't be stuck with unnecessary expenses each month. As a bonus, your heating and cooling system can work more efficiently and will likely last a lot longer.

Ponder Your Power and Appliances

Speaking of your heating and cooling system, it's time to consider your appliances -- and what's powering them. Although many American homes still rely on conventional utilities to supply electricity, solar panels are becoming more popular with each passing year. It's easy to see why, as cost reductions have made them far more accessible to the masses. If PV panels were installed on just 0.6% of the nation's total land area, these panels could supply enough energy to power the entire country. If you've been considering swapping out your utility company for solar panel installation, the new year might be a good time to finally take the plunge. Eventually, you'll be able to provide all the power you need and you'll end up saving money. This is essential given that 30% of Americans have bad credit. And because you'll probably be a bit more aware of the power you use, you'll likely end up being a bit more conservative with your usage.

Of course, if you're going to completely change your power supply, you might want to rethink your major appliances, too. Homes that are a bit older may come equipped with appliances, but these appliances may not meet current energy efficiency standards. This means you'll end up requiring (and wasting) more energy to use them. Some statistics show that a refrigerator that's a decade old can use twice the energy that a new model does! If you haven't yet switched to Energy Star models, there's no time like the present. You may even be able to take advantage of seasonal deals to save a bit of money -- though you'll end up lowering your energy bills as a result anyway.

Setting -- and keeping -- New Year's resolutions may not seem easy, but it's simpler than you think to make your home more energy efficient in 2020. By opting for eco-friendly practices, you can reduce your adverse impact on the world and reduce costs at the same time.

Monday, November 11 2019 07:49

What Should You Do If Your Car Gets Damaged?

Unfortunately, most car owners will have to deal with some degree of damage to their car at some point in their life. The average number of car accidents in the U.S. every year is a whopping six million. When it does happen, it can be hard to know exactly what steps you should take. Should you go through your auto insurance? Should you try to fix the damage yourself? Here are a few tips you can use if you ever find yourself with damage to your car.

Most Americans tend to rely on personal vehicles, rather than public transportation, to get from point A to point B. With nearly 6 million cars sold each year in the United States, it's no surprise that the majority of teens will obtain their driver's licenses as soon as possible. More often than not, U.S. adults wouldn't even consider forgoing vehicle ownership.

So it can be particularly devastating when you head out to leave for work, school, or a social engagement and discover that your car isn't where you left it. It's not that you've forgotten where you parked, either. Unfortunately, your car's been stolen.

It might be your worst nightmare, particularly if you keep valuables or irreplaceable items in your car's interior. While up to 20% of all insurance claims are related to water damage of some kind, vehicle theft is sometimes a problem that cannot be fixed. Worse yet, a purloined vehicle might be more common than you think -- especially if you live in certain areas. Last year, there were an estimated 748,841 vehicle thefts throughout the United States.

The metro area with the most stolen vehicles in 2018 was Albuquerque, with a theft rate of 780.2 vehicles per 100,000 residents. Rounding out the top five cities with the highest vehicle rates were Anchorage, Alaska; Bakersfield, California; Pueblo, Colorado; and Modesto, California. By far, California had the greatest number of vehicle theft-ridden cities, with 15 metro areas within the top 40 list compiled by the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Nearly all of the metro areas listed are located in the southern or western portions of the United States -- and, not surprisingly, most areas listed also have higher rates of other property crimes.

Although the average vehicle will have three owners in its lifetime, most of us don't expect to give up ownership unwillingly. And while the Dodge Charger HEMI, Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, Infiniti Q50 and QX80, and GMC Sierra 1500 top the list of most frequently stolen vehicles in the nation, the reality is that any car can be taken without your consent or knowledge. Of course, parking in well-lit areas, installing alarm systems and vehicle tracking devices, and locking your steering wheel can keep your car from being stolen in the first place. But failing that, there are a few steps you should always take.

First, you'll want to call the police and file a report. You'll need this stolen vehicle report in order to file any kind of insurance claim. It's best to provide law enforcement with as much information as possible, including the car's make and model, year, color, VIN and license plate number, any identifying characteristics, and GPS information, if applicable. You'll then want to contact your car insurance company. If you have a comprehensive car insurance policy, you'll be covered -- but even if you don't, you'll still need to let your insurer know your vehicle was stolen. That way, you'll be protected if property is damaged or someone becomes injured after your car has been taken. Make sure that all details are consistent between this insurance claim and your police report, as your insurer will likely launch an investigation to make sure everything lines up before paying out for a stolen vehicle. And if your car is leased or you have some sort of financing set up, you'll also need to notify the company; in most cases, the insurer will pay the lender so that you won't still be responsible for making payments on your stolen vehicle.

If you have any valuables in your car, you might want to file separate claims for these items. The three most-valuable commodities shipped in the U.S. include machinery, electronics, and other vehicles. While you're probably not shipping warehouse materials, your laptop, GPS, and other electronic devices might be covered by insurance.

Although you have some control over where you park (and where you live), you may not always be able to stop vehicle theft despite your best efforts. To minimize loss, make it a habit to keep no valuable items in your car, purchase comprehensive car insurance, and invest in security features that could drive thieves away. And if your vehicle is stolen, make sure to follow the steps outlined above to make the process go as smoothly as possible. Although these events can feel violating, thinking ahead and being prepared can make them a bit less devastating.

You've been thinking about it for a while, and now you've decided to take the leap: you're buying a motorcycle. Chances are you're used to hearing all the statistics at this point about the dangers of motorcycles -- after all, it's true that they can be dangerous. However, motorcycle safety is actually on the rise in recent years, with the number of fatal motorcycle accidents in 2017 dropping 3% from the year before. If you're ready to buy a motorcycle, here are a few things you'll want to know as a beginner.

Do Your Homework

Before you even get to the shop, you'll want to do your homework on the different types of motorcycles available. There are a greater number of varieties, makes, and models than most people assume. Having a basic understanding of the types that are available will help you be prepared for when you start your shopping. Additionally, be sure to practice on multiple types of bikes. This will help you better learn the basics of riding a motorcycle as safely as possible.

Pick Out Your Preferences

Once you've tested out a few different styles of motorcycle, figure out what feels best for you and your personal preferences. Everyone has their own favorites when it comes to motorcycles, and you should look for bikes that compliment your riding preferences and personal style tastes. Check online reviews as well; you might uncover some issues or benefits with particular makes and models this way.

If you ride your motorcycle for work, you might also be able to get a tax break. Consider the area in which you live and whether or not this aspect of buying a motorcycle could benefit you. If you're self-employed, talking to a CPA can help you discover more options that can keep money in your wallet.

New vs. Used?

If you're looking to buy a motorcycle on a budget, buying used could be an appealing option. However, be careful if you're looking for a used bike instead of a new one -- used motorcycles, just like used cars, are more likely to have serious issues that make them less safe to ride. The safest possible option is to buy new, but not all budgets are suited to buying a brand new vehicle, so at least do your due diligence to make sure you're being as safe as possible. Certified pre-owned options are your second-best option if you're unable

Plenty of people ride motorcycles for both normal transportation and as part of a growing hobby. What kind of motorcycle are you looking to purchase, and what do you look for in a bike before you buy? Consider these safety options before you

The end of the year is fast approaching and many of us have still failed to complete our new year's resolutions for 2019. But don't fret: before the year is done, you can at least meet your financial goals.

While you might not be able to save up for that new car by the end of the year, you can definitely get your finances ready for the year to come. After all, establishing a plan now will help you start the new year off on the right foot. If you're one of the many people who want to better their finances for 2020, try to meet these goals before the big ball hits zero.

Limit your holiday spending

Each holiday season, we fall victim to buying more than our budget can handle. Even though you want to gift your loved ones everything they deserve, it's not worth digging yourself into a financial hole. Studies show that Millennials spend over $800 each month on unnecessary expenses, and that's before we account for the holidays. If you spend so much that you're struggling to pay rent, you need to take a second look at your finances.

The first step to limiting your holiday spending involves tallying up all of your bills and necessary expenses, including food and the occasional night out. Then, you have to subtract those numbers from your monthly salary. Whatever is leftover from that can be used for holiday goodies. Odds are, this number will be a lot less than you think, but it gives you a realistic budget to work with.

Remember that the best gifts come from the heart. It can be tempting to rack up credit card debt in the name of Christmas, but the loved ones in your life would rather see you flourish than go into debt over a simple gift. If you simply must buy a large gift, make sure it counts. Look for long-lasting options that are sure to give your loved one plenty of use, like home decor, cutlery, or new furniture. Estimates show that the average sofa will last about eight years before it needs to be replaced. If you spend big, don't waste the purchase on superfluous items without any real value.

Check your credit report

Did you know each of the top three credit bureaus offer one free credit report each year? If you have checked your score with Experian, you can still determine how well your score is with Equifax or TransUnion before the year is done.

Becoming aware of your credit score is the first step to improving it. After all, bad credit could bar you from achieving a good mortgage rate, buying a new car, or taking out future loans for home projects. You might even get turned down by a rental application or a homeowners association. Since homebuyers have a 20% chance of buying a home that a part of an HOA, a good credit score could mean the difference between achieving your dream home or looking for other options. Luckily, talking to a financial advisor can help set you on the path for success. That, or you can sign up for auto-pay to help you never miss a payment again.

Get your taxes in order

April might seem lightyears away, but it's much closer than you think. Additionally, the IRS can audit a business's tax return within the first three years of filing. If you don't keep track of these records, you might accidentally commit tax fraud without even realizing that you have done so. Avoid paying fees you didn't know you had by keeping your tax information in a safe place, like a filing cabinet or easily accessible accordion binder.

Open that savings account

There's no better time to open a savings account than yesterday. This helpful online piggy bank is one of the best ways to accumulate wealth over time. It also serves as a great way to keep you accountable for your spending. Once you establish a savings goal that works for your budget -- say $50 per month -- you can even choose to automatically transfer that amount from your checking account to your savings account without lifting a finger.

If you're struggling to save throughout the month, you can also rely on mobile apps to help track your spending. You'd be surprised how much that daily cup of coffee costs when you actually make note of each purchase.

Establish an emergency fund

When you live on ends meat, it can be hard to account for any emergency costs that might arise. But you never know when a sudden hospitalization or bothersome home repair needs to be dealt with. When only 60% of people are covered by health insurance, the other 40% will have to struggle to pay medical bills. Whether you have insurance or not, an emergency fund is vital.

By establishing a well-stocked emergency fund, perhaps stored in a separate savings account, you can rest easy knowing that you have a cushion should any disaster arise.

While you're not going to be able to shovel thousands of dollars into this fund before the end of the year, simply opening this fund is a healthy start.

Reign in wild bills

Now is the perfect time to weatherproof your home before heating and electric bills start to add up. With winter right around the corner, investing in a new thermostat and sealing your ducts should be at the top of your home improvement list. In fact, it's estimated that simply sealing and insulating your heating ducts can improve your HVAC system's efficiency by more than 20%. This simple fix will help keep your home more comfortable during the dreaded months of winter and keep money in your pocket for years to come. Don't wait until cold weather strikes to work on money-saving home improvement projects.

Rely on these tips for a better new year

Why wait to start on a new year's resolution? Before the end of the year arrives, follow these tips to help pad your wallet and get some peace of mind.

In a single year in Texas, there was one person killed every two hours in a car accident, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. Unfortunately, when it comes to young children, their lives can be in danger even when the vehicle is not moving.

Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., with 52,404 lethal drug overdoses in 2015 but accidental pediatric heatstroke has become far too common, as well. Since 1988, 818 children have died from pediatric vehicular heatstroke, which occurs when a child's body temperature rises to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. As of October 2019, there have been 51 pediatric vehicular heatstroke deaths.

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