Five tips to help chart a path toward financial success

(BPT) – A strong credit profile can help you qualify for credit at the lowest rates possible. Yet, consumers often wait until they need credit to think about their credit situation. In fact, 62 percent of people have not reviewed their report in the past year, according to a recent National Foundation for Credit Counseling survey.

Understanding how to build credit and how to use it responsibly helps consumers make decisions that lead to financial success. And making responsible decisions that can help you chart a path toward a successful financial future is easier when you’re well informed. Free tools from sources such as the American Bankers Association, National Foundation for Credit Counseling and Wells Fargo’s free, online Hands on Banking program can help consumers of all ages increase their credit know-how. These five tips can help you take control of your finances, manage your money and build a stronger credit history.

Five steps to strong credit

1. Check your credit report: Once a year, consumers can request a free credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and Transunion – at AnnualCreditReport.com or call 877-322-8228. Review the reports carefully and correct any errors.

2. Understand the factors that affect your credit: Whether you are new to credit or have been using credit for some time, your credit score gives lenders a snapshot of your credit risk. By understanding what impacts your score, you may be able to improve it.

3. Raise your credit score: Managing your credit responsibly over time is one of the best ways to build, maintain, and improve your credit score. Five key criteria are generally used to calculate a consumer’s credit score:

  • Payment history: Information about whether you’ve made on-time payments has the most impact on your score.
  • Credit accounts: A balanced mix of different types of credit can help improve your score.
  • Credit usage: Owing a lot or being near your credit limit on multiple accounts negatively impacts your score.
  •  Length of credit history: Reviewers check to see if you can responsibly manage credit accounts over time.
  • Credit applications: Opening multiple new credit accounts may represent a greater risk for lenders.

4. Create and monitor your budget: A budget gives you more control over your finances and helps you eliminate unnecessary expenses.

5. Know what lenders look for. When consumers apply for a loan, lenders assess their credit risk based on a number of factors, often called the Five Cs of Credit:

  • Credit history. Have you established credit and is your credit score high enough to qualify you?
  • Capacity. Is your income sufficient?
  • Collateral. Does the collateral you’re borrowing against have enough value?
  • Capital. Do you have assets set aside as another source for repayment?
  • Conditions. Does the current economy or purpose for the credit make it a risk?

Wells Fargo offers a variety of free tools designed to help individuals at any life stage learn ways to manage their finances more responsibly. For more information and resources about how to use credit sensibly to achieve financial goals, visit http://www.wellsfargo.com/creditsmart.

Courtesy of BPT

College graduates: Six financial survival tips for the working world


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If you are a recent college graduate, there is much to be optimistic about as you leave campus and head out into the real world. No one ever says life on your own will be easy, but post-graduate financial bliss can be a reality. These six tips from Thrivent Financial offer a starting point for recent graduates who are ready to put their education to work for a secure financial future.

Get real about your paycheck

 

Compared to the minimum wage jobs you survived on through college, the annual earnings at your first post-graduate job may give you dollar-sign eyes. Don’t be fooled though; after taxes, benefits, living expenses and student loan payments, your remaining monthly spending money could amount to less than half of your gross income. Being realistic about your paycheck doesn’t mean you can’t have any fun, though. That new car may have to wait a while, but with smart budgeting you can still enjoy the finer things in life with a clear conscience.   

 
Your credit score matters

 
Thought you were done worrying about test scores? Think again. Whether you want to get an apartment, mortgage, car or a new job, your credit score says a lot about you and can make or break these important investments. Free credit reports are available at http://www.annualcreditreport.com, and for a small fee you can also obtain your credit score. Examine your report regularly for accuracy, and pay off any existing credit card debt as soon as possible. Credit card interest is wasted money, and outstanding debt can hurt your credit score. 

 
Take care of yourself first

 
After expenses and taxes, your paycheck may look too slim for comfort, but protecting your assets, health and income is worth the additional cost. If you have an apartment, renter’s insurance is a relatively inexpensive way to protect your possessions. Health insurance is also a must, whether you get it through your employer or stay on your parents’ plan. Your paycheck is worth protecting, too. Disability income insurance is not just for those with physically demanding jobs, as most beneficiaries are on disability from illness, not injury. Preparation for the unexpected comes at a small price considering the costs associated with the alternative.

 
Save for the fun stuff

 
Again, being responsible with your finances doesn’t mean you can’t have any fun. You have worked hard to start your career, and deserve to reward yourself. The best way to spend smartly is simply to spend less than you have. Diligent saving allows for the occasional splurge without having to feel guilty or anxious about your decision to spend. Consider directly depositing a certain amount from your paycheck into a savings account for a “fun fund.” 
Save for the grown-up stuff, too.

 
Your parents’ nagging may start to quiet now that you’ve graduated, but their retirement planning advice is worth listening to. Start investing now, you won’t regret it. As you barely scratch the surface of your career, retirement seems a long way off, but successful investors understand that the longer your assets remain invested, the greater their potential for growth. The cash you forfeit now will pale in comparison to the amount you’ll end up getting back at the end of your career if you start as early as possible. 

 
Don’t pass up free money

 
Many employers offer pretax savings through their retirement accounts. Because your retirement contributions come out before taxes, your taxable income is decreased, saving you money. For example, a $100 contribution from your earnings to a pretax retirement account would reduce your paycheck by only $75 if you’re in the 25 percent tax bracket. If your employer matches a percentage of your retirement contributions, it is wise to contribute the maximum amount of their match so as not to pass up on “free money.”

 
Money is just one of many aspects of adulthood that college graduates must meet head-on to start living independently. Personal finance may seem daunting, but don’t be discouraged. The above-mentioned tips boil down to common sense: spend less than you earn, stay protected through proper insurance, maintain good credit and save for the short and long-term, and you will be off to a great financial start in the next chapter of your life.

Courtesy of BPT

Essential insurance you can’t live without


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Cutting back on vacations and entertainment is a wise move when money is tight, but don’t be tempted to forego car and homeowners insurance to make ends meet.

 
Some people appear to be doing just that. Statistics from the Insurance Research Council, for example, indicate 16 percent of American drivers are uninsured. Nearly half of those say the reason is they can’t afford insurance. And three out of every five U.S. homes are underinsured, with homeowners skimping by paying less for insurance, but running the risk they won’t be able to rebuild their homes if disaster strikes. 

 
You should resist the urge to eliminate car and homeowners insurance in tough times, advises Charles Valinotti, senior vice president with insurer QBE. “Not having insurance may save on premium payments, but it can cost you much more when the unexpected happens,” he says. “Insurance premiums are a bargain compared to the financial issues that could pile up if you have an accident, your house burns down or someone is injured on your property.”

 
Valinotti notes the insurance protections you can’t do without:

 
* For your auto – Laws in all states require drivers to either have auto insurance or be able prove they are financially able to pay for an accident. In addition, if you have a loan on your vehicle, your lender typically requires that you carry comprehensive insurance – which covers loss from theft or damage from something other than an accident – as well as collision insurance as part of the loan agreement.  

 
Valinotti says if you don’t carry minimum amounts of insurance or can’t provide proof of financial responsibility, you might face fines, license suspension or even jail time. “Make sure you know what you need to meet the minimums for auto insurance liability, bodily injury and property damage required in your state.”
If your budget allows, consider uninsured and underinsured driver coverage. “In these challenging economic times, chances are you could get hit by a driver who doesn’t have insurance,” Valinotti says. “If that happens, you need to protect yourself.” 

 
* For your home – You can legally own a home without insuring it. But Valinotti says going without insurance is a huge risk you don’t want to take, especially in a bad economy. And, if you have a mortgage, your lender will most likely require you to carry insurance – and in some regions, additional flood and earthquake coverage – to protect its investment.

 
A standard homeowners policy comes with the coverage you need built in: for your home’s structure if you need to repair or rebuild it, for your personal belongings if they’re stolen or destroyed, for liability protection against lawsuits, and to pay for additional living expenses if you can’t live there due to damage from an insured disaster.

 
Valinotti says instead of thinking of dropping your homeowners insurance, look at ways to lower the cost. “Raise your deductible, or see about getting discounts, such as buying your homeowners and auto insurance from the same company,” he says. “You can also keep your premiums in line by reviewing your policies and the value of your possessions at least once a year.”

Courtesy of BPT

Moving this summer? Navigate the peak season like a pro

(BPT) – Summer is busiest time of the year for home and business moves. In fact, an estimated 65 percent of the 43 million Americans who are moving this year will do so in the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

What does that mean for those with a move in the immediate future? Considering the fact that moving is ranked just behind death and divorce in terms of life’s most stressful events, a summer move might mean stocking up on extra stress balls and taking a few extra deep breaths along the way.

“Whether you are hiring help or doing it yourself, you can expect a fair amount of anxiety,” says Sean E. Burns, a psychologist with Counseling Associates of West Michigan. “It’s helpful to simply recognize that it’s normal that your life is out of order during this period. Once moved, it’s important to resume life’s routines as soon as possible. Don’t worry about getting everything in place right away; put a priority on resuming your workouts and family trips to the park, and the rest will take care of itself over time.”

A summer move also means that you need to plan further in advance and be more flexible with your move dates.

“We moved 1.3 homes or businesses per minute last summer,” says Randy Shacka, president of Two Men And A Truck, the nation’s largest franchised moving company, “In fact, we moved 2,851 homes and businesses in the two days between June 28 and June 29. Based on year-over-year trend analysis of every move within our 260 store system, we believe that same weekend will likely be our busiest again this summer.”

So, beyond avoiding a late June move, how do you begin to navigate the waters of the busiest moving season?

“In a perfect world we’d all plan ahead, but the reality is we’re busy with work and life and next thing you know you have seven days to get moved,” Shacka says. “So while it’s important to be flexible, box things in advance, etc., you might just consider doing a few simple things to make your life a bit easier on move day.”

Shacka suggests the following:

Kids rule: If hiring a sitter isn’t an option on move day, get the kids involved as “supervisors.” Help them with a simple checklist or turn a box into a “treasure chest” of their own belongings so the move becomes a positive experience for them. For more kid-friendly move-day ideas, visit http://www.twomenandatruck.com/moving-with-kids.

Free Fido: If watching the kids weren’t enough, try managing the dog as she tries to skirt through every open door. Ask a family friend to watch the animals, or consider boarding them for the day. The money spent is a good investment in reducing your overall stress.

Space it out: Often homeowners will move all their furniture into one room to save time for their movers. This can be a cost savings for boxes, but when it comes to furniture it can slow the move down. A good moving company will use stretch wrap to protect furniture, so when packed tightly together into one room the pieces have to be moved twice to properly prepare for the move. Go ahead and consolidate boxes, but save yourself the hassle and leave furniture where it lives.

Picture this: Photos are often the last thing to be packed because it seems safer to just leave them hanging until they are ready to be moved. In truth, they often delay a move because movers have to remove them to get furniture past. This time ask your movers to provide you with-the appropriate packing materials in advance and pack your photos yourself. It’s often light lifting, and it’s a fun way to relive memories while thinking about life’s next great adventure.

For more moving advice, visit http://www.twomenandatruck.com.

Courtesy of BPT

Retirement planning crucial for small business owners


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Planning for retirement is crucial for everyone, and it is especially critical for small business owners, the business leaders many cite as the life blood of the American economy.

Indeed, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, small business owners employ half of all private sector employees, pay 44 percent of total U.S. private payroll, and have generated 65 percent of net new jobs over the past 17 years.

The challenge before American small business owners is keeping their companies financially healthy long-term. This is so that small business owners do not over-rely on the sale of their business alone to take care of them in retirement, and so the business will continue to remain a viable employer in the communities it serves.

 

Because small business owners and entrepreneurs are busy every day working to keep their businesses running strong, their schedule can often interfere with planning for the future. But in this economy, planning is a must in any business strategy. Without it, business owners may be surprised to find that the ultimate sale of their business may not leave enough for them to live on. This is because the sale timing might be off, or their finances are not strong enough to cover a full retirement.

 
“Setting a target number – or dollar figure of what is needed to live on for the rest of your life – is important, and it should be determined at least 10 years before you’re ready to retire,” says Tara Reynolds, corporate vice president with Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). “And as you approach retirement, it’s also a good idea to re-calculate what the business is worth with a proper business valuation to determine how you will need to fund your non-working years, if the value has changed. Having this plan and expectation in place can help you determine the best way and time to retire from your business.”

 

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The average business owner expects to retire at age 68, according to a survey conducted by GfK Custom Research North American for MassMutual this year. Yet only one-third of the respondents had a sound retirement strategy to ensure income for life, having access to income when needed, managing potential health care expenses and leaving a legacy to the next generation.

 
MassMutual financial professional Katheigh Degen of  Kansas City offers the following tips to help small business owners stay financially secure during the run up to retirement.

 
* Anticipate needs – Traditionally, most people need about 70 percent of their current annual income to live comfortably in retirement. Know what your business is worth – both as one entity, and also broken down into smaller parts. Only about 10 percent of business sales involve the entire business as one lump sum.

 
* Save on the side – You’ve probably heard about diversifying your portfolio, and the same is true with diversifying your retirement plan. Put aside 20 to 25 percent of your gross income in savings outside of the business. This provides you with flexibility as you plan your exit from the business. For example, if you have an heir or employee interested in purchasing the company, they might not be able to afford it all at once, but could take over the helm with smaller payments over a period of time. Having additional savings can help you tide over in retirement while you also receive payments for the business.

 
* Explore options – As you near retirement, selling off your business in one setting would make everything easy. But as mentioned earlier, it doesn’t always work that way. Knowing your business’ value can help you evaluate offers that come your way, so you can make an educated decision on whether to sell and live comfortably in retirement, or keep working and pursue a better offer.

 
* Don’t wait too long to find a buyer – Within three to five years of retirement, business owners should start to find a buyer for the business. Of course, this plan demands that the owner set an expected retirement date and stick to it. By waiting too long, owners may begin to experience poor health and low energy, which could affect productivity and potentially the profitability of the company.

 
Planning for retirement is so crucial, and owning a business can often add complications in timing the retirement perfectly.

 
“Business owners put so much hard work into building the business and making it strong and viable in the market,” says Degen. “With additional planning in retirement strategy, a good business owner can retire and see the business continue to succeed even after it has been transitioned over to new owners.”

Courtesy of BPT

Moving in the military? How to make the process easier

(BPT) – Moving can cause stress for family members, especially military families that are required to move frequently and potentially without a lot of warning. Sometimes these moves are within a base, while other times they can be to a new base on the other side of the country.

Permanent Change of Station (PCS) and Personally Procured Moves (PPM) come with military assistance to help soldiers and their families make the transition. Families can also take advantage of the do-it-yourself (DITY) option offered by the military, which could make the overall transition much smoother.

No matter how quickly the move happens, or what kind of moving assistance your family requests, here are some moving tips from Penske Truck Rental to help keep everything in order.

* Planning – PCS notifications can come without a lot of warning, or families may know about a potential move far in advance. For both instances, getting a plan in place is a good start. Gather important information into one folder, containing phone numbers, contact names, dates, receipts and checklists in this folder so you can easily track everything about your move. For some planning tools that focus specifically on military moves, visit the U.S. Department of Defense website.

* Moving – Many families choose the DITY option because it gives them more control over the move, and they can also potentially make some money in the process. The military provides an allotted cost for moving, and if you can come under that cost through your own planning, the military will pay you the difference. For example, Penske Truck Rental offers active military personnel a 10 percent discount when they reserve a truck online, and an additional 10 percent off when they show an active military ID while picking up the truck. Penske will price-match any competitive offers on one-way truck rentals as well. Visit http://www.DITYmove.com to learn more.

* Weights – Military rules require soldiers to certify the weight of the rental vehicle when empty and after it’s fully loaded. Weight limit reimbursements are set depending on a soldier’s rank and dependents, but the traditional weights are estimated at 1,000 pounds per room, excluding bathrooms and storage areas. Then add in the estimated weight of large appliances, garage items and items in storage. Compare this number to what is allowed and determine if you can reduce the load in any way to avoid paying overweight costs. To help with weight certifications, Penske offers a Certified Public Scale locator tool online to help DITY movers in finding weigh stations.

* Contact info – File a change of address form at your local post office so mail can be forwarded, and also make certain your new information is updated with your specific branch of the military.

* Explore – Get to know your new neighborhood, both on and off base. If you have children, explore the schools and the after-school activities available. Learn a bit about the city’s history and gather information on the services the city offers so that on moving day, your water and electricity will be available when it’s needed.

When in the military, a move is practically inevitable, but the process can be much less stressful on both emotions and finances with a little organization and planning from the get-go.

Courtesy of BPT

Simple ways to save water, money and your landscaping this summer

(BPT) – With many states facing drought this summer, homeowners across the country will be looking for ways to save their landscaping while conserving water at the same time. Even if you’re not in a drought-affected area, it pays to keep conservation in mind when it comes to watering outdoors. Using less water is good for the environment and your wallet.

Fortunately, maximizing the efficiency of your watering efforts and taking steps to conserve water outdoors can help trim your water bill this summer, even if you live in a severe drought area, such as in the western regions of the country. Here are simple ways to conserve water, save money and preserve your garden, lawn and landscaping this season:

Efficient, effective irrigation

Traditional watering methods for lawns, gardens and flower beds waste a lot of water through run-off, over-saturation and evaporation. Rather than spraying water over plants, use a method that delivers the right amount of water where it will do the most good – the roots of plants.

Drip irrigation systems, like those offered by Mister Landscaper, can help you water more effectively. These systems deliver water as close as possible to plant roots, allowing you to achieve better results with less water used. You’ll also lose less water to run-off and evaporation. Place the system on a timer, and you can also ensure you’re watering at optimum times of the day to reduce evaporation and waste. A starter kit with 50 linear feet of tubing – ample enough to handle most gardens and planting beds – costs less than $1 per foot. Visit http://www.misterlandscaper.com to learn more.

Water lawns, gardens and flower beds either early in the morning or as evening approaches to ensure you don’t lose moisture to the hot sun. And if a day is windy, hold off watering lawns altogether as the breeze could leave you watering the sidewalk or driveway, rather than your grass.

Reuse, recycle and preserve

Even during a drought, some rain and condensation will occur. Take steps to capture natural moisture. A rain barrel situated beneath a downspout ensures you can catch run-off from your home’s roof. While using barrel water may not be practical with most irrigation systems, it’s a great option for watering container gardens or even indoor plants. You can also use household water, such as water left over from boiling vegetables or pasta, to water potted plants. Just be sure to let the water cool completely before using it.

You can help plants retain more moisture by placing organic mulch around the roots. The mulch will also help keep down weeds that would compete with plants for much-needed moisture. Depending on where you live and the type of mulch you choose, you can buy a bag of mulch for just a few dollars.

Finally, adjusting the type and location of plants is a great way to grow a drought-resistant garden or landscaping bed. Check with your local agricultural extension or search online for naturally drought-resistant species that do well in your area. By planting these hardier varieties, you can help keep your environment green and growing through a long, dry summer – and avoid the money drain of high water bills.

Courtesy of BPT

Throw a perfect party – without costs and clutter

(BPT) – Whether it’s your child’s birthday or your relatives are flying in from overseas to take part in a family reunion, your life is filled with special events worth celebrating. Of course, you’d love to salute every one of them with a once-in-a-lifetime party, but how do you do that without winding up with a garage filled with party clutter that you’ll never use again and an empty wallet?

It’s easier than you think.

Celebrating that special event doesn’t have to break the bank or leave you the not-so-proud owner of items you’ll have no use for once the party is over. There is another solution: rent what you need. You’ll wow your guests and save money in the process.

Not sure what can be rented? Here are some ideas to create a party beyond your guests’ wildest expectations.

Create the perfect environment

Many party planners feel constrained by the materials they already own when hosting a party, but the truth is renting opportunities allow you to create an atmosphere limited only by your imagination. If you’re looking to hold your party outside, rent a tent. Your area rental business will have tents available in all shapes, sizes and styles, allowing you to pick the perfect one for your event. Heating and cooling units are also available so your guests will always be comfortable, regardless of weather conditions.

You’ll also be able to rent tables and chairs, saving you from having to try and borrow these items or, worse yet, buying more for this one occasion. It creates a more relaxing atmosphere for your guests and they’ll be able to sit and rest rather than having to stand up throughout the event.

For a more formal affair, your local rental store can also provide linens, table service and stemware to complete your look. This will keep you from having to use disposables or from washing dishes when the event is finished, allowing you to relax and enjoy your company.

Wow them with food

If you’re in charge of planning the party, you’ve probably been nervously pondering what you will do about the food. No other party aspect requires so much work, and often you still find yourself eating leftovers for weeks. But rental stores offer several options that will help you wow your guests and indulge them at the same time.

Keeping foods the perfect temperature is always a challenge when hosting an event, but there are some great options available for rent. An ice table is a great way to keep things chilled in the summer heat, preventing undesirable illness. For hot foods, chafers will keep main dishes hot for hours so guests can eat at their leisure.

When it comes to that main course, grilling allows you to feed a lot of people with minimal prep work. But what if you don’t have a grill? You can always rent one. Many rental facilities offer grills of varying sizes, allowing you the chance to pick the right grill for your event.

Consider renting a popcorn machine for your party. People get hungry at different times and a popcorn machine allows your guests to serve themselves and munch on this delicious snack while they wait for the main course.

Activities for kids of any age

Whether it’s a birthday party, a family reunion or some other gathering, odds are children will be at your party. If your venue lacks the appropriate activities to entertain kids for the long haul, consult your area rental facility for options.

An inflatable bounce house will keep your youngest guests entertained for hours while obstacle courses or laser tag are great options for your teenage guests. And the biggest kids at your event will enjoy a casino night with the games you rented.

If you’re expecting a large number of children at that family reunion, you may also consider renting a helium tank and providing balloons for your younger guests. The kids will be entertained, and you’ll save yourself from being out of breath all afternoon.

Chances are you know what that next once-in-a-lifetime event in your family is. The only question is, how will you celebrate it? Consult your local rental facility or visit RentalHQ.com for more ideas. You’ll quickly learn that the only limit to planning your next party is your imagination.

Courtesy of BPT

Cost-control tips for bridesmaids-to-be


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Standing up for your friend as her maid of honor or bridesmaid is a special experience you’ll both remember all your lives. Yet your happiness for your friend, and your joy at participating in her wedding, can be tempered by concerns about the costs associated with being a member of the wedding party.

Just like the bride and groom, attendants often need to use credit to fund their wedding experience, including the cost of a dress, gift for the happy couple, the bachelorette party and perhaps traveling to the wedding location. Still, if you rely too much on credit, you could end up with debt – which is a lot worse than a dress you’ll never wear again.
 

Careful planning and an honest discussion with the bride and groom about cost control can help ensure no one overspends on the big day. 
 
Before you agree:
The first question you should ask yourself is: “Can I afford to be in this wedding?”
 
If the person asking for your participation is your best friend in the world, and saying “no” will harm your relationship, you’ll have to find a way to fund your bridesmaid duties without breaking the bank. But if the invitation comes from a friend you’re not particularly close to, it may be appropriate to decline, especially if the associated costs will be a financial hardship.
 
When the answer has to be “yes,” your next move should be to assess your finances. How much cash can you reasonably set aside between now and the time the bills start to arrive? How much of your participation will need to be funded through credit? 
 
If you know credit will be a big part of your wedding party budget, monitoring your credit for a few months may help you manage your finances. Membership in a product like CreditReport.com offers members valuable tools to help them monitor their credit for a monthly fee.
 
When it’s time to say “yes”: 
Once you have an idea of how you can budget, it’s time to have a candid discussion with the bride and groom. Let them know what you’re comfortable with, and what will be beyond your budget. Determine what their expectations are for the costs you’ll bear, and what they’ll pay for.
 
If you find that your financial abilities and their expectations are too far apart, give them the opportunity to reconsider their invitation for you to be in the wedding. 
 
Ironing out money matters at the beginning of the wedding planning process will help ensure you don’t have to distract the bride and groom with the discussion as their big day approaches – and their stress levels go up.
 
When you’re committed:
Once you’ve said yes and agreed on expenses, it’s time to put your plan into action. Begin setting aside money right away, even if the wedding is a year away. The longer you have to save cash, the less you’ll need to rely on credit as the wedding approaches.
 
Look for ways that you can cut expenses without impacting the wedding itself. For example, if the bridesmaid’s dress must come from a pricey boutique, perhaps you can find matching shoes for less at a different retail store. If you’ll be traveling to the wedding in another state – or even another country – shop for the best airline deal, and explore the possibility of using reward miles or hotel points to help defray your travel costs.
 
Compromise with the bride: If she agrees to let you wear your favorite little black dress, rather than drop a few hundred on something new that you’ll never wear again, make it up to her by helping out in some other way. Perhaps you’re a skilled crafter who can make one-of-a-kind favors for the reception. Maybe your graphic design skills could help her save money on custom-designed invitations. Or perhaps you can use your flower-arranging skills to help her save money on centerpieces, boutonnieres and bouquets.
With some advanced planning and loving honesty, you can help ensure your friend’s big day is as perfect as possible-and that the only thing you’re left with afterward are happy memories.

Courtesy of BPT

Tips for meeting your financial goals this year

As with any other goal, the key to achieving your financial goals is laying out a process that will ultimately lead you to success.

If you’ve set yearly financial goals in the past, but have failed to achieve them, now is a great time to re-evaluate your process. And don’t let past failures discourage you, because you are not alone – only 12 percent of consumers reached their financial goals in this year, according to a recent Zogby IBOPE survey commissioned by TransUnion, one of the three major credit reporting companies.

“Now is the perfect time to appraise your current financial situation and make goals for where you want to be,” says Heather Battison, TransUnion’s senior director responsible for consumer education.

So what can you do to ensure financial success in the coming year? TransUnion offers five tips for planning and achieving your goals:

* Check your credit reports every three months. Monitoring your credit can help you recognize bad financial habits, like making late payments, which can affect credit score. Regularly checking your credit report is also a way to protect yourself against identity theft. If you ever run into a situation where you suspect identity theft, TransUnion provides a guide for what to do next.

* Check for accuracy. Make sure the information on your credit reports is up-to-date and reflects your current credit history. Give yourself at least 30 days to resolve any issues. Online dispute forms are available at TransUnion.com.

* Know your score. Your credit score helps determine your interest rates on credit purchases. A healthier credit score can help you receive the best interest rate, ultimately putting more money in your pocket as your work toward achieving your financial goals.

* Create a monthly spending plan and stick to it. Breaking down your spending habits into smaller and more manageable increments can help you achieve your financial goals. Through breaking it down by month, you can also set aside a fixed amount each month to deal with unexpected financial emergencies that may come up later in the year. If you don’t have to spend this reserve fund, you can treat it as a year-end bonus, or, even better – put it toward next year’s goals.

* Take additional measures to minimize your exposure to identity theft. In addition to frequently checking your credit, you can sign up for a credit monitoring service that will alert you whenever something changes in your report.

Setting yourself up for a successful financial year means developing plans now that you can execute as the year goes on. Additional planning tools to help you understand your credit information, manage your debt load, protect your identity and help you achieve your financial goals can be found TransUnion.com.

Courtesy of BPT