Decorating your home is one of the most enjoyable parts of the holiday season. Because electricity is involved with so many holiday decorations, it’s important you follow a few simple tips to keep your home and family safe.
Checking your decorations and electrical equipment for damage is one of the most important things you can do to stay safe this holiday season. Before plugging anything in, inspect electrical outlets to ensure they aren’t loose, damaged, or cracked. You should also look for damage to your decorations themselves, like cracked bulbs and frayed electrical cords, and refrain from using decorations with these problems.
Avoid overloading your electrical outlets. If you’re using incandescent light strings to decorate your home or your tree, never plug more than one of these strings into a single outlet. Also, don’t plug multiple high-wattage decorations into one outlet. Either of these decorating missteps can easily overload the outlet and increase your risk for a house fire.
Buy the right decorations. When you’re shopping for your indoor and outdoor decorations, look for items that have been certified by an independent testing laboratory. This means a decoration has been successfully safety-tested.
Lastly, make sure you unplug your electrical decorations whenever you leave your house and when you go to sleep at night. Many electrical fires occur when homeowners are asleep or out of the home, so taking this extra precaution is an important safety tip.
If you want to enjoy a safe holiday season, follow each of these electrical safety tips. Using electrical decorations responsibly can help protect your family from harm while you also transform your home for the holidays.
What questions to ask your contractor in advance of hiring them. Most homeowners have some concerns when it comes to hiring home improvement professionals. Some are afraid of overpaying, some worry that they’re hiring an unqualified professional, and others wonder about the character of the individuals they’re inviting into their homes. Asking these ten questions can help alleviate all of these concerns.
1. How long have you been in the business or working in the industry?
Look for a credible track record and successful work experience.
2. Are you licensed, insured and bonded?
At the very least, make sure your pro is licensed and carries worker’s comp and liability insurance. Bonding is not a universal requirement. Think of bonding as homeowner insurance that protects you in case of an incomplete job.
3. Do you guarantee your work in writing?
While a verbal guarantee is nice, it offers no guarantees that the contractor will actually stand behind his work. Draft a written guarantee that states exactly what is and isn’t covered.
4. Can you provide references?
Ratings and reviews are a great resource, especially when coupled with references from previous customers. Ask your contractor to provide a list of references. Don’t hire pros who can’t offer references. I would also advise researching the Better Business Bureau to see any complaints that may have been filed against the company.
5. Do you pull all the required permits?
Failing to pull the requited permits can cost you in the long run. Have your contractor pull the necessary paperwork and permits to get your job started. Also require that they deliver copies of all closed permits once the job is completed. If your contractor is hesitant, find a new pro.
6. Who will be managing the project?
If your contractor isn’t in charge of your job, insist on meeting the project manager to ensure he measures up to your standards.
7. What is the project timeline and daily work schedule?
Construction scheduling is never perfect. Workers get sick, orders get delayed and weather causes interruptions. But an organized contractor will provide you with a work schedule that clearly outlines a start and end date.
8. Will you need water or bathroom facilities?
Most contractors are self-sufficient enough to bring their own water. But, unless your job is a major remodel that necessitates bringing in a port-a-john, there’s a good chance your workers will need to use your facilities. Dedicate a bathroom (or bathrooms) to your workers before you start your project.
9. Will you need my garage code or keys to my house? Who will have access?
Many homeowners feel uncomfortable handing over the keys to their home. Unless you plan on staying home during the construction, you’re going to need to give your contractor access to your house. Knowing who has the keys to your home will give you peace of mind. You may feel confident with your ongoing security if you plan on having your locks rekeyed after the project is completed.
10. Will you sign a contract?
All worthwhile contractors will write out a clear contract that defines the work to be performed, as well as the material, costs and completion timeframes associated with the project. Thorough contracts also cover what happens if the project becomes problematic. This is known as a time and materials contract. The contract should also include a termination clause that spells out the circumstances in which both parties are allowed to terminate the contract.
DO NOT PAY IN FULL UNTIL THE ENTIRE PROJECT IS COMPLETED AND YOU ARE SATISFIED WITH THE WORK.
- Floridians pay an average $5,679 per person in state and local taxes
- Residents pay an average $2,584 in state taxes – one of the least amounts nationwide. Only the residents of one other state pay less.
- However, local tax burdens are higher. “Per Capita Local Tax Collections” ranked No. 27 nationally.
- In the balance between state and local taxes, Florida relies more heavily on local revenue than almost all other states and is No. 2 nationwide. Local taxes account for 53.3 percent of the total.
- With property taxes, Florida ranks a solid “average” score – No. 25. The state’s per capita property tax ranking is right at the median – 25th.
- Florida also classifies 38.7 percent of its state and local revenue as non-tax revenue (such as “fees”) – the 7th largest percentage in the nation.
- Florida relies more heavily on transaction taxes, such as general and sales taxes. They make up, 81.5 percent of all state tax collections compared to the national average of 47.2 percent.
- Florida has the highest state and local selective sales (excise) taxes on utilities in the nation. The tax on motor fuels is No. 15; the tax on alcoholic beverages is No. 19.
- Florida’s housing sector produces significant revenue, and the state’s documentary stamp taxes are rising rapidly post-recession. It collected an average of $276 per capita in 2006, $72 in 2009, and $130 per capita in 2016 – the nation’s second-largest doc-tax burden.
- Florida is one of seven states without a personal income tax. The average state relies on personal income taxes for 37.0 percent of its tax revenue.
- Businesses pay 51.7 percent of all Florida state and local taxes – the 12th highest percentage in the nation.
World events are conspiring to make it more expensive for you to borrow money to buy a house.
Mortgage rates have increased for six consecutive weeks, according to Bankrate data, bringing interest on a 30-year fixed rate loan to 4.44 percent—the highest level in 11 months—while home prices continue to rise due to a lack of available homes.
After years of tepid economic growth, inflation and wage growth recently found a groove, while the Federal Reserve’s plan to raise short-term interest rates multiple times for a consecutive year has reduced the value of government debt.
Homebuyers Should Get off the Fence
Mortgage rates are moved by the yield on 10-year Treasuries, rather than short-term rate hikes by the Fed. That’s why mortgage rates fell throughout 2017, for instance, even as the central bank raised the federal funds rate three times. Rates remain cheap, however, compared to historical prices. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage came with an interest rate above 6 percent just before the Great Recession in 2007. Potential homeowners should get off the fence and make a bid, assuming you have an affordable home target and adequate savings, because rates are likely only heading north.
Mortgage rates are expected to climb in 2018, so it might be worth shopping for a mortgage before this long period of low rates takes a turn.
Here are several predictions from the largest housing and mortgage groups for the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage:
The Commerce Department reported that January Housing Starts jumped 9.7 percent from December to an annual rate of 1.326 million units. This was the highest level since October 2016 and up 7.3 percent from January 2017. Single-family starts, which account for the largest share of the market, rose 3.7 percent from December while multi-dwelling starts with five or more units surged 19.7 percent. Housing Starts rose in the Northeast, South and West but declined in the Midwest.
Building Permits, a sign of future construction, rose 7.4 percent from December to an annual rate of 1.396 million units. With many buyers facing inventory shortages across much of the country, this strong report regarding new home construction is a welcome sign!
The National Association of REALTORS® reported that January Existing Home Sales declined 3.2 percent from December to an annual rate of 5.38 million units. Sales were down 4.8 percent from a year ago, the largest decline since August 2014. Low inventories of homes for sale were indeed a thorn in the side of would-be buyers with just a 3.4-month supply available at the current sales pace. A 6-month supply is considered healthy.
Retail Sales also disappointed in January, as the Commerce Department reported a 0.3 percent decrease. December’s reading was also revised downward to 0 percent from a 0.4 percent increase. The key highlight was that consumer spending wasn’t strong in recent months, and this could impact GDP expectations.
Consumer inflation edged higher in January, with an important component jumping to a 12-month high! The Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 0.5 percent in January, just above expectations due to higher gasoline prices, the Labor Department reported. Core CPI, which strips out volatile food and energy prices, rose 0.3 percent from December. This was the largest increase in a year, boosted by rising rents.
Inflation reduces the value of fixed investments like Mortgage Bonds. This means signs of inflation can hurt Mortgage Bonds and impact the home loan rates tied to them, which is a trend we’ve seen through much of this year. Stocks have also reacted negatively to hints that inflation was on the rise because inflation brings higher rates and higher rates hurt corporate borrowing. Stocks even entered correction territory in early February, meaning a 10 percent decline from recent highs.
As data breaches go, this is one of the most extensive.
The sensitive information of almost half of all Americans has been compromised, all because the company safeguarding that information reportedly failed to upgrade and update software despite being warned to do so.
To make it worse, company execs sold millions in stock after the breach, but before they told the public what had happened. The company continued to sell consumers like you pricey identity protection packages, even though they knew they were guilty of exposing that same consumer data to hackers. And it seems they suffered another hack earlier in the year but failed to notify us of the potential damage.
No wonder consumers feel helpless as they try to protect themselves from identity fraud.
Here’s what you should you be doing now in response to the Equifax breach.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has put together some very helpful and comprehensive background information on the Equifax breach, chock full of consumer tips. You can read that guidance here.
Do a test
Visit the Equifax website www.equifaxsecurity2017.com to see if your personal data has been exposed.
Here’s the how-to’s from the FTC: “Click on the “Potential Impact” tab and enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number. Your Social Security number is sensitive information, so make sure you’re on a secure computer and an encrypted network connection any time you enter it. The site will tell you if you’ve been affected by this breach.”
Monitor your credit
If you’re affected, sign up for the year of free credit monitoring that Equifax is offering. Even if you are not affected, you should monitor your credit to make sure no one else is taking out loans in your name. (Many big-name credit card companies offer free credit monitoring as a cardholder perk. Use it).
Once a year, you can get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major bureaus (Experian®, Equifax®, TransUnion®) at annualcreditreport.com.
Here’s some additional advice from credit card lender Capital One: “It’s important to review all three reports—some lenders don’t report to every bureau, so they may have different information. Read through each report carefully and make sure you recognize the accounts. If something strange turns up, start by contacting the lender to investigate. For more info, take a look at this article on checking your credit report.”
Practice safe financial habits
Keep a close eye on your finances by reconciling bank accounts and credit card statements monthly, shred financial papers, change passwords often, use different passwords for different financial accounts, be careful what you click on, and practice safe computer habits.
It’s not a bad idea to enroll in purchase notification programs with your bank or credit card providers. They’ll alert you by text or email if there are large or unusual purchases in your accounts. Some even let you lock or unlock your card via mobile app. (I’ve got some funny stories to share about the purchase alerts I’ve gotten for my college age kids. Definitely TMI).
Fraud alerts and freezes
There’s been a lot of talk about fraud alerts and freezes. Putting afraud alert on your credit reports lets potential lenders know what’s going on, explains Capital One, and alerts them to take extra steps to verify your identity before issuing credit in your name.
According to Capital One, “you only need to notify one of the three credit reporting companies to put a fraud alert on your credit report and they’re required to tell the other two companies. Make sure you keep copies of all letters and renew the alert every 90 days until the issue is resolved. You can also check out the Federal Trade Commission’s website for more information.”
A credit freeze provides more protection but is time-consuming. A freeze restricts access to your credit report. Without reviewing that info, few lenders will open a new account for you. “This makes it harder for potential thieves to apply for credit or open accounts in your name,” says Capital One. However, freezing your accounts may involve service charges, takes time on the phone or online, and can get in your way the day you want to buy a new car or make some other consumer purchase using credit. To learn more about credit freezes, click here.