Making Summer More Energy Efficient

making-your-home-more-energy-efficient-this-summerIt’s expected to be a hotter summer this year, but don’t confine your money-saving efforts to the thermostat.

The warm months can be the best time to focus on cutting year-round energy costs. Free of snow, ice and wind, it’s easier to spot problems, do repairs and budget for energy-efficient appliances and fix-up projects that can save considerable money in the future.

Your first step should be better tracking and analysis of the energy you buy. The most common sources of energy spending are home utilities and fuel costs for vehicles. However, if you own a vacation home, operate a business within your residential space or have different vehicles for land or water, see if you can separate those numbers so you can more clearly identify usage patterns month to month and find ways to cut back.

Think about an energy audit.

Whether you do it yourself or pay for the services of a certified professional summer is the best time to do a basement-to-rooftop energy audit. Some utility companies have home energy audits online so you can see where your energy is going. Prospective homeowners might make an energy audit part of their home inspection process. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, in 2014, the average American spent 60 percent of their energy dollars heating rooms and water. Another 16 percent goes to lighting, cooling and food refrigeration. The remainder – nearly a quarter of total home energy uses – covers all miscellaneous energy use in the house.

Then focus on the thermostat.

In the summer, confine heavy air conditioning use to the hottest nights, and the rest of the time, try to set the thermostat a little higher than you do now. For example, the U.S. Energy Department says that setting your air conditioning to 78 degrees instead of 72 can save between 6-18 percent on your summer cooling bill. Before you spend money on a programmable thermostat or convert your real-time utility billing to a budget plan, note that some research questions their value. First, see how much you can save by shutting off vents and doors and drawing curtains in unused rooms and spaces. If you don’t have pets, you may consider setting your thermostat significantly higher than 78 before you leave for work.

Lights out.

We’ve all been admonished to turn off the lights when we leave a room, but there are other things we can do to capture random, or energy waste. Sensors, dimmers and timers can reduce lighting use, and installing power strips can keep computers, microwaves, cable boxes, DVRs and high-end TV sets from sucking energy even when they’re not turned on. Unplugging between uses works too. Also, swapping conventional incandescent bulbs for compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) can provide lighting that lasts longer and saves money on replacements.

Check for tax credits and rebates.

Make a call to your tax professional, check the Internal Revenue Service’s website and EnergyStar.gov for news on residential energy credits for specific replacement appliances and energy-saving improvements to your home. Keep in mind that Congress traditionally acts late each year to renew old credits or to approve new ones.

Consider energy-smart landscaping.

Keep in mind that well-placed trees and shrubs can shield a home from the sun and the elements year-round and potentially save 25 percent on energy costs annually.

Cars, gas, and public transportation.

If you drive, consolidate errands, fill up your tank at cheaper times and consider smartphone apps to find low gas prices for commuting and vacation use. And if you don’t regularly use public transportation, start testing it during the summer. The additional walking most people do when they take public transportation has health benefits as well.

Bottom line: This summer, don’t just try to keep cool. Save money by changing your year-round energy behavior.

 

By Nathaniel Sillin

Advantages of Online Banking

online-banking

 

There’s nothing wrong with being old school. If you’ve got a paper and pencil system that makes your personal finances hum like a well-oiled machine, then by all means feel free to stick to it. At the same time, it can’t hurt to try a more advanced system. If you find you aren’t comfortable with electronic banking, you can always go back to the manual method.

If you’ve been resisting switching over to online banking, here are some possible incentives to at least giving it a shot:

  • You are better protected against ID theft since you typically are in touch with account activity more immediately.
  • It’s easier to track your balances since you have many different ways to access account information.
  • It’s better for the environment because of the lack of paper.
  • You are less likely to suffer overdraft or over-limit fees since you can access your account information easily and at any time.
  • You are less likely to suffer from insufficient funds or other problems due a mistake in your math or record-keeping.
  • Online banking can make expense-tracking and budgeting much easier since you have an automatic record of charges whenever you want it.
  • You may be able to set up alerts to let you know when certain triggering events have happened with your accounts.
  • Many forms of online banking easily interface with computer programs that can help you get the most out of your money.
  • Many financial institutions allow you to deposit checks or perform other tasks online that otherwise would have necessitated an extra trip. This can save you quite a bit of money in gas if you live a good distance from your financial institution.
  • Online banking is typically free. This can save you money over paying fees to do paper banking.
  • There’s no waiting in long lines.
  • Online banking can be done at any time of the day or night.
  • Automated online bill-paying features mean never forgetting a bill that’s due. Plus, you don’t have to buy stamps or manage the mess of a bunch of paper bills floating around.
  • Transferring money between your accounts literally takes seconds.
  • Sending money to others is very simple. Once you set up a connection between your account and that of another person, you can transfer funds with just a few clicks.
  • Online banking makes it easy to access your money no matter where you are. If you are traveling, as long as you can find a computer, you can do with your money what you need to.
  • Direct deposit of your pay or other checks saves you a lot of time and hassle.
  • You no longer have to guess at when your money is available. If you normally find yourself waiting for checks to clear, you can instead set up an alert to tell you when the funds are available. This will save you a great deal of time calling the bank to see if you have access to the money yet.

Online banking is secure and generally extremely easy and cheap to use. At the very least, it’s worth a shot if you haven’t tried it out yet. Click here to learn more about or to enroll in NASA Federal’s eBranch Online Banking.

Tooth Fairy Calculator App

toothfairyWhat’s the going rate for a tooth in America? Use the Tooth Fairy Calculator to determine what the Tooth Fairy is leaving under pillows of other children.

By entering information including gender, education, state, age, family size, marital status and household income you can see how much the Tooth Fairy left in other households. The app also shows how inflation affects the amount, and compares what children are receiving now versus what they received decades ago.

The data is based on a 2014 nationwide survey. Features include photo sharing capability and fun photo filters in the Tooth Booth and personalized emails to send to your child from the Tooth Fairy. To access the app, click here.

This app does not collect personal information.

 

© 2013 Visa

Should I Pay Down Debt Or Invest My Monthly Surplus?

pay down debt

 

When you have some surplus cash on hand, it is sometimes difficult to determine whether you should use it for investment purposes or to pay down your debt. If your after-tax return on investments is more than your after-tax cost of debt, it is probably better to invest.

Just remember to consider the nature of risk behind the investment you choose (i.e., you may lose the money you invest, but you may still have financial obligations to pay back the liability). Use this calculator to help analyze your current situation.

 

© 2010 Visa

 

Saving Green With Your Car Color

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When picking the shade of a car to buy, you might be thinking mostly about making a personal statement. But you may also want to think about how the hue will affect your bank statement too. Here are some factors to consider when making the choice.

Safety

One of the keys to avoiding costly accidents is to be seen by others on the road as clearly as possible. If you do a lot of driving at night, a dark car might not be a good buy since it will be harder for drivers around you to make you out from the surroundings. White is a good choice both for driving at night and in general. Gray cars on the other hand can be very difficult to see under certain conditions. Some manufacturers have even stopped making gray cars because of this.

Resale value

Unless you are buying a vehicle on its last legs, you will want to give some thought to your ability to sell the car after you are done with it. That lime green ride may fit your zany personality, but it could cost you hundreds of dollars when it comes time to sell the vehicle. Silver and white tend to be popular choices for those buying a used car.

Cooling

If you live in an area that experiences high temperatures, having a dark car could mean more of the sun’s energy absorbed into the vehicle and more money spent on gas because of the need to run the air conditioning longer.

Cleaning

Unlike with clothes, the color black doesn’t hide stains very well on cars. In fact, black might be the worst color for dirt and grime – they tend to really stand out against the dark background. If you buy a darkly-colored car you may end up paying for more trips to the car wash to keep your vehicle looking sharp. Silver cars are known for keeping a clean appearance longer.

A couple of myths dispelled

There is no evidence that red cars get more speeding tickets. Also, no insurance company has ever said it charges more or less for certain car colors.

 

2014 BALANCE

 

Paying Student Loans

debt free zoneYou have the education. Now it’s time to start paying for it. Easier said than done. But the following information may make paying back your student loans just a little bit easier.

Exit Interview

If you have taken student loans, your school is required by law to give you an exit interview. This is simply a time to meet with a financial aid advisor to discuss your repayment obligations and options. Make sure not to miss the opportunity.

Grace Periods

Because some college students don’t get jobs immediately after graduation, lenders usually offer a grace period of about six months before you need to start repaying your student loans. Take time during your grace period to organize your finances and evaluate your options.

Create a Plan

Knowing what you owe and when you need to start making payments is the first step to handling your debt well and keeping that credit score high. Storing your loan paperwork in one safe place is another key to staying on top of your loans.

Ways to Repay

There are many different ways you can arrange your payment schedule, depending on what you can afford:

  • The standard payment plan, if you can afford it, will offer you the lowest total loan cost.
  • A graduated payment plan will start you out with lower payments that increase as time goes on. It’s convenient for now, but you’ll be paying more interest over the long haul.
  • With income-related payment plans, your monthly payment amounts are tied directly to your income instead of rising gradually no matter what your income.
  • Extended repayment allows you to make smaller payments for a much longer period of time. Of course, the longer you owe money, the more interest you pay, and the total amount in the end goes up dramatically.
  • Consolidation can happen when a lender offers you a lower interest rate and allows you to combine all of your loan payments into one convenient payment. You can save a lot of money over the life of your loan.

Don’t Default

Blowing off your loans is one of the worst financial missteps you can take. After six months of missed payments, you will likely be faced with collectors and a destroyed credit rating. So if you’re having trouble making payments, call your lender and find out your options (including deferment) right away.

Reducing Your Debt

Depending on your career path, there are few prime ways to knock out big portions of your loans:

  • Peace Corps: By joining the Peace Corps, you can get a 15% cancellation of your loans during your first two years and 20% during your third and fourth years.
  • AmeriCorps: If you like the idea of the Peace Corps but don’t want to leave the country, AmeriCorps could be for you. Get up to $4,725 toward your education.
  • Military Service: All five branches of the military offer education assistance programs. Check with your local recruiter to find out how they can help you.
  • Teaching: Depending on where and how long you teach, you can get complete loan cancellation or at least a deferment of some loans by filing specific understaffed teaching positions.
  • Legal and medical service: If you decide to study medicine or law, research programs that offer partial cancellation of loans for public service.

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