Category Archives: Tips

Identity Theft 101: Tips from PenFed on How to Protect Your Identity

Our parent company, PenFed Credit Union, put out a great post a while back on identity theft and, with the recent hacking attempts, it seemed relevant to re-blog it now.

Did you know that an estimated 17.6 million Americans—that’s 7% of U.S. residents age 16 and older—were victims of identity theft in 2014. That’s 17 million people whose credit cards were used fraudulently or had their personal information used to open new accounts. Having your credit card or identity stolen can make for a big financial headache—and make a mess of your credit until you fix it.

To sort things out, you must contact your financial institution to notify them about the fraud so they can review your account for possible fraudulent transactions and close the account. Also, they will initiate sending you a new card or debit card with a new account. This can be done usually by telephone. However, if your identity has been used to open new fraudulent accounts, the process can be more involved, requiring you to file a police report and dispute inaccurate data on your credit report. While you are not typically on the hook for fraudulent transactions, it can take time to sort out. You should keep a record (date, time, name of financial representative, summary of conversation) of each call to the financial institution.

Avoid stranger danger

But taking some common sense precautions can help you avoid identity theft in the first place. Here’s what you need to know to keep yourself safe from fraud:

  1. Never give passwords or personal information to strangers. Scammers calling your home or even emailing you can be very convincing. They may tell you they’re from the government or your financial institution, and warn of dire consequences if you don’t hand over your social security number, account numbers, or passwords. But no valid institution will ask for this information over the phone or by email—if someone contacts you asking for it, they’re trying to scam you. If you’re contacted by someone and are not sure if it’s legitimate, contact the institution directly to confirm.
  2. Keep your passwords secure. You want to use a strong password—at least 12 characters, including numbers, capital letters, and special characters—to make it hard for thieves to crack. On top of that, you should change your password regularly and never use the same password on multiple websites, which can mean that all of your accounts are compromised if a thief gets just one password. A password manager app on your computer or smartphone can help you keep track of your passwords without resorting to writing them down (which is certainly not secure). If it’s available, you should also use two factor authentication. Two factor authentication requires you to log on with both a password and a code that’s usually texted or emailed to you when you try to log on—and it will stop thieves in their tracks.
  3. Make sure your computer is secure. You should apply security updates to your computer and web browser when they’re available. Most apps can be set up to do this automatically, making it a no-hassle process. If you’re using a shared computer, be sure to log out of any accounts before you walk away, and never use a public computer to access banking or other sensitive information.
  4. Watch your wallet. It doesn’t matter how careful you are with your information if a thief steals your wallet. Always keep an eye on your wallet or purse. In case your wallet does go missing, don’t carry more personal information than you need to. Your social security card, rarely used credit cards, and written down passwords or Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) should never be kept in your wallet. Not carrying unnecessary personal information will help protect you even in case of theft.
  5. Keep your financial documents safe. If other people are in your home, like workmen or even roommates, keep your financial paperwork safely stored and locked up. And when you’re getting rid of bank statements—or even credit card offers you’ve received in the mail—shred them to be sure no one can use them to get your information.
  6. Monitor your financial statements. Even if you’re following all of these steps to stay safe, you may still find yourself the victim of fraud. The best way to catch it early is to check your financial accounts regularly: monitor statements from your financial institution and keep an eye on your credit report. If you see any transactions you didn’t make, report them immediately.
  7. Review your credit report, annually. Your credit report is essentially your financial report card. It’s important to know how to review it and make corrections, if needed—and know what you need to do if you should ever detect fraudulent activity. Federal law requires each credit reporting company to give you a free copy of your credit report once a year. You can request free copies of each of your credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com.
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Should I Sell or Remodel?

Anything that gets as much use as your home shows wear and tear after a few years. Colors and decorative styles look tired and outdated, or you may need more room due to an addition in the family. So do you sell or remodel and stay?

Image resultAsk your favorite Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices PenFed Realty professional to show you homes for sale that have the size, features and finishes you want, and create a comparative market analysis of homes like yours so you’ll know what you can reasonably expect to net if you sell.

You’ll pay about 12% of the sales price and more in closing costs to sell and purchase another home. Moving costs are about $2,300, (if you have 4 movers at $200 per hour) for an intrastate move and about 7,400 pounds of household goods, according to the American Moving and Storage Association.

If you decide to remodel, make sure your design will meet your needs for years to come. You’ll need the right team – contractors, kitchen planners and interior designers to help you put it all together. Talk to your lender to learn how much you can borrow and if that sum will help you meet your remodeling goals.

BEWARE: Wire Fraud is on the Rise

In June 2017, cybercriminals stole more than $14 million from unsuspecting people. Real estate transactions are especially vulnerable to these wily larcenists.

Real estate purchases routinely involve sending large sums of money by wire. This method is convenient, fast, and generally secure. Still, sophisticated criminals have been able to exploit people’s lack of familiarity with the real estate and escrow process.

One of the most common scams has been to convince an unwary buyer that the instructions for wiring funds have changed at the last minute “for security reasons.” The email, which appears to come from the title company or other settlement service provider, asks the buyer to wire their funds to a different link than previously agreed. The unsuspecting buyer who falls for this deception will discover, too late, that their money has been diverted to the scammer’s offshore account and is gone forever, along with the scammer.

The obvious advice is to avoid getting taken in by this kind of chicanery. Never wire funds without personally verifying with the title company or real estate closing lawyer that any change is genuine. For those unfortunates who may fall prey to the scam, there are some immediate actions that may offer a slim chance to recover the misdirected funds.

  • Contact the bank or other financial institution the funds were sent from. They may be able to stop the transfer.
  • Contact all parties involved in the real estate transaction, including the title and escrow people, the seller and the agents.
  • Inform the FBI immediately. You can file a complaint at www.ic3.gov. This should be done as quickly as possible. Even waiting just 72 hours could be too late for any recovery.

There are few experiences in life that are more stressful, emotional and confusing as buying a home. Criminals are well aware of this and will do their utmost to leverage those aspects to separate unsuspecting people from their money.

Knowledge is key.

Source: Everyone’s favorite mortgage guy, Jason Banks and TBWS

Things to Consider When Buying a Townhome

If you’re buying a home but are not interested in keeping up with maintenance, you’re probably looking at buying a condo or townhouse. And while condos can feel very much like living in an apartment, a townhouse gives you a space of your own. While townhomes typically do share a wall with another home (or homes) in the development, buying a townhouse is also buying the little plot of land it sits on, which means getting an outdoor space you’re not likely to find in a condo.

You won’t find townhomes offering as much space as single family detached homes, but by offering more space than a typical condo they can have a lot of appeal for families—or anyone who needs more room than an apartment or condo, without the hassles of owning a single-family home.

But a townhouse isn’t the perfect solution for everyone. Let’s walk through what you should consider before deciding on a townhouse.

You’ll have to deal with a homeowner’s association

If you buy a single-family detached home, the repair and maintenance of it will be on you—but for townhomes, much of the repair and maintenance will be handled by an HOA. Though these services are not free, you’ll pay monthly dues in addition to your mortgage. An HOA will help you avoid unexpected costs (like the need to fix a damaged roof) and they’ll save you time on maintenance tasks by managing the yard and even shoveling the snow. Though this can increase your monthly expenses, it may also be a good way to make your monthly expenses more predictable, since surprise homeownership costs will be few and far between.

If low maintenance homeownership appeals to you, a townhouse could be an ideal fit. However, you should still take a close look at the HOA and what it offers you, because the precise repairs and maintenance they’ll do will vary from association to association.

Still, that association can come with snags if you want to customize your house. For example, you may not be allowed to change the exterior colors or plant whatever you’d like in your front yard. If that’s important to you, check the HOA’s rules (CC&Rs) to see what they allow. If they won’t let you use the property to your liking, you might consider a single family detached home instead.

You may be able to find a townhouse with better amenities

Though what you’ll find in your area will vary, because more townhomes can be built in a smaller space than single family homes, you’re more likely to find them in urban areas—possibly locations where it’s hard or prohibitively expensive to buy a single-family home. For this same reason, it can also be easier to find newly constructed townhomes, which can make it easier to find modern, updated amenities that you might not come by in an older single-family home.

In addition to these extras, buying a townhouse also means you’re buying into a community, and most such communities will also have shared amenities, like a gym, pool, tennis court, or laundry room. Different developments will offer different perks, so if there’s something in particular you have your heart set on, investigate the development to make sure it has just what you want.

It may cost less up-front

Because you’re sharing your home’s walls and foundation with your neighbors, construction costs for a townhouse are often lower than construction costs for a single-family home—which means you’ll pay less to buy one. Even considering the HOA fees (which you should carefully weigh against maintenance and repair costs if you’re trying to decide whether to buy a townhouse or a single-family home), you may be able to get more home for less money by buying a townhouse.

You’ll share a wall with a neighbor

However, there’s a downside to that lower cost—and it’s the fact that you share one or more walls with your neighbors and don’t have a lot of space to get some distance from your fellow community members. Because of this, townhomes can be nosier and offer less privacy than a detached home (though they’ll be quiet to those used to living in a condo or apartment).

In the end, how loud it is really comes down to your neighbors and your own tolerance for living in (relatively) close quarters.

Reprinted with permission from PenFed Credit Union Blog. ©2017. All rights reserved.

Quick Tips for Easy Spring Cleaning

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The snow has melted, the days are longer, and all of a sudden everything seems in need of a nice freshening up.  If spring cleaning is on you mind but you are overwhelmed at the task ahead, check out these tips from MaxSold.com.

Decide what you are keeping

Heard of the KonMari decluttering method? Keep an item if it brings you joy and if you have room for it – if not, set it aside. Start with a post-its to speed up the process as you go along – bite the bullet and blaze through it in a day, or tackle one room at a time.

Don’t take it to the dump

One person’s trash is another person’s treasure – it’s amazing how much money you can recover for your unwanted things. Instead of filling up landfill, fill up your wallet. Barry Gordon, the founder of MaxSold, an online selling platform, says “A chair that the owner was going to leave out in the side of the curb sold for over $2000, and a box of extension cords that would have gone to the dump sold for $40.”

Don’t prematurely sell off high value items

Ever post an ad online and get a response in an instant? This will leave you wondering if you grossly underpriced the item. The opposite is also true – if no one responds to your ad for weeks, maybe you overpriced it, and lowering the price over days for 100s of items is inefficient. Use an auction platform like MaxSold to sell everything where multiple people compete for the goods. Things that are better will engage more people and foster competition for not only items in demand, but for everything you are clearing out.

Don’t put stuff in storage

So many people are focused on “What’s my dining room going to bring?” The hard truth is that no one is going to give you a lot of money for your dining room. It’s going to be heartbreaking. It’s going to be awful. If you’ve got someone to give it to in the family, then that’s a good idea. But most people do not. And since they have nowhere else to go with it, they decide to put it into storage. Unfortunately, they end up paying thousands of dollars in storage cost each year, only to have the items further depreciate in value.

10 Tips for Homebuyers and Sellers

Spring is here, and so is spring home-buying and -selling. Buyers and sellers preparing to take action this season should put those plans into play now—according to Zillow Group’s Report on Consumer Housing Trends, the No. 1 regret for both buyers and sellers is “not starting their home search or prepping their home to sell soon enough.”

“This spring, both buyers and sellers should be prepared for fast-moving sales, intense negotiations, and even bidding wars,” says Jeremy Wacksman, CMO at Zillow Group. “Home shoppers and sellers are motivated to become more strategic and knowledgeable about what’s happening in their neighborhood. Understanding whether you are in a buyer’s or a seller’s environment will help you manage your expectations and will give you insight into what you’re going to need to bring to the table in order to close the deal.”

For buyers, that means:

Keep your options open. More than half (52 percent) of homebuyers surveyed in the report said they also considered renting, and more than one-third (37 percent) of first-time buyers seriously considered continuing to rent. Savvy shoppers should have a Plan B in place, hoping to buy if it works out, but willing to sign a lease for a home if they don’t make a deal by the time they need to move.

Be realistic with your budget. Once you set it, stick to it. First-time home buyers are more likely to exceed their budget than repeat buyers (39 percent versus 26 percent), according to the report. Before you meet with a lender to determine how much mortgage you’ll be approved for, take a good look at your individual finances and spending preferences to determine the monthly payment range that you feel you can comfortably afford.

Get your financing squared away early. Plan to meet a few lenders four to six months ahead of when you’re planning to buy to ensure you can make a competitive offer quickly when you find your dream home. The majority (82 percent) of buyers get pre-approved, with 77 percent getting pre-approval from a lender before finding a home on which they are interested in placing an offer.

Find an agent with a winning track record. Take the time to find an agent who has expertise in fast negotiation, leveraging escalation clauses, and winning bidding wars. Only 46 percent of buyers got the first home on which they made an offer, according to the report, demonstrating that competition is now part of the process. Choose an agent based on sales and listing activity, area of expertise and reputation.

Communication is key. Make sure your preferred method—and frequency—of communication matches that of your agent. One-third (33 percent) of all buyers surveyed in the report preferred phone calls with their agent over emailing (21 percent) or texting (15 percent). Buyers can use the agent reviews on Zillow to learn more about prospective agents and their clients’ experiences.

And for sellers:

Start early and be strategic. Sellers consider putting their home on the market for five months before they list it—but the top seller regret is that they wished they spent more time prepping for the sale. Many cities have a magic window in the spring when homes have a higher likelihood of selling quickly for more money.

Work with an agent from the start. The vast majority (90 percent) of sellers surveyed in the report who sold quickly and for more than list price worked with an agent, and two out of three (58 percent) began working with an agent at the very beginning of their selling journey.

Pay attention to your online curb appeal. The majority of buyers begin their search online. Sellers who sold their home for more than list price made imagery and home information available online: 48 percent had professional photos taken of the home; 30 percent shot video footage; and 21 percent shot drone footage. Zillow’s video walk-throughs give sellers an easy way to show home features that are hard to capture in photos.

Home improvements can be a worthwhile investment. Sellers who fetched above list price tackled home improvements before listing their home, being 50 percent more likely to take on a large project like modifying an existing home plan and 20 percent more likely to renovate a kitchen than the average seller.

Don’t be afraid to try again. In many markets, nearly half of listing views occur in the first week the home is on the market. Twenty-six percent of those who sold above list price took their home off the market once to adjust the sales price, opting to start anew, rather than letting the home languish on the market with minimal activity.

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2017. All rights reserved.

Household Cleaning Tips That Save Time and Money

Household Cleaning Tips That Save Time and Money

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Spring – a time for new beginnings – is just around the corner. It’s time to air out the winter blahs and let the sun shine in. But there’s no need to knock ourselves out or over-spend on cleaning supplies. The home editors at Good Housekeeping magazine offer tips on cleaning every corner of your home without exhausting yourself or your wallet:

One simple solution: No need to spend money on specialized cleaning products. Fill an empty spray bottle with a quart of warm water mixed with four tablespoons of baking soda, and use it for most surfaces, including windows, counters, tile, and appliances.

Toothpaste trick – If your kids are a little too creative, a dab of toothpaste will remove colored marker stains from wooden tables.

Wipe out wall doodles – A good sprinkling of baking soda on a damp sponge should wipe your walls clean of ‘artwork.’

Funky cutting board? – Rub the cut side of a lemon over it to remove old stains and odors.

Wake up patio furniture – add a squirt of dish soap to a bowl of warm water. Wipe down surfaces and hose them off with plain water.

Soften scratchy towels – Get rid of mineral build-up by washing scratchy towels in the hottest water possible with nothing but a cup of ammonia added.

Easy copper cleanup – A little ketchup – yes, ketchup! – will get those copper-bottomed pots and pans shining.

Dishwasher duty – Once every few weeks, especially while flu season hangs around, get rid of bacteria by adding a quarter cup of bleach to the regular dish cycle.

Disinfect the disposal – Run a few lemon peels, a little salt, and a few ice cubes through it to sanitize and banish odors.

Don’t forget the sponge – Keep that wet sponge clean and bacteria-free by zapping it in the microwave for one minute.

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2017. All rights reserved.