How to Afford All Your 2017 Home Improvements

Published: Tuesday, January 31, 2017 @ 6:30 AM

A leaky roof or a sagging gutter can be hard to ignore. The same goes for some old-school wood paneling in your den or that hideous palm tree wallpaper you put up in a (misguided) attempt to recreate your honeymoon. Unfortunately, most home improvements don’t exactly come cheap.

In fact, it may even feel like you’re basically saving up another down payment on your home to fix it up. There are some ways, however, to sock some dollars away and have your new sink and bathtub in the new year, too.

Here’s how to work some much-needed home improvements into your 2017 budget.

1. Save

Sure, you may feel inclined to rush into renovations — and when it comes to certain home repairs, things must be readily done. But it still behooves you to save where you can before crossing things off the to-do list. One trick?

“[Set] an automatic transfer from your checking account to your savings account to take place every two weeks on your payday so that the money leaves your account before you ever have a chance to spend it,” Brian Davis, director of education for real estate blog SparkRental, said.

2. Use Your Tax Refund

Getting a big rebate from Uncle Sam this year? Put it toward your home repairs.

“While it’s easy to spend your refund impulsively, try to allocate some or all of it towards a big project that you’ve been holding off on,” Larry Greene, president at Case Design/Remodeling Indianapolis, said.

3. Get a Tax Break

Speaking of taxes, making improvements to your home could qualify you for certain tax deductions or credits the next time you file. For instance, if you take out a home improvement loan or a home equity line of credit (HELOC), you may be eligible to the deduct interest. You can also qualify for a tax deduction if the improvements happen to be related to medical expenses, like constructing entrance or exit ramps or widening doorways for a sick or disabled resident.

Plus, you could qualify for a tax credit if you make certain improvements that increase your home’s energy efficiency. These credits include a $300 credit for installing a biomass stove; a $300 credit for air source heat pumps; and up to $200 for installing Energy Star-certified windows and skylights. You can learn more about the energy efficiency tax credits that are available at Energy.gov.

4. Be Smart About How You Pay

While you don’t want to overextend yourself, you may want to look into borrowing some money to put toward your home improvements — particularly if they’re the kind you can no longer put off.

Of course, it’s important to consider all your financing options before you decide how to fund a project. We already mentioned that home improvement loans and HELOCs can qualify for a tax deduction, but those aren’t your only options. There are also bank-issued credit cards or that tout promotional financing offers which allow you to skip interest on your charges for a certain period of time, usually 12 to 18 months.

If you don’t feel you can stay disciplined with a credit card, depending on your credit, you may also be able to secure a low-interest personal loan. Just be sure to crunch the numbers so you understand what you’re getting into and whether you can really afford to borrow that select amount of money. (You can learn more about this kind of financing in our loan learning center.) 

5. Shop Around

Research the price of the materials you’re looking to use across “at least three, but on average five to six product and brand choices,” John Bodrozic, co-founder of HomeZada, a digital home management platform, said. Prices vary and you could conceivably drive down the costs of a particular home improvement project just for opting for different brands or materials.

Similarly, “if you feel hiring a contractor is the best approach, give them a list of things you want for your project, and go out and get at least three different bids,” he said. “This can help lower your costs by creating a competitive environment for the contractors.”

Another way to find the right person for the job: “Homeowners should ask around among everyone they know: family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors, random strangers in line at the grocery store,” Davis said. “As referrals and recommendations come in, they should call up the contractors and ask to swing by a few of their jobs, to see their work and get a sense of their pricing.”

6. DIY

OK, so not everyone is going to be able to hang drywall (though there’s certainly no lack of how-to videos on the internet to help you learn). And, unless you’re particularly handy or formally trained, many home repairs are best left to the professionals. Still, there are several small projects you can do that could prevent bigger problems and/or help make room in your budget to cover your dream renovations. These DIY projects include:

  • Cleaning out your gutters
  • Swapping out HVAC filters
  • Power-washing your driveway
  • Caulking small holes or cracks around windows, pipes and doors
  • Changing doorknobs
  • Upgrading the hardware on your drawers and cabinets
  • Cleaning carpet stains
  • Simply breaking out the old brush and roller

“You don’t have to spend a ton of money to make major improvements to your home. Look for projects that have the most bang for your buck,” Greene said. “Sometimes even a fresh coat of paint can make your whole house feel new.”

For more DIY options, check out this 10 home improvement projects you can do in a day.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

5 key things you should know about car insurance

Published: Thursday, October 19, 2017 @ 2:46 PM

The following are five things you probably don't know about auto insurance It may cover more than you realize Your car's contents were stolen or damaged? Too bad Other drivers in your house need to be listed on the policy Your rates could go up because of an accident that wasn't your fault You may be missing out on some discounts

Car insurance isn't something you probably think about often, but it's an important tool in protecting your assets.

It pays to learn about your policy before you need it so you can take advantage of its benefits and avoid any unpleasant surprises.

Whether you're shopping for a new policy or are wondering about the specifics of your current coverage, you may be surprised by what you find.

RELATED: 5 ways you can make bank with your wheels

The following are five things you probably don't know about auto insurance:

It may cover more than you realize.

If your car is damaged when a rodent chews through some wires, your expenses will most likely be covered, according to the Motley Fool. Your auto insurer may also pay for damage suffered when your car hits a pothole, and, although you probably won't need it, damage from a riot or meteor. And if you're involved in legal action as the result of a vehicle accident, your car insurance may also provide help with some legal costs.

RELATED: 8 ways to get the cheapest car insurance possible

Your car's contents were stolen or damaged? Too bad.

If you're like many people, you might have several expensive items – your phone, laptop and navigation system – that you often leave in your car. Unfortunately, if you're in an accident and these items are damaged, you're probably on your own when it comes to replacing them, U.S. News & World Report warns. The same is true if your car is stolen while the items are inside.

Other drivers in your house need to be listed on the policy.

In most cases, a car insurance policy provides coverage for you and other people who don't live with you but may occasionally drive your car, according to Business Insider. But if you have other drivers in your home, they will need to be listed on your policy as well. Otherwise, they probably won't be covered if they drive your car and are in an accident.

Your rates could go up because of an accident that wasn't your fault.

The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) found that many companies will raise your rates if you open a claim, even if you're not at fault. The practice is illegal in at least two states (California and Oklahoma), but drivers who live elsewhere are not protected. Companies vary in how much they'll raise your rates, and the CFA found that moderate-income drivers often face higher increases than higher-income drivers do.

You may be missing out on some discounts.

You might be getting a discount for being a good driver or because you're in a certain age group, but you may be missing out on some less-obvious discounts. According to Fox Business, some insurance companies offer discounts if you belong to certain professional groups, are a graduate of a certain college or belonged to one of its affiliated fraternities or sororities. 

Numbers don’t lie: 5 things to know about your FICO score

Published: Tuesday, October 03, 2017 @ 10:37 AM
Updated: Tuesday, October 03, 2017 @ 10:37 AM

To get into the all-important "good credit" score range, experts recommend these five strategies Check and re-check your credit report Avoid quick-fix promises Delinquent payments can seriously damage your FICO scores Pay off more of what you owe Apply for credit cards one at a time

With the 2017 hacking of credit bureau Equifax, credit scores have been in the spotlight recently. But credit scores are important every day for adults who earn or borrow money, especially the FICO score, which is used by 90 of the top 100 largest U.S. financial institutions. 

RELATED: Equifax data breach: What to know

Just what is a FICO score? The short answer: the global standard for measuring credit risk in the banking, mortgage, credit card, auto and retail industries, created by Fair Isaac Corporation. The average adult has FICO scores from each of the three main credit bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. FICO scores are based on amounts owed (30 percent), new credit (10 percent), length of credit history (15 percent), payment history (35 percent) and credit mix (10 percent).

A low FICO score might contribute to a lender's decision to deny you credit and could increase the cost of an auto loan by almost $5,000, according to Consumer Reports. A high FICO can save you thousands annually on everything from reduced credit card interest to the size of the deposit you must pay for electric utility service.

RELATED: Uber isn't everything: 7 other lucrative part-time side gigs 

To get into the all-important "good credit" score range, Consumer Reports and myFICO.com recommend these five strategies:

Atlanta-based consumer credit reporting agency Equifax reversed a decision to include forced arbitration language in its terms of service for its free credit monitoring products after a public outcry earlier this month. The company said a breach of its computer systems had exposed the Social Security numbers and birthdates of up to 143 million U.S. consumers. (Dreamstime/TNS)(The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Check and re-check your credit report

Request one free credit report from a different reporting agency every four months through AnnualCreditReport.com and check for errors, according to Consumer Reports. If you find an error, dispute it with the credit bureau. Pay particular attention to make sure no one has incorrectly listed a late payment on any of your accounts or miscalculated amounts owed on any open accounts. "Hard pull" credit inquiries, which are made by potential lenders with your permission, can lower your FICO score slightly, but this is different. When you check on your own credit, there's no penalty. 

Avoid quick-fix promises

According to myFICO.com, so-called "quick fix" efforts to repair your credit history are the most likely to backfire, so consumers should be leery of any advertisements or credit counselors claiming they can improve your credit score fast. Depending on the reason for a low score, you may need 12 to 24 months before any efforts (except for error corrections) start showing on your score. You can accelerate the improvement by enrolling in a debt-management program and making payments on time, but there's no instant fix.

(Contributed by nestiny.com/For the AJC)

Persistently pay your bills on time

Even if you are only missing payments by a few days, delinquent payments can seriously damage your FICO scores, particularly since you can't fix previous missed or late payments. If you have missed payments, get current and stay current so you can demonstrate that the problem is in the past. Accoding to myFICO, older credit problems count for less and will fade as your new on-time payment pattern starts showing up on your credit report. Some older versions of FICO keep collection accounts on your credit report for up to seven years even if they're paid off, but the most current versions of FICO ignore any collections when the balance is zero, according to Consumer Reports.

Pay off more of what you owe

The "amounts owed" category makes up 30 percent to your FICO score calculation. Unlike payment history, you can address it immediately, but you'll need financial discipline: "The most effective way to improve your credit scores in this area is by paying down your revolving–credit card–debt." Don't close unused credit cards as a short-term plan to up your scores, since it may just increase the percentage of available credit you are using - a no-no for high credit scores. The same goes for opening a new credit cards you don't need: while it will increase your available credit, it could negatively impact the average age of your credit accounts and damage your FICO scores.

Apply for credit cards one at a time

When you apply for multiple credit cards at the same time, you generate several "hard pull" requests for your credit history, which can hurt your FICO score, according to Consumer Reports. This advice only holds true for credit cards, not house, car or student loans. 

MyFICO also reminds consumers that while FICO scores are important, they're not the be-all and end-all. Lenders look at information such as the amount of debt you can reasonably handle given your income, your employment history and your credit history. Based on their perception of this information, as well as their specific underwriting policies, lenders may extend credit to you even if your score is low - or decline your request for credit even though your score is high.

To get started improving your FICO score, access myFICO's estimator tool, which helps you approximate your score range without any identifying information. It also offers a direct link that allows you to file an online credit report dispute and gives more detailed answers to the question "What is FICO?"

Scene 75 CEO buys former ITT property

Published: Tuesday, September 26, 2017 @ 2:34 PM

Jonah Sandler is the CEO of Scene 75 Entertainment Center. LISA POWELL / STAFF
Jonah Sandler is the CEO of Scene 75 Entertainment Center. LISA POWELL / STAFF

A holding company run by the chief executive of Scene 75 Entertainment has bought the nearby former ITT Tech school property on Stop Eight Road.

JDS Commercial Holdings LLC — of which Jonah D. Sandler is the principal — bought the former school property at 3325 Stop Eight Road for $740,000, Montgomery County property records show.

RELATEDMental health agency plans $1 million property investment

Five years ago, Sandler opened Scene 75 at 6196 Poe Ave. Since then, he has announced plans to open a third entertainment location 30 miles south of Cleveland in Brunswick, Ohio. Besides the Dayton center, the company also has a 84,000-square-foot Cincinnati-area venue in Milford.

The former school — which closed last September — is just south of Scene 75 on Poe, near the intersection of Poe and Stop Eight.

RELATEDBuyer pays $4.3M for property near airport

Last year, ITT Technical Institute closed all 130 of its campuses nationally in a move that put 8,000 employees out of work, in the wake of federal sanctions against the school.

A message seeking comment was left with Sandler Tuesday.

Eastway plans total $1M property investment

Published: Tuesday, September 26, 2017 @ 8:26 AM

A model of the newly remodeled Eastway Behavioral Healthcare headquarters on Wayne Avenue. The agency is purchasing a former print shop on Bainbridge near the headquarters. In total, the agency is investing $1 million into both its headquarters remodeling and the property purchase. THOMAS GNAU/STAFF
A model of the newly remodeled Eastway Behavioral Healthcare headquarters on Wayne Avenue. The agency is purchasing a former print shop on Bainbridge near the headquarters. In total, the agency is investing $1 million into both its headquarters remodeling and the property purchase. THOMAS GNAU/STAFF

Eastway Behavioral Healthcare, a mental health services agency, is purchasing an industrial building and parking lot across Bainbridge Street near its Dayton headquarters, with plans to create a center for job training there, agency leaders announced Monday evening.

Dayton-based Eastway Behavioral Healthcare has already announced an investment of about $500,000 into remaking its 600 Wayne Ave. headquarters and pharmacy — and agency leaders announced their plans for the Bainbridge property Monday at a 60th anniversary celebration at the Victoria Theatre.

Together, the refurbishing of the headquarters and the purchase of the Bainbridge property amount to a total investment of about $1 million, Eastway officers said.

RELATEDDayton mental health agency has national impact

Krystal Burke, Eastway director of business development, said she recently approached the owner of the property about the possibility of leasing some of his parking spaces to Eastway. Instead, he offered to sell the entire site, including the building where a printing and packing business had been located for decades, Burke said.

The business was Print Products Inc., 419 Bainbridge.

“It’s a very attractive building on the inside,” Burke said. “There were a lot of upgrades.”

RELATEDMental health agency to make $5ooK headquarters investment

She added: “I told John (Strahm, Eastway president and chief executive), ‘Just hear me out. I think I stumbled on a really great opportunity.’”

One of Ohio’s largest mental health care agencies, Eastway in recent months has expanded its service footprint to include Columbus and Washington Court House, even serving clients nationally from as far away as Idaho.

“Our message to the Dayton community, although we have expanded our catchment areas to Columbus … our primary commitment for 60 years has been serving the needs of these people in Dayton.”

In the past decade, the agency’s revenue has nearly doubled, from $16 million annually in 2007 to an expected $30 million in this fiscal year, Eastway leaders said.

“It’s planned growth,” Burke said. “It’s not just to see how big or how fast we can grow.”

Each year, the agency treat 3,500 adults in Dayton. The agency manages 24 facilities across mostly Southern and Central Ohio.