Do Banking Fees Make Sense?

For years and years, free checking accounts were the rule.  Any bank that charged a monthly fee was the exception.

Now, it seems the tides are turning.  Lately, many banks have been rolling out changes to where free checking gets eliminated without meeting certain conditions, usually by keeping a combination of an average daily balance or having a certain amount of money direct deposited every month.

People who don’t meet these requirements (and even some that do) are understandably upset.  After all, it sucks to have to pay for something that you didn’t used to have to pay for just a month ago.

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Jumping On The Re-Finance Bandwagon

With interest rates on mortgages falling, I couldn’t help but be intrigued when I saw 3.375% on a 15-year mortgage.

The biggest, problem, I thought, was that we had nowhere near 20% equity in our house, so I wasn’t sure if a re-finance would mean one or more of the following:

  • I’d have to bring a big chunk of money to the table to get to the 20% line
  • I’d have to start paying an escrow fund (we pay our own taxes & insurance and I would prefer to keep it that way)
  • I’d be forced to pay PMI which would probably wipe out some or all of any savings.

Still, 3.375% is 3.375%, especially when you’re currently paying 5.875% on a 30-year note.

My mortgage is with Citi.  I went online, as that’s where I do all of my business with them, and filled in a few fields that would allow for a mortgage rep to contact me.  I figured it would take a few days.

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Can You Predict A Drop In Your House Price?

The following is a guest post by Money Supermarket.

There is no doubt that the current real estate market in America is going through tough times and the consequences of the global economic recession have hit this country hard.Homeowners in particular are being hit hard as, with a rise in repossessions, strategic defaults and negative equity, some locations are experiencing property depreciation. This means that house prices are falling, often due to reasons beyond the reach of most homeowners in the area.

There are a variety of circumstances in which this unfortunate event can occur and it is wise to be aware of them so you can take any necessary action. And, if you are in the position of bidding on a new property, you should also use a mortgage repayment calculator to make sure that you can afford the repayments and do not default.

These include a high number of foreclosures in the area, the building of prisons or refuge centers in the location and the property being sold to unscrupulous landlords who exploit it solely for commercial gain without consideration for the area.

The drop in house prices as a result of these actions can be considerable. A recent Ohio news report detailed how the arrival of a scrap metal recycling firm was alleged to have depreciated house prices in the area by 25%.

Depreciation of any value is something that homeowners should try to avoid at any cost but, as in the example above, a drop of a quarter of the house value would have had a considerable effect on these residents.

If you are wondering how this would affect you, put your current numbers in to a mortgage repayment calculator and imagine how different the picture looks if your house is worth much less than when first valued.

For some homeowners, this would plunge them straight into negative equity. For any householder, it could be an upsetting and distressing experience, as people often become very attached to their homes.

It is understandable given the time and money we put into making our homes a safe and special place for us to live. The building of a prison or the opening of a homeless refuge in the area can have consequences.

Of course, these buildings are needed somewhere but unfortunately for local residents, it can be to their detriment. Ensure you read the local press or check on your state’s planning website to keep aware of any planning applications.

Even the building of supermarkets and shopping malls can have a detrimental effect on houses in the immediate area. The increased traffic and the powerful lighting used on these stores have made many homeowners feel like they are living in Disneyland!

As well as keeping abreast of planning news, keep an eye out for any other changes in your neighborhood that indicate things may alter for the worst. A number of foreclosed houses, for instance, would suggest the area might suffer in the future.

Foreclosed houses can attract squatters of both the human and animal varieties! In Florida, for example, it is not unusual for empty houses to become infested with snakes and other animals.

Often, landlords will buy these houses at knockdown prices and let them out for a quick buck. Unfortunately, the residents may not always be the best neighbors and this too can affect the property values of an area.

Look out for all these signs of the area depreciating and whether this will negatively affect your house price. These predictions may mean you can sell if necessary before the worst times come; fingers crossed they never will, but better to be safe than sorry.

Review Of SquareTrade Warranty Service

Many people say that you shouldn’t bother with extended warranties at all, but if you do have to use them, to make sure to get the best deal and reliable service possible.

mb-201109brokenSquareTrade has moved to the front of the pack in terms of this ‘alternate’ service.  SquareTrade will warranty almost any electronic item, usually if you purchase a warranty within 30 days.  They have gotten great reviews as a reputable service and their prices can’t be beat.

I’m pretty nervous about a lot of electronics, so I’ve purchased four warranties from them.  My wife and I purchased new Blackberry phones last summer, and I got warranties for both of them.  In addition, I obtained a warranty on a flat screen TV.  Finally, I purchased a warranty on a basement dehumidifier that had good reviews, except a few too many that said it didn’t last more than a year.  For $15 I was happy to cover the $129 I paid for the unit.

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The Best Time To Schedule Your Annual Physical

Our health insurance has changed for the worse quite a bit over the past couple of years, as our contribution levels have skyrocketed, while deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses have increased.

One thing that hasn’t gone away is the preventative services premiums.  Annual physicals and all required immunizations are covered at 100%.  No co-pays or anything.  I think this might be mandated nowadays by Obamacare, but that’s so complex and convoluted, that I really have no idea.

All I know is that when it comes to having kids, the fact that all immunizations are covered is a huge money saver.

Our newborn daughter went in last month for her first series of shots, and they rang to the tune of $450.  That was actual payout by the insurance company to the office.

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5 Questions To Ask Before Re-Financing

The following is a guest post by

 Re-financing a home can be a great way to save money.  If you can secure a lower interest rate than you’re paying today, that can be money in your pocket.  If you own a home and have considered a re-finance, here are five things to think about that can help you decide whether it’s worth the time to pursue in greater detail.

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What Bills Do You Auto-Pay?

We use auto-pay for a majority of our bills.   Here’s a run-down of bills we have on auto-pay:

  •  Mortgage – We can adjust this a few days before the payment comes out if we have any extra income to apply.  Easy!
  • Student Loans – This comes out on the 20th of every month.  If we have any extra payments, I send those through Internet Bill Pay (our bank sends them a check) as their system is not as easy to modify the payment.
  • Credit Cards – We don’t send paper checks.  We just go in every month and set the amount (our full balance) that we want to pay off.
  • Insurance – Our car payment comes out monthly.  The annual payments we still send in though I may change that as I almost forgot to send in our homeowners policy payment this year.  Yikes!
  • Cable – I love our cable company and have never had any issues here
  • Electric & Gas – Both of these come out automatically. We get the electronic statements three weeks or so before the payments come out, so we always have plenty of time to make sure everything is right.
  • Garbage – Our garbage pickup is paid quarterly and comes out automatically.
  • Church donations – Instead of throwing money (or a check) in the basket, we have a weekly donation taken out that we can manage anytime!
  • Cell phone – Our cell phone bill gets charged to our credit card.  This is because we used to get extra cash back for cell phone bills.  Even though the credit card doesn’t give an extra bonus, I’ve never bothered to change it, but no big deal since we pay it every month.  Same as with the gas & electric bill, we get the statement weeks before the payment is due, so I’m always able to resolve any issues before payment takes place.
  • Newspaper – This is charged to our credit card every six months.  I do want to change this as, for some reason, this one catches me by surprise every time.  Probably because they don’t bother sending out the statement until a week or two after the credit card actually gets charged.  Lousy customer service is another reason that newspapers are dying, FYI.  Still, this ends up paying for itself in the coupons we clip.

Payments we don’t auto-pay:

  • Car payment – Only because we don’t have one 🙂
  • Water bill – We set this up as an Internet Bill Pay item as our city hasn’t gotten on board with being able to pay this online easily.
  • Property taxes – I prefer to drop these off a few days before they’re due so that I can make sure our account gets credited in time.

What bills do you auto-pay?  Are there any that you refuse to use auto-pay for even if the capability is there, and if so, what are your reasons?

First Time Buyers: Do You Have A Property Plan?

The following is a guest post by Money Supermarket.

If you are looking to purchase your first home then a property plan can help you set goals and doing some research will ensure sure that you are well prepared for the experience.

A good starting point is to a mortgage calculator as this will give you a good idea of what you can afford. When you add figures into a mortgage calculator, you take the cost of a home and plug in the figures.

As you adjust the interest rates and down payment amount, you can get an idea of what your monthly payment will be. No matter what the mortgage calculator says, most people plan to have a higher payment due to things like homeowner’s insurance and property taxes.

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What’s The Latest With Amazon Mom?

It’s been a year since Amazon introduced their Amazon Mom program, where you got an extra 15% off baby items, including the biggest baby item expense of all: diapers!

I signed up a few weeks after the program was introduced and it has been an absolute lifesaver.  I’m curious, though, if anybody that signed up from the get-go knows what Amazon might be doing.

The initial sign-up granted you three months of the extra 15% off items in the subscribe-and-save program (which granted you 15% off to begin with, for a total of 30% off), as well as free Prime benefits so that you could enjoy free 2-day shipping on many items.   You could extend that for up to a full year by making regular purchases in the baby store.  This means that you could earn up to a full year of benefits.

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Homemade, Inexpensive Ways to Clean Your House Naturally

Do you spend a lot of your hard-earned cash on an assortment of expensive cleaning products? Consider making your own green cleaning supplies. You can find many of the ingredients in your cupboards at home. And while most commercial products only clean one surface type, natural ingredients serve multiple cleaning purposes, so you won’t need to spend a bunch of money on an array of products.
In addition to saving you money, green cleaners keep dangerous toxins out of your home. Many commercial products contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like formaldehyde and harsh acids. Indoor exposure to such chemicals can cause a variety of illnesses according to the EPA[2]. And the Children’ Health Environmental Coalition (CHEC) notes that VOCs can cause cancer[2]. In most situations, you can use milder chemicals to do the same jobs as VOCs.

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