Regardless of what people might tell you, burglaries are still prevalent. The statistics may suggest they aren’t quite as common, but this certainly doesn’t mean you and your property are safe.
Burglars are still roaming our streets and according to some statistics, the majority of break-ins occur between 10am and 3pm. It goes without saying that this is the period of the day where most of us are at work – allowing the burglar to get to his work without any interruptions.
The above means that you need to make your home appear as undesirable as possible, at least from a burglary perspective. A costly alarm system is quite possibly one of the most effective ways to do this, but you can also pull it off on a budget. Making some simple alterations to the exterior of your property can work wonders, and doesn’t have to cost you a small fortune.
If most burglaries happen between 10am and 3pm – make your house at least appear occupied
When we talk about these exterior tips, most of them revolve around the appearance of your windows. Unsurprisingly, this is going to be one of the first things that catches the eye of the potential criminal – so you should be using them completely to your advantage.
Fortunately, the blinds industry allows us to do exactly this. Motorized blinds hit the market with the reputation of only being suited to the rich and famous, but from a security point of view they can be an absolute godsend. The fact that they can be programmed to be manipulated at different periods of the day means that your home can look occupied and if a burglar sees that the shades have moved in the space of an hour, it’s a sure-fire reason for him or her to move onto their next target.
On the subject of blinds, we’ll move onto something similar – keeping your valuables out of sight. We’ve all seen the signs in car parks, where they tell you not to leave things on display because of the risk of theft. The same applies with our homes and if you can at least block out people from peering into your home, it’s another deterrent. Not only does it mean that valuables are kept out of sight, but it again makes the burglar wonder if someone really is occupying the property.
The blinds industry has released products such as top-down bottom-up shades over the years, which can still bring natural light into a property whilst blocking the bottom portion of a window. Its products like this which can boost your home’s security – again on a budget.
It doesn’t always revolve around the windows
The windows are unquestionably the priority when it comes to safeguarding your home from a security standpoint, but there are other external elements which can make a difference. Just keeping your shrubbery in check is one of the simplest ones, and making it as hard as possible for a potential intruder to disguise themselves in your garden.
The list really could go on but the main takeaway from this article is that you should do everything in your power to make your house appear occupied, and block out the line of sight into your home in the process. This mainly revolves around window treatments – which arrive at a much smaller cost than that premium alarm system.
You’ve just received the news: Your spouse wants a divorce, and you didn’t see it coming. No matter how much pain you’re feeling, you have to act fast to protect your interests. Your first job isn’t trying to understand what’s happened; emotional processing can come later. During the first 48 hours after you get dumped, start setting yourself up for the rest of your life.
Open Separate Bank Accounts
If you don’t already have them, open up checking and savings accounts in your name only. Stop using your joint account, which includes both writing checks and using your ATM card.
Apply for a Low-Interest Credit Card
Even if you’ve been working to pay down your debts, you need a safe financial lifeline that belongs only to you. If you have a joint credit card, apply for your own low-interest credit card in only your name.
Change Important PINs and Passwords
It might seem tempting to change all of the passwords and PINs on your joint accounts to shut your spouse out, but that action won’t reflect well on you in the divorce hearings. Select the accounts that affect only you, like your 401k or your life insurance policy, and change all applicable PINs and passwords.
Make a Budget
If you don’t already have a strong sense of where your money goes every month — or if you weren’t the one who handled the finances — you need to figure your income and expenses out as quickly as possible.
Decide where you’re going to live. If you’re staying in the home, get copies of your mortgage statement and your recent utility bills, and get information about any home equity loans or lines of credit.
Understand where your money goes. Get information about payments for auto loans, student loans, kids’ activities, life insurance, and other items for which you don’t want to miss payments.
Anticipate big upcoming expenses. If you’ve been dumped right before the holidays, anticipate how much money you’ll need to give your children some decent Christmas gifts. Also anticipate other major cash commitments, like big home improvements and car repairs.
Decide how you’re going to support yourself. Even if your spouse has offered to continue financially supporting you, you should make sure that, if the money disappeared tomorrow, you could still support yourself. If you’re unemployed, start looking for a job or taking in freelance work immediately. Also, talk to family members who might be able to give you a place to live or loan some money to you.
If you want to go back to school for your MBA or another graduate degree, fill out a FAFSA so that you can get some student loans. While it might seem like you have too much going on right now, now is a good time for you to further your education in order to increase your earning potential and support yourself and any children.
Withdraw Money From Your Joint Accounts
No matter how badly you’ve been treated by your spouse, you can’t take all the money, say nothing to your spouse, and run. However, you are entitled to at least half of what’s in your bank accounts.
If your soon-to-be-ex is reasonable, inform him or her that you’re withdrawing some money. If you’re in an abusive situation or you think your spouse is unreasonable, withdraw your share first and then inform your spouse that you’ve done it. Make sure to keep some cash on-hand because you’ll have to wait for new checks and a new debit card for your new account.
Get Copies of All Important Papers
You should have copies of your property deeds, your bank statements, your credit card bills, your will and trust papers, your life insurance policy, your brokerage account statements, and any other papers that could affect your future.
Protect Your Heirlooms
Even the most amicable divorces are full of tension, and people strike out at one another in ways that they normally wouldn’t. If you have heirlooms that you are concerned about preserving, such as jewelry, dishes, antiques, or other valuables, make sure that you put them in storage or in a safety deposit box.
Get an Attorney
Unless you’re very confident about your ability to negotiate with your spouse, find an attorney to assist you during the divorce. If you need to save money, consider an option like collaborative divorce, which allows you, your spouse, and your attorneys to work with a mediator and avoid court litigation. You can also find a legal aid attorney if you can’t afford representation.
While you may instantly fall in love with a house and decide to buy it, there are numerous small details involved with what is in reality a legal transaction, before you are handed the keys and move in.
Some buyers might even ask the question is conveyancing necessary? The answer is a definite yes.
Conveyancing is actually a vital part of the house buying process and involves the transference of ownership to another person, but only once all the relevant checks have been made and questions answered satisfactorily.
Who does the conveyancing?
In theory, you could actually do the conveyancing yourself but with so many legal technicalities and potential pitfalls to navigate before you are ready to proceed with the purchase, it is not something you should really consider doing just to try and save some money.
Most buyers will use either a licenced conveyancer or a solicitor who specialises in conveyancing. You will probably find that if you are buying through an estate agent, they may well recommend a firm to you. They will probably be perfectly acceptable but may not be the cheapest option as there will probably be a commission involved, so shop around for the best price and service that you can find.
The first task for the conveyancer that you appoint is to produce a draft contract and terms of engagement with you, which will provide details of their proposed charges in writing and how much deposit you will be required to pay.
The conveyancer will also write to the appointed solicitor acting for the seller to confirm their instruction and ask for a copy of the draft contract together with basic information such as the property’s title to help get the process underway.
Enquiries and searches
There are a number of searches and enquiries to raise that will probably take a few weeks to resolve and gather all the information together that is needed.
Your conveyancer will primarily examine the draft contract they receive from the seller’s solicitor and raise any enquiries that they have from the details provided. This may include checking details relating to the tenure of your proposed purchase, to clarify if it is freehold or leasehold.
If the property you want to buy is leasehold, this will normally involve some extra enquiries to confirm how long is left on the lease, especially as a short lease remaining is not an attractive proposition.
There are also local authority searches to carry out, which you have to pay for. These searches will reveal any proposed developments near your purchase property that could affect its value such as an application for a large development or even a new road that is being proposed.
In addition to the local authority searches, your conveyancer will also carry out some essential legal property searches in order to confirm that there are no detrimental issues that you need to be aware of.
They will check the title register of the property to confirm if the person selling is the legal owner, and they will also carry out water authority searches to reveal how water is supplied to your property, where the public drains are located.
Checking for flood risks is another search that is often required and in certain parts of the UK, there are specific additional enquiries required, such as Radon gas searches in Somerset and Tin Mine searches in Cornwall.
Another key role of your conveyancer is to liaise with your mortgage lender and confirm to them that their proposed security against the loan will actioned after they have answered all the relevant queries.
Your conveyancer will receive a copy of the mortgage offer from your lender and they will confirm to them when the anticipated exchange and completion date is, so that they can arrange to send the mortgage monies to them in time for the completion date, once it has been set.
Once all the enquiries have been answered and all the searches are satisfactorily returned and checked, your conveyancer will propose a date to exchange contracts and a completion date when the property will become yours.
The exchange of contracts is a legal commitment to buy the property and will involve you paying an agreed deposit which is normally 10%, and you will not get this back if you subsequently do not go ahead with the purchase after exchanging.
Buying your home is in theory a relatively simple process that involves a number of checks and searches to ensure everything is in order. In reality, it can become quite complicated and any vital details missed could spell disaster somewhere down the line.
This is why a conveyancer is an integral part of buying a house.
Edward Cross is a property investor and consultant. He has been building up his investment portfolio over the last decade and a half which now consists of 24 residential properties and 2 commercial properties. He enjoys sharing his property investment insights online.
While corporately-owned big box and chain businesses continue to dominate America, a slow but steady return of mom and pop restaurants, pharmacies, coffee shops, hardware stores, and more is underway as customers seek more personalized and individual experiences from stores. For many people who dream of opening, owning, and running a small business, this renewed emphasis on local, independent consumer choices is encouraging.
However wading into territory where companies with much deeper pockets and extensive know-how have already established themselves can still feel intimidating. If you’re looking into embarking on a path of entrepreneurship, here are four keys to keep in mind before you open your own brick-and-mortar business.
1. Do Your Research
The kind of research you need to do is determined largely by the kind of store you want to open. Talk to family members and friends who have started businesses. Check out books from your local library that offer assistance in starting businesses within your desired field or industry. Turn to business organizations for advice, help, loan information, and more.
The U.S. Small Business Association and the National Federation of Independent Businesses are two organizations at the national level with scores of great articles and insight that can help with everything from understanding your demographic to marketing more effectively. Your local chamber of commerce is also an invaluable resource tailored specifically to the community in which your store will operate.
2. Understand Your Expenses
Once you’re armed with a reasonable amount of initial research, it’s time to dig deep into the upfront expenses that opening and operating will require. You’ll have real estate costs, inventory to purchase, salaries to pay, in-store product displays to buy or replace (whether you need pharmacy shelving or jewelry cases), insurance of various types, licenses and permits to purchase and renew, taxes to save for, utilities, and more. Truly understanding the amount of money you’ll need to operate is an essential initial step in ensuring you have everything at your disposal to be successful.
3. Offer What Your Competition Can’t
Once you feel settled with what opening and operating your business will cost you, it’s time to think about what your store will offer customers that your competitors can’t or don’t. The chances are good that there are other shops within your niche in your community, and they may have established customer bases, access to larger inventory, larger advertising budget, and more.
Put yourself in the shoes of your potential customers, and consider what it is that they need. From no-questions-asked-money-back guarantees to a store design that provides its own unforgettable experience, separate yourself from your competitors by offering a slew of customer-friendly features your competitors don’t.
4. Develop a Solid Business Plan
Once you understand the small business you wish to start and the money you’ll need to operate, it’s time to develop a solid business plan that will keep you on track toward reaching your goals and help you secure a business loan. Considered a “living document,” because it will change and shift as your real business landscape does, a business plan projects roughly three to five years into the future and outlines the ways in which you plan to make money and grow revenue. Here are some other standard features on a solid business plan:
- Executive Summary. This portion summarizes your business’s overall profile and goals.
- Company Description. In this section, you can expound on what you do and what makes your business unique.
- Market Analysis. Here is where you record your findings about your industry, the current market, and your competitors.
- Structure. Outline your management and organizational structure here.
- Services or Products. Detail what you plan to sell and how it will help your customers.
- Marketing and Sales. In this section, outline your marketing plans and sales strategies from Internet ads to traditional methods.
- Funding Request. If you need a business loan, include your request for funds in this portion, as well as any financial projections you can make about the future.
- Appendix. Resumes, permits, and leases — whatever you need to look and be legitimate, include it here.
Opening your own small business takes a fair amount of courage, know-how, preparation, and money, but with enough effort and wisdom, it’s a dream almost anyone can bring to fruition.
When thinking about your retirement, the investment decisions you must make are going to be some of the toughest. In today’s market, things seem to be going incredibly well, but you can’t always judge a book by its cover. Looking into economic, geopolitical, and market conditions around the world, we’re seeing quite a few red flags. This leads many to ask “Is a 401k in gold a good option?” Today, we’ll discuss how gold could help protect your retirement investments and why you might want to consider moving into that direction soon.
How Gold Helps Protect Retirement Investments
The reason gold helps to protect investments in down market times really boils down to supply and demand. When market conditions seem grim, investors start to sell their traditional investments and look for safe haven investments. One of the most common safe havens…you guessed it…gold! Because thousands of investors now have an interest in purchasing gold, demand for the precious metal goes up. As more and more investors buy gold, the gold supply on the open market goes down. As the basic laws of supply and demand tell us, when demand rises and supply falls, the price must go up to keep an even balance.
In down market times, you may lose money in the stock market through your traditional retirement investments. However, if you hedge against losses with gold, the earnings you make from the increase in gold’s price offsets the losses you experience in the market. In some cases, gold earnings can far surpass market losses, leading to overall gains; even in the most trying market conditions.
Why You Might Want To Consider Gold?
Looking at the market from the outside in, things look great. Unfortunately, when you take a more detailed look, it becomes apparent that things aren’t always as they seem. There are quite a few red flags that people have been watching, which could be warnings of an unavoidable market correction.
One of those signs is the recent decision by OPEC to keep oil production where it’s at; ultimately increasing supply and reducing the price further. As a result, the price of oil is so low that in many countries, it’s cheaper to buy oil than drill for it. In the United States, Canada, and Brazil, this move puts major pain on Shale production companies; many of which could have to close. If this was to happen, unemployment data would increase and it could spark a sell off.
Aside from the oil issue, people have also been watching the poor economic conditions all over the Eurozone, as well as geopolitical concerns. The bottom line is, there are several factors that could be a real danger to the market.
While the market may be a bull market for now, smart investors know that it can’t last. By taking advantage of gold as a hedge to protect your retirement, you could minimalize your losses if and when a market correction does happen. In some cases, you could even realize gains!
Despite what you’ve seen of the lighthearted antics of the fictional prisoners you’ve seen on Netflix’s original show “Orange Is the New Black,” the show touches on a serious issue in America today: The prison system needs reforms, and the prisoners are suffering for it. The U.S. prison system is one of the worst in the world, but very few citizens know or are concerned about the injustices faced by more than 1 in 100 American adults.
In comparison to correctional systems around the world, America’s is a disgrace. Though the U.S. has only 5 percent of the world’s population, we boast more than 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, with 5 to 7 times more people incarcerated than similarly developed countries like Britain and France. The overpopulation of our prisons is a major stress on the system, making conditions unmanageable for prison security and staff.
Fortunately, American citizens have the power to make prisons much more bearable for everyone involved. Various organizations are stepping up to improve the greater American community through important and crucial works within the prison system. Read on for facts on American prisons and ways you can contribute to one of the most important causes in American history.
Many civilians are aware that violence is a part of incarceration, but few understand the scope of the prisoner-on-prisoner violence and physical punishments that occur behind prison walls. One study found that more than 200,000 inmates are victims of sexual abuse in prison every year, and most of the incidents are initiated by the prison staff — not inmates — yet aside from crass jokes, American citizens are unaware of this injustice.
Additionally, because of the uncontrollable population size in most prisons, guards must rely heavily on unjust methods like solitary confinement to manage prisoners. At any point in the day, more than 80,000 U.S. prisoners are locked away in solitary, deprived of books, television, and sometimes even light; prisoners are fed through a slot in the door, keeping them from human contact for as much as months at a time. This causes untold emotional damage, resulting in unstable people — not docile inmates gracious for their treatment.
Even basic human necessities like food and health care are unreasonable inside prison walls. Often, food served to prisoners is purchased through private contractors looking to use the prison system to make a profit; thus, in efforts to cut costs, many prison food providers deliver low-quality ingredients with little nutritional benefit. Prison meals have even been known to run out of food, so some prisoners leave meals hungry, or else serve meals filled with maggots. Prisoner health care is also provided through private companies, which has lowered costs but increased deaths due to poor treatment. One inmate even reported prisons using sugar from McDonald’s to disinfect her wounds.
On top of these violent and unjust conditions, prisons do little to aid prisoners in their attempts to reform their previous lifestyles and return to civilization with a practical plan. More than two-thirds of American prisoners commit another punishable crime within three years of their release, demonstrating that prisons are simply failing to achieve their purpose at teaching criminals right from wrong.
Some U.S. prisons allow select few inmates to participate in programs that will eventually grant them advanced degrees. These programs have been shown time and time again to reduce the likelihood of recidivism by creating a place for the inmate outside of the prison. Additionally, with violent offenders, re-education programs targeting unwanted behaviors have been demonstrated to change an inmate’s attitude significantly better than solitary confinement. Still, these programs have yet to see any widespread acceptance among American prisons.
Fortunately, more than one non-profit organization has stepped up to aid prisoner rehabilitation efforts. Many of these organizations take donations of all sizes to benefit their various causes — from sending books to inmates, to instituting complete education programs within prison walls — and it’s only becoming more and more obvious that these charities need all the help they can get. Consider donating an old, unused vehicle or research other ways you can help these non-profits today. Even companies can become involved in the fight against prison injustice by donating resources they specialize in or sending volunteers to visit with inmates.
Another way you can make a difference in the lives of prisoners is by becoming involved in local and federal politics. Write a letter to your local congressman explaining your concern about the conditions in your state prison and any nearby federal penitentiary. Join a group campaigning for change, and try to build awareness among your family and friends. American prisoners may have broken the law, but that doesn’t mean the law should break them; step up and fight for prisoners’ rights.
It may seem like just yesterday we were ringing in 2014, but here we are, already looking at the last month of the year.
If you are like most, you probably set financial goals for yourself for this year. And like many people, you may have lost a little steam on those goals as the months went by. Whatever the cause of the setbacks, now is the time to start getting your financial house in order. Not only will catching up on your money goals now help you finish 2014 strong, but you’ll also sail into the New Year in excellent shape to start building your wealth and a solid financial future.
Move #1: Make Your Charitable Donations
Most charities report that they receive a significant percentage of their donations in the last weeks of the year, as donors scramble to do whatever they can to reduce their income tax bill in April. While there isn’t any penalty for donating at the last minute, you need to keep a few important rules in mind to avoid having your gift applied to 2015 instead of 2014. For example, if you make a donation at 11:59 p.m. on December 31, and the charity doesn’t actually charge the card until 12:01 a.m., you are out of luck. When donating via credit card, the date the bank or charity charges your card is the date of the donation, so plan accordingly. When donating by check, the donation date is the date the check was mailed. Again, though, if you miss the mail cutoff on December 31, and the check isn’t postmarked until January 2, even if your check is dated in 2014, it won’t count as a deduction for this year.
Bottom line? Make all of your charitable contributions well before the last week of the year, especially if you are donating property or stocks, which must physically be in the hands of the organization before the deadline to count.
Move #2: Review Your Estate Plan
Because tax laws change annually, it’s always a good idea to review your estate plan each year to ensure that it is still the best option. At minimum, you should review your beneficiaries and ensure that all of the information is correct, or make any needed changes. If you do not have an estate plan, plan to meet with an advisor or attorney to start the process of creating one.
Move #3: Start a College Fund
If you have children, you have probably thought about college — more specifically, how you plan to pay for college. A 529 college savings plan allows you put away money now, and the earnings will be tax-free later if they are used for school. In some states, some or all of the contributions you make to the plan may also be tax deductible in the current year (depending on your income) so playing catch-up now can help you out come tax time.
Move #4: Review Your Employee Benefits
Studies show that most employees spend fewer than five minutes reviewing their benefits options each year, in most cases, just opt for the same package they had. However, you may be spending more money than you should, or missing benefits. Take time to review your employer’s offerings and compare them to your spouses. Under the new Affordable Care Act laws, you may be able to find a better deal on health insurance if you buy on the exchange, for example. Review your Flexible Spending Account as well to determine whether you over or under-contributed this year, and whether you have the option to roll over or delay using excess funds. Finally, look at your retirement plan contributions. If you will be earning more next year, don’t forget to increase your contributions accordingly.
Move #5: Review Retirement Allocations
How much time have you spent reviewing your retirement plan allocations since you opened the account? If you’ve had the same investments since day one, your portfolio could probably use a review. Look at your current allocations and make changes as needed to be more or less aggressive, or move your money into better performing funds.
Move #6: Make Financial Gifts
If you were planning to make significant financial gifts to family members or friends this year, now is the time to do it. Individuals can give up to $14,000 to anyone they wish, and as many people as they wish, without incurring gift taxes.
The end of the year is always a busy time with the holidays and everything that comes along with them, but while you’re busy making holiday cheer, make some time to get your finances straight too, and start off 2015 on the right foot.
Debt is an issue which affects a large number of people in Scotland. One of the issues facing those struggling with debt is uncertainty about what their options are, and what steps they should take to deal with their debt.
There are several possibilities for anyone in debt, and choosing the right path for you will depend on your individual circumstances. It is important to understand that not all debts are equal. If you have some money which you can put towards paying off your debts you need to start with your priority debts. Priority debts include:
- Council taxher debts including overdrafts, personal loans, and benefit overpayments are considered non-priority debts, these should only be considered once your priority debts have been dealt with.
Debt Management Plan
If you can repay your priority debts then a debt management plan may be a good solution. This is an informal arrangement between you and your creditors to make regular payments towards your debts.
The Debt Arrangement Scheme (DAS)
The DAS has been set up by the Scottish government to assist people who need help to repay their debts. Under the scheme debtors agree a debt payment programme with their creditors and then make one regular payment to a payment distributor who splits the money between the creditors.
A Trust Deed
A Trust Deed is a very common way of dealing with debt. A trust deed is a legally binding agreement made between the debtor and the creditors. All of the debtors assets are passed to a trustee to manage on behalf of the debtor. Once the Trust Deed becomes protected in law it is not possible for your creditors to take any legal action against you, or to force you to become bankrupt, you can use the calculator at trust deed Scotland to see if you qualify.
You trustee will manage your financial affairs to repay as much as possible of your debt to your creditors. You must have a minimum of £5,000 of debt before a Trust Deed can be set up.
Under a Trust Deed you will make regular payment towards your debts for a period of four years, as long as you make those payments throughout the time of the trust deed any remaining debt at the end of the four year period will be written off.
Trust Deeds have several advantages over other ways of dealing with debt. They are an alternative to bankruptcy, and enable debtors to rebuild their lives sooner than they would if they were subject to bankruptcy.
Trust Deeds are a good solution for those for whom the DAS or a Debt Management Plan would not be appropriate. If you are in serious financial difficulties and unable to repay your debts then talk to a financial advisor today and see if a trust deed would be appropriate in your situation.