Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The New Sharing Economy: Earning Money From Your Underused Property

Need some cash? Thousands of people are turning to sites like AirBnB to turn their spare rooms, cars, and free time into extra spending money. You can capture some of this entrepreneurial spirit and capitalize on it in three ways.

1.) Rent your spare room

If you haven't heard of AirBnB, it's the flagship of this new economy. People list their spare rooms for rent, and short-term vacationers can search them by location, amenities or price. Rates are usually lower than hotels, and the accommodations can be much nicer. The thrill of staying with a local who can recommend nearby attractions or restaurants also attracts tourists. AirBnB is popular - the company boasts 350,000 people who are renting rooms by using the service.

Getting started with AirBnB is as easy as sprucing up a spare bedroom and making a listing. Obviously, living in a tourist hotspot is a major benefit, but it's far from required. If you want to increase your revenue, renovations like a private entrance, secure storage facilities and private bathrooms are highly sought-after by renters.

If you rent, you may need to check your lease for potential sub-leasing complications. If you own your home, a quick call to your insurance agent to ensure this practice isn't forbidden by your homeowner's policy wouldn't be a bad idea. One New York AirBnB user made $37,000 from renting the spare room in his condo. He used the profits to buy a vacation house, which he now rents on the service.

2.) Share your car

For people traveling by plane, car travel is one of the biggest expenses. Whether by taxi or in a rental car, it can be quite costly to get from place to place. Popular services like Uber allow folk with spare time to undercut the big rental and taxi companies and offer rides to traveling strangers. Alternative services like RelayRides allow you to rent your vehicle to others during extended periods of disuse while you're traveling or if you only need your car a few days a week.

These services occupy a significant legal gray area. If someone borrowing your car damages it, how will you hold them responsible? If they run a red light and are caught on a traffic camera, will you be stuck with the ticket? You may run afoul of larger, established taxi and rental companies that have the power to influence regulation.

Still, success stories with these services exist. One struggling California musician started renting his car on the service. One $200,000 investment later, he owns eight high-end SUVs and a few sedans. Renting cars has become his full-time job. It's required sacrifice, as he now finds his music career increasingly confined to weekends. But it's allowed him to pay the bills.

3.) Share your skills

For some people, like engineers and writers, the freelance economy of the Internet was fairly obvious. These kinds of tasks can be done remotely. Increasingly, though, other kinds of labor are becoming sharable. Services like Amazon's Mechanical Turk began as a survey site, but entrepreneurs realized its potential as much more. Now, tasks like transcription, data entry, and research can be completed by willing laborers who never have to leave the comfort of their computers.

More specifically, services like Google Helpouts allow you to share skills remotely, too. A video conference instruction enables you to instruct others in doing something you're good at, and the possibilities are endless. You can use Helpouts to help people practice English, organize a kitchen cabinet or cook your family specialty. You can use your specialized knowledge to make a little extra money and brighten someone else's day.

Realistically, wages for this type of work are not high at all. A global economy means competing against people who live in countries with considerably lower standards of living. You can expect to earn between $2 and $3 per hour for unskilled Internet labor, though many skilled workers are earning much more than that. With enough dedication and practice, you can turn your hobbies and spare time into your own cottage industry.


Monday, May 19, 2014

Responsible Use of Credit or Debt Trouble? How to Recognize the Difference

Debt may be a four-letter word, but it certainly has its place. A home mortgage, for example, is good debt, and so is a credit card with a reasonable rate and a manageable balance. Without the ability to borrow money to finance a home, most of us would be stuck renting, because who has hundreds of thousands of dollars for such a purchase? 

However, debt does have a dark side. And it's important to know when your use of credit is a good thing, as well as when it's time to cut back and watch the bills more carefully.

The truth is, you already know the answer to that question without running any numbers. If making payments on time is difficult and causes you stress, if you're charging necessities to a credit card because you have no other options, if your bills are what's keeping you up at night, if you're borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, well, then you know there's a problem.

While a crisis can put even the most responsible consumer into this type of situation temporarily, when this pattern becomes a way of life, there's reason for concern. Generally speaking, if less than 30% of your income is going to debt, you're doing great. However, if 40% or more of what you earn is going to debt payments, something needs to change.

Figure out your number, also known as your debt-to-income ratio, by adding all your monthly debt payments together, and dividing it by your monthly income. Calculators on websites such as can do the math for you. (Or come in to the credit union and we'll run the numbers for you.)

If you find yourself in some difficulty with debt, or even if you need help budgeting, Destinations Credit Union offers free financial counseling through our partner - Accel.  

Friday, May 16, 2014

6 Things to Know Before Applying for Medicare

If your 65th birthday is approaching, it will pay to get to know the Medicare system. Timing is a huge factor in keeping your costs low, and there are other tricks to the trade that will help you navigate the often-confusing rules of Medicare. Did you know that the decisions you make early on in your Medicare eligibility can have a lasting financial impact? Here are six things you need to know-before it's too late!

1.  It's a good idea to get help.

Navigating the confusing paperwork that's involved in Medicare and evaluating health plans can be an overwhelming task. Depending on where you live, there are about 20 different Medicare Advantage plans, upward of 35 drug plans, and a wide variety of supplemental plans, in addition to traditional Medicare. So how do you know what's right for you? Hiring an independent Medicare advisor will help you find the coverage that will meet your specific needs. For the advisor's $250 to $1,000 fee, you will have access to an expert who sifts through the different options for you using proprietary software-not guesswork. A simple Internet search will net you multiple advisor options.

2.  If you apply early, you can avoid additional fees.

You can sign up for Medicare three months before you turn 65 through three months after your 65th birthday. However, it is in your best interest to apply early, regardless of whether you need the coverage on your 65th birthday. If you don't sign up then, you are still eligible for benefits, but you will pay more. For every 12-month period that you are eligible for Medicare but don't sign up, you will pay an additional 10 percent on your premiums. If you are currently part of a group health plan through an employer, sign up within 8 months of leaving the job to avoid the higher premiums.

3.  You may need a supplemental plan.

Medicare acts as a basic insurance plan, but many retirees have additional out-of-pocket expenses, just like any other health plan. Supplemental coverage with Medicare Advantage or a Medigap plan will help to defer some of that cost. There is a six-month period beginning the month you turn 65 that guarantees your acceptance into a Medigap plan, regardless of any preexisting conditions. After that period expires, your case will be evaluated based on your current health, which may mean denial of coverage or high premiums. So again, it pays to sign up on time.

4.  It pays to revisit plans yearly.

Your needs may change every year, and Medicare's supplemental plans will also change. You will be automatically renewed under your current plans each year, but it's a good idea to take a look at what else is out there. Has the premium changed? Is the coverage the same? Do your homework to ensure you receive the coverage you need and at the price you want. This will help you avoid unnecessary surprises when your bill arrives in the mail.

5.  Preventative care is covered.

Yearly physicals and check-ups are just as important now as they were when you were younger. Medicare offers a preventative care visit within your first 12 months in the system. Your doctor will review your medical history and discuss preventative care with you. After your first year with Medicare, you are eligible for yearly wellness visits in addition to other preventative procedures. Ask your adviser or doctor about your coverage.

6. Medicare works with other coverage.

If you are covered under another health plan, Medicare will work with that plan under coordination of benefits rules. Essentially, your primary plan will cover costs up to the limits of the plan, and then your secondary plan will pay the costs that the primary plan did not. It's important to note that there may still be out-of-pocket expenses, based on your coverage, which is why it's important to take advantage of supplemental coverage.

Making sure you're adequately covered by health insurance is a necessary, but often confusing, process. It pays-literally-to do your homework and sign up early to avoid unnecessary price increases that will last the rest of your life. And when you take advantage of Medicare's preventative coverage, you will save more in the long run in terms of your health, quality of life, and in future health care costs.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Looking For A Job? Scammers May Be Looking For YOU

Job searching is already a frustrating process. Between the stress of unemployment and the sting of rejections, job hunting for any length of time can make you desperate. Unfortunately, that's exactly what identity thieves are counting on.

Many con artists are relying on a sophisticated new scam by trolling for job seekers on job boards like Monster or Indeed. They reach out to job seekers by pretending to represent a major company that has a supposed interest in the job seeker's credentials and/or experience. They claim they need a few more pieces of information to conduct a background check before hiring. They'll ask for personal information, such as a Social Security number. Then, they'll take you for everything you've got.

Or, they set up fake job postings on sites like Craigslist or LinkedIn and wait for job seekers to contact them. This practice provides them with a steady stream of desperate and vulnerable applicants. It also saves them the trouble of tracking down e-mail addresses, and makes the contact seem more legitimate.

These schemes work, like most other identity theft scams, by preying on people's hopes. You need this job offer to be true, so you are willing to rush into the "opportunity" without waiting, thinking, or researching. It only takes one slip to wipe out your savings and ruin your credit, which can also undermine your future job search efforts.

You can't give up your job search, and you wouldn't want to refuse a reasonable request from a legitimate employer. So what can you do to keep yourself safe from identity thieves when looking for work? Follow these pieces of advice, which you can remember using the acronym KISS:

1.) Know the hiring process. For most businesses, the hiring process includes job posting, interview, background check, job offer. Background checks cost money to run. No business is going to start running background checks on every potential applicant, and most will only do so as a component of a job offer. Before they've hired you, that's all they'd do with a Social Security number. Also, the company would need your signature to run a background check or fill out immigration paperwork. A legitimate business won't ask for your Social Security number out of the blue.

2.) Identify the poster. If a job offer comes from a major company, odds are good that it's not just on the job boards. It's also on their web page. Copy the text of the job description and paste it into a search engine. You should get results from several job boards as well as the company's website. You can use tools like who is to determine the ad's country of origin. This can help find hidden red flags. If the posting claims to be from a company that's located in the U.S., its domain registration should reflect that. If it's a company that's been in operation for years, its website registration shouldn't be from the last few weeks or months.

3.) Sanitize your online presence. Tools like Facebook and LinkedIn can help you in the job search process, but they can also help identity thieves. Remove unnecessary personal information like your hometown or your birthday from your social media profiles. This information can help identity thieves bluff their way past human security. As an added benefit, putting your date of birth on your resume may be a turnoff for employers. Age discrimination in employment is illegal, and employers can land in hot water if they ask you any questions that hint at trying to determine your age.

4.) Stay vigilant. Look for all the typical scam warning signs: unbelievable salaries, vague descriptions, misspellings, grammar errors, and unprofessional e-mail service providers. Someone offering you a job isn't that much different from someone offering you a large sum of money. You should be skeptical of everyone you don't know who contacts you wanting personal information. Take the time to do your due diligence in every instance. Don't let the pressures of the job search crumble your common sense. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Four Ways To Save This Mother's Day

Mother's Day is just around the corner and it's easy to get caught up in the last-minute scramble for gifts. Much to the delight of florists and gift vendors, this happens every year. With expensive flowers or jewelry as the top gifts, it's easy to go over budget if you look to traditional options. To help decrease your stress level and save your money, we have found some surefire ways to tell Mom how special she is without breaking the bank! Whether it's something you can do for her, or something you do with her, you're going to be a big winner this Mother's Day. Here's four ways for you to save money this Mother's Day:

1. Do something for her.

Remember the "coupon books" we used to make mom as kids? This time, we'll make sure it happens! Rather than just offering to do some task in the future, take care of something that will make her life easier today. If she has dogs or pets, you could bathe and walk her dogs, or groom and clean up after other pets. If she never gets a chance to wash her car, clean it out, wash it, and detail it for her. Even if you have to go somewhere to do it, it's a big gesture for a small amount of money. Cleaning the inside of cars can be hard work and it's an easy chore to overlook when you're busy! Having someone else take the time to do it for you is nice. You could also find chores she has to do all the time and do them for her. Tackling tasks, like cleaning the house or maintaining the yard, will let mom spend some time relaxing on her special day. What you do is less important than actually doing it. Pick something you know she would rather not do herself, and do it for her. She'll appreciate your effort and the results will last a lot longer than just Mother's Day!

2. Swap out an expensive, traditional gift for something that's more personalized.

If you were thinking of getting her flowers, don't spend your money on some cut stems! A rose bush or a flat of small flowers costs the same as a dozen roses and lasts much longer. You can also share the joy of planting the gift with her. If you were going to take her out for lunch or dinner, cook something for her using her favorite dishes or ingredients. You could also pack up her Mother's Day meal as a picnic for some extra flair! Spa gift cards are expensive, and it might take months for her to get value from it. Instead, look online for some do-it-yourself spa treatments, like bath oils or sugar scrubs. She'll be more likely to use them right away if they're in her bathroom and sh'll appreciate the personal touch.

3. Find something you can do together.

ier if you can do it with someone you know. Rather than just giving mom another gadget, give her a new experience this year. By doing something new together, you make it fun. You also get to spend more time with her: a win-win situation.There are lots of free-to-try classes at gyms, like free introductory yoga or exercise classes. If there was something she's been meaning to try, call around and see if you can set up a day to take a free class. The effort is important. Many grocery stores now offer cooking classes for free or discounted rates. Some even bring in rotating instructors to get a variety of cooking styles. It could be a real adventure to try a meatless cooking class or a course on a type of cuisine that she likes. There are also lots of inexpensive classes that are offered through most Parks and Recreation Departments. A beginner's painting class, a dance lesson, or even a guided hiking group might be a fun activity. By making her interests the center of your focus, you'll be able to make a big impact, and may even help her find a new activity to enjoy. Bring her a registration confirmation for a class or a business card with a date and time on it for the activity. It may not have the presentation value of flowers, but it will prove that you took the initiative. Show her that you care about her interests and value time with her.

4. Go see your mother.

It may sound like a greeting card, but spending time together is a real gift. Invite her over for the day and just enjoy time together. You could always tour museums or hike at a park if you need more to do. Cooking a meal (or even baking cookies) together will give you something to do while talking and is a great bonding activity. If you don't live near your mother, you could consider helping her set up a free video chat service. That way it will feel more like you're together, even from miles away. If you still have some home movies from when you were growing up, take a bottle of wine or some snacks and watch them. There is no wrong way to spend time with your mother, but she'll definitely remember that you did. Have a happy Mother's Day!