How do I Pick My Insurance if I Have a Choice at Work

Choosing a health plan at work can be confusing and often overwhelming. The specifics will vary with each employer, but there are ways employees can evaluate their options to find their best mix of cost and coverage.

Picking Insurance

Cost
Cost for the employee falls into two categories:
1. Up-front premiums.
2. Charges at the time of service.

The premium is the amount taken out of each paycheck for the employee’s share of the insurance company’s charge for the plan. Most employer plans are designed so that premiums are deducted pre-tax, meaning the employee saves on federal income and Social Security taxes and possibly also state income taxes.

Charges at the time of treatment are the out-of-pocket amounts patients must pay to receive medical services. Co-pays, deductibles, and co-insurance can vary a lot depending on the chosen plan and services used. In evaluating this factor, the employee must remember that, under healthcare reform, any service designated by the federal government as preventative should be provided at no charge to the patient.

The cost factor in choosing a plan often comes down to balancing higher premium cost against lower charges for treatment and vice versa. But this relationship between premiums and out-of-pocket does not always hold because of the variable of coverage.

Coverage
Depending on plan design, coverage will vary among plans in multiple aspects:
1. Is a service covered at all?
2. Is there a cap on the service (number of visits, frequency of tests, etc.)?
3. How much flexibility does the patient have in choosing the provider or opting for a procedure?
4. How often are referrals and preauthorizations required?

Don’t assume a service is covered by all plans just because it is covered by one. If an individual plans to use a particular service, she should review all the plans she is considering to make sure coverage is available for that service.

Perhaps the service is covered but the plan puts a limit on the number of visits. The employee should compare any such limits with his anticipated use of the service. If the plan will not cover his full utilization, the employee must determine if, for him, the extra out-of-pocket expense is worth the service or if another plan is the better approach. Depending on the employer, the employee might also have options such as a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), a mechanism for the employee to set aside pre-tax dollars to use for any medical expenses not covered by insurance.

As a general rule, the more flexibility the patient has to choose doctors and services without getting a referral or preauthorization the higher the premium cost. Plans can range from the HMO, which requires all medical services be arranged through a primary care physician, to a traditional indemnity plan, which places almost no restrictions on where the employee can seek care. The employee must look at her own situation to decide how much choice and flexibility she is willing to pay for relative to the other factors.

What Websites are Best for Finding Jobs

Finding good sites for jobs is not always an easy thing to do. Before you go and look into every option out there, you have to know which ones are reliable. Some might not offer the type of results and assistance that you need, leaving you unable to find a job, or at least find one quickly. In some cases, these sites can offer you a way to improve your visibility as well as your attractiveness to employers. This will help you to become employed, stay employed, and develop multiple connections with professionals like you. This will help you to move up in the world much more quickly and with far greater results than you could experience alone. We have compiled a list of what websites are best for finding jobs below.

best websites for jobs

LinkedIn

This is one of the most famous job related websites. This is social media for professionals. When you make your account, you will be found by many people in your professional field. You can publish information about yourself and your history so that people know more about you. Since this is social media, it is a great way to begin developing professional connections. You will be able to find people of all backgrounds and levels in your field. This will help you to go further than many other job websites can take you. You will leave a positive and lasting impression on people that lets you move up in your career. You will have more connections and fewer issues with meeting new professionals in your area.

CareerBuilder

It is hard to ignore popularity and size. CareerBuilder is one of those sites for jobs that nearly every person has visited. It offers several benefits for job seekers and makes it easy for you to work it into your current life. You will be able to post several resumes, which can be either public or private, and you can be mailed when a job comes available. This makes it easier to find a good job quickly, all while remaining private about it if you need to be. It is easy to take advantage of this and, with the many jobs available for people of all backgrounds, you can see exceptional results.

Monster

It is going to be difficult to cover job websites without mentioning Monster. This is another popular and trusted option that many people turn to for work. You can find many jobs here, though not all will be entirely trustworthy, as well as quite a bit more. Monster offers tips and advice for people trying to get into a job, along with features so that you can make yourself invisible to specific companies. This will help you to find a job that you like quickly and without problems from others.

Craigslist

While it may not be the most powerful or greatest of the sites for jobs, it is one that offers a large number of options. You can find careers from all across the world here and, because of its massive popularity; you can even find some that you might not find elsewhere. While you do have to be careful with trusting all of them, this is a great way to become employed more quickly.

The Truth About Compound Interest

Saving money is one of the hardest things to get into the habit of doing. It is even harder to enjoy saving when interest rates are so low. However there is something to always check for when investing and saving, look out for compounding. Compound interest occurs when interest is added to the principle. This means that your initial principle grows and now this bigger amount earns interest. This is called compounding.

XKCD Investing Compound Interest

Compounding may seem small and futile like in the hilarious example above by XKCD but it can mean a noticeable difference in savings accounts where compounding occurs quarterly versus daily. Most common bank accounts will only offer quarterly or monthly compounding however some credit unions will offer daily compounding if offered a choice always chose the account with the most frequent compounding.

For example $100 earning 2% interest compounded Yearly, Quarterly, Monthly, and Daily will yield the following amounts after 10 years.

Yearly Compound Interest:
Interest Earned: $21.90
Total Value: $121.90

Quarterly Compound Interest:
Interest Earned: $22.09
Total Value: $122.09

Monthly Compound Interest:
Interest Earned: $22.12
Total Value: $122.12

Daily Compound Interest:
Interest Earned: $22.14
Total Value: $122.14

As you can see after ten years had you gone with the daily compounding interest account you would have $.20 extra cents. With interest rates so low these days it is hard to see the value you in compound interest but if instead we took a $100 which earned 10% a year over the next 100 years we see quite a different story.

Yearly Compound Interest:
Interest Earned: $1,377,961.23
Total Value: $1,378,061.23

Quarterly Compound Interest:
Interest Earned: $1,947,708.05
Total Value: $1,947,808.05

Monthly Compound Interest:
Interest Earned: $2,113,141.46
Total Value: $2,113,241.46

Daily Compound Interest:
Interest Earned: $2,199,531.87
Total Value: $2,199,631.87

As you can see the value of daily compounded interest is extremely important as time goes on. The difference between the $100 yearly compounded and daily compounded is $821,570.64. In closing always be looking at how often your investment compounds when you are saving for the long haul and daily is always the best.

Retirement Investing

Most people do not think of their retirement for a long time. While you may not find it important enough when you are young, it is something to consider doing heavily. Once you have retired, you are going to need that money to live a happy and full life. Depending on the government is not stable nor is it enough, and working when you are elderly is not a great position to find yourself. Retirement investing gives you the chance to save for the rest of your life. As long as you do it properly, you will have enough money in the bank to last you for as long as you need it. This will allow you the opportunity to live comfortably and peacefully, not worrying about your financial status.

retirement investing

You need to start this investment early. This is not something to ignore for years until you are right at the age, not if you want it to work. Begin putting a small amount of money into an IRA or something similar regularly and early so that you can see the biggest result in the end. If you find it hard to do this when strapped for cash, just try to do it whenever you can. Spending wisely and making this investment is important if you want to avoid dangerous financial problems in the future.

When you do begin to invest, you might look into multiple accounts. It is normal to do this, but you might also want to rollover one account into another. Doing this is not too difficult, but you need to familiarize yourself with the rules. You cannot do this often and you have a certain period to do it once you withdraw money, along with several other rules. Looking into all of them so that you know what is current and what is important. This will help you to avoid costly mistakes that lose you a lot of money. You should also make sure that you avoid common mistakes that people make so that you do not end up losing money.

Pay attention to your account and all activity, including mail you may receive about it. If something is not right, look into it immediately. Sometimes, problems occur and people make mistakes. In these situations, it is vital that you take action as soon as possible lest you pay more than you should. With a retirement savings, you cannot let problems occur at all. This will put your financial future in jeopardy, causing you to face possible troubles when you retire.

If you go about this properly and familiarize yourself with everything, it is easier to make the most out of your investment. With how important investing is, you cannot put anything less than your best into this. If you want to be sure that you are financially secure from the moment that you retire and that your money is safely tucked away, know the rules, possible mistakes to avoid, and all activity on your account or accounts. When you take the necessary steps and approach this informed, you can make the most out of every cent.

Emerging Trends in Socially Responsible Investing

Common terms for socially responsible investing include green or sustainable investing. Such investments consider both the financial and social good when preparing the investment strategies to implement.

investing

Already, socially responsible investors encourage corporate practices that ensure environmentally friendly products or services are provided, green technologies are used in the production process, consumers are protected, human rights and diversity inclusion is reflected in organizational practice and businesses involved in vice such as tobacco, alcohol, and gambling are avoided.

There are various approaches that are now used to determine which people or organizations are practicing socially responsive investing including:

Shareholders Advocacy

Investors who take a leading role in tackling issues of social, environmental and governance concerns, by talking to companies and filling shareholder resolutions creates investor pressure on company management, attracts media attention, educates the public on social, environmental and labor issues and gets something done.

Shareholders fill shareholder resolutions on various topics not limited to gender or racial discrimination, pollution, labor practices, climate change, political contributions and other issues. These resolution are then presented for a vote by owners of a corporation.

Community Investing

Socially responsible investors can direct capital to communities that remain underserved by traditional financial services institutions. Community investing can provides much needed access to credit, equity and other basic banking services to low income individuals. In addition, some common trends include extending capital supply for small business financing or to provide important community services such as affordable housing and child care.

According to the US SIF Foundation (ussif.org) sustainable and responsible investments continue to grow with more than one out of every nine dollars under professional management invested according to social responsible investing strategies.

Additionally, companies are now cautious about investing in repressive regimes with both institutional asset owners and money managers becoming increasingly critical of governance issues such as political contributions, executive pay, with direct impact on investment.

Additional community related criteria emerging in social responsible investment practices that money managers are now also looking at when considering investments included affordable housing, microenterprise and fair consumer lending, focus on carbon emissions, pollution and toxic handling and sustainable use of natural resources.

As a new emerging trend in the financial sector is the rise of community development credit unions. These are targeted at encouraging investors to move money from financial institutions tarnished in the 2008/9 financial crisis via ‘move your money’ campaigns.

Investing in Silver an Alternative to Gold Investing

Silver like gold is a chemical element that commands a high price.  Silver is used in the making of jewelry like necklaces, bracelets, earrings and tiaras.  Since the discovery of silver thousands of years ago, it has been widely-used as a form of legal tender in many countries in the world. But when silver has lost its value its use as a legal tender or money has since stopped.  Silver is used widely in manufacturing and industrial purposes and also used for bullion coins for the purpose of investment.  It is amazing to note that the reserves for silver worldwide had reached over 530,000 tons three years ago.

silver investing

Silver plays a major role in the American and Canadian coins which are heavily valued by collectors for their value and uniqueness. There are millions of  silver leaf coins in Canada and silver eagle coins in the U.S. that are most sought-after by hobbyist and traders.  The Canadian silver maple leaf, which is their country’s national emblem, is used as legal tender at 5 dollars per ounce while other coins of this element can reach up to 20 dollars per coin. Investing in silver is a good option for those who want to manage their hard-earned money using physical assets.

However, the price of silver sometimes fluctuates because it depends on the law of supply and demand.  Silver is very much different with gold because it is volatile, like gas, there are times the price increases and other times it decreases. While it is true that silver investing is good, it is important to watch the market. Without watching the market, what you might have invested on it could end up giving you a low return on investment if sold at the wrong time.  The reason for this is the so-called liquidity in the market and the fluctuation occurrence that can happen because of the trend in prices of other commodities as well as the value of the dollar. The price of silver is estimated by buyers, sellers and investors.

When you are planning in investing in silver, think about the consequence if the value of silver continues to decrease. Always keep an eye on the market trend by checking it each day when the market ends, if the value of silver has been stable this is the time that you decide in investing. In the United States, there is no need for investors to hold the silver bullion, instead as proof of silver investing; an investor is awarded a silver certificate that bears their name as the owner.  In the past, some country’s forms of currency were issued as silver certificates.  The denomination bearing a silver certificate was 10 dollars, 5 dollars, and 1 dollar. This is no longer the case with the fluctuations in the value of silver.

Investing is a good way to prepare for retirement as well as provide you with some security.  Silver investing needs to be planned and not done drastically because you might end up losing money. Track investments or the money you put in investing in silver may disappear due to the volatility of silver prices across the market.

TurboTax Review

With tax season upon us confusion and questions reign about what to do and how to do it. What does e-filing mean? What is a W4? When do I need to do this by and when is my refund showing up? As well if you are like me it is time to stop asking dad or the family accountant to do it for you. It really is that sad last stage of knowing you are a grown up. But it doesn’t really have to be sad since with taxes come tax refunds and you may be owed back a substantial chunk of change. The question becomes which tax software or tool is best for me. The most popular and used choice is TurboTax, with its easy to use interface and low price point it is an obvious choice for many people.

turbotaxreviewlogo

To use TurboTax simply go to Turbotax.com. TurboTax is made by Intuit the same company which also owns Mint.com so they are known for easy to ease and solid finance products.

You can start your tax return on TurboTax for free. But if you want added features and options it will cost you. Due to a glitch in their system there is no way to “downgrade from an option” once it has been selected so we recommend starting with the cheapest “Free Edition” to begin with. They also have a Deluxe edition for $29.99 a Premier edition for $49.99 and a Home & Business edition for $74.99.

turbotaxoptions

That one penny off really makes all of the options are bargain but we would say that the Deluxe option is really all that most of you will need.

After you hit start the interface is very straightforward simply copy over the information from your prior received W4’s and 1099’s and you are good to go. The software as you go pretends to do some voodoo and magically eek you out the biggest return possible but it is all rather normal math functions to determine your actual return. Heck if you wanted to you could do this all yourself just the e-filing features that TurboTax offer allows for it to really save you time and convenience.

We were honestly curious if the return was different between the same person filing with the Basic Free version and the Deluxe edition. We actually had mixed results. On one of our tests the results were the same but on the case where the individual had moved to NYC and had only lived there for half the year the Deluxe option actually gave them a giant return.

In the case above the Basic edition had pegged the individual for owing an additional $500 in city taxes but in reality the user hadn’t lived in the city for the full year so they were actually owed a $500 a refund. This led to a NET $1,000 difference in tax outcome for this user when testing out the two products. The Deluxe version with it’s more thorough questioning was able to pick up on this while the basic version had overlooked it. For this reason we do recommend the Deluxe edition.

After completing all the form inputting it should only take about 10 minutes. The software does one last check and you are ready to e-file. You will most likely be charged a fee for filing your state return some where in the $20 to $30 range, but your federal taxes will be filed for free. The total cost for you will be in the realm of $50 and total time from start to finish should only be about 30 minutes, you can even finish it in 10 minutes or less. Doing your taxes has never been easier. Also be sure to save your TurboTax account so you can just use it again for next year and save even more time.

Tips for a First Time Home Buyer

Purchasing your own home is a big life decision, and should never be taken lightly. This is an experience that can be nail-biting and stimulating all at the same time. With that being said, you should always look into a few things before actually deciding to make the plunge. Here are some tips for first time home buyers to create a learning curve and smooth the overall process of buying your first home:
buying a house
1. Examine Your Debt (And Pay It Off!) – Ask any homeowner and most of them will tell you that they spent time saving money to make a down payment on a home rather than paying off debts, which are now causing them to struggle to make their monthly mortgage payment. You don’t want this to be you. So, instead of saving money for the down payment, pay off your debts. At the very least, pay them down significantly, so they won’t be such a burden once you do purchase that new house of yours.

2. Determine What You Can Afford – You need to have a long, hard look at your finances before making any significant purchase, such as a home. You need to also see how much you can borrow from the bank for such a purchase. In addition, you need to determine how much you realistically save for a down payment. When figuring up your down payment, make sure that you’ll have enough left over to cover any closing costs that may be necessary on your part. Keep in mind that your home insurance, mortgage payment and home taxes should not exceed 30% of your home’s gross income.

3. Examine Your Credit Report – It is important that before you purchase a house that you fully examine your credit report to find any discrepancies and have them taken care of immediately. Discrepancies can hurt your credit a little or a lot and it is a chance you aren’t willing to take when you start searching for your dream home.

4. Bad Credit? – Not everyone has perfect credit, but that doesn’t mean you can’t buy a home. There are programs set into place to help those in such a predicament in their lives. These are government insured loans that are provided by the FHA, Federal Housing Administration. With an FHA loan, you may only have to put down around 3.5 percent, which is great for lower income families; however, more and more individuals are being required to put down 10 percent, especially with a credit score lower than 580.

5. Consider Foreclosures – As a general rule, there is nothing at all wrong with a foreclosure. It is simply a home that someone was unable to continue making payments on and the bank took it as their collateral. You can usually purchase these at a discounted rate, but you must act fast! Plus, you might want to make sure your real estate broker specializes in foreclosures, as it will make the process a lot easier.

6. Tax Credit – Be sure to claim that tax credit on next year’s tax return!

Now that you know a little bit about it, start planning and searching for your new home. Don’t expect to come across your dream home on the first day of home searching. It will likely take time, but after all, time is something you have, as you don’t want to rush into anything. Happy home searching!

The Smart Way to Get A Mortgage

The current economy and dire predictions of the real estate market to come may frighten prospective buyers from taking that big step into home ownership. But with careful preparation and research, there’s no reason to be afraid when setting out to obtain a home loan.

house mortgage

As with any large purchase, research is the first step to finding and applying for a mortgage. Examine your personal finances and assets, figure out what kind of monthly payment you can afford, not to mention whether you have enough on hand to cover fees, underwriting and closing costs. The majority of lenders require a significant down payment – between five and twenty percent – and you should know ahead of time how to secure that lump sum. Beyond your current financial situation, make sure to contact one or more credit report services to review your credit score and history, making sure to correct any errors right away. Once you’re satisfied that you have the assets and income necessary to maintain your mortgage payments, it’s time to research potential lenders.

Whether it’s through a credit union, broker or direct lender; rates, fees and closing costs determine which loan is best for you. Look into the approval percentages of the lenders you’re interested in, as well as their interest rates. If you go with an adjustable rate rather than fixed, ask how your monthly payments will vary with market fluctuations. Another often overlooked expense is Private Mortgage Insurance. If you apply for a loan that is more than 80% the cost of the property, most lenders will require a monthly insurance payment to protect them in the event you default on the loan. There are limitless online resources for loan shoppers, and www.fdic.gov even offers a shoppers worksheet to help you compare and contrast the details of up to four different loans. Remember, these institutions are fighting for your business. Don’t hesitate to let them know that you’re shopping around for the best rates.

When you’re ready to apply for the loan, ask for a “lock-in” that puts the rate, fees, points and closing costs in writing, protecting you from rate changes throughout the approval process. For the application you’ll need to provide proof of residency, check stubs, bank statements, tax returns and any income from investments you may have. Once you’ve provided the lender with the application they’ll review your credit history, evaluate your ability to pay and perhaps appraise the property. Given the research and due diligence necessary, it can take up to three or four weeks to receive a final decision. Remember, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act protects borrowers from discrimination by lenders due to sex, race, age, religion, national origin, marital status, or income from public assistance. If you suspect your failure to be approved is due to discrimination don’t hesitate to confront the creditor and your state’s Attorney General. However, with hard work and preparation, chances are good that you’re on the road to owning your own property.