Keeping track of a child at a theme park

One minute you are holding your kid’s hand, and the next, he’s gone.

At a crowded theme park, jostling crowds or just a busy kid can quickly turn a fun day into a terrifying experience for child and parent.

That was one mother’s fear as she struggled to hold on to her child at a theme park and she came up with a clever solution.

Michelle Walsh solved the problem that day by writing her cell phone number on her child’s arm. But later she improved upon the idea, creating the SafetyTat, a temporary tattoo for kids.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the plan worked well for one family touring a huge science center. In an instant, they lost track of their 4-year-old daughter. Then, just as quickly, the mother’s cell phone began ringing: Security had the child at the front desk. The tattoo worked.

SafetyTats are sold in children’s stores, amusement parks, travel stores, and online at safetytat.com.

You can get sticky labels with a place for a phone number and medical information.

Customized water-based tattoos can also be ordered online.

Renting out a room to travelers?

Millions of people are renting rooms in private homes instead of hotels. And millions are doing the ‘hosting.’

Before you join the crowd to rent out a room for that extra dash of cash, review your homeowners insurance.

Likely, your homeowners insurance doesn’t cover damage or liability if you rent rooms, according to How Stuff Works. Once you rent a room, your home becomes a business.

Be sure to talk to your insurance agent before you rent out a room. You might be well advised to get a landlord policy to cover liability and damage. That is especially true if you have a pool.

Facts to teach your new teen driver

Teen drivers are inexperienced, usually distracted, and impulsive, statistics show.

That’s every single teenager, from the A student to the wild child.

That won’t come as news to the insurance industry, which charges high rates for teen drivers. But, teens might not know the dangers of their own inexperience. Parents who are teaching their kids to drive might point out some sad truths.

First, teens have a lot of car accidents and car accidents kill.

Of all age groups, 16-year-olds have the highest crash rates, and a full third of all deaths among 13- to 19-year-olds are likely to occur in a car crash. In fact, more than 3,000 people die in car accidents every single day.

Second, teens are unusually distracted behind the wheel.

According to dosomething.org, more than half of teen drivers admit they use a phone while driving.

More worrisome is that texting can take eyes off the road for almost five seconds — a lot of time for something to go wrong. Car and Driver Magazine did a study on this and found texting while driving had the same effect as driving drunk.

Teens must learn to leave their phones unanswered while driving. That’s a lesson adults can learn too since 27 percent of adults have read or sent a text message while driving.

Third, driving around teen friends can be deadly. Fatality rates increase with each extra passengers in the car. It’s dangerous for the driver and for the teen rider. Fewer than half of teens say they would speak up if the driver was scaring them.

Teens must also recognize that their inexperience can get them into trouble. Driving in poor conditions such as snow, fog, or rain can be dangerous and teens must give the task their complete attention.

Why making websites mobile-friendly is important

People are more attached to their smartphones than ever but recent analysis from Alliance Data shows that although 63 percent of millennials shop on them every day, only 39 percent of their total purchases are actually made online.

This trend is alarming news for online stores and vendors that are eager to get this targeted demographic to follow through on their online purchases. This data is also a little puzzling because this same age group is much more likely to use their phones to research products, comparison shop, and look for coupons online before heading into the physical store to buy the merchandise.

According to recent data from Osterman Research, online security could play a significant role in determining whether or not someone actually buys their goods online. They cite the 42.2 percent of millennials in America that have limited their purchases due to security concerns. Any data shared over the internet carries with it some risk of identity theft or fraud. In this case, increased use of security-focused shopping portals, coupled with better transparency of the website itself could help pave the way for peace of mind.

Perhaps more likely, CNET argues that many people turn to physical stores to complete their purchases simply because it can still be quite frustrating to input all the required information on a tiny smartphone keypad. Names, email addresses, passwords, physical addresses, and credit card numbers entered during checkout is a tedious process for all but the savviest users. Even using a desktop makes the process much more comfortable and the pictures are easier to view and navigate to boot.

For online retailers to secure their shoppers’ attention and wallets, the process of adding items to carts and checking out should be as seamless as possible. Integrating many different types of payment options, such as Paypal or Apple Pay, would also help entice people who trust a dedicated payment platform over an online storefront.

How Do I Buy A House Without A Down Payment?

Many people are ready and eager to purchase a home, and can easily afford a mortgage payment; however, the concern is that they do not have a 20 percent down payment available and wonder if there are any options available for them.

The reality is that if you have good credit, you can probably get a loan. But, without a good down payment, your costs will go up.

To start with, you must have some cash to buy a home. There will be closing costs and you’ll have to pay for taxes and insurance.

But the key is that, without 20 percent down, you’ll have to pay for Private Mortgage Insurance. The idea is that people who put their savings into a property are much less likely to default on a loan. The lender wants insurance that you will pay on your mortgage.

PMI is expensive and the less you put down, the higher the mortgage insurance is. The cost of PMI depends on your credit score and the size of your down payment. According to Mortgage lender Freddie Mac, the cost is from $30 to $70 per month for each $100,000 borrowed. This is added to your monthly payment.

Still, if you want to buy now, you could get a loan from family members. Most lenders will accept this if the family members assert that money is a gift that doesn’t have to be repaid.

If you have 3 percent as a down payment, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will back the loan, assuming your credit is good. You will pay PMI.

FHA backs loans with down payments of 3.5 percent. It also has lower credit score requirements. Buyers will have to pay a mortgage insurance premium.

For veterans, a VA loan requires a funding fee of 2.15 percent of the loan up front, in lieu of PMI.

USDA will guarantee loans with nothing down in rural and suburban areas if your income qualifies. It charges a mortgage insurance premium of 2 percent of the loan plus a monthly charge, according to US News.

Investing experts often fail to beat the market

For individuals, investing in the stock market can be a daunting task. Although many of these people trust expert fund managers to boost their returns, USA reports that the majority of firms paid to generate better-than-average returns often fail to beat the market. To be considered successful, a fund must show that it can provide better performance than benchmark indices like the S&P 500 on a consistent basis. If it can’t beat them, then using the service just isn’t worth the money.

According to data provided by the 2015 SPIVA Scorecard, large-cap fund managers, those trading some of the largest companies in the market, failed to beat the benchmark 66 percent of the time during that year, 84 percent of the time over five years, and 82 percent of the time over the last ten years. Small-cap and mid-cap managers had similarly disappointing performance in their areas. They point out that some managers have a proven track record of results, but even those firms that beat the market for a year or two tend to lose ground over time. Adding in the fund’s management fees can also turn a winning portfolio into a loser, and nobody wants to see their gains go from their retirement account to the manager.

The reasons for this lack of performance are hard to uncover, but Forbes magazine reminds readers that there are only a couple of ways to beat the market: access to information other people don’t have or being lucky. For most investors, luck is not something they would likely want to trust their money to, and even the experts don’t have infinite knowledge about every company and market trend. As for those with the best information, average investors won’t be able to discover which firms have it until long after the returns have already been generated.

Pop the cork on the bubbly! It’s a great time to sell (and buy)

Everything is coming up champagne and roses for home sellers in 2018 as experts predict more home sales and rising home prices as Millennials appear to finally be buying.

For the new year, the real estate scene looks great for both sellers and buyers.

Buyers will benefit from low mortgage rates, ticking just past 3.9 to 4 percent in mid-November 2017 for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage.

Analysts do not expect those rates to rise much, if at all.

In many areas, the number of houses for sale is low and that drives prices up. On the other hand, prices are not as high as in the recession-era market. Experts say that should give buyers some confidence.

The construction industry appears to be addressing the problem of a low supply of homes for sale as new construction rose in mid-November 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The overall economy also forecasts a healthy housing market, as more people are working and tax cuts may add money to the economy.

Selling tech door to door

Selling tech door to door Best Buy and Amazon plan to find business that is percolating just under the surface by doing what brush salesmen used to do: Go house to house.

With thousands of gadgets and add-ons available for communication and tasks inside the home, consumers may not even know what they need or what’s available.

But suppose you could get a high tech person to come to your house, and review your needs?

Best Buy’s in-home salespeople hope to do just that. The new program is aimed at ‘unlocking latent demand,’ Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly told The Wall Street Journal.

It’s different than showing up to a store with an item in mind. In that case, the salespeople sell that item. They might have an upsell, too. But it’s probably not what the consumer needs.

The house-to-house program will let consumers know what they could have and how it would help them. Plus, salespeople can schedule installation.

Amazon’s program sends employees to homes to provide free ‘smart home consultations’ that let people test out voice controlled devices and other gadgets like smart switches.

Unlike the traveling salespeople of yore, these consultants aren’t paid on commission and don’t press for an immediate sale. They just tell you what you could have.

The two-year-old Amazon program is currently offered in six cities.

In 2018, you can contribute more to your 401(k)

There’s good news for 401(k) savers in 2018: They can put $500 more into their plan.

The IRS has announced that the 401(k)contribution limit has been raised to $18,500. That is the first increase since 2015.

The new limit also applies to 403(b), Thrift Savings Plan and 457 plans.

The limit on catch-up contributions for employees age 50 and over remains the same at $6,000.

The deduction phase out limit was also increased. This means that if your Modified Adjusted Gross Income exceeds certain ranges, the amount you can deduct is reduced (or phased out).

Single taxpayers: The phase out is $63,000 to $73,000, up from $62,000 to $72,000.

Married filing jointly: Phase out rises to $101,000 to $121,000, up from $99,000 to $119,000.

Individual contributors: The phase out range rises to $189,000 to $199,000, up from $186,000 to $196,000.

Roth IRA and traditional IRAs

There was no change in contribution limits for IRA and Roth IRA plans. The maximum you can contribute to a Roth IRA is $5,500 per year (or $6,500 if you are age 50 or older).

There was a change to deduction phaseouts, though. If your Modified Adjusted Gross Income exceeds certain ranges, the amount you can deduct is reduced (or phased out).

In 2018, the phase-out levels are higher. For singles or heads of households, the Modified Adjusted Gross Income range is $120,000 to $135,000.

For married couples filing jointly, the range is $189,000 to $199,000. The phase-out ranges for married filing separately have not changed.

 

Tips for preventing pipes from freezing; thawing frozen pipes

Frozen pipes not only mean the inconvenient lack of water, they also can burst, causing an expensive repair problem.

Homeowners are often understandably frantic to get water pipes running again. But thawing the pipes improperly can lead to more problems.

Never use a device with a flame to thaw out pipes.

A little heat on the right pipe could get that water flowing. But a flame on the pipe is a very bad idea.

According to fire experts, flames under the house, even when directed at pipes, are a common cause of fire.

The open flame from a heater, especially a propane salamander, can instantly ignite insulation or flooring materials under a house.

Worse, pipes can heat up dramatically from flaming devices, with heat traveling along the piping systems inside walls. This heat can ignite wall materials, which can smolder for hours before being discovered, or bursting into flame. Alternatively, excessive heat on metal piping can cause water to boil, causing the pipe to burst, according to the Red Cross.
If you know where the pipes are frozen, first open the faucets and then apply heat with a hair dryer or electric heating pad.

Prepare ahead of very cold temperatures.

If you know your pipes are prone to freezing, take some simple steps ahead of cold weather.

First, give yourself a supply of water. Partially fill a bathtub with water when very cold temperatures are predicted. This can provide water for pets, cleaning, or bathing. It will also give you some breathing room so you can take your time unfreezing pipes.

Next, keep the faucets open to a drip. This will help prevent pipes from freezing. Although this can put a strain on water pump systems, it is usually better than broken pipe disasters.
Close garage doors, especially if there are pipes along the garage walls.

Open your cabinet doors in the kitchen and bathroom to allow warm room air to circulate.

Don’t turn down the house temperature during very cold nights.

Never set the thermostat to less than 55 degrees when the weather will be below zero.

Long-term prevention for frozen pipes

One of the best ways to prevent frozen pipes is with heat tape or heat cable. These low-heat products usually can be plugged in at the beginning of the season and left until Spring. This is especially good for pipes that are run along the outside of walls.

Be sure to unhook outdoor hoses and close valves supplying outdoor faucets.

If the problem with frozen pipes is persistent every winter season, consider moving exposed piping. Although this is a major project, it should prevent future problems.
Insulation in attics, basements and crawl spaces will help prevent frozen pipes, too.