RE/MAX 440
Joanne Stahl
4550 W. Tilghman Street
Allentown  PA 18104
 Phone: 610-398-8111 1426
Office Phone: 610-398-8111
Cell: 610-392-6547
Fax: 267-354-6236 
jstahl@remaxcentralinc.com
Joanne Stahl

My Blog

Don't Let Hidden Fees Bust Your Travel Budget

October 12, 2015 1:13 am

On top of planning flights, hotels, car rentals, dining and activities, there are numerous fees and surcharges to consider when traveling. According to Cheapflights.com, the most common of these fees include:

1. Booking Fees – With the increasing popularity of booking travel online, many airlines and travel websites now charge booking fees for folks who prefer to book travel over the phone. Even if you opt to book online, beware of any online booking fees. That small $5 fee adds up if you're booking travel for multiple people.

Avoid booking fees by shopping around and comparing prices. Whether you book from a third party or direct from the airline, hotel or car rental company, be sure to read the fine print.

2. Baggage Fees – Checked bags (and even carry-on bags on Allegiant, Frontier and Spirit airlines) are on an exceedingly long list of amenities that are no longer complimentary. In addition to charging for checked luggage, airlines also assess charges for overweight baggage and excess baggage.

Avoid checked baggage fees altogether by learning to travel with one carry-on bag. (Yes, it is possible!) With the right suitcase, you can pack it all in and not fret about fees or finding space in the overhead bin.

Alternatively, you can book an airline or fare class that suits your needs. JetBlue may have abandoned free bags on its lowest fare flights, but it's generally cheaper to book a Blue Plus ticket, which includes a free bag, than to pay for a last-minute bag check. And most airlines will charge you less if you pay in advance for checking your luggage.

If you fly often with luggage on the same airline, consider obtaining a credit card with that airline – free bag check is a common perk.

To avoid overweight baggage fees, weigh your bag at home before heading to the airport. Lighten the load by removing that extra pair of shoes or non-essential extra outfit. Leave the toiletries at home, too – you can use the complimentary hotel amenities or stock up at the store at your destination.

3. Customs Entrance/Exit Fees – If you’re traveling abroad, there may be entrance or exit fees charged at the border. Even if your destination doesn't require a visa, you might still be stuck with "air passenger duty." At the time of booking, inquire whether your airline ticket includes the destination's fees to avoid any surprises.

Avoid excess visa fees for last minute processing by applying well in advance. If you can, go directly to the embassy or consulate to apply for the visa. You'll save on express mailing your travel documents. If you use a third-party service, the company will likely charge a service fee on top of the visa processing fees.

If you are traveling on a cruise, be wary of port fees. When a cruise ship docks at a port of call, they are charged a government-imposed port fee that is passed on to the consumer. Ask the company or travel agent if the quoted price includes port fees. Larger cruise liners tend to include them, but it doesn't hurt to ask. If the port fees are piling up, book a cruise with fewer stops or book earlier, as rates tend to be much lower when booked months in advance. Traveling during the off-season also helps drive costs down.

4. Credit Card Transaction Fees – Your credit card provider may tack on transaction fees for each and every purchase you made abroad. Some credit cards and banks also charge a currency conversion fee.

Avoid credit card transaction fees by getting a credit card that doesn't add a foreign transaction fee to your charges. When presented with the option to pay with local currency or with that of your home country, always pay in local currency. The dynamic currency conversion option is based on a poor exchange rate, which means you will end up paying more. Plus, your credit card company may still charge you a foreign transaction fee.

Other travel fees to watch for include hotel fees, such as resort fees, airport shuttle costs, bed type guarantees and early check-in/late check-out fees; car rental fees, such as rental insurance, extra driver fees, alternate drop-off location fess; rebooking fees; and reward travel fees.

Source: Cheapflights.com

 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Insulation Tips to Keep Heat in, Cold out this Winter

October 12, 2015 1:13 am

(BPT) – One of the easiest ways to ward off winter’s chill at home is to increase insulation. And the best time to do it is autumn, before bitter cold sets in. To begin, assess the insulation in your basement, says Tom Savoy, technical director for Insulfoam.

“Up to 25 percent of a home’s heat loss is through the basement,” says Savoy. "Even if you don't spend time in the basement, it's crucial to insulate it right to help manage the heating throughout the rest of your home," says Savoy.

Many homes in the U.S. were built with fiberglass batts between wood wall studs, which are notoriously leaky, providing a bridge for heat to pass through the wall. Such insulation can also trap moisture in the walls, causing that musty basement smell.

A simple solution is adding a layer of continuous insulation to the home's basement walls using rigid foam boards, such as expanded polystyrene (EPS). Available in home improvement stores, EPS insulation is easy to cut and install using standard tools around the house. Unlike many other types of insulation, rigid foam boards are thin and easy to handle, without messy fibers to clean-up.

To get started, you will first need to figure out how much insulation you will need based on its "R-value." R-value is the measure of insulation's ability to resist heat flow, with higher numbers meaning better performance. A quick call to your city or county building department will let you know what R-value is appropriate, and if you'll need to take anything else into account with your insulation project.

In addition to insulating the basement, another leaky area to check is attic hatches. As heat rises, these hatches often have gaps around them, allowing the warm air to escape. Properly sealing them with weather stripping and adding a layer of rigid foam to the hatch will help keep heat in your living area.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Post-Storm Electrical Hazards to Watch For

October 12, 2015 1:13 am

In the days following a severe storm, flooding can result in electrical hazards in the home and on the surrounding property. In fact, electrical equipment exposed to water can be extremely dangerous if reenergized without property reconditioning or replacement, according to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI). Damage to electrical equipment can also result from exposure to flood waters contaminated with chemicals, sewage, oil and other debris.

“As families begin cleaning up after a flood, there are many hidden electrical hazards throughout the home,” says ESFI President Brett Brenner.  “Water and electricity don’t mix, and the dangers associated with submerged electrical equipment can be deadly.”

The ESFI strongly advises homeowners not to use electrical appliances that have been wet until they have been examined by a qualified service repair dealer. Certain equipment will require replacement, while a trained professional may be able to recondition other devices.

Electrical items, such as circuit breakers, fuses, ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs), receptacles, plugs and switches, can malfunction when water and silt get inside. Discard them if they have been submerged.

Keep in mind ocean water and salt spray can be particularly damaging to electrical equipment due to the corrosive and conductive nature of the salt water residue.

When it comes to downed power lines, always assume they are energized. Contact your utility company immediately to report downed lines, and stay at least 10 feet away from the line and anything it may be touching, such as a fence, tree limb or water. Never touch a person or object that is in direct or indirect contact with a downed power line. Instead, call 911 immediately.

Additionally, never attempt to move a downed power line – leave it to the professionals. Do not try to move a downed power line with another object. Even non-conductive materials like wood or cloth that are slightly wet can conduct electricity.

Portable generators can also be dangerous if not used properly. Do not operate a portable generator in your home or in any other enclosed or even-partially enclosed area. Generators can very quickly produce high levels of carbon monoxide, which can be deadly. Make sure that there is at least one battery-operated or battery backup carbon monoxide alarm in your home. Test it before using your generator.

Do not connect generators directly to the household wiring unless an appropriate transfer switch has been installed by a licensed, qualified electrician.  Always turn the generator off and let it cool down before refueling.

Source: ESFI

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6 Financial Organization Tips When Disaster Strikes

October 9, 2015 1:10 am

Protecting your financial documents may be far from mind when a natural disaster strikes, but it’s one of the most important factors to consider, say the Independent Community Bankers of America® (ICBA). “While the first priority is the safety of you and your family, knowing that your banking documents and private financial information are safe gives you one less thing to worry about during stressful times,” says ICBA Chairman Jack Hartings.

“Natural disasters of any kind quickly remind us how important it is to be organized and have a plan ahead of time. Having a financial preparedness plan will protect you and your family from the long-term effects of damaged, destroyed or lost financial documents,” Hartings adds.

To prepare for that possibility, the ICBA advises:

  • Keeping marriage licenses, birth certificates, adoption papers, property deeds, wills, insurance policies, passports, Social Security cards, car titles or lease contracts, bank and investment account numbers and three years of tax returns in a bank safe deposit box. Put each of these documents in a sealed plastic bag to keep out moisture;
  • Making and safeguarding additional official copies of critical documents, such as birth certificates, adoption papers, marriage licenses and the deed to your home, and notifying a trustee, close relative or attorney where important financial information is located;
  • Keeping names and contact numbers for executors, trustees and guardians in a safe place, either in your safe deposit box or with a close relative;
  • Taking an inventory and keeping a list of household valuables. Taking photographs of these items can help as well;
  • Including extra cash, preferably small bills, in your home emergency kit, which should include a three-day supply of water and food, a first aid kit, a manual can opener, flashlights, a radio and extra batteries;
  • Securing online data storage, which can serve as a supplement or back-up to paper copies.

Source: ICBA

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Window Treatments: Why Cordless Matters

October 9, 2015 1:10 am

Decorative window treatments may be stylish, but those with exposed or dangling cords can pose serious risks to youngsters. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Window Covering Safety Council (WCSC) strongly recommend that only cordless window coverings, or those with inaccessible cords, be used in homes with infants and young children.

“Parents with young children should replace their corded window coverings with the cordless products available,” says Window Covering Safety Council (WCSC) Executive Director Peter Rush.  “There are many cordless products available in different styles, colors, and sizes that will soon be easily identified with the ‘Best for Kids’ label.”

The ‘Best for Kids’ certification program helps consumers and retailers easily identify window covering products that are suitable for use in homes with infants and young children.  For a product to be eligible for this certification program, manufacturers must meet specified program criteria and submit their window covering products to a designated third-party testing laboratory.  Once a product passes the third-party testing, the manufacturer will be allowed to label the product with the ‘Best for Kids’ certification seal.

Multiple cordless products are available, and all of come in a variety of sizes, patterns, and fabrics. These include:

  • Cordless drapes
  • Sheers
  • Light-filtering cordless shades
  • Cordless blackout shades
  • Cordless roman shades
  • Cordless mini-blinds
  • Faux wood blinds
  • Shutters
  • Cordless pleated shades
  • Cordless motorized shades

Additionally, it behooves homeowners and renters with young children to move all furniture, cribs, beds and climbable surfaces away from windows, ensure windows cannot open more than four inches, and mount window guards or window stops.

Source: CPSC

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5 Tips for Tackling a Home Improvement List

October 9, 2015 1:10 am

(Family Features) From aesthetic upgrades to practical necessities, there is no shortage of projects for homeowners to tackle. To take the stress out of home improvement, blogger and author Justina Blakeney and YP.com serve up the following tips:

  • Prioritize projects by needs, not wants. Blakeney advises making sure important projects (functioning air conditioning, for example) are set before tackling less crucial ones, like popcorn ceilings. Be realistic with your goals and always factor in 20 percent more money and time than you think the project will take.
  • Some projects are simple enough to DIY, but other projects may be better handled by experts. Honestly assess your own level of expertise, permit requirements and local regulations, your budget, your timeline and ultimate goals before deciding whether to DIY or hire an expert. Whether you need a personal organizer or a painter, a foundation specialist or a handyman, ask friends for referrals and then head online to dig a little deeper before getting a project bid.
  • Create a collection of professionals you will be working with and all the stores you will source materials from. You'll have all of the info in one place for follow-ups, and it's easy to share the info with friends once they start asking for recommendations. Also get a clear breakdown of all elements involved in each project, how much each step will cost and deadlines for each step along the way. A clear plan of action will help keep the budget and timeline in check. 
  • One of the best ways to save time and money is to find things second-hand. Thrift shops, salvage shops and flea markets are great places to find furniture, appliances and hardware on the cheap. Or, repurpose items you already own by moving them to a different room or by painting them different colors. Explore all of your options and resources before going out and spending that hard-earned cash. 
  • It’s okay to start small. Swap out the old hardware on your kitchen cabinets or fix the broken brick on your patio. Just start somewhere and build your way up to the larger stuff. If you're feeling overwhelmed, try setting and accomplishing one small home improvement goal every week. 

Source: YP.com

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Survey Highlights the Struggle to Save

October 8, 2015 1:10 am

“How much money do you have saved in your savings account?”

A simple question with a not-so-simple answer, as a recent GoBankingRates.com survey found. According to the survey, one-fifth of Americans do not have a savings account, and nearly two-thirds have no more than $1,000 saved.

Those who have money saved, however, have much more than $1,000 – ten times more, per the survey’s findings. Perhaps attributable to age, seniors, or those aged 65 and older, are most likely to have $10,000 or more saved. Millennials, or those aged 18 to 24, are most likely to have less than $1,000 saved.

Interestingly, Gen Xers, or those aged 35 to 54, are most likely to have a savings account balance of $0.

“It’s troubling how many Americans aren’t thinking about long-term planning or retirement, with little to nothing stashed away in a savings account,” says Casey Bond, editor-in-chief of GOBankingRates. “Saving money is an uphill battle for many, but there are a number of simple ways people can consistently grow their nest egg over time, such as automating their savings. Even a small contribution is better than nothing at all."

Source: GOBankingRates.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Understanding Your Flood Risk

October 8, 2015 1:10 am

As a homeowner or renter, understanding your flood risk is essential. Generally speaking, water that comes from the top down is covered by homeowners or renters insurance; water that comes from the bottom up is covered separately by flood insurance, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

“Many consumers don’t understand what type of water damage is covered by standard home insurance, nor do they understand the various types of flood policies available to them,” says Jeanne M. Salvatore, chief communications officer for the I.I.I.

Water from the bottom up, such as overflow from a nearby lake, river or stream, is typically not covered by homeowners or renters insurance. Flood insurance is available from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and a few private insurance companies. Policies from the federal government have a 30-day waiting period before the coverage is activated. Excess flood insurance is also available from some private insurers if additional coverage is needed above and beyond the basic policy.

Remember: it only takes a few inches of water to cause tens of thousands of dollars in property damage. Don’t hesitate to contact your insurance professional to ask questions. Doing so will help you make informed decisions about your coverage.

You may also consider conducting a home inventory to document your belongings. Taking stock of your possessions will help you purchase the right amount of insurance, makes filing a claim easier and can be used to document losses when filing tax returns or applying for financial assistance after a disaster.

Source: I.I.I.

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7 Things to Know about Title Insurance

October 8, 2015 1:10 am

Many factors play a role in the process of purchasing a home – none understood less than title insurance. Put simply, title insurance protects your investment from title issues that may arise after buying or refinancing a home, such as lost, forged or incorrectly filed deeds or liens on a property, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC).

To gain a clearer understanding of title insurance, take a look at the facts recently shared by the NAIC:

• Lenders typically require title insurance; however, you are not required to use their recommended title company or agent. Keep in mind that by federal law, affiliated (referral-based) relationships must be disclosed to you in writing.

• Title insurance can be purchased from a licensed title insurance company or agent. Attorneys may also have the authority to sell title insurance, depending on their jurisdiction.

• When comparison shopping, inquire about services and fees, both included in the title premium and not. Be sure to ask about discounts.

• When selecting a policy, take time to assess your options. As stated above, your lender will likely require a lender’s policy for the amount of the loan, which protects the lender from title issues that may occur after buying the home. Though you may have to pay the policy premium, coverage will decrease as the mortgage is paid off.

• Though you are not required to buy one, an owner’s policy for the full price of the home (and potential legal costs) protects you if title issues emerge after purchasing the home. Coverage will remain as long as you own an interest in the home.

• Depending on your area, you may also have the option to purchase an enhanced owner’s policy, which covers approximately 20 percent more than a standard owner’s policy.

• Policy endorsements may be available to you, as well. An endorsement, which you may or may not have to pay for, covers a specific issue, such as a mechanic’s liens.

Source: NAIC

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10 Steps to Keep Your Car in Tip-Top Shape

October 7, 2015 1:10 am

Taking a proactive approach to preventative vehicular maintenance helps ensure safety, reliability and fewer unexpected repairs. Whether you do it yourself or take your car to a professional service technician, the non-profit Car Care Council recommends 10 basic procedures to keep your vehicle operating at its best:

1. Check all fluids, including engine oil, power steering, brake and transmission, as well as windshield washer solvent and antifreeze/coolant.

2. Check the hoses and belts
to make sure they are not cracked, brittle, frayed, loose or showing signs of excessive wear.

3. Check the battery
and replace if necessary. Make sure the connection is clean, tight and corrosion-free.

4. Check the brake system
annually and have the brake linings, rotors and drums inspected at each oil change.

5. Inspect the exhaust system
for leaks, damage and broken supports or hangers if there is an unusual noise. Exhaust leaks can be dangerous and must be corrected without delay.

6. Check engine performance
to make sure it is delivering the best balance of power and fuel economy and producing the lowest level of emissions.

7. Check the heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) system as proper heating and cooling performance is critical for interior comfort and for safety reasons such as defrosting.

8. Inspect the steering and suspension system annually including shock absorbers, struts and chassis parts such as ball joints, tie rod ends and other related components.

9. Check the tires, including tire pressure and tread. Uneven wear indicates a need for wheel alignment. Tires should also be checked for bulges and bald spots.

10. Check the wipers and lighting
so that you can see and be seen. Check that all interior and exterior lighting is working properly. Replace worn wiper blades so you can see clearly when driving during precipitation.

Source: Car Care Council

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