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Online Insurance

Is online insurance right for you?

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The Internet is a powerful tool for the savvy online consumer. You can review products, compare prices, research companies and purchase almost anything. Following this trend is the increase availability of insurance online. Insurance companies are providing coverage information, quotes and even contracts online. This includes automobile, homeowners, life, medical and even pet insurance. Insurance has traditionally been a high customer service field with direct human contact with your insurance agent. Because of the change in customer contact, the migration towards providing insurance online has not always been a smooth one. Instead companies are finding some tools work and others only cause frustration or confusion. Indeed, the availability of insurance online is still fluctuating and developing. Below we have compiled a few of the ways you can utilize online insurance options and determine if it is the right tool for you. Researching and obtaining insurance online is much easier today. Many websites now offer comparison tools that will provide quotes and coverage information (some of these sites are listed below). Keep in mind if you choose a carrier from these searches, you will then be contracting with that carrier for your insurance, not the original site. This will either be done by forwarding you to the carrier's website or the comparison site will forward your information to the insurance company and they will then contact you. Many insurers still prefer to have a representative call you and discuss your coverage over the phone. Although not the same as meeting with a personal insurance agent, it allows them to make certain you understand the coverage provided. Also, because buying insurance online is new, many companies believe that individualized customer care is still the best way to get your business and a follow up call still provides some of this customer service. The Pros There are many benefits for utilizing online insurance: Easy comparison shopping: Using insurance comparison websites you can compare coverage and prices on almost any type of insurance. You can also browse the individual insurance carrier websites once you have narrowed your search. Almost all companies now have libraries and tools for you to learn more about their services online. Your time is money: Shopping for insurance online can be done at any time of day. It is hard to get time away from your daily schedule to sit down and comparison shop with insurance brokers, or indeed, individual agents. Low pressure: Let's face it, many people find it easier to stand firm without the person-to-person contact. Users feel they can be more savvy and better informed when every option is at their fingertips rather then relying on an agent's account. Save money: Due to the time needed to comparison shop, the pressure to stay loyal with one company, and the uncertainty about other companies, some may lose money by staying blindly loyal to one insurance carrier. The online market allows for easy comparison shopping, less pressure, and research tools to learn more about other companies. By becoming well informed, you can either work out a better rate with your current provider or move to a new provider who offers better coverage for your dollar. Buying Auto Insurance? Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Click hereThe Cons Be aware of these complications when purchasing insurance online: Understanding coverage options: Without an agent to explain 'insurance speak' you may not know all the coverage you may need. This is especially the case for those getting insurance for the first time. However, if you have discussed options with an agent before and have a generally good idea of the type of coverage you will need, this may be something that is manageable with a little extra research. Is that quote really a deal: All quotes may not be equal. Take care to examine all the coverage included with quotes. The online quotes may help you narrow your search, but should not be taken at face value as not all companies offer the same 'comprehensive' coverage. Buying insurance coverage in your state: Not all states will allow you to purchase insurance online. Some allow you to get quotes but still require you to meet with an agent before signing any contracts. Also, because the internet clouds locality, you will need to make sure the insurance carrier is licensed in your state. Individual customer care: Do you really want to push 1, then 2, then 4 to talk to someone about your insurance coverage? Working with a local agent still offers the advantages of individualized customer service. This agent can offer coverage that speaks to your locality as it is more likely they live in your community. They will also have a better knowledge of the coverage their carrier provides and can help you understand all of your options. They may also be aware of more discounts available to you that you may not know to ask for online. In this way they can offer better individualized care. Whether you choose to shop for insurance online or not, you should look at your insurance carrier websites. Insurance carriers now offer detailed information about coverage online. In fact, once you have settled on a carrier you can often answer coverage questions, pay bills, get updates on claims and find useful tip sheets and information on how to better protect yourself and your property. A primary example of this is your health coverage. Most health insurance carriers still prefer you to sign up through your employer or an agent. However, once you have your coverage, they offer information about doctors, medical options, prescriptions, and claims. Considering health care is one of the most complex types of insurance used, their increasing online presence is an invaluable tool. To explore online insurance options more, please see the links below. More Information Online Insurance Comparison Sites Insurance.com http://www.insurance.com/ Quicken https://secure1.insweb.com/cgi-bin/gic.exe?id=UzB94xbaYQ-wpGWHlZbh8l8ZtxL&page=/gic/Quicken.htj InsWeb http://www.insweb.com/ Insure.com http://www.insure.com/ Insurance Company Rankings AM Best Company - Insurance Reports http://www.ambest.com/homepage.asp Consumer Reports (requires membership for ratings) http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/money/insurance/index.htm Standard & Poor's Ratings http://www2.standardandpoors.com/portal/site/sp/en/us/page.topic/ratings_fs_ins/2,1,5,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0.html?lid=us_fo_ratings_insurance US News & World Report - Top Health Insurance Companies http://health.usnews.com/sections/health/health-plans/index.html State Insurance Regulators http://www.consumeraction.gov/insurance.shtml Online Insurance articles. http://www.onlineinsurance.com/ When purchasing any product online you always want to make certain it is an authentic website representing a verifiable company with a good reputation. Here are some tips for a safe and rewarding online shopping experience: Be assertive in getting answers about an online company you have not worked with before. Learn as much as you can about them and ask tough questions. Check reviews online, in magazines, with your Secretary of State/Attorney General, the Better Business Bureau, or by word of mouth. Call them up and talk to their customer service. If they don't list a contact number be careful. Review posted company information, policies and the privacy policy. If they do not provide this online, you can move on or call them up to ask why. Make sure any payments are made in a website with https or other secured system. Keep a printed copy of every online transaction. Consider using one credit card for your online purchases/payments. This way you know which to cancel in case of fraud. Also, make sure the card is not linked to any bank account. Some prefer getting a pay as you go credit card for any online transactions. These can be found at any grocery store and can be refilled as needed. Keep your computer updated with anti-virus software, browser updates and spyware programs. NEVER provide personal information from an email they supposedly sent to you. This is a common phishing scam. Everything in the email will look legit but lead to a false site collecting your information. Instead call the company with the number on your contract - not the number given to you in that email! Initiate contact yourself. Go to their website yourself from the address they gave you on your contract. To be on the safe side, never go to their website from an email. Don't give account information to anyone. Your online providers have this information and if anything will be emailing you a forgotten password - never vice versa! Change your account passwords often; every six months to once a year. Use strong passwords with numbers, symbols, changes in case and at least 6 characters.

Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home-Part 2

Periodic checklists.

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Welcome back to Rocky’s Corner! Last month we started Part 1 of an 8 part series of Preventative Maintenance Tips for your Home. Series 1 dealt with maintenance checks that are recommended every month. Series 2 will combine a periodic checklist for every 2 months and a periodic checklist for every 3 months. Every 2 Months If you have a pressure type oil burner inspect and clean Range Hood Fan: Clean grease filter. This may be done more often than every 2 months depending upon the amount of cooking and or fry foods. If you find that the filter is corroded, you may need to consider replacing it. Steam Heating System: Test relief valve and replace if necessary, check pressure and drain expansion tank if necessary. Wall Furnace: Clean grills. Clean or replace filter. Every 3 Months Faucets: Clean aerators-unscrew, disassemble and wash out debris. Fix leaky faucets quickly; a leak wastes up to 20 gallons of water a day and can ruin a faucet set. Consider replacing older faucets with new ones with washer less valve cartridges instead of rubber washers. Dishwasher: Professionally have the strainer, spray arm and air gap cleaned. Pest Control: Consider hiring a pest control service to protect your home and family from insects, vermin and termites damage to your property. Hot Water Heater: Do not set any combustibles near water heater. Drain a quart of water from the tank four times a year to keep your water heater in peak condition. If you suspect a leak, you may have rusting through the bottom of the storage tank. Consult a professional. Floor Drain Strainer: Clean out debris and scrub strainer. Tub Drain Assembly: Clean out debris; inspect rubber seal and replace if necessary. Join me next month for Part 3 of our series on Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home. Visit us at www.freminshomeimprovement.com

Customer Deposits

Illegitimate Revenue Stream for Banks?

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This month, for a change of pace, we are bringing you a LAWCHEK™ ALERT! from our partner and legal site Lawchek.com. This article reviews the questionable changes that have occurred relative to bank "holds" on customer deposits. These changes can effect everyone from the individual customer to the small business owner.

CUSTOMER DEPOSITS: ILLEGITIMATE REVENUE STREAM FOR BANKS?
Richard A. Pundt, Attorney at Law

For quite some time now, certain banks and other financial institutions may have been profiting from what some members of Congress are calling an illegitimate revenue stream, namely, the deposits of its' customers. Today, many banks will place “holds” on customer deposits. Such customer deposit “holds” are for ten business days and usually translate into a ½ month use of the funds deposited; In this way, banks are able to benefit from the interest on customer funds. This questionable practice has caused outrage by depositors and has ignited the concern of key members of Congress.

Congressman Michael Oxley (R-Ohio) has stated: “Holding a deposit to ensure its safety and soundness is reasonable. But holding a deposit in order to profit from the interest is completely unacceptable. The latter practice prevents consumers from realizing the benefits of their own assets, while creating an illegitimate revenue stream for financial institutions. It unfairly penalizes consumers and should be eliminated from the U.S. payment system.” 1

From an analysis in a report by Ms. Laura Bruce of www.Bankrate.com, it is revealed that there are many concerns relative to the new federal enactment of the Check 21 Act. "Check 21" allows the checks that individuals write to clear within one to two days while the deposit may be held by a bank for up to ½ month when weekends are added to the allowable ten day hold under “exceptional” circumstances of the FED Regulations. As a result, the consumer may get “nailed” for overdraft charges if the consumer was counting on the deposit and, in addition, the banks have been keeping the interest on the funds “held” through the deposit delay. Ms. Bruce also notes in her article 2 that Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-New York) has introduced HR 5410 that would “…redress imbalances between the faster withdrawals permitted under the Check 21 Act and the slower rates for crediting deposits.”

Examples of bank customers delays due to the banks “hold” practices is very wide-spread and, undoubtedly, has accounted for hundreds of millions of dollars worth of profits for banks. Consumers, realtors, businessmen, and attorneys are becoming increasingly aware of these practices by the banks. This author has encountered quite a number of reported instances where consumers experienced an improper deposit delay or hold for an unreasonable period of time.

Of the many instances reported to this author, there are three that merit review in regard to the issue of deposit “holds.” The first instance involved a very well-respected attorney who deposited over $200,000 into his attorney trust account at a well-known bank and was verbally informed, after the deposit had been made, that there would be a ten business day “hold” on the deposit. He did not receive any written notice as prescribed by Federal Reserve Regulation CC (Availability of Funds and Collection of Checks, 12 CFR 229). This particular attorney had never over-drafted his account and has always maintained a sterling reputation with the Bar, as well as other attorneys. Moreover, the deposit consisted of checks from State Farm Mutual Ins. and John Deere Inc. The attorney directed a hand delivered correspondence to this well-known bank, wherein he requested an immediate removal of the “hold” or, in the alternative, an explanation as to whether the bank in question believed that checks from either State Farm Mutual Ins. or John Deere Inc. would not clear or if there was any improper activity by State Farm Mutual Ins. or John Deere Inc. in regard to: (a) any suspected criminal activity, (b) any suspected money laundering, (c) any suspected terrorist activity, or (d) any other improper activity that would mandate the holding of either check. Needless to say, the bank could not accuse either State Farm Mutual Ins. or John Deere Inc. of any such activity, yet the bank continued its “hold” on the deposit to the trust account from December 7, 2005 until December 20, 2005. The attorney has never received a written or an oral explanation, as he requested in writing, for the hold as prescribed by Federal Reserve Regulation CC (12 CFR 229).

The second instance involved a well-respected realtor who deposited between $200,000-$300,000, as a result of a closing, into his account at the aforementioned bank. He was unaware of any “hold” on the deposit. The realtor issued various checks, as customary, to: other financial institutions, the seller, realtors, an insurance company, taxing authorities, and others. When the bank in question refused to release its “hold,” the realtor’s checks bounced and a significant amount of distress and embarrassment was the result for all parties concerned, except, of course, the bank that profited in two ways: from the interest on the deposit and from the overdraft charges.

The third, but surely not final, instance involved a party who received a Cashier’s Check from a centrally located and well-known bank and, on the same day, deposited the Cashier’s Check into an account at a branch of the same bank. The branch placed a “hold” on its' own main bank’s Cashier’s Check. What is especially interesting about this case, other than the fact that it was the bank’s own Cashier’s Check, is the fact that under Federal Reserve Regulation CC (12 CFR 229), a Cashier’s Check, as well as a check drawn on an account held by the same institution, must be made available on the first business day following the day of deposit.

It would seem that compliance with Federal Reserve Regulation CC (12 CFR 229) is being ignored by several of the largest banks. According to the article by Ms. Bruce, as noted above, proposed legislation HR 5410 has been presented in Congress to benefit the consumer. The legislation is being introduced in order to counter the Check 21 Act that allows the checks written by consumers to clear faster than the actual deposits made at the banks. It is noted in the article that Representatives from Wells Fargo Bank and Wachovia Bank have stated that their banks place holds on less than one percent of all deposits. If one were to consider the dollar magnitude of that one percent, especially if such deposits are for more than $5,000, a substantial windfall of interest profits are the likely result for the banks placing the “hold.” Perhaps the one percent accounts for hundreds of thousands of deposits each day and, if the average dollar amount of such deposit is $10,000 (most likely it is much more), the money on hold by the large banks at any one time would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars for which the banks gain interest on consumers assets, as noted by Congressman Oxley.

Under the Federal Reserve Regulation CC (12 CFR 229), it is mandated that interest should be paid to the consumer (See Regulation CC (12 CFR 229.14)). It is, therefore, understandable why Congressman Oxley has stated that such practice by the banks “…prevents consumers from realizing the benefits of their own assets, while creating an illegitimate revenue stream for financial institutions."

Under Federal Reserve Regulation CC (12 CFR 229), the following deposits must be made available on the first business day following the banking day of deposit: (1) Cash, (2) Electronic Payments, (3) U.S. Treasury Checks, (4) U. S. Postal Service Money Orders, (5) Federal Reserve Bank and Federal Home Loan Bank Checks, (6) State or Local Government Checks, (7) Cashier’s, Certified or Teller’s Checks, (8) Checks drawn on an account held by the same institution upon which the check is drawn, and (9) the first $100, or if less than $100 the entire amount, of all other checks. In the case of the individual who had deposited a Cashier’s Check into an account that was held by the same bank upon which it was drawn, both subsection 7 and subsection 8, as noted above, were ignored.

On other deposits that are not listed above, including the proceeds of local and non-local checks, the checks must generally be made available for withdrawal by the second and fifth business day respectfully following the deposit (See Regulation CC (12 CFR 229.12)). In the case of the attorney, and in the case of the realtor, as noted above, if the deposited checks were local, the deposit should have been credited within two days, and if the checks were non-local, the checks should have been credited within five days. There should not have been an arbitrary hold for ten business days or a ½ month total hold on the deposits.

However, there are exceptions set forth under Regulation CC (12 CFR 229.13), and those exceptions involve: new accounts,3 large deposits, repeatedly overdrawn accounts, or emergency conditions. The only exception of the above examples involving the attorney or the realtor, as given, would be the exception of a large deposit since our investigation ruled out any other scenario. In the case of large deposits, the bank must provide a notice to the consumer (See Regulation CC (12 CFR 229.13)), and that notice must be in writing (See Regulation CC (12 CFR 229.15), (12 CFR 229.16), (12 CFR 229.17) and (12 CFR 229.18)). Additionally, and under Regulation CC (12 CFR 229.14), interest must be paid on interest bearing accounts no later than the day the bank receives credit for the funds deposited.

It would appear that certain banks may be circumventing the requirements of Federal Reserve Regulation CC (12 CFR 229), and that is undoubtedly one of the reasons that Congressman Oxley has expressed concern, and why Congresswoman Maloney is reintroducing HR 5410. As a practical matter, most customers drop the issue once they actually receive their funds, which have been held by the bank, because they wish to maintain a good standing relationship with the bank. So does that mean that nothing can be done? The answer is no. Something can be done, but it requires positive action by the customer.

First, the customer may file a complaint with the Federal Reserve at: The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Division of Consumer and Community Affairs at 20th and C Streets, N.W., Stop 801, Washington, DC 20551. Additionally, the consumer may file a complaint with the respective State Banking Commissioner in the state where the violation occurs. Also, contacting the proper parties within Congress, such as Congressman Michael Oxley (R-Ohio) or Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-New York).

Finally, there is a civil remedy expressly set forth under Federal Reserve Regulation CC (12 CFR 229.21). The civil remedy allows for both individual and class actions. See Regulation 12 CFR 229.21 (a) (2) (i) and (ii). The statute provides a limitation on class actions that includes actual damages up to $500,000 or 1% of the net worth of the bank involved (the lesser of the two) plus costs and attorney fees.

Open electrical splices

In the course of inspecting a home, I often find open electrical splices in the crawl space and attic, and I cite them in my report.

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In the course of inspecting a home, I often find open electrical splices in the crawl space and attic, and I cite them in my report. A splice, in layman’s terms, is a connection between two or more wires. These splices are normally made with a small plastic device resembling a thimble that is called a wire nut. The wire nut is twisted onto the wires, and holds them tightly together for a good connection. In accordance with accepted electrical practice, all splices must be inside an approved electrical box with a cover, and this box must be attached to the framing of the house and accessible. These boxes are either metal or plastic. The reason why splices must be inside a covered box is very simple. When electric wires become loose or overloaded, they can get very hot, and, in some cases, throw off sparks. If the wires are out in the open, they can drop sparks onto combustible materials or otherwise cause them to ignite. The electrical box is designed to contain the heat and sparks long enough for a fuse to blow or a breaker to trip. Crawl spaces are not very nice places to work, and the person doing the wiring is probably in a hurry to get out of there, and not interested in going back to place a cover on each box. Open splices are an invitation to disaster, and should be corrected as soon as discovered. If you suspect that your home has open splices in the crawl space or attic, have a qualified electrician correct the problem as soon as possible.

Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home-Part 6

This month we will begin with Part A - tips for Spring.

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Welcome back to Rocky’s Corner! Last month we started Part 5 of an 8 part series of Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home.

This month we will begin with Part A - tips for Spring. Every Spring-Part A APPLIANCES: Vacuum coils under or behind refrigerators and freezers.

 AIR CONDITIONING UNITS: Central Air Conditioning Make sure the condensing unit located outside is not covered up with leaves, newspaper, etc. Change or clean the filters regularly. Be sure all access panels are secure, with all the screws in place. Set the thermostat in the cooling mode. Run your air conditioner for a few minutes now, before you need it. Schedule a maintenance call before it gets hot to have a technician check the following items: Check for proper refrigerant (Freon) levels. A low level indicates a leak, to be found and repaired before adding Freon. Check all electrical components and controls. Clean evaporator and condenser coils, as needed. Oil motors as needed. Calibrate thermostat. Check condenser for cracks. Check filters.

AIR CONDITIONING UNITS: Evaporative Air Conditioning Clean unit; check belt tension and adjust if necessary; replace cracked or worn belt. Clean or replace air filter; clean condenser or evaporator coils and condensate drain; remove debris from outdoor portion of unit. AIR

CONDITIONING UNITS: Wall and Window Air Conditioning Have your unit checked out to make sure it is working properly before you need it. Clean dirt, insects and debris from the grills and cooling fins. Replace dirty filters.

ATTIC: Make sure all your gable, soffit, and ridge vents are open to allow proper ventilation. Make sure insulation covers the entire attic floor; look into hiring a professional to add more to meet recently updated building codes and reduce future cooling and heating costs. Check to make sure your attic and/or whole house fans are working properly; consider installing attic or whole house fans.

CARBON MONOXIDE AND SMOKE DETECTORS: Change batteries and check to make sure they are operating properly.

CAULKING AND GROUT: Inspect caulking and grout around tubs, showers and sinks; considering replacing if necessary.

CLEAN CARPETING: Have your carpets cleaned regularly to remove the dirt and grit that can wear them out prematurely.

DOOR SILLS, WINDOW SILLS, AND THRESHOLDS: Fill cracks, caulk edges, repaint; replace if necessary.

DRAIN-WASTE AND VENT SYSTEMS: Flush out system.

HEAT PUMP: Lubricate blower motor. If you didn’t have an annual check-up done last fall, schedule one now to have a certified professional to inspect the wiring, check belts (replace if needed), and oil the moving parts.

HOT WATER HEATING SYSTEM: Lubricate circulating pump and motor.

PEST CONTROL: Termites can cause thousands of dollars worth of property damage before the homeowner even realizes they have an infestation and other pests can threaten your family members and pets with bites and diseases. Contact a pest control specialist for a free inspection and evaluation of your risk; and for hiring a regular service to keep your home free of all pests; including insects and rodents. SCREENS FOR WINDOWS AND DOORS: Clean screening and repair or replace if necessary; tighten or repair any loose or damaged frames and repaint if necessary, replace broken, worn or missing hardware; tighten and lubricate hinges and closers. WATER HEATER: Every six months you should turn off the power source and drain it completely until it is clear of sediment. Also inspect flue assembly (gas heater); check for leaks and corrosion.

ANTENNA: Check antenna and satellite dish supports for possible leak source. BASEMENT AND FOUNDATION: Check grading for proper slope away from foundation wall. Inspect for cracks and moisture and repair if necessary.

DECKS, PORCHES AND EXTERIOR WOOD STRUCTURES: Check all decks, patios, porches, stairs and railing for loose members and deterioration, such as cracks, splintering, decay, and insect damage; treat wood, set nails and repair or replace rotted boards, as needed. If professionally cleaned, sealed and maintained, it should only be necessary to refinish and/or stain your wooden decks every two or three years. It is also necessary that surfaces be thoroughly cleaned and dried before adding another coat of stain or protective finish. Remove mold and mildew, fungus, tree sap, grease and bird droppings with the appropriate commercial deck cleaners (or homemade mixtures) and a stiff brushed broom. Clean mildew and fungus by mixing one cup of chlorine bleach per gallon of water; scrub and rinse well. Sodium bicarbonate works well to remove dirt, mildew and the weathered gray residue from sunlight degradation. Oxalic acid will remove metal stains around nails and dark tannin stains often found on redwood, cedar and oak. Use care and follow manufacturers’ directions when using these products, wear eye protection, long pants, long sleeves and gloves; cover surrounding vegetation with plastic and rinse well.

DRIVEWAY CRACKS: For asphalt, remove dirt and weed debris from cracks, spray with a high-pressure hose sprayer; treat with weed killer and patch with a special patching product. For concrete, the only alternative for cracked driveways and garage floors used to be removal and replacement, but these days there are overlayments that may be professionally applied to cover surface cracks as long as the concrete is still structurally sound. Join me next month for Part 7 of our series on Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home. Visit us at www.freminshomeimprovement.com

Don't break the bank!

Recession survival tips for the household budget

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Now is the time of New Year's resolutions and an artificial restart for many of us.  This is a time taken to reflect on what goals we may want to achieve in the year ahead.  In many cases, financial security will be a primary objective for individual households as the recession continues through 2010.  Many people are grateful for the beginning of a gradual stabilization and cautiously hopeful for the recovery of the economy.  Although the majority of us do not have direct influence on the big companies and banks, we do control how we run our individual households, and many of us will be tightening our spending budgets and looking for ways to save.  Below we have provided some online resources for everything from keeping a balanced budget to finding ways to shop a bit smarter.

Know your budget: Before you can adjust your household budget to save, pay off debt or get ahead in your payments, you have to have a realistic look at what you owe and what you earn.

  • Bankrate: This site offers numerous online calculators from home budgets to which saving options will give the best returns. You can also begin to look at whether a home equity line of credit would be a good way to get rid of your debts or if now would be a good time to refinance under a lower mortgage rate. http://www.bankrate.com/brm/rate/calc_home.asp
  • BBB Develop a Working Budget: A printable worksheet that comes with other details to consider when calculating and understanding your budget. http://www.bbb.org/alerts/article.asp?id=709
  • Kiplinger.com Budget: An online budget form that will help you get started figuring out where you stand for the current month. http://www.kiplinger.com/tools/budget/
  • Microsoft Budget Templates: If you already use Microsoft Office, consider downloading one of their free budget templates. One of these Excel worksheets can help you keep track of your monthly expenses and be altered to fit your specific needs. http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/templates/CT101172321033.aspx

Revisit your grocery list: Reconsider how you buy groceries and what you buy.

  • Always shop with a list - Some suggest a list for any shopping trip you take. Always have a clear idea of what you need. This will help you find the best deals and not get distracted by impulse buys.
  • Buy generic brands - When you compare ingredient labels you may be surprised how similar or exact the name brands are with the generic. Try a couple taste tests, not everything generic will be ideal for your pallet, but some may surprise you, and savings could sweeten their flavor all the more!
  • Buy in bulk - Many stores now offer you the option to save by buying in bulk. Never use enough of it in time? Consider teaming up with family or neighbors and splitting your purchases. Maybe you don't need 10lbs of chicken, but 5lbs at $2 less per pound is savings to the bank.
  • Pack more snacks - When shopping, look for items you can easily put in the car, at the office or anywhere you might get the munchies. This way you can curb you hunger before you decide to hit the fast food on the way home.
  • Home Ec 101: Bake and Cook - Take on the personal challenge to become a better chef. Don't have the time? The internet is full of quick and easy casseroles, muffins, and other recipes that can help you get through your day. You will save money in the 15 minutes it takes to make these meals and you may find them more satisfying than microwave dinners.
  • Home brewed coffee - If you are addicted to your caffeine, then it is time to invest in a coffee pot with a clock and timer. You can still grab the coffee on the way out the door without being slowed down. Need it at work? Consider a French press where you can brew coffee conveniently at your desk without any machines, filters or mess.
  • Find your green thumb - If you have the property consider making a garden with your favorite greens. Fresh tasting rewards combined with natural stress relief. Don't have the property? Consider a container garden (or even an indoor container like the Aero Garden) for some of your basics. Maybe get to know you neighbors and join in a community plot.

Coupons, discounts and closeouts: Many sites online now offer ways to compare the best deals by product or store. Whether looking for new electronics or ready to head to the grocery store, check out these sites before you buy. Also take time to review the forums with customer input and reviews. A bit rough around the edges, the customer reviews on these sites are often short and to the point.

  • The Bargainist: This site lists both sales and coupons. Easy to use search - just type in the product you are looking for and it will check for any deals currently available. http://www.bargainist.com/
  • Cool Savings.com: A membership is required. If you don't mind printing your own coupons, this site is ideal for the busy shopper who knows what they want but does not want to sift through mailers, the newspaper and magazines to find a good deal. http://www.coolsavings.com/
  • Coupon Mom: A list of coupons, free offers and much more. A great way to search out grocery coupons. There is a membership but as with similar sites, this is free. http://www.couponmom.com/
  • Deal Catcher: Coupons, sales and rebates galore. Review sales by stores as well as by item rather than brand. http://www.dealcatcher.com/
  • Fat Wallet: The savings here can be found in the online forums. Savvy consumers share information and special deals. There is also the plethora of coupons and discounts listed by store or category. http://www.fatwallet.com/
  • RetailMeNot: A twist to the coupon frenzy, this site offers the coupons for online retailers. Many online retailers or stores with online shopping offer discounts or special deals with certain coupon codes or key words. RetailMeNot searches for these codes for you so you can use them on your next purchase. http://www.retailmenot.com/
  • SlickDeals.net: Mostly user driven, this site helps to create a community where bargain hunters can congregate and share what they have found. The latest deals page can be fun to review but you can also search for products by name. http://slickdeals.net/  

Be an educated consumer: Be more particular about the products you buy. Taking time to read reviews and learn the pros and cons others have experienced before you buy will help you choose better products that will last longer.

  • Buzzillions.com: After compiling reviews from customers that are sent to major retailers in response to the products they sell, Buzzillions then puts all those reviews together into an easy to read snapshot with an overall rating. You can then read the individual reviews from other consumers like you. http://www.buzzillions.com/
  • Epinions: This site is user driven with opinions on everything from products to entertainment. Perhaps you want to know more about a book, video game, movie or iPod? Most likely someone has given their two cents about it here. http://www0.epinions.com/
  • PriceGrabber.com: This site helps the consumer compare prices between online retailers. Many popular products also come with reviews and ratings. The price comparison also includes some of the used markets such as Amazon Marketplace. http://www.pricegrabber.com/

Rack up rewards: There are many programs out there to reward shoppers. Take the time research them and find one that works for your shopping style. If you shop online there are shopping portals that offer rewards. If you shop a little bit everywhere, consider a credit card with flexible reward points. If you shop at one store the most, get a rewards card with them. *A thing to remember with reward credit cards is that they usually come with a higher APR. It is better if you can charge and then pay immediately and not rollover this debt. That way you can get the rewards without the extra interest.

  • CreditCards.com: If you use credit wisely, then you might consider a credit card rewards program. This site offers an easy glance through some of the programs available. Also consider looking at individual card company sites. http://www.creditcards.com/reward.php
  • Ebates: An online shopping portal that received favorable reviews from some bigwigs like Good Housekeeping and CNN. Not only do you get a discount when shopping, but you can get bonuses as well. http://www.ebates.com/

Buy and barter used: Flea markets and garage sales can be great if you have the time and the weather to get one going. Maybe you don't have either? Then how about trying the same bartering and selling online? Besides the already popular eBay, you may be surprised at how many sites there are that will allow you to exchange, sell and buy cheap!

  • BarterBee.com: A site specifically geared towards recycling CDs, DVDs and computer or consol games between households. Once you sign up for a membership you list your used items for sale. Sell items to get points. You can then use those points to buy other CDs, DVDs or games that you want to try out. Of course you wouldn't use this site to make cash - points are used for like items. http://www.barterbee.com/
  • Craigslist: An online mismatch of services, used goods and announcements by city location. Here you may be able to find used items cheap. It can be the ordinary like used furniture to the not so common. For example, I once found someone who had new pavers left over from a patio project that they are willing to sell at a discount just to get them off their lawn. You may also be able to find cheap services such as yard work. However, users beware, there are no regulations on this site and you should take precautions when working with anyone on this list. This site definitely has a mixed history of great successes and terrible wrongs. Be careful. http://www.craigslist.org/about/sites
  • eBAY: One of the most popular and well known online auction stops, eBay has been around since 1995. Users have the ability to rank other users for the ease of trade transactions. Probably the biggest garage sale on the internet. http://www.ebay.com/
  • SwapThing: This site allows for consumers to trade and barter items or services. There is also the option to do flat out sales. Unlike an auction site, you can barter privately and do not have to list items for auction. You enter what you want and it will match you with others who have it available. http://www.swapthing.com/home/index.jsp

Get it FREE: There are some sites that will help you sift through the spam to get free items. Be warned that some of the free items still come with many "free" emails.

  • Coupon Mom: Already mentioned above, this site also lists ways to get free samples of many products. http://www.couponmom.com/
  • Free Shipping.org: This site lists all the free shipping deals and codes. If a site offers a free shipping offer, they have it listed. If you need a code to get free shipping, they have most of those too. http://www.freeshipping.org/
  • Hey, It's Free: This blog website run by Goob works to find out the real freebies on the internet. Goob goes out there and finds out if a site is just spamming or if there really is something for free at the end of all the forms. That wisdom is then passed on to the readers of this sarcastic but informative blog. http://www.heyitsfree.net/

Compare Insurance Carriers: It is true, if you have been accident/incident free for a while you may be able to save by switching to another insurance carrier. Every company may offer something different in incentives, but take a look and see if a switch can't save you some money this year.

  • InsWeb: Recognized by sites like Kiplinger and Forbes, this online insurance comparison site will help you by getting quotes from agents after you supply your information. http://www.insweb.com/
  • NetQuote: An insurance comparison website. You fill in the information and the agents work out your rate with their company. http://www.netquote.com/

Be your own travel agent: Consider your vacation plans carefully in advance. When shopping for tickets, shop around to more than one vendor. It is not unusual for some airlines to give better deals then the online travel agencies. If you are a spur of the moment type of traveler, you might consider researching a couple major cities before tempted by last minute weekend travel deals. Like consumer reports, travel blogs are a great way to get more information before you go. Did you know you could see an opera in Vienna for $5? Well, now you do…

  • Budget Travel: In print and online magazine from Frommer's Travel, the site also offers free articles on featured destinations, trip ideas and advice from other travelers. http://www.budgettravel.com/
  • Kayak.com: This travel search engine is different in that it does not sell you the deals, it just works to find them for you. This is one of the easiest ways to search online travel agencies (i.e. Expedia) and the travel companies (i.e. airlines). http://www.kayak.com/
  • Lonely Planet: Supplementary to the printed books, this website offers information about popular travel destinations as well as tips from other like-minded travelers. http://www.lonelyplanet.com/
  • USA.gov: Want to stay close to home but still get away? Check out the official state travel sites for the 50 United States and U.S. territories. http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Travel_Tourism/State_Tourism.shtml