Dollar Stretcher: A path to lower property taxes
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Quarterly dishwasher maintenance
About four times a year, I run a half gallon of vinegar in my dishwasher. I fill bowls and set them on the top rack and then I run a regular cycle. The vinegar cuts through any grease. Even though my dishwasher is over 10 years old, my dishes come out sparkling all the time.
Rising interest rates
I recently paid the penalty for cashing a CD early, and it was a good decision. I had nearly three years to go at a rate of .375 percent. I found one online at 1.75 percent. Sure, I lost six months of interest on the old CD, but I’ll make that up in a matter of months. If you have CDs, now is a great time to look for a higher rate.
Car loan problems
My husband is a banker and gave my sister this tip. When someone has had some difficulty throughout a car loan with paying on time, the late fees add up. At the end of the loan, they still have to be paid. A person can negotiate with the bank to reduce those fees because banks just want to clear that loan off of their books. It is worth a try.
Melissa in Ohio
Credit card protection
We’ve all read the stories about credit card scams at restaurants. Here’s how I protect myself. I make sure that they can’t change any of the lines on the bill. For instance, if I leave a cash tip instead of putting a zero in the tip line I draw a line clear through the space. I’ve read of a zero in the tip line becoming a 10 or 20 when the charge goes through. I also draw a line to the left of the total so that no one can add a number to the front of the total. I know that 99.99 percent of the people working in restaurants are honest people, but I don’t want to become the victim of a dishonest one. Making sure I’m safe is super easy.
Help a friend
I bet that most of us have been in this situation. Your friend loses his/her job. You want to help, but you know that he/she won‘t accept help from you. Also, you don’t want to cause embarrassment. Here’s my solution. I give an anonymous gift. I’ve left a $20 or $50 in an envelope in their mailbox with a note without a signature. For one friend, I picked up groceries, left them on their doorstep, rang the doorbell, and ran like a teenager.
Here’s a good use for your tax refund. Instead of spending it, invest it in your children or grandchildren. If they’re old enough to have a part-time job, you could start a Roth IRA for them. You can contribute the amount they earned during the year up to $5,500. Another option is to fund a 529 plan. That’s a fund that's designed to help them pay for college. Either way, you'll be helping them get a good start in life.
Did you know that you can appeal your property tax appraisal? When they increased the amount that my home was assessed at, I looked on the county tax records to see how my neighbors’ homes were valued. My home was appraised about 15 percent more than their homes. I appealed the assessment, went in with my facts, and got the taxable value to match my neighbors. I hated the aggravation, but it was well worth my time.
Managing my credit cards
Managing credit cards can pay big dividends. This is especially true for couples. We each have one credit card in just our name. That way, we both have a credit history. I don’t plan on divorce, but it is never known when a spouse could die unexpectedly. We both carry a cashback card and use it for most purchases. I have an airline rewards card that we use when I’m buying something where the rewards points are worth more than the cashback.
We do that because we like to travel. He has a card that gets us a gas discount, so he makes it a point to be responsible to fill up both of our cars. That’s it. We don't carry any other cards. We feel like we’re getting the most without going crazy figuring which card to use every time we buy something!
My husband and I are still paying off our student loans, so we can’t spend a lot on a summer vacation that we badly need. Last year, we found a way to reduce the cost of travel. We found colleges with open dorm rooms that we could rent overnight. Typically the cost was less than half what a decent motel would cost. Some even included a pass for an on campus pool and workout room. We probably wouldn’t do it if we had kids, but for the two of us, it’s a great way to make a vacation affordable.
Cell price wars
Last week I called my cell phone company (U.S. Cellular) when I learned about a plan through a different cell phone company (Consumer Cellular) that offered the same services I had for a much lower price ($50/month less). I let the customer service representative know that I was considering switching my cell service provider after 15 years with them.
The representative let me know they lowered their data plan price one month prior (by $10/month), as well as no longer charging a $40 fee to customers who own their own phones. I got the new low rate, plus one month credit on the reduced rates, as I let the representative know that I was disappointed I was not notified of the change in rates.
Therefore, call your cell phone company at least every eight months to find out if there are changes in rates. If you find a better deal elsewhere, let the company know, and your price may be matched.
Spring home maintenance
Now that the snow has melted, it's time to see how much damage was done to your home over the winter. I always check my gutters to see if ice has caused any problems. I also check wood around windows and doors for any softness. Soft wood means it's rotting inside and time for a repair/replacement. I also give my deck and railings a good inspection.
Do you have a tip that you’d like to share? Just send your suggestion to Tips@stretcher.com.