Tag Archives: Homeowners

Seven Ways to Lower Your Energy Bill This Winter

 

(Article adapted from Property & Casualty 360 article, “Here are 8 ways to lower your energy bill this winter.”)


 

By now, most of us have started up our heating systems in order to stave off the morning’s chill, because let’s face it, when you’re up to five or six blankets on your bed just to stay warm at night, something’s gotta give.

Property Casualty 360 wrote an article in which they interviewed New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman about tips he recommends to help residents reduce their heating costs this winter. Well, while the resources in this article may be great for New Yorkers, we live in Michigan. So I’ve adapted the article to include some local resources that actually might apply to you.

So below are seven tips Attorney General Schneiderman suggests to keep your energy bills from breaking the bank this winter.

1.   Shop around

Did you know that you have a choice in deciding who offers you natural gas in Michigan? No? Well you do. There is a list of Licensed Alternative Gas Suppliers depending on what company services your utility (i.e. Consumers Energy, DTE, MGU, SEMCO).

As you are shopping around, it will be helpful to ask the following:

– How long have you been in business and servicing this particular area?

– What are your market rate prices and fixed/capped rates? Are you offering any promotions or discounts?

– What are the standard conditions and fees contained in the contract? What services are included, is there an early cancellation fee, what is the duration, and does the rate rise or fall based on the market?

– How does the company’s advertised rate compare to the current market rate?

 

2.   Don’t shop only on price

Even if you have a choice in terms of providers, it’s important to look at the whole picture, and not just on the price. Make sure you use a reputable supplier. Winter heating is a safety issue, after all. If you want to check a supplier’s reviews, look to the Better Business Bureau for additional information about a company.

 

3.   Ask for price protection

Flat-rate payment plans, in which the customer pays the same rate each month regardless of utility usage, can make for less headache when winter rears its ugly head. Price shifts can occur on a traditional, variable plan, especially if there is a particularly cold month and everyone starts using more heat.

 

4.   If you use propane, check your tank readings before and after fillings

Plain and simple. You want to guarantee that you are given the amount of propane you are paying for. (This comes back to #2, make sure you work with a reputable company.)

 

5.   See if a cooperative is available in your area

“Some areas have cooperatives that use their collective buying power to negotiate better prices for [propane] and service charges. Suppliers will offer better prices for a guaranteed customer base of likely repeat buyers.”

One such cooperative in Michigan is Midwest Energy Cooperative.

 

6.   Explore available programs and ask for help

The Department of Human Resources (DHS) provides information about getting help from state programs that use federal money to assist low-income families with energy costs.

It’s always best to call your energy fuel provider to explain the situation rather than simply not paying your bill.

Programs include:

1. Home Heating Credit

– Offers support for heating costs. Michigan Department of Treasury determines eligibility and makes payments.

2. State Emergency Relief

– This is a crisis intervention program that provides assistance for energy-related expenses such as heating fuel, electricity and home repairs.

3. Weatherization Assistance Program

– Provides free home energy conservation services to low-income Michigan homeowners and renters. Services reduce energy use and lower utility bills.

Additional information can be found at the Coalition to keep Michigan Warm website.

 

7.   Conserve, conserve, conserve

At the end of the day, of course, the best way to lower your utility bills is to use less energy. The Federal Trade Commission has these suggestions:

– Check your attic, attic stairway, garage walls and basement to make sure they are properly insulated.

– Wrap your hot water heater in an insulating jacket.

– Schedule an annual tune-up for your heat pump, furnace, or boiler.

– Seal and insulate leaky ducts and doorways to prevent heat from escaping and drafts from coming in.

– Install drapes or coverings over windows so cool air doesn’t enter your home.

– Close the doors to rooms that are not in use.

– Prune shrubs that may block airflow to your heat pump (if applicable).

– Install ceiling fans, which promote air circulation and efficient heating.

– Install a programmable thermostat, so you can set it to use less energy and heat at night and when you are not home.

Check out Consumers Energy’s “100 Ways to Save on Your Energy Bill.” They list several suggestions about things you can do to reduce energy in various areas of your house.

 

Are you interested in learning more about alternative heating sources? The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety explains using Pellet Stoves, Space Heaters, Wood Stoves and Fireplaces. Read the article here.

Fall Maintenance Tips: Roofs

 

The Reno Agency wants to make sure your home or business is ready for winter. Yes, we know it’s not fall [yet], but we’re providing our readers with ‘Fall Maintenance Tips‘ so you can get started early and check off all your to-do’s before the cold weather settles in.

 

Autumn is the time to inspect your home or business for signs of wear or damage so you can fix problem areas before winter arrives. One of the key areas you should look at, especially after a summer with severe weather, is your roof. Most residential homes use shingles for their roof covering. The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety offers several tips on how to properly inspect your roof for signs of damage. Check out their tips here: Inspection Checklist: Roof Damage. Even if you’ve recently put new shingles on your roof, don’t assume you can skip this inspection. It’s a good idea to inspect your shingles annually to make sure they are holding up well.

 

 

roofline-68277_1280 by Pixabay

5 Financial Mistakes Millennials Are Making

 

Even as the U.S. economy as a whole recovers from the Great Recession, Millennials (those born from the early 1980s through the early 2000s) continue to struggle with student debt and slow job growth. The lackluster economy and student debt aren’t the only things holding back Millennials from attaining financial independence and success.

Image courtesy of stockimages | FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of stockimages | FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Let’s take a look at five mistakes Millennials tend to make–and see how we can correct them.

 

1. Avoiding a budget

One of the most basic mistakes–not budgeting–can lead to living beyond your means. This puts pressure on your future financial plans and goals, even if you have  a good eye for what things like groceries or car insurance usually cost. Doing the math and knowing if you’re breaking even or able to save more each month is crucial for building a buffer against debt. It can be as easy as starting to use a new online or mobile budgeting tool. You don’t even need to leave your desk.

 

 

2. Misusing credit cards.

According to a study by the credit-reporting agency Experian, Millennials are struggling to pay credit card bills on time, while also having one of the highest credit utilization rates of the four generations listed. Credit utilization, also known as the debt-to-credit ratio, accounts for the ratio or rate of your balance (what you owe) compared with your overall credit limit.

 

From the study, Millennials’ average rate is 37 percent, which is above the 35 percent or less that creditors prefer. As a result of these two factors–late payments and high credit utilization–Millennials have the lowest credit scores across all four generations. Consider a credit score as a financial report card, which means you should turn in everything on time and pay the balance in full every month.

Experian Study

 

3. Renting forever.

It’s no secret that Millennials are not active homebuyers. Homeownership is important to consider because ultimately it costs more to rent a home than to buy one in many areas. Plus, Millennials do not build equity when they rent indefinitely. Of course, many Millennials still find themselves traveling and exploring without plans to settle down yet, but in the event that a reasonable deal on property comes up down the road, it would be wise to consider purchasing.

 

 

4. Saving little to nothing for retirement.

Surprisingly, two in three Millennials intend to retire by age 65, but approximately 70 percent have not started saving for retirement, according to a 2013 survey by MainStreet.com and GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communication. Even more disconcerting is that half of all Millennials plan to draw income from Social Security, even though full payments from reserves are set to cease in 2033.

 

The journey to retirement begins with a single payment, then another. If you’re lucky to have any employer’s 401(k) matching plan, take full advantage of it and make above-average contributions. If not, build your own IRA, choosing a Roth or traditional IRA, and set aside a percentage of your monthly income toward it.

 

 

5. Skipping life insurance.

Getting insurance in general may seem daunting, but it’s good to consider the various types, even ones you don’t hunk you need at first. Life insurance is one that might not have come up yet, but there are reasons to consider it.

 

One of the benefits of getting a life insurance  policy early on is that it will likely cost you less now than later–life insurance is cheaper the younger and healthier you are. Plus, you have no idea if your health might change, which could make getting coverage much more expensive or even impossible later on. And remember that co-signers on any financial accounts you have may be liable for your debts should anything happen to you.

 

 

From the basic act of budgeting to considering life insurance, these actions can help ground your financial future. Saving for later in life is the foundation for having a debt-free life and securing retirement plans. As a Millennial you may still be finding your way in this economy, but you can help prevent any of these five financial mistakes from adding to your burdens.

 

by John Kuo

John Kuo is an analyst for NerdWallet. He specializes in investing and insurance. Through transparent tools and content, NerdWallet helps consumers make sound financial decisions.

 

 

Fire Protection Tips for Businesses and Residents

As the weather gets colder, it’s likely that we’ll turn up our heat and brace ourselves for the winter ahead. But because the use of heating systems increases during the cold weather months, so does the frequency of residential and business fires. In fact, more than 50,000 heating fires in residential buildings occur each year in the United States, a majority of which happen from November through March, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

It is important that business owners and homeowners alike prepare their employees and families for potential fires, and practice important prevention habits. Grange Insurance, a Columbus, Ohio-based insurance company, offers advice on how to play it safe when it comes to fire.

1. Make sure you’re covered.

Homeowners, renters and business owners should ensure they have the proper insurance coverage in place in case of a fire. Most policies cover fire damage to residences or businesses, as well as personal belongings, but may have some limitations. In addition, most commercial insurance will protect business owners from liability if an employee is injured or loss of life occurs during a fire.

“Review your policy to ensure your personal property is covered, especially expensive items such as machinery or jewelry. It’s also important to understand whether or not your policy provides additional living expense coverage, which can help pay for you to stay in a hotel or temporary housing while your home is rebuilt or repaired,” said Ken Kozek, Vice President of Claims at Grange Insurance. “If you do not already have a homeowner, condo or renter’s policy in place, consider investing in one. As a business owner, it is imperative that you have a proper policy to protect against liability and property damage or loss.”

2. Practice makes perfect.

It only takes minutes for a house or business to become engulfed in flames, making a planned escape route a necessity. Plan an escape route and post it where everyone can easily find it. Practice your route at least twice per year at different times during the day, especially with children or people with disabilities.

Designate a meeting spot a safe distance from your home or business, such as a tree across the street, so you can assure everyone made it out safely. Alert the fire

department if someone is missing or if pets are trapped so they can perform a rescue safely.

3. Fire-proof your home or business.

Stop the fire before it starts by eliminating potential hazards in your home or business. Equip yourself with fire extinguishers, regularly tested smoke alarms and sprinklers. Keep curtains, towels or any items that can easily catch fire at least three feet from heaters. Business owners should also consider posting “No Smoking” signs around machinery and flammable materials to alert employees of potential danger.

It is also important to protect important papers including birth certificates, property inventory and proof of its value, such as receipts, titles and appraisals.

“In the case of a fire, business owners may be required to show proof of property value to ensure full coverage from their insurance policy,” said Kozek. “Make copies of all your important documents, and keep the originals in a bank safe deposit box outside of your business.”

4. Memorize emergency contact information.

Make sure that everyone in your home knows how to dial 9-1-1. Business owners and families should also post emergency phone numbers in a central place such as on the refrigerator or in the break room so they are easily accessible.