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Are You Ready for Hurricane Season?

Summer is just around the corner, and so is hurricane
season. The 2019 Atlantic hurricane season officially begins June 1 and runs
through November 30.  With May 5-11 set
aside as National Hurricane Preparedness Week, there’s no better time to make
sure you’re ready if you live in an area prone to tropical cyclones.

Are you prepared?

According
to FDEM (Florida Division of Emergency Management), all Floridians should have a
disaster preparedness plan (if you don’t one, this week, National Hurricane
Preparedness Week, is the perfect time to develop one) based on their own
personal needs as well as an emergency kit to sustain themselves and their
family for up to 72 hours after a hurricane strikes.

The most
important person to protect your life and property during a hurricane…or any
natural disaster is not the firefighter or police officer or a representative
from the federal government…it is you. By taking a few simple steps over this
next week, you’ll be prepared if you are affected by hurricane this season.

Some initial steps

  1. Determine if you live in a storm surge hurricane evacuation zone or if your home would be unsafe during a hurricane. If so, determine where you’d go and how you’d get there in the event you have to evacuate. If you have pets, make sure to account for them in your plan.
  2. Get an insurance checkup. Call your insurance company/agent and review your current policy. Are you insured for a hurricane…repairs or if you have to replace your home? Keep in mind standard homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover flooding. Whether you’re a homeowner or renter, you’ll need a separate flood policy. Flood insurance requires a 30-day waiting to period, so you’ll want to act now. 
  3. Develop a written plan. Begin by identifying an out-of-town contact that all family members know to reach should you become separated. This individual would serve as a contact person for family members to report to and to let them know where they are and that they are safe. Identify a location away from home for family members to meet in case your home is inaccessible. Be sure all family members are aware of this location.
  4. Prepare a disaster supply kit. This would include but would not be limited to the following:

Enough
food, canned and dried food or anything easy to prepare and doesn’t require
refrigeration, and water, one gallon for each person per day, to last for 3
days.

A
manual can opener

Sleeping
bags or cots

Flashlights
and lanterns with extra batteries

First-aid
kit

Bathroom
supplies

Medicines
(prescriptions and over-the-counter medications)

Soap
and hand sanitizer

Rain
gear and tarps

Pet
supplies

Facemasks

Tools

Cell phone
charger

NOAA
all-hazards weather radio or battery-powered radio

Credit
cards and cash (bring enough cash keep you afloat for at least three days in
the event there is no electrical power to operate credit/debit card machines)

Written
list of important contacts

Games

5. Get
your home ready. Whether you decide to ride out the storm in your home or
evacuate, make sure your home is up to local hurricane building code
specifications and amply protected from the damage hurricane-force winds can
produce (e.g. have plywood on hand to cover windows, trim trees on your
property, have a safe place to store loose items such as porch/pool furniture,
etc.). 

These
steps are a good beginning. But, preparedness comes in all sizes, and you’ll
want to customize your plan to meet your individual and collective needs.
However, the best plan for everyone is the plan that begins today. To be better
prepared to plan for, respond to, and recover from a hurricane, visit hurricanes.gov/prepare.

Succession Planning…A Must for Business Owners

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” -Benjamin Franklin

People become business owners for a variety of reasons. The driving force behind most business owners is the belief that they can do things better than anyone else, the allure of being their own “boss,” and the ability to be the master of their own destiny and build their own wealth.

The natural evolution of being a business owner begins the minute you start or buy the business. The life cycle continues as you design, build and grow your business into something special…and profitable. However, at some point, the sooner the better, you must begin planning for an exit strategy, or a succession plan, to ensure the kind of legacy you want to leave behind with your business.

Most business owners don’t prepare for their exit. In fact, a recent trust survey revealed that only approximately 40 percent of small business owners have a succession plan in place. The majority of those without a plan said that they enjoy what they do so much that they can’t imagine a transition of ownership, while the remainder of the business owners surveyed said they were too busy to plan or felt that succession is still too far away in the future to begin thinking about it. But, life happens fast and unexpected life events can happen at any age. So, if you own your own business and you don’t have your exit strategy…succession plan in place, it’s time to get started!

How to build your succession plan

First, you must ask yourself a few important questions. Do you plan on selling your business to a third party at a certain price, do you want your business to live on through one or more or your children or do you see yourself selling to a third party yet maintaining a level of involvement in the company? This decision is key to how you will build your succession plan.

Once you’ve determined this, begin by taking the following steps:

1. Gather financial documents – A smooth transition of ownership begins with organizing the company’s financial documents like valuation data, inventory and up-to-date financial reports (audited P&L and Balance Sheet Statements). Buyers and lenders will want to review these records to determine how the business has performed historically before entertaining a deal. Organizing and consolidating your financial documents also protects your business if an unexpected circumstance forces you to sell or a family member is left handling a transition.

2. Establish a buy-sell agreement – A buy-sell agreement is a legally binding contract that allocates portions of the business in the event an owner passes away, becomes seriously ill or is contemplating selling his or her share of the business. This agreement contains information about the business like its sale price, the value of each owner’s share and stipulations such as who can or can’t buy the business. A buy-sell agreement also reduces the risk of conflicts among family members or partners who may not have the company’s best interest at heart.

3. Begin identifying your potential successor(s) – As a successful business owner, you’ve built your company from the ground up…it’s your baby…your pride and joy. Consequently, you want the business to continue to flourish when you are no longer at the helm. For this to happen, you must select the right person. Finding the right person, however, takes time. Whether you choose a family member or an outsider to take over your business, you will need to train them to run the business. By having an active role in the training process, you’re afforded the opportunity to develop and evaluate the critical skills and business traits of your potential successor to help ensure the long-term success of the business.

4. Establish a timeline – Set a timetable to determine when the control of your company will be turned over to your successor. Ease your successor into the transition, allowing him or her to make decisions, as well as mistakes, during this phase.

5. Execute your succession plan – If you’ve done your homework…the proper preparations, this should be as simple as handing over the keys. But, before you step aside make sure all your account information is organized and readily available to the new owner. As part of an exit strategy, you should have all sensitive login credentials for email servers, business software, IT systems, etc. organized and in a secure place to pass on to the new owner(s) or you should assist them with setting up new ones before you leave.

A well-thought-out succession plan is essential for small businesses and partnerships. Planning early and revisiting the plan as conditions change are the keys to a successful transition of ownership when that day arrives. With many options available to you and your business, you’ll greatly benefit from the counsel of a business and commercial law attorney. He or she will be an invaluable resource in helping you design a plan that is right for your business as well as minimize your business’s tax burden.

How to Take Control of Your Money in Your 20s

Your decisions today forward will affect not only your life, but also your entire legacy.– Dave Ramsey

Some of the most memorable and exciting times of your life are in your 20s…as well as some of the biggest life decisions. At this time of your life you’ve entered the work force, have more responsibility and finally have some disposable income you can call your own. You may be entertaining marriage, starting a family, buying a home or even traveling the world.

As wonderful as all this freedom…independence sounds, it also comes with significant financial consequences that can be not so wonderful if you’re not careful. Building healthy habits around money management now, while you’re young, will help you meet your financial goals in the future.

Here are a few tips to get you started on the right path:

  • Control spending – establish a budget

Spending responsibly is the foundation of financial health. To get a sense of how much you spend and where you spend it, you need a budget. Without a budget, you risk spending too much on discretionary items and saving too little for the big-ticket items like a car or a house. 

In a recent survey, 67% of millennials said emotions cause them to spend more than they can reasonably afford. To curb this behavior, consider waiting 72 hours to make any impulse buys. This gives you time to look at the impact of this purchase on your overall budget. Differentiating between your needs, wants and dreams is the key to building a solid financial foundation.

In addition, monitor your spending on socializing or short-term gratification. Although going out to eat or going to shows is an enjoyable way to spend your leisure time, as you get older, you’ll realize this money could’ve been well spent in other places. Statistics show that millennials spend nearly 44 percent of their food budget on going out. Cutting back on this can be an excellent way to save money.

  • Build credit

Your credit report is your financial report card. An excellent credit score, 800 or above, allows you to qualify for loans with lowest interest rates, which is crucial when purchasing a new car or a house. Even if you plan to rent, many landlords use a credit report to evaluate prospective tenants. Today, many employers also use credit reports as part of their assessment of a potential employee. 

Many young adults don’t have credit scores because they don’t have a credit history. You can begin building your credit by opening a secured credit card or a credit builder loan. (Talk to your bank about these options.) Once you’ve done this, spend within your means, keeping your level of revolving debt, such as credit card debt, as low as possible, and always pay your bills on time. (Automating payments will help with this.)

In addition, you can build your credit score by reporting your rent. Nearly every major credit bureau today allows you to report your rent. This can increase your credit score tremendously. 

Check your credit report regularly to make sure nothing is blemishing your creditworthiness. You are entitled to one free copy of your credit report a year from each of the major credit bureaus – TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. If you stagger when you request your report from each bureau, you can check on your credit every four months.

  • Get insured

Like the Allstate commercials dramatize, mayhem is truly everywhere. When terrible things happen, like an unexpected trip to the emergency room, a car accident or a fire in your apartment, having good insurance can save you from an additional disaster – financial. Medical debt is the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the U.S.

  • Establish a rainy day fund

Insurance alone won’t cover everything life throws at you. You still need to have liquid savings on hand as an added precaution. Most financial experts recommend stashing away three to six months’ worth of expenses in an easily accessible account…like a savings account. This should be a top priority…even before saving for retirement. The faster you can build this, the sooner you can begin your long-term savings plan.

  • Establish a debt-repayment plan

Debt is a reality for many young adults, especially student loan debt. But, letting it linger, or, worse, grow, can have devastating consequences on your long-term financial health…goals. Make a plan to pay off your student loan debt as quickly possible. If you have credit card debt begin tackling this now before it gets out of hand. The first step in paying off debt quickly is establishing a budget and reining in your spending. Begin by paying off your highest interest rate credit cards first.

  • Clean up your online presence

Now that you’ve made the great leap into adulthood, it’s time to scrub your young foolishness from your public image. Your social media activity is viewable by the entire Web-surfing world, including all your current and potential employers. Remember you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

  • Quit the bank of Mom and Dad

Putting your “big boy” and “big girl” pants on…becoming a self-sufficient adult includes severing the financial umbilical cord. This begins with a job and establishing the plans listed above. If there comes a time you need to ask your parents for financial assistance, do so maturely and responsibly. This includes devising a plan to pay them back.

  • Start saving for retirement – now 

Even though retirement seems like lifetime from now, the sooner you start saving the better. Because of the magic of compounding, there’s no time like your twenties to start putting your money to work for you. In fact, compounding of earnings is so powerful that if you start saving for retirement in your twenties you can amass a large nest egg with little effort, as long as you invest regularly. 

For example, if a 25-year-old invests $2,000 a year for eight years and never invests another dollar after the age of 33, he or she will earn more by the age of 65 than a 35-year-old who invests the same $2,000 for 32 years, even though the 35-year-old invests four times as much. This is the power of the time value of money. 

It may be wise to invest in Certificates of Deposit or a Money Market fund for your short-term goals and the stock market for your medium and long-term goals. Even though the stock market isn’t for the faint of heart, historically, it has out-performed any other type of investment over time.

Find out if your employer offers a 401(k) plan or other tax-deferred retirement plans. If so, take advantage of it as soon as you’re eligible. Your contributions will be made with pre-tax dollars and the taxes on earnings will be deferred until you begin withdrawing them in retirement. Many employers will match part or all of your contribution, which results in huge gains over time for you.

There is a wealth of information on “smart” investing on the Internet. Stocks and mutual funds can be thoroughly researched on sites like Morningstar. Now may also be a great time to sit down with a reputable financial planner to help you determine how much money you’re going to need to retire and create a road map to get you there.

There’s no time like the present to save for your future.

Top Financial Resolutions for 2019

With the drop of the crystal ball in Times Square, many of us had already begun contemplating our 2019 resolutions. According to the University of Scranton, approximately 45 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions every January. Although losing weight, eating healthy, exercising, quitting smoking and learning a new skill or hobby make the resolution list every year, financially-themed resolutions are among the most popular. 

Sadly, the fact is that less than 10 percent of the financially motivated resolution-makers achieve their goals. We start out with strong, resolving to get better about money matters, improve for several weeks, or maybe even months and then lapse back into our bad habits. 

In many cases, we set ourselves up for failure by setting unrealistic goals and expectations. With this said, let’s start 2019 out right by making more reasonable financial promises to ourselves…ones that we may be more likely to keep. 

1.Develop a Realistic Budget and Stick to It– Even though following a budget is the most effective money management tool, only 41 percent of Americans utilize one. Contrary to what many people think, a budget only takes a little over an hour to set up and about another 30 minutes revisiting it each month. 

Start by listing your recurring monthly expenses (rent/mortgage payment, car payment, utilities, etc.) then factor in your one-time expenses like your annual Sam’s Club membership fee. Review your bank and credit card statements to get a real picture of what you spend across various categories (food, entertainment, home maintenance, etc.) each month. Now compare your total spending to your post-tax income. 

Once this framework is in place, you’ll be able to see where your money is going and where you can cut back and reallocate. Most people are surprised by how much they’re spending in one area. Knowing this can help you see where you can move some of the money to other areas such as saving or even something you’re more passionate about like travel.

A budget is more than a tool that helps you see where you can cut back on your spending. It can actually uncover other opportunities you never thought you could pursue like purchasing a new car or a bigger home.

2. Establish an Emergency Fund– Approximately 40 percent of American adults don’t have enough money saved to pay for a $400 emergency. If this is you, boosting your financial reserves should take priority over all your other financial goals in the coming year. You should have at least three months of living expenses tucked away to prevent an unexpected expense like a home or automobile repair from landing you in debt. 

You need to closely examine your budget and determine where you can cut back to be able to contribute to your emergency fund. In some cases, this may require serious changes. But, it will be worth it in the long run…keeping you financially healthy.

3. Boost Retirement Savings– You won’t be able to live on Social Security alone. These benefits are designed to replace about 40 percent of the average worker’s pre-retirement income. You will need approximately double that amount to live comfortably in retirement. That’s why it’s important to step up your retirement savings, especially if you’re older and the balance in your retirement account isn’t what it should be.

On a positive note, the retirement plan contributions limits increased for 2019. Workers under 50 can put away up to $19,000 annually in a 401(k) and $6,000 in an IRA. If you don’t have the funds to max out your 401(k) or IRA, pledge to save more than you did last year and work your way up from there.

4. Eliminate Credit Card Debt– The average American household has approximately $8,000 in credit card debt. Not only does this debt come with higher interest rates but it also has the potential to lower your credit score. 

So, it’s time to get serious about eliminating credit card debt. The best plan of attack is identifying the credit card balances with the highest interest rates, and pay them off first. You should also look into transferring your credit card balances to a single card with a lower interest rate. However, to effectively chip away at this debt requires revisiting your budget and determining where you can trim expenses to be able to allocate more to paying off this high interest debt.

Note: Although the idea of paying bills more than once a month may make you cringe, a case can be made for paying down a credit card balance in increments throughout the month. If you carry a balance, making earlier payments means paying less interest overall. In addition, multiple payments can boost your credit score along with your willpower to keep plugging away at the debt.

5. Focus on Your Physical and Emotional Health– There is a clear connection between physical, emotional and financial health. According to the American Psychological Association, money is our biggest source of stress. This stress has serious physical and emotional consequences as well as associated health care costs. 

6. Invest in Yourself– How often have you thought, “If only I could go back to school or obtain an advanced degree.” Well, there’s no time like the present to make this a reality. If money has been what’s been stopping you, make some financial changes this year (adjusting your budget) and use the savings to invest in yourself. By getting a master’s degree or a new professional license or certification, your earnings may subsequently increase to more than make up for the investment. 

So, with all this said, let’s make 2019 the year for change. With some determination, you can succeed in sticking to some of these resolutions so that you’ll have something to really celebrate when the ball drops in 2020!

The Elderly… Often Overlooked During the Holiday Season

During this season of giving, many of us will pledge ourselves to altruistic causes and/or deeds. Whether we place money in the red kettle or adopt a family in need or give a generous annual contribution to our favorite charity, this time of year opens our hearts, our calendars and our wallets. However, more than ever, there are many vulnerable elderly in need of our attention, especially during the holiday season, to help them avoid feelings of loneliness and isolation.

The statistics are frightening!

  • Approximately 28 percent or a little over 12million seniors live alone. As people get older their likelihood of living alone only increases.
  • More and more older adults do not have children.
  • Approximately 21 percent or one in five people over 65 do not drive, the major cause of elder isolation.
  • 43 percent of the elderly population reports being lonely on a regular basis.
  • Hunger threatens more than 9 million older adults.
  • 1 million homebound seniors are malnourished.
  • Suicide rates for the elderly are high and continuing to rise.
  • Approximately 90 percent of elderly Americans receive unpaid care at home from family and friends.

It’s difficult to fathom that a country as rich as ours can haveso many hungry, stranded and lonely older adults. Even more incomprehensible is that a decade or two ago, these same people were contributing, hardworking individuals. Now, old age, in many cases, has left them on their own and fending for themselves.

Isolation and loneliness has several adverse effects on the elderly population. Some of these include:

  • Increased risk of mortality – According to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, both social isolation and loneliness are associated with a higher risk of mortality in adults aged 52 and older.

  • Feelings of loneliness and isolation can negatively affect physical and mental health – Seniors who feel lonely and isolated have more physical and mental health problems than those who are socially engaged and connected. Illnesses and conditions such as lung disease,impaired mobility, high blood pressure, depression and pessimism are also associated with social isolation.

  • Perceived loneliness and isolation contributes to cognitive decline and risk of dementia – A finding by Dr. John Cacioppo, a neuroscientist and psychologist at the University of Chicago, who has been studying social isolation for 30 years, is that feelings of loneliness are linked to poor cognitive performance and quicker cognitive decline.

  • Socially isolated seniors are more vulnerable to elder abuse – Studies conducted by the National Center on Elder Abuse have shown a connection between social isolation and increased rates of elder abuse.

While helping needy families with children typically comes to mind during the holiday season, we must not forget…overlook one of the most valuable and growing segments of our population…our elderly. So, this year, as you move into the hustle and bustle of this most giving season, why not consider volunteering with seniors? By spending time with the elderly, you can help curb some of the loneliness and isolation they often feel, especially during this time of year, and give back to your community, as well. Here are some ideas:

  • Help them with house chores
  • Set up their Christmas tree or holiday decorations. Help them prepare for the holidays.
  • Offer a ride
  • Take them to lunch or a movie
  • Provide respite for the family caregiver
  • Provide companionship
  • Share your holiday with them
  • Provide nutrition – e.g. Meals on Wheels or take a home-cooked meal to a needy senior in your neighborhood/community
  • Volunteer/participate/organize holiday activities at a local assisted living facility (Christmas caroling, decorating cookies,etc.)

These are only a few of the ways you can help make this holiday season special for someone who might be feeling especially lonely and depressed. And in return, you will receive the best gift of all…the gratification/pleasure of giving.

Happy Holidays from Our Intracoastal Bank family to yours!

Disposing of Outdated Electronics…Safely and Securely

Let’s face it, we’ve become a disposable society. When in doubt, we throw it out…especially if the item isn’t the latest and greatest technological gadget.

Tablets, smartphones, laptops, TVs and printers/copiers have all become more affordable which means we can replace outdated devices with newer, better and faster much more quickly. But, an important question remains, “How do we safely and securely dispose of these old devices?”

The United States produces more e-waste annually than any other country. Approximately 9.4 million tons are thrown away annually, according to the EPA. Disappointingly, only 12.5 percent of our e-waste is recycled. Cell phones alone account for over $60 million in gold and/or silver that is thrown away every year.

Not only are we tossing valuable resources into our landfills, but we are also running the risk of leaching toxic substances into the soil. Numerous chemicals are used in the production of electronics, many of which, as they break down, release harmful materials into the atmosphere and ground. This isn’t the only danger in causally disposing of our outdated electronics. When we dispose of our mobile devices, we also expose ourselves to the possibility of our sensitive information falling into the wrong hands.

So, instead of tossing our electronics, there are several better options. Some require almost no effort while others are a tad more time-consuming. However, in the end, we can feel better about our decision to help the environment as well as feel more secure about not exposing our sensitive information.

Give Them Back  

Many electronic manufacturers will take back our old electronics when we buy their updated versions. Some companies may even give a discount on the new device for handing over the old one.

Drop Them Off  

Recycling companies typically have electronic drop off locations. These companies recycle electronics for reuse or repurpose. Begin with your local electronics stores, such as a local cell phone company, and inquire about a recycling program. Some stores have special recycling events while others do this on a permanent basis.

Donate 

What we think is outdated may not be to someone who doesn’t have the means for the latest tech gadgets. Local charities will gladly take our outdated devices and give them to someone who can’t afford brand new electronics. As a bonus, this gesture may also be tax deductible. A local library may also take outdated gadgets. Many of them will be grateful to have them since they don’t have the budget for brand new electronics.

Before Giving Them Back, Dropping Them Off or Donating Them 

Before conscientiously disposing of an outdated electronic, however, make sure it has been wiped clean of all personal information.

Removing Personal Information 

Our mobile devices typically hold sensitive information, like addresses and phone numbers, passwords, account numbers, email, voicemail and text message logs. Consequently, we must take steps to ensure this information doesn’t fall into the wrong hands when we get rid of our old device.

Start by trying to use the factory reset. Many devices will allow you to “wipe” a device and clear nearly all of the information stored in its memory. This is often called a “hard reset” or a “factory reset.” In most cases, the information on the old device can be transferred to the new device before wiping it clean. Read the owner’s manual or check with the mobile provider or the device manufacturer for detailed instructions.

In addition, make sure to remove or erase the SIM and SD cards. Many mobile devices store information on a SIM card or an external SD card as well as the device’s internal memory.

Double Checking

Once the personal information from the old device has been deleted, double-check to make sure it’s gone. Check the phone book, logs for both dialed and received calls, voicemails, sent and received emails and text messages, downloads and other folders, search histories and personal photos. In addition, if you stored any apps on the device, remove them and the data associated with them.

Once the mobile device is “clean,” it’s up to us to do the right thing by disposing of it properly…using one of the environmentally friendly options listed above. E-waste isn’t always easy or convenient to recycle but our planet is worth it!

Are You Prepared for a Natural Disaster?

Collectively storms, fires, floods and heat cost $306 billion and claimed over 300 lives in the U.S. in 2017. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reported that more than 25 million Americans were affected by natural disasters last year, almost 8 percent of the population, and the Federal government authorized more than $7 billion in disaster funds. Unfortunately, once the final numbers are tallied from the devastating effects to the Carolinas due to Hurricane Florence, 2018 may shatter last year’s figures.

Natural disasters are a threat to everyone, everywhere. However, the greater threat is not being prepared.

Even though every state in the U.S. has its risks of natural disasters, sadly, only about half of American adults are prepared. Many don’t even have a plan. Consequently, when utilities get shut down and the grocery store shelves are empty, they’re left with little to do but panic.

Although we can’t stop a disaster from happening, we can be prepared for it. Being prepared not only keeps you from needing immediate help from first responders who may not be able to reach you, it also reduces the impact of an emergency on your life as well as the lives of your loved ones.

Your first defense is knowledge. You need to know the types of natural disasters that could occur where you live – floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes, wildfires, and/or extreme cold and heat. By knowing this, you can better prepare for the specific risks resulting from these types of disasters.

Adequately preparing for a disaster means having the resources – food, shelter, water, sanitation and first aide – to be self-sufficient (you, your family and pets) – for a minimum of three days, according to FEMA.

To meet these needs, begin by building an emergency disaster supply kit with the following basics of what you’ll need to make it through three days:

Water 

At a minimum, you will need one gallon of water per person per day. If you can, store more. Most importantly, make sure that any water you use for drinking, washing or preparing food, cleaning dishes, brushing your teeth, etc. is not contaminated. Avoid water with a bad taste or odor.

Food

Have an adequate supply of food, preferably non-perishable goods such as canned soups, meats, vegetables and powered milk, to provide each person with approximately 2,000 calories a day.

First-Aid Supplies

Your emergency disaster first-aid kit should include more than bandages and topical creams. It should also contain syringes, splints and a suture kit to ensure you’re prepared for any medical emergency. You should also include a week’s supply of all prescription medications for each family member as well as over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen, antihistamines and antibacterial creams. 

 

Utensils and Safety Items

Make sure to include anything you may need to prepare and eat meals. Safety supplies are also essential to your emergency kit. Make sure to include blankets, fire starters, flashlights, a multi-tool, a knife and a whistle. A NOAA weather radio will also come in handy to keep you updated on weather alerts. Keep all assistive devices and equipment fully charged and ready to go.

Important Documents 

Your emergency kit should include copies of all your important documents. This includes insurance cards (medical, house, auto and life), birth certificates, passports, social security cards, marriage licenses and driver’s licenses. You should also include your emergency disaster plan that contains the contact information for everyone in your family (your out-of-state family as well), emergency services in your area and any other vital information. You should keep all these documents in a waterproof container in your emergency kit.

Other Miscellaneous Items

Your emergency disaster kit should also contain personal care items like soap, toothpaste and shampoo. You should also include batteries of all sizes, cash (preferably small bills), a spare credit card, an extra set of car and house keys, and, if you have small children, a coloring book and crayons deserves a spot in your emergency kit.

If you have pets, make sure to have an adequate supply of food and water as well as any medications or other supplies they may require.

In addition to having your emergency disaster supply kit ready, you should have an evacuation plan. You should know the evacuation routes for your area. You should also have an emergency communications plan in place. Know how you will contact your family members if something happens and you’re separated. You should share this plan with not only your immediate family but neighbors and friends as well. 

After the Disaster 

Once the emergency is over, you will have to deal…be prepared for the aftermath as well. However, remember, the health and safety of you and your family is a priority. If medical attention is needed contact local responders or the Red Cross for assistance or get to the closest hospital or medical center.

Returning Home

If you’ve evacuated, return home only when the local government gives the okay. Once the okay has been given, proceed with caution. You should also prepare yourself and your family mentally. Even if everyone is physically okay, it can be emotionally devastating to return home and see your home and belongings destroyed.

Recovering 

With natural disasters and emergences, oftentimes come physical and financial losses. But, similar to the preparation for the event itself, you can minimize the impact of these losses with proper preparation.

Well before a disaster or emergency, contact your homeowner’s insurance company representative and have a detailed conversation with them about what’s covered and what’s not. By knowing this, you can add additional coverage for types of disasters that are most common in your area that you may not currently have.

You should also have a photographic record of all your valuable possessions – jewelry, appliances, art, electronics, etc. Having this will help you detail your losses when dealing with your insurance company as well as provide documentation for these losses come tax time.

Mental Health and Crisis Intervention 

A natural disaster or emergency can also take its toll on emotions and mental health, especially a child’s. Reach out to your family, your doctor or specialized natural disaster or emergency organizations/teams for mental health assistance.

Being prepared for a natural disaster or emergency is essential. It’s a 365-day-a-year activity. So, if you haven’t already, take charge and control now to be as prepared as possible.

The Debit Card Advantage

Many people believe the advantages of using a credit card outweigh those of using a debit card. Not so.

Although credit cards are convenient and provide lucrative rewards, they certainly don’t come without risk. Credit cards carry a huge risk of allowing the user to incur high interest debt. A new study by the personal finance website WalletHub reported that U.S. consumers’ total credit card debt exceeded $1 trillion in March of this year. Consumers took on an additional $92.2 billion in debt in 2017, leaving the average household owing $8,600 on credit cards.

According to Dave Ramsey, “America’s trusted voice on money,” consumers shouldn’t fool themselves into thinking that credit cards are the “safe” way to go. “They’ll get you into trouble and force you to make payments,” Ramsey says.

Using cash, although, the safest option when it comes to staying out of debt, doesn’t come without its disadvantages and risks. ATM fees, the risk of loss or theft, and the inconvenience of always having enough money in your wallet means that cash might not be the perfect choice, either.

Here are several advantages of using debit cards.

No Risk of Debt

Credit cards typically allow your spending to be capped at a credit limit, which can be thousands of dollars. When you use a credit card, you’re essentially borrowing money from the card issuer and agreeing to back it back at a later date. The problem occurs when the card user is purchasing something they can’t afford to pay cash for now, or, in many instances, when the bill comes due. Now the credit cardholder is subject to interest, typically at a double-digit rate.  A recent survey reported that the average APR for a new credit card is just short of 17 percent.

Debit cards solve this problem. Since a debit card is directly linked to your bank account, it provides a convenient way to purchase things without incurring debt. You can only spend what’s in your bank account. 

Ease of Tracking Cash Flow 

When using cash, the onus of accounting, so to speak, is on you. You have to manually track your spending either by holding onto every receipt or memorizing what you spend and logging it into your household expense spreadsheet.

Debit cards offer the solution to this. Cash is taken from your bank account today in near real-time when purchases occur. Then, by adding online banking into the mix, you have your up-to-date spending and account balances at your fingertips!

Ease of Acquiring and Maintaining 

An application and a decent credit history are required to obtain a credit card. Consequently, there’s always a chance of being rejected.

This is not the case with a debit card. Anyone that can open a bank account can get a debit card. In fact, today, debit cards are typically included when opening a new account. Even though some banks have added monthly fees to these accounts, there are still many free options out there.

With a debit card, you never have to deal with a monthly bill. You’re issued a monthly statement, via “snail” mail or online (paperless), to review and file away. A credit card requires you to pay a bill every month…and if you don’t make the payment on time, you’ll incur a late fee, a penalty interest rate, and possibly a ding on your credit report.

Eliminate Checks 

Checks can be the slowest way to conduct a transaction. When using a check, you have to wait for it to be deposited before the expense/purchase is reflected in your actual account balance. Unless you balance your checkbook regularly this can be an inconvenience and sometimes a problem…such as an overdraft.

With the swipe of your debit card, the money is taken directly from your checking account. There is no need to keep track of outstanding checks because your available balance is updated, in most cases immediately, with each purchase/payment.

Protection from Fraud and Theft 

Debit cards, unlike cash, offer increased protection in case your wallet is lost or stolen. Debit cards are backed by fraud protection if anyone tries to use your card.

It’s a myth that credit cards have a better track record when it comes to protection. Any debit card carrying the Visa or MasterCard logo has the same policy concerning unauthorized charges that a credit card has.

Today, many financial institutions have started offering additional protection, like the CardValet app, for both debit and credit cards. This app allows you to turn your debit card “off” if it’s lost or stolen. This safeguards against fraud because no purchases can be made/approved when the card is turned “off.” Once you find your card, you can easily turn it back “on” within the app. Many institutions suggest turning your card “off” anytime you’re not using it.

CardValet also alerts you immediately with a notification on your phone of any attempted use of your card. If your card is still “on” and there’s an unauthorized purchase, you can turn it “off” and prevent any further transactions from occurring. You can customize these alert notifications based on your spending habits, transactions and locations. The CardValet app not only offers protection against the fraudulent use of your debit card, it also provides a great way to help you stay on budget.

So, in a nutshell, when making purchases, take the middle ground with debit cards, and enjoy the many benefits over credit and cash.

Budget-Friendly Family Summer Vacations

Summer is well underway.  But, there’s still time to plan an affordable summer getaway the whole family will enjoy.

Whether your family enjoys the great outdoors, relaxing on the beach, an activity-packed destination or a trip that combines it all, here are several great vacation ideas that won’t break the bank.

San Diego, California 

There are tons of family activities in sunny San Diego…from

theme parks, water parks, and family-friendly museums to miles of beautiful beaches. San Diego’s top family attractions include the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, Legoland California and the museums in Balboa Park. The Go San Diego Card offers up to a 50 percent discount on these attractions. 

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park offers an array of activities to inspire the entire family. From the park’s renowned geysers, geothermic wonders like Grand Prismatic Spring and Mammoth Hot Springs, this destination is sure to create long-lasting vacation memories. Summer is peak season for hotel rates, but you can drastically reduce this cost by bringing your own tent or RV.

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls State Park is an adventure-packed experience everyone in your family is sure to love.  Enjoy breathtaking views, miles of hiking trails, fireworks over the falls, and more. This destination offers reasonably priced hotels and attractions…plus a favorable exchange rate if you visit the Canadian side of the falls.

The Outer Banks

The barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina offer relaxation and adventure. The coastline’s quietbeaches are its main draw but the area also affords a multitude of activities for the family including horseback riding, hand gliding, water sports, touring shipwrecks and historical sites such as the Wright Brothers National Memorial.

Branson 

Nestled within the Ozarks in Missouri, this town has become a favorite family vacation destination. Described as a “Disney World Meets Nashville,” this destination offers Silver Dollar City, with its thrilling rides and good, clean fun family atmosphere as well as ample educational opportunities like the Titanic Museum and the Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery. For the music lovers, there are also a variety of performance venues that are sure to entertain the whole family with singing, dancing and music.

Winter Park 

Not only is this Colorado resort town a wonderful family winter destination, it’s great in the summer too. Families can enjoy affordable hotel rates and plenty of fun-packed activities including hiking, biking, horseback riding, rafting, zip lining and the state’s longest alpine slide.

Williamsburg 

Virginia’s colonial Williamsburg offers all the history a family could want. This city appeals to all age groups with nearby Water Country USA and Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Combo tickets are available to reduce costs.

Catskills

This spot in southeast New York offers many ways for families to occupy their vacation time. Just a scenic two hour drive north of New York City, families can hike the Catskill Park, walk through Thomas Cole’s house, paddleboard out to the historic Hudson-Athens lighthouse or fly down the longest, fastest and highest zipline canopy tour in North America. In addition, all-inclusive, family-oriented resorts are available for extra savings…or you could rough it at one of the many local campgrounds. 

Cruising

Cruises are virtually all-inclusive vacations. One price includes accommodations, meals, activities on board the ship, kids programs and entertainment. It’s all included in one price. It’s a great vacation for both parents and kids.

So, before the sun goes down on summer, get planning!

Making This Father’s Day Special

Father’s Day is just around the corner! On June 17, you’ll be expected to set aside a day to spoil Dad. So, let’s get planning to make this Father’s Day extra special!

Traditionally, Father’s Day is a day of breakfast in bed, the perfect card (typically Hallmark) and a carefully selected, but hardly ever worn, tie. But, this year, let’s think a little outside the box. Let’s make it not so much about the perfect store-bought gift but about dedicating this day to something even greater and more memorable.

With this said, here are a few ideas:

  • Make an I.O.U. Book – Celebrate Dad all year long with a homemade I.O.U. book full of coupons for him to cash in anytime. Whether it’s a chore, like cutting the grass for him, or taking him to the movies, he is sure to appreciate the spontaneous gift and reminder of your love and appreciation.
  • Plan a Day of Bonding – Spend the day doing something simple and meaningful that affords that special father-son and/or father-daughter bonding time. Here are several activities that are sure to make lasting memories:
  1. A game of golf or mini golf – Whether Dad is a pro on the golf course or at putt-putt or just an amateur, golfing is a fun activity for dads and kids alike.
  2. Take him to a ball game – America’s favorite pastime always makes for a perfect day. If a pro baseball game is not an option, find a local minor league game to attend.
  3. Go Fishing – Casting a line is a classic and relaxing way to spend bonding time with Dad. Children’s fishing poles are not very expensive…and the memories created far outweigh the cost.
  4. Work on a project together – Is there something Dad has always wanted to do with you? Whether it’s fixing a rusty bike that’s been in the garage for years or a bigger project like building a fort/tree house, Father’s Day is the perfect day to get started.
  5. Take a hike or a long bike ride – Most dads love spending time outdoors. Find a local hiking or walking trail the entire family can enjoy or spend the day cruising around on bikes. As an added treat, bring a picnic lunch/basket filled with dad’s favorite foods.
  • Make Something for Him – A great way to make Dad’s day something really special is to give him something you’ve made, not bought. A memory book is a very personal way to express your love and appreciation for your dad. Your memory book could include photos of you and your dad, from birth to present day, with handwritten notes and memories under each picture. Your memory book could also include a special poem you’ve written for your dad or a heartfelt letter. This gift gives you the perfect opportunity to spend time with your dad and reminisce about the good old days.
  • (Wives) Celebrate Him as a Husband – Father’s Day is not just a day to celebrate Dad as a provider and caregiver for your children. It’s also a day to honor him as your husband. Bring on the praise, verbally or in writing, expressing how much you need him and he means to you as your partner, lover, friend and father.

Whatever you decide to do to celebrate this special day, remember, you don’t have to spend a lot of money on extravagant gifts. Your love and gratitude are the greatest gifts you can give him this Father’s Day!

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