Things You May Be Doing That Are Hurting Your Credit Scores

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Your credit scores are based on several factors, including your credit card balances, the amount of credit you have available, your payment history and the length of your credit history. You may not realize how some actions or mistakes can impact your credit scores.

Carrying High Balances or Using a High Percentage of Your Available Credit
Having high credit card balances can be problematic. You may struggle to cover your monthly payments and interest charges can cause the balances to keep growing.

A high balance can also cause you to have a high credit utilization ratio, or percentage of available credit you’re using. When that ratio creeps up, your credit scores can go down. You should aim to keep your credit utilization ratio below 30%. Transferring all your balances to one card may make it easier to handle your monthly payments and help you qualify for a lower interest rate, but it can also have a negative impact on your credit scores.

Closing an Account You Have Paid Off
When you pay off a credit card, you may feel so relieved to have a zero balance that you decide to close the account. That can be a mistake, however. Your remaining balances on other cards will remain the same, but closing the account you’ve paid off will reduce your total amount of available credit and cause your credit utilization ratio to rise.

The length of your credit history is an important factor used to determine credit scores. If the account you pay off is one that you’ve had for a long time, closing it can shorten the average age of your accounts and cause your credit scores to dip.

Making Late Payments
If you make a payment 30 or more days late, the company will report it to the credit bureaus and your scores can take a hit. This applies to credit card payments, loan payments, utility bills and other obligations.

Set up autopay or set reminders to make sure you don’t miss a payment. If you experience financial hardship and think you won’t be able to pay a bill on time, contact the company before you miss a payment. If you’re proactive, the business will be more likely to work with you.

Applying for New Credit
When you apply for a new credit card or loan, the company will conduct a hard inquiry to check your credit, which will cause your credit scores to fall a bit. That may not be a big deal, but applying for new credit with multiple companies in a short period of time can create problems.

Protect Your Credit
It’s important to know the factors that influence credit scores so you can avoid making these common mistakes. That will allow you to keep your credit in good shape so you can qualify for a loan or credit card when you need it most.

House Cleaning Tips to Steal From the Pros

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When it comes to spring cleaning, or housekeeping any time of the year, nobody knows how to make it more efficient than professional home and hotel cleaners. Try these tips from the pros in your own home.

Stock up on gloves and microfiber cloths. Rubber gloves can help you through a variety of messy tasks without soaking your hands in water or chemicals. Microfiber cloths can be used wet for kitchen and bath cleaning, or dry for thorough dusting.

Simplify your cleaning products. You should not need more than three or four products, including a mix of vinegar and water in a spray bottle, to tackle every cleaning job in every room of your house.

Keep cleaning tools handy. Having products and rags in a moveable carry-case, and brooms and a vacuum in a central spot, saves time and energy. In a two-story home, keep a second vacuum upstairs for quick and easy pick-ups.

Clean the kitchen every day that you cook. Not the whole kitchen, but the range, the counters to the side of it, the refrigerator handle and the sink. New kitchen dirt is easy to clean, but old kitchen dirt can harden into rock.

Don’t get bogged down with clutter. Spend some time once or twice a month sorting and putting clutter where it belongs. In between, just pick up those light piles of mail and magazines and clean under and around them.

Keep your pets brushed. It will minimize the time you spend dusting and vacuuming.

Have a cleaning path. Whether it’s back of the house to the front, or tougher rooms first, know the route you will take. In any case, clean from the top down, ceilings first, so floors that catch the dust and debris are the last to be swept and/or vacuumed.

Start with the worst challenge in a room. In the kitchen, it’s the range. In the bathroom, it’s the shower. In the dining room, it may be the chandelier. Once you complete the main challenge, the rest of the room is easy.

4 Tips for Designing Your Own Butterfly Garden

Green-Home Trends for Real Estate Agents

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By the Experts at McKissock Learning

In design and home life, green continues to gain momentum, and it can be a lucrative niche for real estate agents. Beyond the benefits of making homes more sustainable and reducing our footprints on the world, new designs and increasing demand is making green technology, in some cases, cheaper than traditional methods. Now green is a benefit on even more levels than before. This, combined with other benefits, is making “green” more attractive than ever.

Here’s a look at what’s new and what’s improving in the way of green.

Smart Homes
Smart homes are becoming the norm both in home renovations and new construction. Voice activated and app directed commands allow you to schedule indoor and outdoor lighting as well as heating, cooling, watering and washing—allowing you to take advantage of non-peak hours and control electrical usage while out of town. Even items such as automatic closing drapes and sunshades work to keep our lives more comfortable and profitable in the long run.

Deconstructed Design
Not to be confused with Deconstructivism (asymmetrical architecture and design), deconstruction is a concept that utilizes recycled raw materials. This new trend is toward more authentic, natural materials such as exposed wood, metal and brick. It’s an exposed style of un-building reminiscent of Frank Gehry in the ’90s, but with a more refined and green edge to it through its emphasis on reuse, salvaged and donated materials. And by mixing in more green materials such as quick-growing bamboo, you can even add “newer” natural materials to the mix.

Better Energy Generation and Storage
Smart tech is making life easier, cleaner and cheaper. More efficient batteries are making electrical storage more effective, while microgrids allow you to use and buy electricity from off-grid sources, making it easier to take advantage of more clean energy than ever before. Additionally, solar technology, and the selling benefits they provide, make electricity increasingly cheaper for you as a homeowner. Though it requires an initial investment, the continued trend in solar technology is making it equal and even cheaper than traditional energy, ensuring it pays for itself and then some.

Prefab Home Designs
The focus on prefab, modular style homes continues, providing many benefits. Prefab homes are produced in closed settings, away from the elements that keep production times reliable and materials from getting damaged by weather. And increased focus on computerized cutting and standardized sizing allows for maximum usage of materials, resulting in less waste. Since the designs are made to ship, there is special attention placed in durable construction. And with an increased focus on shipping cargo containers in design, there is less container waste in the environment along with the added durability these containers provide.

Tiny Home Additions
These homes have benefits such as fewer materials, less energy and less waste than traditional homes, making it easy for you to create zero environmental impact. They function in ways beyond daily living working great as vacation cabins, guest quarters, pool houses and home offices. And one of the attractions of tiny homes is their ability to avoid permanent footings that allow them to retain a portability designation for financial savings.

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4 Luxurious Upgrades to Make to Your Pool Area

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A picturesque swimming pool is a favorite feature for today’s luxury homeowners. If you want to create a true backyard oasis, however, chances are the pool is just one part of the equation. For those who are looking to upgrade their backyard swimming area, here are several ideas that can take it to new heights.

Add a Cabana
For a truly resort-like experience, nothing beats having a cabana where you can lounge in the shade while hanging out by the pool. You’ll have the perfect spot to spend long summer days, whether reading a good book or drinking your morning coffee, while giving your pool area an exciting addition that transforms the whole aesthetic.

Bring in the Fire Pit
Anyone who enjoys sitting outside on a warm summer evening can appreciate a fire pit, but this feature has extra visual appeal when positioned nearby your swimming pool. Just imagine the enchanting ambience as you watch the flames reflect off the water after the sun goes down each night.

Pool House
If you’re looking to make a big addition in the backyard, then a pool house might be the way to go. This can provide serious convenience with changing rooms, bathrooms and a kitchenette that’s easily accessed from your pool area. As an added bonus, you could even add an extra bedroom with poolside vistas that guests are sure to love.

Outdoor Kitchen
Hanging out by the pool during the warmer months is about much more than simply splashing around in the water. It’s about grilling your favorite foods, sipping on refreshing beverages and eating al fresco meals while making memories with the family, and an outdoor kitchen is the perfect feature to make that all possible. After all, no one wants to get stuck inside cooking when everyone else is enjoying a beautiful summer day around the pool!


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How to Get a Little Magic Out of Your Vacuum

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Running the vacuum cleaner around your house seems like a pretty straightforward task, no?

Not according to cleaning experts. To really get a deep clean and an all-around fresher home, make sure you’re vacuuming the right way with the following hacks:

Freshen up. Carpets tend to trap odors, which may be a frequent occurrence if you have pets and/or small children. Let your vacuum do double duty as a deodorizer by first sprinkling the carpet with baking soda, then letting it sit for several hours (keep kids and pets away). This will allow the baking soda to absorb any odors. Then simply vacuum it up!

Use aromatherapy. Dip a cotton ball in your favorite essential oil, then pop it into your vacuum’s canister. This will diffuse the scent throughout your house as you vacuum.

Remove dents. If you want to rearrange your furniture, you’ll be left with dents in the carpet to contend with, left behind by the legs of the table or chair you’re moving. To undo a carpet dent, place an ice cube in the spot and let it melt. Soak up the water left behind, which will help the smushed carpet fibers expand, then vacuum the spot to lift the dent out.

Rescue jewelry. If you’ve dropped an earring back or ring on the floor—especially on a carpet—your vacuum can save the day. Simply place an old stocking over the nozzle of your vacuum, then secure it with a rubber band. Vacuum the area where you dropped your jewelry and it will cling to the stocking without getting sucked into the canister.

6 Ways to Make a Room Look Bigger

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Maybe you rent a small apartment in the city. Or maybe your forever home features smaller rooms. Instead of spending more money on a larger space or knocking down a wall, you can make a room feel larger with a mix of design and creativity. Maximize every inch of your space with these beginner and budget-friendly decorating tips.

Hang Curtains High
Instead of mounting your curtain rods just above the top of your windows, move up about five to six inches higher. This will create length to the wall, giving off the impression that the ceiling is higher than it actually is. Be sure to use curtains that reach the floor to highlight this illusion.

Bring in the Light
Darkness can be uninviting and create the sense of a small space. In regards to your curtains, letting in a lot of natural light is a great way to make a room feel larger. Use sheer panels instead of opaque or light blocking curtains. Choosing warming LED light bulbs for lamps and overhead lighting create the look of natural and comfortable light without being too bright or too dark.

Utilize Built-In Storage
Built-in bookshelves or cabinets allow for maximum storage space and minimal clutter. If your home doesn’t already have this, you can build it yourself. Or, utilize furniture with hidden storage, such as ottomans, benches and coffee tables to help clear up clutter and add more space.

Put Up Mirrors
Similar to windows, mirrors give the illusion of a larger space. Hanging a few, or even one, on your wall essentially doubles the space of the room in the reflection, adding dimension and depth. If your room has limited light, hang the mirror across from the window, projecting more natural light throughout the space from a new angle.

Choose the Right Rug
Rugs provide not only comfort, but design and style, to a room. Size your rugs to each respective room to optimize the space. To create depth in a room, go for one large rug, leaving about six to 12 inches of space from the wall. For a room heavy in furniture, such as a bedroom or living room, utilizing smaller rugs to break up the space, creating separate sections and areas.

Paint with Light Colors 
The color of a room plays a large part in the illusion of size. When rooms are painted with darker colors, or even a patterned wallpaper, it can feel overwhelming and give off the feel of a smaller space. To maximize the size, painting with lighter colors, like white, grey, light blue, beige projects a spacious feel. To bring in some color, play with an accent wall, throw pillows and blankets and artwork without losing depth.

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Financial Moves to Make After Closing

By John Voket

For first-time homebuyers, the lead up to and through move-in day demands the level of energy one might expend training for a marathon—or scaling Mount Everest! So it’s not unusual or uncommon for new homeowners to lose sight of the necessary steps they need to take to ensure their financial foundation is as solid and long-lasting as the one under their new home.

Rebecca Lake at reminds new homeowners that financial planning doesn’t stop once you sign off at the closing table—homeowners must protect their investment.

Check out the following information from this panel of experts aimed at helping new homeowners survive and thrive in their new residence:

Maintenance Cushion
A Bankrate survey estimates the average homeowner will spend an extra $2,000 per year on maintenance, including landscaping, housekeeping and minor repairs, so that’s a good financial cushion to plan for. That amount, however, doesn’t cover larger expenses you may encounter, like having to replace an HVAC system or roof, both of which can easily surpass $5,000.

Homeownership Savings
Freedom Financial Group Founder Tad Hill recommends first-time buyers should set up a separate homeownership savings fund to cover bigger repairs that amount to at least $5,000 to $10,000 in cash so it’s available when something breaks.

Needs vs. Wants says good money management involves separating needs from wants. If a homeowner isn’t sure if an item is a need or a want, try doing without it for a period of time. If after that time you truly can’t live without it, it may be a need.

Prioritize Your Debt blogger Elizabeth Renter affirms that your mortgage is likely your biggest debt, but that doesn’t mean it should be the biggest priority when it comes to paying off your debt. Renter says, before homeowners consider aggressively paying down their mortgage, they should consider eliminating higher interest debts like:

  • Credit cards
  • Payday loans
  • Title loans
  • High-interest personal loans

Extra Payment Plan
Renter adds that homeowners should only start thinking of making extra payments on a mortgage after all toxic debt is eliminated, your retirement is on track, and an emergency fund, like the one Hill mentioned, has ample cash.

John Voket is a contributing editor to RISMedia.

Want to See a Return on Your Home Improvement Investment? Prioritize These Projects

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In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, homeowners have turned their focus toward the home, embarking on renovations and remodels at an unprecedented rate. But not all projects are created equal. According to the Appraisal Institute, homeowners should prioritize cost-efficient improvement projects that improve their property’s value.

According to Remodeling magazine’s most recent Cost vs. Value Report, the projects with the highest expected return on investment (ROI) are:

Garage door replacement – 93.8% of cost recouped
Manufactured stone veneer – 92.1% of cost recouped
Minor kitchen remodel – 72.2% of cost recouped
Siding replacement – 68.3% of cost recouped

Other projects with potential payoffs, according to the report, are window replacements, a deck addition and a steel entry door replacement.

The Appraisal Institute advises homeowners to consider holding off on big renovations if they’re unsure how long they will be in their property. The longer a homeowner stays, the greater the opportunity to maximize the potential ROI.

Cost and ROI aside, home improvement projects are usually worth it if they improve the homeowner’s quality of life. For example, with the pandemic sparking an increase in work-from-home situations for many, now could be a great time to create or update home-office space, outdoor entertainment areas or at-home exercise studios.

The Appraisal Institute also encourages owners to upgrade elements of the home that will help ensure that the property meets community standards, reflects neighborhood norms and complies with local housing codes.

In addition to stimulating the building and construction sectors of the economy, which were significantly impacted by the recent economic downturn, home improvement projects can give you an important competitive edge in today’s low-inventory market should you decide to sell. Talk to a real estate professional about the types of improvements that will add the most value in your neighborhood.

5 Old-Fashioned Cleaning Tips That Won’t Go Out of Style

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These five old-fashioned cleaning tips are useful even in the modern world and won’t go out of style anytime soon.

Remove Water Rings on Furniture
Water rings on wood furniture have been the bane of homeowners through the ages. Thankfully, this decades-old trick is effective. Simply cover the ring with a layer of mayonnaise, let it sit for a few minutes and scrub the surface.

Use Newspaper to Keep Windows Sparkling
For a streak-free shine, don’t opt for paper towels that will leave lint behind. Instead, take a page from Grandma’s book and use a newspaper. With a similar streak-free shine to modern microfiber cloths, reuse Sunday’s paper to get your windows sparkling.

Get Stains Out With Sunshine
Don’t want to use a chemical bleach to get a stain out of your white clothing or sheets? Use the sunshine to naturally bleach your items. For particularly stubborn stains, add a bit of lemon juice to heighten the effect.

Reduce Wood Scratches With a Walnut
Whether your offending item is wood furniture or a wood floor, you can reduce the visibility of surface scratches with a walnut. Simply crack open your nut and rub on the scratch to make it disappear.

Remove Mineral Buildup With Vinegar
If your shower head has seen better days, you may only need a little vinegar to make it look new again. Mineral buildup from hard water can cause your shower head to look grimy. Remove mineral deposits by covering your shower head with a plastic bag full of white vinegar and secure it with a rubber band. Let your cleaning solution sit for a few hours and scrub with a toothbrush to complete the effect.