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How to Pay Off Your Debt

With the economy slowly picking back up, more people are spending their money because they are more confident in the economy and their financial choices. For some people, more spending equals more debt. According to a CardHub study, the average American household now holds about $7,126 in credit card debt.

If your credit card debt has become unsustainable, you may find this information helpful. A recent article on the Equifax Finance Blog, “Four Important Steps Toward Paying Off Credit Card Debt,” presents everyday steps that might help you better control your finances and manage your budget:

1. Access your current situation.

The first step to gaining financial freedom from your debt is to figure out exactly where your finances stand. You can start by collecting financial documents, bills and credit reports. Then, make a list that includes all your debts and balances, your monthly payments and the interest rates for each account. If you have student loans, auto loans or credit cards, these should all be included in your list.

2. Know your savings potential.

After you’ve seen what all your debts are, it’s time to figure out how to get rid of them. First, evaluate your monthly budget and subtract from your income your fixed daily living costs, such as rent, utilities, insurance, childcare, commuting costs and groceries. Once you figure out how much your fixed costs are, you’ll be able to evaluate how much you can put toward paying off your debt quicker.

3. Devise a plan.

There are many ways to approach debt, including these three strategies:

  • The “snowball” strategy. This strategy involves paying the debt with the smallest balance first. Focus all of your allotted debt payment money on this goal until you have paid it off, and then move on to the next largest debt.
  • High-interest debt. With this strategy, start by paying the debts that carry the highest interest rate first. Your highest-interest debts will cost you more the longer that you take to pay them. This strategy is most suitable if you carry debts with interest rates that are above 5 percent.
  • Extra income for a specific debt. You may find that your budget doesn’t allow for a substantial debt payment each month. In this case, you may want to take on a second job or look for other ways of income. However, for this strategy to work, you should commit to dedicating all of your income from the additional job toward your debt.

4. Negotiate fixed costs.

If your biggest debt issue is your credit card spending, you may be able to negotiate with your creditors to get a lower interest or create a more reasonable payment plan. Also, refinancing your mortgage or automating your student loan payments may lower your interest rate.

Getting out of debt won’t happen overnight. It takes hard work and dedication to find your financial freedom. Follow this financial advice, and start eliminating your debt today by making a plan and sticking to it.

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News

When it’s Time to Expand: Move On or Add On?

home for saleDo you feel like you need more space and are considering either moving up to a bigger house or adding on to your existing home? If you’ve been thinking about your options, the real estate pros at the Equifax Finance blog share some tips for thinking through each scenario, and discuss what to keep in mind when deciding which route to take, in the recent article, “Love it or List it?

Deciding whether or not you even need more space is the first big step. If your children are bunking up together, multiple kids per room, with no privacy; if your home office is your dining room table; if you want to have more children but have nowhere to put them; or if your storage spaces are overflowing, it may indeed be time for a bigger home.

But should you add on to your existing home or move into a larger home? According to the article, it is almost always less expensive to add on to your existing home. If you are happy where you are, you can add on to your home in a way that exactly matches your needs/desires while adding square footage that increases your home’s value. You can often recoup the cost of adding that square footage down the road. The downside to a home addition project is that your home and family may be disrupted for many months while construction is underway, and construction often takes longer and costs more than originally expected. The article’s author recommends doing as much of the work yourself, if you have the skills to do so, to save money.

If you decide to sell your home and buy a new one instead, you have to go about it very carefully, conducting your research on the front end. Study home prices in your area so that you can get a realistic expectation of what you can sell your home for and what you should prepare to pay for a new home. You’ll be both a buyer and a seller, so need to protect yourself on both sides.

If you’re in a buyers’ market, you may have a large pool of homes for sale at reasonable prices, but you might have a hard time selling your own home. You may consider asking a seller to make your purchase contract contingent upon you selling your current home. A seller having a hard time finding a buyer may accept this contingency, even though it means waiting for you to find a buyer. You might not be able to find a seller willing to work with you in this way, though, so you should meet with a mortgage broker early in the process to arrange for financing, should you find a home, and need to act quickly.

In a sellers’ market, selling your house will likely be easier than buying a new one, so in this scenario, you may want to start by looking for a house to buy, and make sure you have enough cash to tide you over during the likely short period when you own two houses at once. Like the above scenario, you can also try to negotiate with the buyer of your house to have the sale contract include a provision that makes the closing contingent on you finding and closing on a new house.

Whichever option you go with, be sure to fully research your market, so you can make the most informed decision. Get more buying and selling real estate tips at the Equifax Finance blog, where you can also find tons of helpful articles on other personal finance topics, like credit, retirement, insurance, saving and more.

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News

Times When You Should Think Twice About Swiping Your Credit Card

paying with a credit cardSwiping your credit card on minor purchases such as filling your car up at the gas station or buying weekly groceries is a great way to help manage your money and build your credit history. In fact, your credit card payment history makes up 35 percent of your credit score. So, using your card to purchase necessities and then paying it off at the end of the month will help raise your credit score.

However, did you know that there are times when it is best to NOT use your credit card? A recent Equifax Finance Blog article, “Four Times You May Not Want to Use a Credit Card,” explains when you shouldn’t be inclined to swipe your card and why.

For example, one time that you may want to think twice about swiping your credit card is to pay for your mortgage. Yes, large purchases on your credit card will help you rack up rewards. However, some mortgage companies will charge you a convenience fee to use your credit card. So, any points or rewards that you earned by putting that large purchase on your card will essentially be canceled out.

Another instance where you may be charged significant fees is when you use your credit card to pay for college tuition. The average fee for using your credit card to pay for tuition is 2.62 percent. When you’re paying a few thousand dollars a semester for college tuition, that small 2.62 convenience fee can add up. And, those rewards you thought you earned? They’re eaten up by the fee.

These are just some of the times when you may not want to swipe your credit card. For more information, visit the Equifax Finance Blog.

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Featured Jacksonville Real Estate News St Augustine Real Estate

Tips for Preparing for Retirement from Equifax

Active adult community planningWhether or not retirement is on your immediate radar, if it is within a few years for you, it’s no doubt something that’s on your mind. Preparing to leave the workforce, downsizing into a smaller home (maybe finding a home in a Jacksonville active adult community) and budgeting to live off of savings will all be an adjustment. The retirement experts at the Equifax Finance blog offers three tips for planning for retirement in the recent article, “

Three Retirement Tips for 2014 Retirees.”

First, plan out how you are going to spend your time during retirement. Experts agree that it is important to find fulfilling ways for retirees to spend their time, from volunteering to pursuing a passion.

Second, decide when to claim Social Security. There is no magic time at which each person should do this, but it is something that should be carefully decided upon. Take into consideration your health, your cash flow and your employment during retirement. You can either take the reduced benefit starting in your early 60s or wait a few years to receive the full benefit. Contact your local Social Security office or visit www.socialsecurity.gov to assess your benefits.

Third, look into your current savings and decide if any changes are needed. Revisiting your asset allocation may show that you might want to lower the risk in your investment portfolio. Your portfolio should keep up with inflation without being too risky. Keep in mind, of course that asset allocation does not ensure or guarantee better performance, and it cannot eliminate the risk of investment losses. It can however, help you stay on track with your retirement plan even during fluctuations in the market.

Get more tips on retirement at the

Equifax Finance blog, where you can also get tips on credit, identity theft protection, taxes, insurance and more.

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News

Buying Jacksonville Real Estate on the Offseason

Equifax tips for offseason real estateWith August in the rearview mirror, we are firmly in the “homebuying offseason,” when you may assume that the good deals are gone and quality homes are few and far between – but that couldn’t be further from the truth! With the economy on the way up and the internet making it easier than ever to list and market a home, the offseason isn’t as “off” as it used to be. The Equifax Finance Blog shares tips for finding your next home while shopping in the offseason before the holidays reach full swing in the new article, “

Six Things to Remember When Buying a Home in the Offseason.”

With the rising tide of the economy, there were many wait-and-see sellers who listed later in the summer when signs pointed to it being a good time to sell. As such, there are a lot of quality homes and great deals still around that were missed by early spring homebuyers, and many are still on market even though the homebuyers who have small children have largely exited the homebuying field.  Additionally, sellers who listed later are watching the clock count down to the holiday season – come Thanksgiving, they likely won’t see many buyers until the following spring, so they are more likely to negotiate with buyers still on the market rather than stay on longer and have their listings go stale.

Another big reason to shop during the offseason is that mortgages may be easier to get now than in 2014. The underwriting standards are relaxed some now, so if your credit is a little lower or if you have a higher debt-to-income ratio than ideal, you may be able to get financing or get better financing now than you might have gotten while shopping during peak times.

To learn more about the best ways to go about getting your dream Jacksonville home, explore the full article and the many more on the Equifax Finance Blog about

credit scores, family budgeting, planning for retirement and more!

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Awards News

StrucSure Home Warranty Presents Platinum Builder Award to O’Dwyer Homes

O'Dwyer Homes
Cindy Huber and Dan O'Dwyer

StrucSure Home Warranty is proud to announce it has presented Dan O’Dwyer, President of O’Dwyer Homes, with its Platinum Builder Award. This award represents a mark of excellence and designates O’Dwyer Homes among the top builder members in the country. Obtaining a Platinum Builder designation with StrucSure Home Warranty is an accolade that is presented to builders who have maintained a high level of customer satisfaction and have shown exemplary building practices and strong industry involvement.

Dan O’Dwyer is a licensed home builder in the state of Georgia, is a member of the Board of Directors of the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association (GAHBA) and is a member of the prestigious Certified Professional Home Builders Program (CPHB). In 2006, O’Dwyer Homes was recognized by its peers with a Builder of the Year award from the GAHBA at the annual OBIE Awards. Dan O’Dwyer gives back to his community by maintaining an active roll with HomeAid Atlanta, a non-profit organization that provides shelter to homeless women and their children.

Over the past 20-plus years, O’Dwyer Homes has built more than 1,000 homes in the Atlanta metro area. Each home has been constructed with careful attention to detail, quality construction and the latest trends in building practices. As a builder who is focused on energy efficiency, every home built by O’Dwyer Homes is Energy Star certified by a third-party. O’Dwyer Homes’ customer satisfaction program represents the epitome of excellence recognized by the StrucSure Home Warranty Platinum Builder program.

O’Dwyer Homes goes above and beyond in ensuring their customers are satisfied and protected with third-party, insurance-backed structural warranty coverage from StrucSure Home Warranty. “In a competitive housing market, this is a must have to attract buyers and close the sale,” said Donna Steakley, Director of Marketing for O’Dwyer Homes.  “The entire O’Dwyer Homes team always focuses on putting the customer first while demonstrating the highest level of integrity and providing exceptional customer service from the beginning to end of the buying process,” commented Steakley.

“Our relationship with StrucSure is very important in today’s home buying environment,” commented Dan O’Dwyer. “The additional comfort in having warranty protection from StrucSure Home Warranty when buying a home is an added benefit to our homebuyers.”

“Having O’Dwyer Homes as one of our select Platinum home builders is an honor. Dan has weathered the downturn in the market by applying smart business and risk management practices. We work closely with him to ensure that each new homeowner has a positive customer experience,” said Cindy Huber, V.P. of Sales for the Eastern Division of StrucSure Home Warranty.

About StrucSure Home Warranty

For more than 16 years, StrucSure Home Warranty has been providing builders, remodelers and contractors with warranty products that deliver peace of mind. Our warranties protect our clients from expensive claims, liabilities and legal fees, and offers their clients peace of mind through third-party, insurance- backed warranty protection. Just like any risk management product, the hope is that you’ll never need it, but when a problem emerges, you’ll be glad you’re covered!

For more information, call Cindy Huber, Vice President of Sales, Eastern Division, at 770-363-7823, email chuber@strucsure.com or visit www.strucsure.com.

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News

Learn the Key to Social Media Success

Carol MorganJacksonville, it’s time to rev up your engines (not motorcycles but social media)! Author and managing partner of mRELEVANCE, Carol Morgan, provides the steps you need to reach your social media goals in her newly released book, “Social Media 3.0.” If you are ready to Rev up your social media program, this is the one book you need to read.

Carol’s tips will help you:

•    Create effective mobile websites
•    Use the latest Facebook features
•    Avoid Panda and Penguin traps
•    Engage your markets using Google+, Instgram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Foursquare, Houzz, Linkedin, and other sites
•    Get started with podcasting
•    Run fun contest affordably

Along with these tips, “Social Media 3.0” will help you sharpen your long-term strategy, make connections with your customers and get the most from the newest form of cost-effective marketing.

Still not sure whether to buy the book? Listen to Carol’s recent interviews on Intrepid Radio and Builder Radio to learn more.

Ready to go? To purchase your copy, visit www.myhomepress.com or contact Marketing RELEVANCE at www.marketingrelevance.com.

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News

Outdoor Home Upgrade Tips from Equifax

Upgraded outdoor spaces have bonus valueAre you looking to redecorate your home in Jacksonville? If so, don’t forget about the outside!

Upgrading your home’s exteriors/your outdoor space can make your home more enjoyable and attractive – especially during warmer months, when we can take full advantage of improvements. If you are looking to sell your home, upgrades to the outdoor space can make your home more attractive to buyers. Cost, and return on investment is of course a major consideration, so do your research, budget carefully and get a plan in place for your work. The real estate pros at the Equifax Finance blog just posted an article, “

Increase Your Home’s Value With These Five Outdoor Upgrades,” in which HGTV design expert Jessica Yonker was interviewed and quoted discussing the value that pools, fire pits, patios, outdoor kitchens, landscaping and new paint can add to your home.

Yonker suggests adding in a little extra cushioning into your budget for taxes, service, labor and materials. She also suggests homeowners take into consideration the length of time that they would be able to enjoy an outdoor project and budget accordingly.

Read the full article on the Equifax Finance blog, where you can also get loads of tips for real estate, taxes, retirement, insurance, credit,

identity protection and more.

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News

Steps for a Smooth Transition into Retirement

Buying an active adult home in JacksonvilleHow many times have you seen someone “waste” their retirement years and you’ve sworn to yourself that you will not do the same and will make the best out of yours?  Transitioning into retirement, even if you have financial security, can be difficult for people who have worked their entire lives. Retirement is an adjustment period and a transition to Jacksonville active adult living. The retirement pros at Equifax have shared four steps to make the transition more manageable with the article “

4 Steps to Planning Your Transition to Retirement.

Step One – Assess your current lifestyle; examining how you spend your time and money. The article suggests making a list of the top three areas in which you spend your money.

Step Two – Identity your future goals. Make a list of what you’d like to accomplish in retirement. Do you want to redecorate your home? Learn a new language? Take an Alaskan cruise? Spend extended amounts of time with your grandchildren? Make a list of the things you want to do most.

Step Three – Come up with a plan for reaching those goals. Figure out what it will cost, how you’ll be able to afford it, what is needed to register for that foreign language class, etc.

Step Four – Things change; and your goals and plans may as well. Re-evaluate your plans every once in a while.

Read the full article for more details on these tips for transitioning into retirement; and get more helpful advice on retirement as well as many other personal finance topics, like credit, insurance, taxes,

credit ratings and more.

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Jacksonville Real Estate News

June Reports Show Jacksonville New Home Prices Rising

According to the latest report from the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors for June, the number of homes sold in Jacksonville dropped on a month-over-month basis, but that didn’t keep prices from continuing to rise.

The median sales price was the highest since 2009 at $158,000 with the average sales price the highest since late 2008 at $204,868. However, Jacksonville new homes are still bringing in significantly more money. In fact, the median sales price for new single family homes was $239,127, which is a $100,000 increase over the sales price for existing homes. New townhomes also experience a similar gap, selling for $87,000 more on average than existing townhomes.

Other positive indicators for the Jacksonville real estate market include the fewest days on market since January 2007 at 82 days, an inventory decrease to 7,982 home and increases in pending and closed sales on a year-over-year basis.

The Northeast Florida Association of Realtors is the largest trade/professional organization in northeast Florida with more than 5,000 Realtors and industry partners in Duval, Clay, Putnam and St. Johns counties.