If you’ve made a resolution this year to get your credit on track, getting started can feel a bit daunting. After all, it can sometimes seem as if credit agencies want to keep you in the dark about how scores are calculated. Not to worry – with some diligence on your part and a little insight into the world of credit scorekeeping, you can get back on track in 2020.

Credit scores follow an algorithm first developed by the data analytics company FICO years ago. For a while, credit scores weren’t the primary force behind a credit decision but over time the impact of a credit score became more and more important. Most every loan program available today has a minimum credit score.

There are five characteristics of your credit history that make up your three-digit score: your payment history, account balances, the length of your credit history, the types of credit used and how often you’ve applied for new credit. Credit scores will improve much more quickly by paying attention to the two categories that have the greatest impact on a score: payment history and account balances.

Payment history accounts for 35 percent of the total score.  When someone makes a payment more than 30 days past the due date, score will fall. An occasional “late pay” won’t do much damage to your score but continued payments made more than 30 days past due will. Preventing late payments is key to recovering your score.

Account balances compare outstanding loan balances with credit lines and make up 30 percent of your score.  If a credit card has a a $10,000 credit line and there is a $3,300 balance, scores will improve, as the ideal balance-to-limit is about one-third of the credit line. As the balance grows and approaches or exceeds the limit, scores will begin to fall.

The remaining three have relatively little impact. How long someone has used credit accounts for15 percent of the score, but there’s nothing anyone can do to improve this area other than to wait. Types of credit and credit inquiries both make up 10 percent of the score. By concentrating on payment history and account balances, scores will improve significantly over the next few months.

It’s Halloween and the last two months of the year are upon us. For many people, this starts a stressful season of overbooked calendars with holiday parties, festivals, concerts, recitals, travel, and family visiting. Many are overwhelmed or become cranky, dare I say Scrooge or Grinch like due to the stress or not being able to enjoy one season at a time. I know many have posted on social media about the multi-holiday displays up in August/September each year. I must admit I’m a one holiday at a time type of person and do not put up my Christmas tree until the day after Thanksgiving or that weekend. Someone sent me this graphic to make me laugh about my one holiday at a time viewpoint.

How can we not be overwhelmed and step back to enjoy each holiday? Here are some ideas to hopefully help make your holidays less stressful and overwhelming, maybe enjoyable and productive.

Make a Plan

I suggest sitting down with a cup of coffee/tea and a notebook or computer with a monthly view calendar handy (I prefer to print off blank copies of each month), and write out all the events, parties, recitals, concerts, festivals, church/synagogue, gifts you want to do. Then I suggest taking a short walk or break from the process to clear your mind, then come back and review your list.

Ask yourself: Is this realistic? Are there items you could remove and still be satisfied? Are there things you can do now to make it easier to do all these things?

Develop a Budget

Determine how much you are going to spend on each gift and stick to it. Should you look at other options with family: only give gifts to younger ones, draw names, setting a budget per gift, or skipping gifts. It is important to have these conversations with your family including extended family. (see blog on “What Are Your 2019 Goals” about finances)

Shop Ahead

If you know what you are planning to get each person, you can watch for sales, pick up while out during the year, or purposely shopping small business or festivals/markets.   I used to do this for years, and it really made a difference especially the year I was due with my daughter to arrive 6 days before Christmas. I had everything bought and wrapped by early October and it made the last part of my pregnancy relaxing.

Declutter

I don’t know about you but decorating an already cluttered home is not my idea of enjoying the holidays. The last couple of years, I have started going through my different seasonal decorations and selling/donating items I no longer use or want. This has been cathartic and made my life less stressful. I have decided simpler is better for me.  (see blog on “How Organized Is Your Home?”)

Here are some other ideas to help you get started:

  • Clean out the refrigerator and pantry especially check your spice expiration dates before baking.
  • Declutter bedrooms and donate items to a shelter or discard broken items. Great way to involve your kids.
  • Refresh the bedrooms & bathrooms guests may use and declutter if needed. Make sure your own and your children’s rooms are decluttered to offer a quiet space to seek refuge.
  • Clean out the coat closet or make space for guest coats especially if you live in cold weather areas. Donate anything that no longer fits or you do not need to a local shelter.
  • Set up a space to keep wrapped gifts and have your gift-wrapping items handy with everything you need. I have a gift-wrapping box that keeps wrapping paper, tissue, tags, ribbons, gift bags all in one place.


Cook & Bake Ahead

There are items you can make ahead and freeze to make your life easier, but it takes being intentional, planning and doing it. This helps if you have last minute guests or parties to attend to have items pre-cooked or baked or for quick meal ideas for your own family.

Make Holiday Reservations

It is best to book early in most cases for travel especially for airfares, lodging, and car rentals. Sometimes you can get a great last-minute deal and a travel professional may be able to help you find the best for your budget. (see blog on “Holiday Travel Tips”)

Plan Fun Events for Self & Family

Don’t forget during the hustle and bustle to plan some fun events for yourself and your family. This could include bucket list items or volunteering as a family. These types of events are just as important as the others and are usually remembered and treasured by family.

Prepare Holiday Cards/Letter

Take your family photo or I’m sure you have plenty to make a great collage from the year already. Then update your address list and start preparing your holiday cards. This will allow you to get first choice on stamps too! 

Make the Holidays Meaningful

Discuss with your family what is important reflecting on what they like and did not like from the prior year or two. It may surprise many that grown children miss some of the traditional items that we thought they had outgrown. Be intentional with priorities and keeping what is important to you and your family.

Make personal time and Self-Care a Priority.

Don’t forget to make some time for yourself: hair, nails, massage, outing with friends. Put it on your calendar now! 

It is important to leave some open space on your holiday calendar, or you could wind up with exhaustion or emotional meltdowns (not just your children but your own). Take time to slow down and enjoy the season, make it meaningful and make great memories.

Happy holiday season!

One of my trusted home inspectors, Jay Lynham with NPI, sent an important email reminder and checklist that I wanted to share with all of you. Here is the article directly from him. Thank you, Jay!

In recognition of National Fire Prevention Month, National Property Inspections wishes you and your clients a safe October. Here are 10 fire prevention tips to keep you and your family safe indoors and out:

  • Create a fire escape plan for your family. If a fire occurs in your home, get out of the house, stay out and call 911 for help.
  • When disposing of ashes from charcoal grills or fireplaces, drown the debris with water. Then stir the debris and soak it again to be sure that it’s out.
  • Install smoke alarms on every level of your home. Test smoke alarms once a month, keep them in good working condition, and change the batteries when Daylight Savings Time ends and again when it starts.
  • Never leave burning candles unattended or within reach of children or pets.
  • Teach children to never play with lighters or matches, and store these items out of children’s reach.
  • Place fire extinguishers throughout your home, and make sure that everyone in the family knows how to use them.
  • Don’t overload electrical outlets or extension cords. Don’t run electrical wires or cords under rugs.
  • Use the proper wattage of light bulbs in light fixtures.
  • When using a space heater, keep it at least 3 feet away from beds and furniture, curtains, newspapers or magazines, clothing, and other items that could catch fire.
  • Inspect all holiday lights every year before hanging them to ensure that cords are not worn or frayed.

It is finally October, but the weather is thinking it is still summer. There is a rumor the weather will turn a bit cooler this weekend. It would be nice since it is pumpkin patch and corn maze time along with some wonderful fall festivals around the DMV.

Here is a link to pumpkin patches and other fun events!

If pumpkin patches and corn mazes are not your idea of fun, then try one of these ideas including night sky watching on October 4th or the Fall Jubilee in Manassas on October 5th!

VIRGINIA:

Night Skies In Shenandoah Valley

Fall Jubilee in Manassas

DC:

70+ Things To Do In DC This October

MARYLAND:

Autumn Glory Festival in Deep Creek Lake

Maryland Renaissance Festival

Let me know what you have planned or if you have other ideas! Happy Fall!

Not sure what needs done around the house this month? Here are some home maintenance ideas.


1. Repair leaky faucets.
Now is a great time to make any repairs to your faucets, before the danger of freezing pipes.. You’ll thank yourself later when you avoid more costly repairs. 

2. Sweep the chimney.
Built-up soot can increase your risk of a chimney fire or cause excess carbon monoxide to enter your home. Keep in mind—fall is a busy season for professional chimney servicing companies. The sooner you get on the schedule, the better. 

3. Change your furnace filters.
Furnace filters should really be changed out every month, but if you’re forgotten about the task all summer, it’s never too late! 

4. Fix walkway cracks.
Whether you live in an area with inclement weather or not, you’ll want to fix walkways while the weather is still mild. Fix cracks, uneven walks and any other trip hazards to keep your family and guests safe from injury. 

5. Clean and repair siding. 
Depending on summer’s weather patterns, your siding could be looking worse for wear right now—we’re talking mildew, dirt and more. Check for any warped or damaged areas for repair and break out the cleaning supplies.

Welcome to the Fall edition of “News You Can Use”! It is hard to believe that Summer is ending, and the Fall season is upon us!

You may be thinking that you’ve lost the opportunity to sell your home in 2019 and need to wait until next Spring, but that’s far from the truth!  Although this time of year it is not as hectic with the swarm of buyers looking, the Fall season brings out the most serious lookers who are ready to make a move today!  Don’t worry, selling in a slower season does not necessarily equate to less money.  With my help, strong marketing and correct pricing for your home, you can get great results in any season.

Here are my top 3 benefits to listing your home during the Fall season…

  1. Serious Buyers – If buyers are out during the slower Fall season looking for homes, they are serious and ready to buy! Although the Spring market brings in a large crowd, that crowd can contain a lot of lookers who are just curious about house hunting. If buyers are investing time to look during the Fall season, they are more likely to be interested in buying your home instead of just touring it.
  2. Less Competition – Selling in the Fall isn’t something many families can accomplish due to busy personal schedules. That is why a significant amount of homes get listed during the Spring and even the Summer season…and all of those homes on the market means a lot of competition for your home. Selling in the Fall means the house up the street that has slightly more perks won’t by vying for potential buyer’s attention, which can cause your home to sit stagnant on the market. It also doesn’t devalue your home because of the house that could go up next door that is underpriced in your neighborhood, drawing all of the attention. With a slower season, you get dedicated attention to your property, which increases the chance of a sale.
  3. Easier to Find Your Dream Home – Not only do you get experience benefits from a slower season during the selling of your home but you can also benefit greatly on the buying side. With less competition for your dream home you can get a better deal. The Spring brings a lot of competition and missed opportunities for buyers dealing with multiple offers and aggressive bidding. Especially when you have a home to sell, finding a seller willing to accept that contingency is much easier during the Fall season. A much calmer pace to the transaction will make it less stressful, and everyone happier all the way around. In the Spring you can feel rushed and pressured into making quick decisions, the Fall usually brings and easier pace so you can make the right decision for your family.

Happy January!  The time of year where many make goals and resolutions about exercising, eating healthier, business/work, family, and/or financial.  Me personally, when I worked on my 2019 business plan, I developed personal goals at the same time.  No matter what your goals or resolutions, you need to make sure they are visible and find an accountability partner or two.

Here are some ideas to keep you on track if you are thinking about financial goals:

  • Identify what you want, not someone else’s goals!
  • Assess your financial situation completely including banking, investment, debt, and other pertinent financial information.
  • The tried and true, set SMART Goals: Specific & Written, Measurable in Progress & Completion, Attainable, Realistic in Time & Skill, Time-bound.
  • Make a plan on your specific goal to implement immediately.

How do you track your goals and achievement?  Do you use technology or the old paper method? Is it a combination of the two? Personally, I use a combination of the two! I find having it both ways keep me better motivated and I can always refer to my goals no matter where I am. Here are a few financial suggestions for tracking:

  • Prepare a budget providing a visual of your spending, income, and expenses.
  • Closely track your expense to keep you committed to your budget and goals.
  • Create a specific plan with defined steps to achieve your goals.
  • Have your goal visually displayed for a powerful reminder and motivation.

Everyone starts out with great intentions, as the year progresses, unexpected setbacks or challenges happen. When they do, dig in and set your mind to readjust and focus, then you have a better chance of meeting your goal if not exceeding it.

What are your goals for 2019? Where do you want to be at the end of the year? How will you get there? What tools will you use?

Cheers to an incredible 2019!

Are you traveling between Thanksgiving and the New Year? AAA estimates 54+ million will travel for Thanksgiving alone. This is the most since 2005! (https://newsroom.aaa.com/2018/11/thanksgiving-travel-forecast-2018/)  Traveling during the holidays is one of the most stressful times to travel, and here are some tips to take the stress out of your travel.

 

With the holiday season, it is also cold and flu season. Whether you are on an airplane, car, train, hotels, or crowded family homes, close proximity to others increases your chances of getting sick. Remember the following tips!

  • Stay hydrated by drinking water
  • Bring your own blanket and neck pillow if flying even if traveling by car or train.
  • Bring healthy snacks (nuts, dried fruit, easily portable food items)
  • Move around to avoid blood clots, even doing seated calf raises improves blood circulation

 

If you are flying, I’m sure you have already researched and hopefully secured your best travel fares and rates.

  • Packing lightly will save you money on checked bag fees, send gifts ahead of time or consider gift cards.
  • Allow plenty of time, regardless of travel to avoid delays, traffic jams, parking, and security.
  • Don’t forget to check on flight changes especially with inclement weather.

For those in the northern Virginia area, remember the unexpected snow/ice event the week before Thanksgiving!

 

For those who will be driving make sure your car is checked by your mechanic to make sure it is road ready. Last year when we were traveling, we had the car checked out by our mechanic to make sure it was road ready.

  • Make sure you know your route along with alternative routes due to accidents. If it will require you to stay overnight on the road, book your rooms ahead of time especially if traveling with pets and children.
  • Don’t forget cell phone chargers and preparing a winter safety kit.
  • Here is a link to suggested items whether you buy a pre-made kit or create your own (http://www.aaa.com/aaa/006/Automotive/WinterCarCareKits.html)

 

If you are traveling with children of all ages, allow time for checking in, getting through security, stopping while driving for fuel and rest stops.

  • Remember to take your time.
  • Pack small toys, books, movies, electronics (depends on your children)—mine travels well in the car, plane, train, and cruise ship.
  • Pack a change of clothing, especially for little ones due to spills and accidents.
  • Traveling with a baby, use a smaller diaper bag to bring into places or on the plane.
  • Remind children not to talk to strangers and keep an eye on them, even if you go to the restroom no matter what mode of transportation.

 

Don’t forget if you are traveling with pets to keep these tips in mind.

  • Make sure your pet has identification (chip, collar with tag). In a carrier, mark clearly “Live Animal” with your full name, cell phone, and a current photo of your pet.
  • Make sure your pets’ vaccinations are up to date. Many suggest having a copy from your vet including medication they may be taking.
  • Secure your pet properly in the car with a carrier or special pet harnesses. Make sure your pet travels well before you get on the road. Take your pet on short car rides and not just to the vet or groomers.
  • If crating your pet, allow room to move and stand along with a favorite toy or blanket that smells like home. Keep bedding or paper in the crate in case of an accident.
  • Don’t forget their food, treats, and dishes!
  • If flying, take a direct flight if possible, to reduce stress on your pet.
  • Stop frequently for car trips so pet can eat and relieve itself. Maybe throw a ball or take a walk!

 

No matter how you are traveling or if you have family/friends coming to your home, enjoy your time together and make some positive memories!  May all your holidays be wonderful this year!

 

The fall weather is finally here in the DC area with temps in the 50s and the wind lightly blowing! Hoping the trees will turn beautiful colors, but our weather has been unusual this year so time will tell. This means it is time to start your autumn maintenance to keep your home in shape and to keep you warm this winter.

 

Where to start? The exterior is a great place to start since it is your first line of defense. Clean your gutters and downspouts and make sure all drainage areas are cleared of leaves and debris. Don’t forget if you have a walk-up basement to remove leaves and debris from the drain area at the bottom of the stairs.   Consider installing gutter guards and check the drain by the outside stairs frequently if you have walk-up stairs.

 

Do your shutters, trim or front door need painting? What about your mailbox and post? Now is a great time with lower humidity and cooler temperatures. Don’t forget to check the trim in case it needs to be replaced.

 

Have you had your roof inspected recently for wear and tear, damaged shingles or possible leaks? With the amount of rain and wind we have had over the past several months it might be a good idea to have it checked before we get potential heavy snow and ice. If you have a wood burning fireplace, have them check around your chimney too.

 

Don’t forget to protect your exterior hose bibs from bursting by winterizing or you will wind up with an unexpected large repair bill.  Here is a video to show you how to complete this task. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6aMXvKRaO7g

 

Check your windows and doors inside and out for leaks and drafts. Caulk cracks or install weather stripping around windows and doors including the garage door. Replace screens with storm windows and clean them if needed.

 

Don’t forget to clean up your flower beds and treat your lawn. Fall is a perfect time for moving perennials, removing dead annuals, raking up leaves, and adding fresh mulch. Plus trimming back your bushes and trees will make your yard ready for winter! It is the perfect time to aerate and seed your lawn. These two steps prepare your lawn for winter and gives your lawn ahead start in the spring.

 

When was the last time your HVAC system had a check-up? Have your unit inspected and change your filters. Don’t forget to have your gas fireplaces checked while you are at it.

 

Taking the time to prepare your home for the winter will save you in the long run and help reduce your expenses in the long run.

 

 

 

It would great if my home would magically be decluttered and organized! Everything would be in the correct place, all items repaired, papers filed, closets would have space, and items donated. Oh, one can dream!

How many of you have started with great intentions of getting organized? Inspired after reading a book, blog, the 40 Bags in 40 Days Challenge during Lent, or maybe you visited a friend whose house is amazingly organized? I know I have started with great intentions, made some progress, but it never seems complete. It still seems cluttered and disorganized!

One book I found very interesting and it helped with cleaning out my clothes is Marie Kondō’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The

Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing”.  Her approach to clothes and paper/files was eye opening, and I need to keep the process in practice. I know my own teen daughter has taken this to her own level, and her room is mind-bogglingly organized and not cluttered.  I know many Moms of teens are not believing this is possible, but yes, she has plenty of room in her closet and dresser!

Another recent book I read, “Soulful Simplicity: How Living with Less Can Lead to So Much More” by Courtney Carver, through her story and how a life event helped her to make changes, she has some great points and her story makes you really think about your own clutter, disorganization, and your living space.  Her approach is not only about decluttering, but also about living a simple life.

What do I need to do? Concentrate on one room/area or one type of item (clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous, sentimental)?  Scheduling the donation truck for a couple of dates in advance to get rid of items quicker?

Do you feel crowded?

Do you feel your garage or house feels crowded?

The biggest challenge for me is filing papers (not my favorite task) and getting rid of clothes that I don’t wear for different reasons. Will they be in fashion in case I decide to wear them one day?  What about sentimental items, yes, even clothes may have a sentimental value? Yes, you can get rid of a sentimental item and not lose the memory. But I know once I clear out the clutter I feel better and I am more productive and focused.

I’ve now reached the point where I don’t want many items in my house and I realize I don’t need them. It’s time to clean out and clear out the clutter to help keep me focused and organized.  Items need to be sorted into 5 bins:

  1. Put Away
  2. Fix/Mend
  3. Donate
  4. Recycle
  5. Discard

I’m going to be setting aside time to work on each area of the home: garage, bedrooms, kitchen, living room, dining room, and bathrooms. Then my new goal is to not accumulate more items unless necessary, and to deal with paper when they come along. Not create a pile of items to be filed.

How will you get started? What are your goals? What books, articles or blogs have you found helpful?