What Are Your Retirement Options after Employment Termination?

What Are Your Retirement Options after Employment Termination?

When you leave a job, there are several loose ends that you will need to tie up. One important consideration when you leave your position is what to do with your employer-sponsored retirement accounts. If you are new to investing or not well-versed in financial matters, you may be wondering what your retirement options are after employment termination. You have a few choices. But, some are better than others. Before you make any major decision, you must evaluate eligibility requirements, know the tax implications, and compare the fees and investment options available to you.

Options for Your Retirement Plans after Employment Termination

1. Leave it where it is.

Depending on how much you have invested in the employer-sponsored 401(k), you may be able to leave your money in the current account. If you have more than $5,000 invested in the old plan, most companies allow you to maintain your retirement account. Even if you are no longer work for the employer, you may be able to leave your money parked in the account.

This will be most beneficial to you if the old plan has low fees, good investment options, or you have a large balance. If you go in this direction, you could always roll it over to a different account in the future as well.

However, if the balance is less than $5,000, your former employer might require you to move it after employment termination. For balances under $1,000, the company could force you out by simply writing a check. But, for balances between $1,000 – $5,000, your former employer must assist you in setting up an IRA if they are forcing you out of their plan.

When considering you retirement options after employment termination, this may not the best one for you. You may want to consider alternatives if you are likely to forget about it, let the account sit dormant, or you are not impressed by the terms. Your former employer’s plan may have more limited options when compared to various IRA offerings or your new employer’s retirement savings program.

2. Roll it over to a plan with your new employer.

Another possibility is to roll over the balance to your new employer’s retirement plan. Most companies will allow new employees to enroll in their retirement savings plan once they have reached the minimum length of employment. It is a fairly simple process, and only requires some paperwork to complete a direct transfer. The administrator of your former plan can deposit the balance of the previous account into your new one.

Rolling your retirement plan into a new one prevents you from paying any taxes on the balance. If you do not want the direct transfer, you can also have your former employer issue a check for the balance. Then, you can deposit the funds yourself. However, you must do so within 60 days. Otherwise, you will pay income tax for the entire lump sum. Before you close the first account, make sure the new 401(k) is set up and able to receive balance transfers.

This option is cost-effective because you can defer taxation. Additionally, you can consolidate your funds into a single account rather than keeping track of several different retirement accounts after employment termination. It also makes things easier down the line for family members or heirs when they need to handle your financial affairs. Just be sure to compare the available options and fees. Once you transfer the balance, you cannot go back to your old plan.

3. Roll it over to an IRA.

If your new employee does not have a retirement plan for its employees or the options are not ideal, you should consider rolling it into an IRA. Whether you choose a traditional or Roth IRA, the account will be in your name. Therefore, you have greater control over the account and can choose any financial institution you like. Since you are not restricted by your employer, you have freedom to decide how and where you invest your money.

There are few restrictions or limitations on these kinds of transfers. Furthermore, both traditional and Roth IRAs provide a wide range of low-cost offerings. Consolidating your investments into a single account also makes them easier to track.

If you go this route, you will have to include the untaxed amount in your gross income for the fiscal year you completed the rollover. But, if you meet certain qualifications, future withdrawals could be tax-free.

4. Begin taking distributions.

If you are nearing retirement age, you may want to begin taking distributions from your accounts. You can begin receiving distributions at age 55. But, you may have to pay the penalty on the taxable portion of it. Most retirement accounts dictate that you must be 59 ½ to receive distributions without the 10% tax penalty on early withdrawals. However, those who retire between the ages of 55 and 59 ½ do not need to pay this penalty.

Many people avoid this option because of the taxation and penalty fees. Moreover, when you begin receiving distributions from a traditional 401(k) you will need to pay income tax. On the other hand, distributions from your IRA will be tax free as long as you meet the age requirements and had the account a minimum of five years.

5. Cash out the balance of the account.

The last resort is to cash out your retirement accounts. However, if you liquidate your retirement accounts early, you will have to pay taxes on the full amount in addition to the 10% penalty. Most financial advisors warn against this because you are depleting your retirement savings. Unless you need the cash now, it is better to leave it in your accounts until the balance and distribution payments are tax-deferred.

Explore Your Retirement Options

Before making any major financial decisions, you should explore all your options. Weigh the pros and cons and determine which route gets you closer to your financial goals. There are many online resources that can help you make informed decisions. However, there is no shame in admitting you need help if you are in over your head. When in doubt, it is always wise to seek professional advice.

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How to Pick Small Businesses to Invest In

How to Pick Small Businesses to Invest In

As an individual investor, I am always looking for new and innovative ways to diversify my portfolio. I already have a healthy range of holdings in stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. However, I have been searching ways to direct my money into businesses that share my same ideals and ethics. That’s where platforms like SMBX come in. This new marketplace directly engages with its investors to make it simpler to pick small businesses to invest in.

What is SMBX?

SMBX is new investment platform where small business owners can directly connect to the public. Their model utilizes regulation crowdfunding to allow small businesses to go straight to the source. As their tagline states, individual investors get to “be the bank,” providing new ways to raise capital. Rather than purchasing stock in a specific company, any investor can buy small business financial securities through their marketplace.

What sets SMBX apart is that they have created a new asset class: Small Business Bonds. The idea is to help small businesses generate capital through bonds instead of relying on bank loans. Private investors purchase bonds, which are debt-based financial assets. The investor (you) loans money to an issuer (the small business) for a period of time. In exchange, the issuer has a legal obligation to repay them, plus interest.

It is a win-win scenario for everyone. Small businesses can bypass the loan process to get the funding they need. Meanwhile, investors have more control over where their money goes since they can pick which small businesses to invest in.

What are the Advantages of Investing with SMBX?

The greatest advantage of SMBX is that it creates new options for both small businesses and individual investors. Unlike other marketplaces that emphasize equity, SMBX is transforming small business debt through community engagement.

For Small Businesses

The greatest benefit to small businesses is that they have the ability to bypass traditional bank loans. Small companies no longer have to be captive to bank loans. It is much easier and faster to raise capital through Small Business Bonds since they can appeal directly to the public. Furthermore, there are less regulations and fees associated with this type of asset.

For Investors

There are even more advantages for individual investors. Since you get to replace corporate banks, you have the ability to affect change within your community. You can support local commerce and pick which small businesses to invest in. Sometimes, you may have the option to help businesses that you frequent or have a personal interest in.

Another benefit is that SMBX welcomes non-accredited investors to join. The platform is easily accessible and very user-friendly. There are no investors fees and you can begin with as little as $10. The average returns on investments is approximately 6.5%, and it pays the principle plus interest each month.

Additionally, you also have the freedom to reinvest or withdraw your funds at any time. Of course, the longer you hold the bond, the more you earn. But if you have a change of heart, you can recall your funds. Even after you confirm your order, you still have 48 hours to cancel or update it.

What are the Disadvantages?

As with any investment, there is always risk. It is possible that your investment will not see profitable returns and you could lose your money. This is why you should be certain you understand the terms and conditions.

Another thing to keep in mind is that SMBX is a relatively new platform. Any financial advisor will tell you that it is risky to invest with new firms that have a short history. However, the expertise and combined experience of the founders give me confidence that I’m not throwing my money away.

One thing that I was disappointed with was the limited offerings. Since it is a relatively new marketplace, this makes sense. However, I hope to see a wider variety of small businesses on the marketplace and more frequently updated offerings in the future.

How Do You Start Investing with SMBX?

Getting started was the easiest part. It is simple to sign up. First, you need to create an account, which requires you to enter your personal details. They will ask for typical information including your legal name, address, estimated income, and estimated net worth. Once you verify your email and add a payment method, you are ready to get started. Just be aware that you must link to either a credit card or bank account to your profile.

After everything is confirmed, you can browse the available offerings and choose which one to invest with. I carefully looked at each one, evaluating their financial goals, bond duration, expected yield, and overall mission.

Once I reviewed my options, I chose to purchase my first Small Business Bonds from ChildWise because I am very passionate about education. I really connected with their long-term goals and feel they are working towards a worthy cause. They offer training for early childhood education programs not only for teachers, but also parents and caretakers as well.

Furthermore, I appreciated that my money would be dedicated to creating quality content, not just refinancing their debt. With their emphasis on bilingual education, they embody a global focus to offer proper education programs in places with limited resources. From the fiscal side of things, they are also venturing into Asian markets. The company has seen the most growth in the Chinese market, and the bonds I bought have an estimated 8% yield. Not only can I feel good about where I’m investing, but it also seems like I will see good returns on my investment.

Why Should You Use SMBX to Pick Small Businesses to Invest in?

My initial experience with SMBX has been extremely positive. I feel it is important to find innovative ways to directly connect investors with the small businesses they want to invest in. Through their marketplace, investors are able to engage and interact with the company in an entirely new way. The best part is that it gives you the opportunity to support your local community and businesses that align with your personal values.

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Energy Stocks during America’s Cold Snap

Energy Stocks Have High Performance during the Cold Snap

This February brought another bout of extreme weather to the United States. As subzero temperatures swept across the country, energy providers experienced unprecedented demands for heat and electricity. While many of us were watching the news, financial analysts have been watching how these winter storms affect energy stocks during this cold snap.

Record Lows during America’s Cold Snap

Normally, Arctic temperatures are contained within the polar vortex by the jet stream. However, the pressure systems usually concentrated around the North Pole pushed winter snow storms south. It brought snow and freezing temperatures to some of the driest, hottest parts of the country.

At one point, an estimated 150 million Americans experienced winter storm warnings. Meteorologists said roughly 73% of the country received snowfall. Many who live in the northern regions have seen these conditions before. But, southern states proved they were unprepared to deal with energy demands during the cold snap.

For the first time in the state’s history, every county in Texas was under winter storm warnings. At the coldest point of these extreme weather conditions, it was colder in Dallas than it was in Anchorage. When these drastic changes in temperature occur, it becomes dangerous to be outside. There are serious concerns of frostbite, hypothermia, and death when the power grid is disrupted.

Dealing with Rising Energy Demands

The Midwest and Southern parts of the United States faced record low temperatures that tested the limits of the power supply. To cope with rising energy usage, SPP implemented rotating power outages. The company had to reduce demand on their power grid in 14 states. By Sunday February 14, it became clear that supply and distribution would reach critical levels.

Rolling power outages began February 15, with residents told to expect them to last about 30-60 minutes. Here in the Midwest, we were left without power for up to an hour at a time. But, local providers quickly restored electricity and heat. Although it was inconvenient, the worst part was not knowing when or which part of the city would be affected.

However, it becomes more serious in places where the infrastructure is not designed for such extreme temperatures. The blackouts left 4.3 million people without heat and electricity in Texas. Some residents criticized the lack of response and preparedness, especially those who lost loved ones due to the extreme temperatures.

Energy Stocks Performance During the Cold Snap

As bitter temperatures drove up the country’s demand, the energy sector saw significant gains. Natural gas prices skyrocketed by 7.5%, reaching the highest levels since November. Meanwhile, oil prices also saw a boost. Oil production dropped to approximately 2 million barrels a day. This drove prices to more than $60 a barrel, the highest they have been since January 2020.

The Winners

Comstock Resources was one of the biggest winners. They reported that it was “like hitting the jackpot” since it was able to sell natural gas for premium prices. EQT Corp, a natural gas provider based in the shale regions of Ohio and Pennsylvania, also saw gains from the high prices. Australia’s Macquarie Group also expects to see a 10% rise in profits this year.

With large swaths or refineries out of commission along the Gulf Coast, companies like Valero Energy Corp and HollyFrontier Corp also saw increased production. Other refiners, like Shell and Total, have little exposure to the Texas markets. So, they are also in a prime position to ramp up production and increase profits.

The Losers

Unfortunately, many other utilities providers reported huge losses due to the winter storms. Alternative power sources became ineffective with wind turbines and natural gas wells freezing over.

Innergex Renewable Energy Inc estimates the financial impact on their Texas wind farms to be about $48 million. Algonquin Power and Utilities Corp adjusted their projected core earnings by $45-55 million due to restricted production. Just Energy doubts they will be able to continue after it forecasted $250 million in losses.

Furthermore, the extreme weather also interfered with transportation of oil and shutdown many refineries. The country’s hub of refineries along the Gulf Coast were the hardest hit. Exxon Mobil and Phillips 66 halted operations, losing 19% of the U.S.’s refining capacity. Diamondback Energy expects to lose at least five days of production. Other southern shale oil producers say it could take two weeks to restart their crude oil operations.

As milder temperatures return, you can be certain that financial analysts and investors alike will continue to watch the energy sector.

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Best Trade Simulator Apps for New Investors

What Are the Best Trade Simulator Apps?

The stock market can be an intimidating place for new investors. If you have no training or background in finance, investing your hard-earned money seems like a huge gamble. There is always some level of risk associated with investing. However, the best trade simulator apps allow you to test the waters before you dive in head first. Creating and trading with a virtual portfolio lets you learn through experience without risking real money.

How Do Trade Simulator Apps Work?

In essence, trade simulators use practice accounts, also referred to as paper trading accounts, as an experiential educational tool. Even better, most of them are free once you set up your account. The purpose of these apps is to provide a learning environment for new investors within real time market conditions. Users have access to the same tools utilized by active investors, including live feeds and tickers, watch lists, and stock screens. However, since you are using “play money,” you eliminate all financial risk.

Additionally, you can use trade simulator apps in a variety of ways. Individual investors can test new ideas and strategies before making any changes to their actual portfolio. You can also make a game of it by inviting friends, family, or coworkers to join a friendly competition. Investors that get the highest returns at the end are the winners. But, since you are not investing real money, there are no losers.

What Benefits Do Trade Simulator Apps Offer?

As an educator, I firmly believe that the best way to learn something is by doing it. The only way to get better at something is through practice and repetition. If you have never invested or learned about the stock market, trade simulator apps are a great place to start. Here’s why:

1. There is no risk since you are investing fake money.

The best part about trade simulator apps is that there is zero risk. Since you are trading with virtual currency, you can be as conservative or aggressive as you like. If it is your first time investing, these apps allow you to get your feet wet without risking your retirement accounts. If you make a bad trade, it is a lesson learned rather than a nest egg lost.

2. You can test new investing strategies and individual stock picks.

Trade simulator apps provide a safe place to learn the basics. You can begin with the fundamental mechanics of investing, then move on to other trading options. Since it is virtual money, you are free to take more chances and make mistakes as well.

Furthermore, it gives your room to explore potential strategies and ideas. Although financial experts tell you to avoid taking advice from just anyone online, these trading platforms act as a safety net. Not only does it protect your finances, but it will also help you determine which advisors have the most credibility.

3. You have access to their full library of educational resources.

In addition to real-time trading, you also can get a focused education through their resources. You can find articles, tutorials, videos, and demos on nearly every investment topic imaginable. Moreover, you can also join the online communities where you can interact with other investors and discuss strategies.

These free resources will help you become a more savvy investor by learning and mastering the basics. They can also teach you how to factor in outside variables, such as trading costs, and perform stock analysis. Understanding how these factors affect the market will help you see the broader economic picture and become a more successful investor.

4. There is less emotional investment in the outcome.

Lastly, trade simulator apps remove emotion from the equation. They grant you a more objective view since your money is not at stake. Riding the markets’ highs and lows can bring a roller coaster of emotions. However, the apps give you a preview of market volatility and how you will react to them.

What Are The Best Trade Simulator Apps?

There are a lot of trade simulator apps out there. However, these three are consistently recommended by financial experts and analysts across the web.

Wall Street Survivor

This trade simulator app has withstood the test of time…and for good reason. Wall Street Survive is a fountain of personal finance and investing knowledge. It offers more than 30 courses which you can complete at your own pace. Each one provides step-by-step instruction to help you succeed in the stock market.

Once you are ready to invest your virtual cash, it is time to get in the game. You can join the leagues and work your way to the top, or start your own game. All the while, you can apply different trading strategies as you play the stock markets. As you improve, you will earn more virtual cash, badges, and even compete for real prizes.

Market Watch Virtual Stock Exchange

This app is also popular with adult investment clubs and first time investors. Just like the other trade simulator apps out there, you create a virtual portfolio to trade real-time stocks. However, as you develop you investing strategies, you can also turn on more advanced features. Once you join, you are also able to join their discussion groups to compare strategies with skilled traders.

However, as an educator, I will admit that I do have bias here. In my opinion, the Market Watch Virtual Stock Exchange is one of the best resource for teachers. It even has lesson plans with required readings, videos, and report cards to help you track your progress. Public and private games allow you to interact with other users or challenge those you know to test their skill. It’s both a fun and educational way to gain experience trading stocks, mutual funds and ETFs.

HowTheMarketWorks

HowTheMarketWorks is another app that has been around for quite some time. It remains at the head of the pack because it is specifically tailored for beginners. It offers all the tool and resources you need in their Education Center. In addition to basic instruction and advanced techniques, it also provides career guidance if you are interested in a future in finance.

However, this app isn’t just for beginners. This simulator gives you the ability to practice trading in the global market, mutual funds, ETFs, options, and commodities. Since you can customize your private competitions, it is another excellent resource in the classroom.

Reality Over Simulation

While trade simulator apps are a great resource, there are certain things they cannot do. Unfortunately, some lessons can only be learned through real experience. However, simulators ensure you will be better prepared to jump into the stock market.

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The Aftermath of the GameStop Saga

Analyzing the Aftermath of the GameStop Saga

Recently, the video game retailer where we used to sell our games became the center of the most recent stock market frenzy. The GameStop saga began when its stock value surged in late January, spurred on by one very determined group of Redditors. Using new technology and trading apps like Robinhood, individual traders disrupted the market, nearly bringing major hedge funds to their knees. However, there are plenty of rumors and questions remaining in the aftermath.

What Caused the GameStop Saga and the Stock Market Surge?

When Redditors got into a sparring match with Wall Street over floundering stock prices, certain share values soared to record heights. While GameStop is at the forefront of this market fluctuation, it has also affected AMC and a few other stocks as well. However, GME captured headlines on January 27.  It closed at an all-time high $483.00 per share, more than 800% of its current valuation.

The institutional investors betting against the company had to back out. In a move known as a “short squeeze,” short sellers had to repurchase stock for a higher price. Although this is not an unusual investing move, the GameStop saga did introduce new factors.  New technology and trading platforms are changing the way people invest. It is democratizing trading by making it accessible to everyone. However, you can be certain it has also caught the attention of both investors and regulators worldwide.

Why Was Everyone Up in Arms?

The problem began when Robinhood began limiting trades on their platform. The app founded its mission on bringing investing to more people. So, some individual traders interpreted the restrictions placed on GME, AMC and other stocks as a personal attack. This group became indignant when they discovered their access had been limited. They were unable to buy stock while the hedge funds still had access to them.

In truth, Robinhood simply did not have the capital on hand to cover the flood of trades. Clearinghouse trades can take a few days to settle. The amount of money moved around during the trading frenzy was more than Robinhood could handle.  So, they put the restrictions in place to cover any potential losses and slow trading until it could raise more capital.

However, there are plenty of rumors floating around and some speculation of illegal activity. Questions of conflicting interests and collusion are popping up across the web. For example, some claim that professional traders encouraged the classic pump-and-dump scheme. They say they promoted the price pumping within the Reddit crowd, intending to get out before stock prices stabilized again. Other accusations say traders ignored the rules. There is some evidence of illegally shorting stocks without ownership or control of the borrowed shares. We all anxiously await to see what new information will come to light about these allegations.

Will the Sheriff of Wall Street Shut Down Robinhood?

One thing is abundantly clear as financial experts analyze this event: lawmakers and regulators are not happy with Robinhood. Furthermore, the individual traders using the app feel slighted since Robinhood impaired their ability to purchase stock. While it was a vital resource for individuals to purchase stock, many users are now cashing out and moving their funds. The future of the trading platform could be in jeopardy.

The fate of Robinhood depends on the outcome of several investigations and lawsuits. The first class action suit was filed on January 28 in the Southern District of New York. The lawsuit claims that Robinhood “purposefully, willfully, and knowingly removing the stock ‘GME’ from its trading platform in the midst of an unprecedented stock rise… (it) deprived retail investors of the ability to invest in the open-market.”

This is likely just the beginning of legal action taken against Robinhood. Tens of thousands have already joined the first class action lawsuit. However, the investing app could be facing more than 30 more in the days ahead. In addition to investigations by both the state of New York and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, members of Congress have also come forward in support of a Congressional hearing on the matter.

Despite all the legal actions already filed, Robinhood’s CEO Vlad Tenev is standing firm in their decision to implement restrictions. He said they “had to conform to our regulatory capital requirements” and only allow limited buys. Many of these limits remain in place. Individual traders have maximum number of shares they can buy, no trading options, no buying on the margin, no fractional shares, and no recurring investments. However, the maximum number of shares available to purchase has been raised.

What Did We Learn from the GameStop Saga?

There are a few important takeaways looking back on the GameStop saga. If nothing else, it is a harsh reminder that there are just as many losers as winners in stock market buying frenzies. Many Redditors who bought too late during the highs have now suffered significant losses. This has further alienated individual investors from trading apps like Robinhood. However, shorting is a risky gamble for professional and amateur investors alike.

It is also important to point out the inaccurate comparisons being used to describe the event. The biblical analogy of David vs Goliath is powerful, but not entirely accurate in this situation. In this instance, individual investors pumped up these stock’s valuation. Some did so in an effort to defend the underdog. Others were attempting to stick it to the arrogant hedge fund managers who have often been accused of stock market manipulation. However, these sharp declines affect their clients more than their management.

At the end of the day, the GameStop saga upended some long held conventions about trading and the influence of individual investors. Whenever you play the stock market, investors take a huge risk by joining these trading frenzies. Everyone wants to bet on the long shot, but only those who bought shares early on saw significant gains. It has become a cautionary tale to many green investors who bought in late when shares reach their highest value now left with nothing.

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How to Reduce Pet Expenses and Care Costs

 

How to Reduce Pet Expenses

Owning a pet can be a very rewarding experience. Not only do they provide companionship, but studies also demonstrate how pets can benefit our mental health. However, caring for an animal is a serious responsibility. If you are worried about the additional costs, here are seven ways you can ease the burden and reduce pet expenses.

7 Ways to Reduce Pet Expenses

1. Choose a Pet to Suit Your Budget.

I know…it can be hard to resist those big, puppy-dog eyes. However, before you bring home a new pet, you must ask yourself if you are financially able to take care of one. Caring for an animal is a huge responsibility. Therefore, you should be aware just how much the annual costs can be.

If you are getting a pet, choose an animal that suits your budget. Since larger animals eat more, it may be better to consider a smaller animal with lower pet care costs. According to the ASPCA, the expenses for a large dog are about $875 every year. Opting for a smaller pet could be a smart way to reduce pet expenses. Annual costs are approximately $670 for cats, $200 for birds, and $35 for freshwater fish. Even looking at smaller breeds of dogs could save you a considerable amount of money on pet food and supplies.

2. Adopt Your Pets from a Shelter.

Adoption is another way to greatly reduce the initial costs of getting a pet. You save a ton in adoption and veterinary fees if you adopt through a local shelter. When you take your pet home, it has already received a check-up, vaccinations, and been micro-chipped. The small adoption fee is a bargain when compared to these savings alone. Not only are you supporting their rescue efforts, but adoption also eliminates breeder’s exorbitant prices.

You can also ask around or check local classified ads for animals in need of a good home. Often times, those placing the ads are giving the animals away, free of charge. Why pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for pure-bred pets when there are so many that you can choose from for free?

3. Compare Food and Pet Supply Brands.

There is no doubt that food will be your biggest expense as a pet owner. But, as with any purchase, it makes sense to look for the most economical brands and best deals. Avoid brand names with words like “premium,” which usually only mean a higher retail price. Store brands that say things like “total nutrition” or “balanced diet” will still provide your pet with proper nutrition.

Buying pet supplies in bulk from discount clubs like Costco or Sam’s Club is very cost effective. There are also many online stores like Chewy.com that regularly offer discounts and promotional codes to their customers. Any smart budgeter will tell you that every little bit counts, especially when trying to reduce pet expenses.

4. Get Vaccines from Low-Cost Clinics.

In order to protect the pet population, state and local governments require vaccinations for domesticated animals. Although these are required by law, you don’t need to spend crazy amounts of money for private consultations. Many shelters and local universities work with low-cost clinics to provide affordable treatments. Since vet students and interns administer the injections, they usually cost next to nothing.

If you have any questions about city ordinances concerning pet vaccinations, check with the local humane society. Not only can they give you the most current information, but they can also tell you more about these types of programs in your area.

5. Maintain Your Pet’s Health.

The best way to reduce your pet’s long term medical expenses is by maintaining good health and hygiene. Just as it is with humans, it requires time and effort to keep your pets healthy. You can ensure your pet maintains a healthy body weight with regular exercise and feeding schedules. Over-feeding your pet hurts both your pet’s well-being and your wallet.

Annual check-ups and regular visits to the vet are another costly responsibility of caring for animals. However, it is extremely important for preventative care.  This includes regular dental cleaning, booster shots, and treatments for common ailments like heartworm, fleas, tick, and other diseases. When you do need medication, you can save a bundle through websites like PetCareRX and 1-800-PetMeds as well.

Finally, do not forget your pet’s reproductive health as well. Although puppies and kittens are adorable, their upkeep costs are astronomical. As a responsible pet owner and financial planner, have your pets spayed and neutered. The initial investment in the procedure is well worth the long term savings.

6. Reduce Grooming Costs.

When choosing what kind of pet is right for you, grooming is another important consideration. Larger animals or breeds with long hair require a lot of maintenance. Some pet owners have professional groomers tend to their animals, but these services come at a high price. While these visits are necessary at times, regular combing, brushing, bathing and clipping at home prolong visits to the groomer.

If you do not feel confident to trim your pet’s fur or nails, there are many tutorial videos online to help you. You can purchase the tools online, and follow along with their instruction to reduce your pet care expenses. Furthermore, shaving pets during summer months will also save you time and energy cleaning. That alone is a huge value in and of itself.

7. Try Making Your Own Pet Toys.

One of the most frivolous ways we spoil our pets is with toys and treats. Although my pets enjoy them immensely, toys from the pet store are not cheap. While it is okay to splurge occasionally, don’t stuff your online shopping cart with things they don’t really need.

Instead, look for things around your house that many pets are perfectly content to play with. Every dog I have owned happily chased after tennis balls or dragged around their favorite stuffed toy to chew on. Cats often prefer the boxes their pet supplies and toys come in. Additionally, ribbons and strings can be just as entertaining as there are plenty of items around your home that your pets will find perfectly acceptable.

If you are the creative type, you can find endless ideas for homemade pet toys on Pinterest boards and other DIY websites. You can also consider growing your own herbs like catnap to further reduce pet expenses. When it comes to finding ways to keep your pet entertained, you are truly only limited by what keeps your and your pet’s interest.

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The Third Stimulus Check

The Third Stimulus Check

Just before his inauguration, President Biden released his contingency plan to ease the country through the next phase of the coronavirus pandemic.  The far-reaching American Rescue Plan seeks to “provide critical support to struggling communities.” This includes direct funding to every eligible citizen. On the heels of receiving the second one, there is already talk of a third stimulus check. As part of the relief plan, every eligible person would receive another check to help counteract the economic impact from Covid-19. However, eligibility requirements may be changing. While there is strong support for a relief package on both sides of the aisle, it has yet to be approved.

What is Included in the Third Stimulus Plan?

The extensive (and expensive) $1.9 trillion relief package intends to direct funding to those most impacted by the pandemic. First and foremost, each eligible person would receive another relief payment of up to $1,400. However, the third stimulus check is just one part of the larger relief plan. It expands tax credits, paid leave, unemployment benefits, and provides financial assistance to renters and landlords. In addition, Biden’s plan also extends the moratorium on eviction and the freeze on federal student loans through September.

Other funding is earmarked for measures to contain the spread of Covid-19. Biden’s major objective is to expedite testing and the national rollout for the vaccine. Since we are far behind the initial goal to vaccinate 100 million people by the end of 2020, his aim is 100 million jabs in his first 100 days in office. Furthermore, the plan allocates more state and local funding to reopen schools safely and subsidize health coverage.

Although his plan is ambitious, you can expect pushback from lawmakers over the budget. The opposition wants a more targeted proposal to reduce costs. Some politicians want lower income thresholds so less people receive a stimulus check. Others say it is not enough and are still fighting for the original amount of $2000 which was discussed before Trump left office. While everyone can agree that immediate action must be taken, the application and allocation of resources remains a controversial topic.

Who is Eligible for the Third Stimulus Check?

Chances are that if Congress approves the plan, you will receive a third check if you already got the first two. However, there may be some changes in the eligibility requirements. Some politicians are proposing to change the upper income limit of $75,000 to reduce government spending. Unfortunately, this means less people would qualify the third time around.

On the other hand, Biden’s plan seeks to expand the definition of dependent eligibility to include anyone over 17. This would add an additional $600 for adult dependents such as college students, elderly, and those with disabilities. Families who have mixed citizenship status in their household may also become eligible. If there are delays in approving the proposal, this will likely be one of the deciding factors.

When Will We Be Getting the Third Stimulus Check?

Although it is likely that eligible Americans will receive a third stimulus check, don’t go spending the money just yet. There are still a lot of unanswered questions and negotiations ahead. The first two stimulus checks have helped a lot of people keep food on the table, but never count your chickens before they hatch.

It will be a difficult road to getting the approval needed to pass the relief package. Congress will be hesitant to spend an additional $1.9 trillion after passing the $900 billion last month. It could be several weeks or months before we see any additional relief payments. Therefore, it is better to focus on what is going on in your own house rather than the White House. Instead, if the third check comes along, view it as supplemental income to help you catch up on bills and stay out of debt.

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How to Sell Your Blood for Cash

For those who struggle to make ends meet, selling blood and plasma is one way to stretch your budget through the end of the month. However, due to national shortages, blood banks are desperately reaching out for new donors. If you want to support our health care workers or simply need extra money, here is how you can sell your blood for cash.

How to Sell Your Blood for Cash

How Can You Sell Your Blood for Cash?

Most places will not compensate you for donating blood. However, there are private centers that will pay you for blood plasma. There is a high demand for it, so you can sell your blood plasma for cash. Plasma is rich in enzymes, antibodies, and proteins, and it is used in many medical treatments. Transplant patients, burn victims, and those with clotting disorders all benefit from blood plasma. The private centers earn a profit by selling it, so they are willing to pay you for each session. There are usually incentives and bonuses for first time donors as well.

How much you earn varies from one person to the next. However, you can usually expect between $20 and $50 per donation. The amount depends on the quantity of plasma you provide. The bigger you are, the more they can extract. The donor guidelines separate people into categories according to weight: 110-149 lbs., 150-174 lbs., and 175-400 lbs. Cash payments are set according to these guidelines.

Who is Eligible?

If you want to sell your blood plasma, the eligibility requirements are usually the same as those that regulate blood donations. Any adult who is between the ages of 18-69, over 110 pounds, and in good health can donate. However, there are certain risk factors and conditions that could exclude you as a candidate.

To ensure that you are healthy and eligible, you must complete a donor questionnaire. Certain lifestyles and pre-existing conditions may prevent you from selling your blood. For example, if you have traveled internationally to places endemic for malaria in the past year, you cannot donate. Furthermore, if you have a condition like HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, iron deficiencies, or certain types of cancer, you are also an ineligible candidate.

Before wasting time and gas money, call around or look online for the requirements at clinics in your area. If you have any questions about your eligibility, call ahead to ensure you would make it through the screening process.

What are the Risks?

Donating blood and plasma is a well-regulated process. However, there are always risks to consider. Most commonly, people report tenderness and bruising around the needle injection site. Others feel dizzy and faint after donating due to the blood loss. Since your body loses so much fluid, you want to be well hydrated before your appointment. It is also a good idea to avoid caffeine, tobacco, alcohol and fatty foods as well.

Severe reactions are uncommon, but can occur, especially if you are not healthy. Donors have reported shivering, changes in their pulse rate, shortness of breath, and twitching after donation. There is an increased risk for these side effects if you are not feeling well or have donated too recently.

Covid-19 has also increased the risks to sell your blood. In addition to meeting all the health standards, some clinics also require a negative test or a positive recovery test if you had the virus. While there is an urgent need for blood and plasma donors, we still have the important responsibility to ensure everyone’s safety.

What are the Ethical Concerns of Selling Blood?

In addition to the physical risks, there are also some ethical concerns about selling blood. Some national and local governments have banned paying donors. In Ontario, victims of tainted blood have called for public administration and voluntary donations only after serious breaches in the screening process. Approximately 33,000 people contracted hepatitis C and an additional 1,000 others contracted HIV because of improper screening. They argue that federal regulation would make it safer to donate and less likely others will become victims.

Another reason people want standardized regulations is to ensure that donors are not exploited. There are no concerns when donors are well-informed and willing to sell their blood for cash. However, issues arise when private clinics and organizations do not properly compensate donors. This has been particularly troublesome in developing countries where private companies take advantage of the poor. Another dilemma is when people are not advised of the health risks. In some instances, people may have refused to donate had they been aware. Therefore, donors must give full consent to ensure each individual’s rights are protected.

Others have argued that it is our ethical responsibility to give blood for the greater good. In particular, the position states we should voluntarily donate during times of crisis and natural disasters. Unfortunately, it is impossible to rely solely upon voluntary donors. For example, only 30% of Canada’s supply comes from volunteers. U.S. companies that pay for donations provide the rest.

Like these countries that rely on volunteer donations only, some urban areas are already experiencing shortages. Blood banks are having difficulty meeting demands because less people want to sell blood for cash during the pandemic. Under these circumstances, paying donors may be the only way to ensure there is ample supply to support the health care system.

Where Can You Sell Blood Plasma?

A quick internet search will provide you with a list of private clinics and blood banks in your area. This site can help you find a donation center convenient for you. If you are still having trouble, you can also ask your physician or health care provider for a referral. In addition to volunteer donations, many also pay cash for blood plasma.

The unfortunate truth is that U.S. blood supplies are alarmingly low. In fact, we could be facing widespread shortages soon. There is no way to decrease demand, so we must find ways to increase the blood supply. Paying donors for contributions is one way to bridge this gap. If you have ever wanted to sell your blood for cash, now is the perfect time. Not only are you supporting our health care system, but you can also earn some extra cash.

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How to Cut Your Electric Bill in Half

With more people working from home than ever before, it is even more important to find ways to reduce energy costs. If your children are also attending classes online, that means even more household energy consumption. Spending more time at home also means higher utility bills, especially during the extreme summer and winter months. However, there are several things you can do to cut your electric bill in half.

How to Cut Your Electric Bill in Half

Energy Audit to Save Time and Money

The first thing you should do is contact your energy supplier and request an energy audit. They provide this service to their customers for a small fee, averaging around $100. In addition, you may receive coupons and discounts for large ticket items or recommended upgrades.

During the energy audit, a technician will do a walk-through to spot issues. It takes about an hour depending on the condition of the house. At the end, the technician will hand you a checklist of items you can address to cut your electric bill in half.

Although there is a small fee, an energy audit can save you time and money in the long run. Rather than guessing at the problems or wasting time to find them, the technician pinpoints the issues. They can also offer professional advice about things that need to be immediately attended to and guide your towards the best solution.

Free Things You Can Do to Cut Your Electric Bill in Half

Even if you do not have the finances to replace and upgrade your home, there are still things you can do to reduce your energy bills.

Shop Around for Deals

As with any purchase, you should always shop around for the best deals. The same is true if your state allows deregulated electricity. You can use dedicated sites to shop around and compare prices between electric suppliers. You receive the same service, but at more competitive rates. A little research can save you a bundle on your utilities costs.

Reduce Your Energy Consumption

Another easy way to reduce energy consumption is to identify which appliances pull the most electricity, and use them less. These usually include your heating and cooling units, dryer, water heater, refrigerator, and electric stove. However, you can also use a Kill a Watt device to see what other electronics and appliances are the worst culprits.

Once you know what is causing the energy spikes, you can find ways to use these appliances less. Here are a few ideas that can reduce your monthly bills.

Heating and Cooling Costs

    • Use your windows to regulate the temperature in your home. Open them during the day to warm your home in the cold months. On the other hand, close them to block out the summer sun to stay cool.
    • Set the thermostat to a cooler temperature during winter months. You can wear more clothing or use blankets while your body acclimates. After a few days, your body will adjust and your savings will increase.
    • There is no need to heat rooms you don’t use, so close doors and vents to conserve heat.
    • Be sure to seal up your home to make sure air does not escape. Use caulk or weather stripping around doors and windows to stop drafts.
    • Insulate your windows with plastic wrap or a plastic insulator kit to keep air from seeping out.

Cutting Costs with Laundry

    • Use cold water to wash clothes, especially if your home has an electric water heater.
    • Add dryer balls instead of sheets to help your laundry dry faster. They help separate the clothes resulting in less dryer time.
    • On sunny days, line dry clothing outside. During inclimate weather, you can hang items inside or get a clothing rack to avoid the dryer completely.

Turning Off and Unplugging Appliances

  •  Turn off the lights when you leave a room. This also includes outdoor lights that are often left on overnight.
  • Use a power strip to help you remember to unplug electronics when not in use. Many devices still pull energy even when turned off.

Cutting Costs in the Kitchen

  • Try to use your electric oven less, especially during the summer months. Instead, grill or cook with other lower energy appliances.
  • Hand wash your dishes and save electricity by not running the dishwasher. Even a few loads less per week can save you money.

Energy Efficient Products to Reduce Your Electric Bill

If you are ready to invest in upgrading your home, there are many energy efficient products that will help you reduce your energy consumption.  Cleaning and regularly maintaining your home greatly impact the long term energy costs. However, there are also smaller improvements you can make that will also help reduce your electric bill.

  • Change incandescent lighting to LED bulbs. Not only are they more energy efficient, but they also last longer so you will not have to replace them as often.
  • Using a smart power strip will ensure you completely turn off all electronics. A smart device will automatically cut power so they are not left in standby or power-saving mode. Even if they appear turn off, they may still be using electricity.
  • Install an energy smart thermostat. You can program it around your schedule so you are not running the heating or cooling system when the house is empty. It automatically adjusts to set temperatures and makes it easier to control. Some even have apps you can use from your phone.
  • Install ceiling fans to circulate air. They are especially useful to cut air conditioning costs on hot summer days.

For those considering more expensive home upgrades, you may qualify for government tax credits and rebates. Although there are significant upfront costs to purchase energy efficient appliances, these can make it more affordable. Furthermore, it increases the resale value of your home. Whatever your reasons for wanting to reduce energy costs, there are many options to get you there.

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