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10 Ways to Spruce Up Your Garage

The home renovation spree—made popular by HGTV shows like Fixer Upper and Property Brothers—is in full force as many people resist moving to larger, more expensive quarters in favor of bettering the spaces they have. From new bathrooms to kitchens to master suites with ensuite baths, nothing seems to be out-of-bounds for homeowners these days.

For many homeowners, garages have become “the next big thing” in home renovation. These days, it’s not just celebrities and car enthusiasts who are outfitting their garages with fancy new equipment, but anyone looking to gain more utility, showcase a prized car or add value to their home.

Trends in garage renovation ideas span the gamut from organizational and functional to purely aesthetic. Here’s a Top-10 listing of some of our favorite improvement ideas:

  1. Create a new parking space. Install an auto elevator to give your two-car garage the utility of a three-car garage—an amenity which has become more and more popular with consumers.
  2. Upgrade flooring. Modern substances like polyaspartic coatings and epoxies can make all the difference in transforming your garage from a mere storage space to an attractive extension of your home.
  3. Introduce smart technology. Make your garage workspace an electronic haven with features such as smart thermostats, smoke detectors, audio speakers and wireless security cameras.
  4. Install storage units. Add cabinets, racks and wall slats to create spaces for storing and organizing clutter and neatening the overall look of your garage.
  5. Improve energy efficiency. Replace old drafty garage doors with newer, more air-tight models and add new insulation and weatherstripping.
  6. Create a useful workspace. Treat your garage as additional living space by adding a small workshop or even just a foldaway workbench.
  7. Eliminate trash areas. Remove trash from your garage altogether by creating an outdoor space for secured garbage, composting and recycling bins.
  8. Add vertical storage. Clear clutter by installing plenty of hooks that can hang almost everything—tools, toys, bicycles, sporting equipment and more.
  9. Improve lighting. Replace that plain bare bulb with interesting fixtures and add windows, if possible, which will make your garage space feel more inviting and allow greater functionality.
  10. Update your look. Install modern garage doors with attractive moldings and window cut-outs and paint surfaces using bright, unexpected color choices.

If you have the budget, feel free to mix and match several of these ideas to really be creative and transform your old garage. But don’t go too far! Most real estate agents will tell you that homes without garages—or garages that have been fully converted into living space—will sit on the market longer than other homes when it comes time to sell. In the final analysis, a great-looking and functional garage is awesome—as long as it’s also still “home sweet home” for your vehicles.

What’s the Deal With No-Haggle Pricing?

Buying a new or pre-owned car at the dealership can be a stressful experience. You can be totally excited at the prospect of owning that shiny new vehicle, but downright distraught at the thought of visiting multiple dealerships, going on test drives and listening to salespeople trying to make a deal. Is flat-fee or “no haggle” pricing the answer for these buyers?

The flat-fee or “no haggle” pricing model provides a guaranteed price for a specific car that is actually sitting on a dealer lot, usually right within your vicinity. It’s based on the premise that with free information so readily available online, dealers have to put their best foot forward with competitive pricing right from the beginning.

With so many dedicated car sites, you really can get a great deal on a car without having to go through a painful negotiation process. Sites like Truecar.com and Edmunds.com offer a wealth of information to help car shoppers research specific vehicles. By accessing recent sales data, you can easily see what others have paid for similar cars and calculate your costs. These sites include a boatload of other helpful information, such as customer reviews, available specs and features, photographs and comparable cars others have considered.

When you’re done with your research, you can go a step further and request pricing from area dealers on the car you have targeted. Because most dealers assume you are shopping competitively online, they will often give you a price that aligns with your expectations. With a simple test drive and some documents to sign, you may be good to go.

Even with an agreed-upon price, however, there are some common pitfalls to be aware of:

  1. Make sure you are talking about the same specific car. You don’t want to arrive at the dealer’s lot and find out the exact model you want isn’t there. Instead, get the car’s VIN number on the quote ahead of time and match that number to the car you test drive and purchase.
  2. Don’t forget about options and extras. If you want an all-weather package, for example, make sure it’s included in the online quote—before you head to the dealer.
  3. If you need financing and/or have a trade-in to consider, you have a lot more work ahead of you! You may still need to do some negotiating to get these within your price points.
  4. Even with an online price quote, there is no guarantee that you can’t still find a lower price. You can always expand your search area and contact other dealers directly.

The good news is that the old way of doing business works just fine too. If you’re the type of person that loves to make the deal in person—test-drive the car, ask questions, discuss your trade and financing options, and, of course, haggle—you could possibly end up with the best deal of all. But a word to the wise: still do your research before you go.

Are You Upside-Down on Your Car Loan?

First, a definition. What does the phrase “upside-down” or “under water” actually mean when it comes to a car loan? The problem arises when the borrower owes more money on their loan than the car is actually worth. For example, if you have an accident and your car can’t be repaired, it may be worth close to nothing, but you may still have thousands of dollars left to pay your lender even after insurance pays your claim.

This scenario can happen even without a catastrophic event like an accident. Say you are moving to a new city where you don’t need a car and need to sell yours to help pay for moving expenses. Even if your car is fairly new and in excellent shape, you may not be able to sell it for enough money to pay off what you owe. New cars depreciate—or lose value—quickly, and in every case, you will still need to pay the lender back what you owe, regardless of how much it’s worth today.

Don’t forget that your car is an asset just like anything else you own, and its value is affected by market conditions. If your car is no longer as popular—perhaps because a newer model has been released or it has received some negative publicity—it will fall in value, regardless of the amount you still owe. The value might also decline faster than your loan balance declines if the car has higher mileage or is in poorer condition than average. Also, keep in mind that the portion of the loan that covers financing fees and add-ons are nearly impossible to recoup even when reselling the most desirable car out there.

Consider Refinancing

You may be tempted to get out of your loan by trading in your car for another. Your dealer can present an attractive option: rolling the amount you owe on your old car into financing for the new one. Since the dealer is in the business of selling cars, they are motivated to get your new sale and trade-in, even if it puts you even further under water by combining your debt.

You are much better off refinancing your car through a company like RefiJet, which can vet your application through its wide network of lending partners to get you the best possible deal for which you qualify. This is especially true if financial markets have changed or your personal financial situation has improved, which may help to qualify you for a lower rate or monthly payment.

When you refinance, you have the option of paying off some principle so you can get to the point where you’re no longer upside down. If you do decide to refinance, it’s a great time to consider adding GAP coverage, which pays the difference between what you owe and what the vehicle is worth in the event it is stolen or totaled.

With the help of a refinancing package and some diligent financial decisions, you can eventually put your upside-down status behind you and start on a fresh path toward better financial health. Your future self will thank you.

How to Preserve Your BMW

Here’s a great trivia question to ask at your next cocktail party: What does the name “BMW” stand for? If you knew that the correct answer is “Bayerische Motoren Werke AG,” you are a knowledgeable car buff – and likely prefer the more-palatable “BMW” a lot more!

According to Statistica.com, a lucky five to six percent of adults between the ages of 18 and 49 drive a BMW as their primary car. BMWs are known for their sporty ride, speedy performance and luxurious styling—and rightly so. But to maximize your BMW’s value, you need to care for your car properly and be a stickler about regular maintenance.

Almost everyone has times when they’re lax with maintenance—maybe by stretching out time between oil changes or postponing major repairs until you can better afford them. But the fact remains that the more closely you stick to BMW’s recommended maintenance schedule, the better results you will experience over the long term.

Luxury Auto Works, the self-proclaimed “#1 BMW Service and Repair Shop in Austin TX” posted a great article that includes a wealth of helpful information for BMW owners. According to these experts, you can knock 25% off your car’s expected lifetime—a good 50,000 of the its 200,000 potential miles—just by skipping maintenance or “doing it on the cheap.” Here are some tips they recommend for staying current with your car’s most important service items:

  1. Have your BMW’s engine and transmission checked a few times per year, especially if you’re already bringing your car in for other service.
  2. Have your brakes checked for wear routinely and remember to get the brake system flushed every two years or so.
  3. Keep your tires in good shape by performing pressure checks monthly and tire rotations every 3,000-6,000 miles.
  4. Flush the transmission every 50,000 miles; this may be more than what’s recommended in your service manual, but it will save you money in the long run.
  5. Change your car’s oil every 5,000 miles—perhaps a bit more often than recommended—especially if you live in a hot climate.

Here are a few other nuggets from the experts that will help keep your BMW in tip-top shape:

  1. Wax your car throughout the year to protect against rust.
  2. Park in the shade to help maintain your exterior and interior.
  3. Clean your car’s headlights regularly to ensure visibility.
  4. Do most of your short-hop driving all at once when your engine’s already warm.
  5. Avoid aggressive driving to limit your car’s wear and tear.
  6. Keep good repair and maintenance records to ensure proper care.

You may not be the type to name your car and call it your “baby,” but it’s a good idea to remember this: there is a give-and-take involved in owning a car. The better care you give your BMW today, the better it will serve you tomorrow and for thousands of miles down the road too.

Who Will Take a Chance on You?

Here’s a question we’re often asked: if lenders are all drawing credit reports from the same three credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax and TransUnion—why do some lenders accept and others reject my application when it comes time to refinance? If I have bad credit from late payments, bankruptcies or delinquencies, wouldn’t every lender see the same bad credit report and deny my loan application?

The answer is a definite no! All lenders—whether banks or credit unions—have their own ways of defining risk and measuring it. What may seem like an acceptable level of risk to one lender may be a clear denial for another. In that instance, the institution that does offer you the loan, may do so with a higher rate to cover their risk.

Every lender has its own formulas for calculating risk and no two institutions have the same one. They are essentially using your past history to determine how likely you are to pay them back. Late or missed payments, bankruptcies, home foreclosures, judgments against you for non-payment and high credit balances are all warning signs to lenders.

While the customer’s credit report is an important component of a lending decision, there are dozens of other inputs that may be used to calculate your final credit score. As explained by the VantageScore credit reporting site:

“There is no one credit scoring model that singularly represents the consumer lending marketplace. In addition to…the dozens of FICO* models [measuring consumer credit risk] that are in use today, many lenders rely on their own proprietary models to grant or manage credit.

In light of the reality that no single credit model is the yardstick used by all, or even most, consumer lenders, consumers should understand that no score they buy or obtain from a free-score web service is guaranteed to exactly match scores from the model or models a lender may consider when making a lending decision.”

Recommendations

To make things as easy as possible when you go to refinance, here are two recommendations you should follow:

  1. Work with an umbrella organization. Instead of approaching a number of different banks or credit unions to apply, go to a central refinancing source like RefiJet.com. We have relationships with a wide range of lenders and can match you with the best one for your particular financial situation. We handle all the paperwork for you and don’t charge you any fees—what could be easier?
  2. Work on your credit score. You should always be aware of your credit score—you are entitled to view yours for free each year—and the ways in which you are helping or hurting it. Make a concerted effort to pay your bills on time, establish a credit history if you don’t have one, and manage your credit accounts well, with low rates and balances. If your credit history is poor, make a concerted effort to “clean up your act.”

To learn more about how RefiJet works and how we can help find the best auto refinancing loan for you, complete the form on our home page and we will be in touch!

The Truth About Identity Theft

You may think getting your identity stolen is a “one in a million” type of thing—maybe it does happen to people, but the chance of it actually happening to you is extremely rare. You might think victims of identity theft must be careless with their ID or credit card information or vulnerable to online scams or “phishing”—responding to those fake emails that appear to be from trusted institutions.

Yet multiple sources report that there are 15 million cases of identity theft each year just in the U.S. alone. Assuming approximately 250 million adults in the country, that means that six of every 100 adults are victimized each year.

I know for a fact that identity theft can happen to even the most careful person—because it happened to me several years ago. And make no mistake about it: your life becomes an emotional roller coaster, and it can take months or even years to fully clear your name.

In my case, the thief bought high-value gift cards at a number of big-box stores using my identification information—including my birthdate and social security number—over the course of a weekend in a geographic location far removed from me. Thankfully, my credit card company alerted me to the potential fraud because I was simultaneously using my real card elsewhere myself.

Yet the damage was done. When your identity is stolen, the faster you can respond, the better chance you have to preserve your credit. Here are the steps the federal government recommends you take immediately if your identity has been stolen:

  1. Close or freeze every credit card you have with banks, retailers and other merchants.
  2. Change logins, passwords and PINs for each of your investment and credit accounts.
  3. Call your local police department to report the crime.
  4. Contact any of the three major credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax or Transunion—to place a fraud alert on your credit and freeze your credit report. Once you have contacted one of these bureaus, they are obligated to inform the other two.
  5. Get a free copy of your credit report to see the specific incidents where fraud has occurred.
  6. Contact each merchant that has unfairly charged you for a fraudulent transaction to explain the situation and request a reversal.
  7. Report the case to the federal government at identitytheft.gov.

This process will be painstaking and frustrating. You will spend hours on your computer or making calls and likely face a number of dead ends along the way. Be sure to follow up regularly by checking your credit report to make sure your account gets cleared.

While anyone can be targeted for identity fraud, it does help to keep your email free of spam to the extent possible and never give out personal information—including your birth date, social security number, passwords and account information—to anyone without being absolutely certain who they are. Your good name is one of your most valuable assets and it’s worth protecting, no matter what the cost.

Refinance or Trade In Your Car?

If your car loan payments have become too difficult for you—perhaps because of a change in your income, marital status or housing situation—maybe it’s time to make some decisions. No one wants to live under constant financial strain, nor should they have to. Many choices in life are nearly impossible to undo—but not this one. So let’s take a look at your options.

First, do some digging to help define the problem by asking yourself some simple questions. Based on these answers, you can decide whether to cut bait and make a complete change or stick with your car and refinance.

  • Do I like my car?
  • What type of condition is it in?
  • Is it a reasonable car to have in my situation?
  • If my payments were more affordable, would I keep it?

Say you are a full-time employee who has decided to quit working and pursue a graduate degree. If your car is practical, gets good gas mileage and requires few repairs, and you will need a car for school, it may be a good idea to keep the car and seek refinancing to make it more affordable. A decision to refinance can often work to your advantage, especially if you have made improvements to your credit. Even if your credit is about the same, you can still benefit by stretching out your payment schedule to make your payments more affordable.

On the other hand, if your car is pricey and loaded with extras—clearly more than you need as a student with no income—it’s probably a great time to consider a trade-in. Through a trade-in, you can choose a more economical car with lower payments, and also transfer the equity you have built in your pricey car toward your new car. Both of these steps will help reduce your payments to a more affordable level.

Do Your Research

Regardless of which path you choose, you will need to do your research. If you decide to trade in your car for a lower-priced car, you’ll want to make sure that you are getting a fair deal for your trade-in. It’s a well-known fact that if you trade in your car to a dealer, you will get a lower price than if you sell it yourself to a private party. After all, the dealer is taking your trade-in with two goals in mind: to sell you a new car and sell your old trade-in, both at a profit. At the very least, you owe it to yourself to get onto a site like Kelley Blue Book (kbb.com) to learn what your trade-in is really worth, considering its age and condition, and compare it to the dealer’s offer.

If you think your current car is right for your situation moving forward, you can contact a company like RefiJet, which helps customers get a refinancing deal that is more advantageous. Since we work with so many different lenders, we can often find better loans for people who qualify. The important thing is to realize you have options—there is always another car or financing deal that better fits your circumstances.

Cracking The Insurance Code

Once you’ve decided to purchase that new (or new to you) car, you have to start thinking about insurance. If you’re a new driver or have never considered the “ins and outs” of an auto insurance policy, this article will detail some important things to keep in mind. Just like when purchasing a car, there are multiple variables involved in purchasing insurance, including the age and experience of the driver(s), model and year of the car, geographic location where the car is stored, and more.

You may wonder why you need to get a few different quotes from insurance companies when the information you provide to each is exactly the same. All of these companies have large actuarial departments charged with calculating risk—and no two departments are alike. That means that even though you are presenting the same information to multiple carriers, they will still offer different insurance products that carry higher or lower rates and premiums.

With all of the media advertising for car insurance these days, it’s pretty simple to pick up the phone and get started calling around to see what various companies have to offer. But first, you should do your homework to better understand your unique situation, or talk to a knowledgeable independent agent, who can help solicit competitive quotes based on your particular needs and preferences. Here are a few things to consider as part of this process:

  • What are the insurance requirements for your state?
  • Who else will be driving your car?
  • What can you afford to pay for monthly premiums?
  • Should you purchase any type of supplemental insurance in addition to liability, such as:
    • GAP to cover loan costs in the event your car is totaled
    • Collision coverage for damage to your vehicle
    • Comprehensive coverage for costs unrelated to an accident
    • Uninsured driver coverage
    • Rental reimbursement coverage
    • Roadside assistance coverage
  • How much is “too much” insurance for the particular car you are driving?
  • What is a reasonable deductible?

If you’re starting to feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of insurance options available, you’re going in the right direction! The more you talk to people and research these factors online, the more prepared you will be to get the best possible insurance deal.

Be sure to research any possible discounts that may apply to you also. For example, if you are classified as a “good driver,” with no claims, accidents or moving-violation tickets in recent years, you may qualify for lower rates. The same goes for young drivers with good academic records and owners of cars with advanced safety equipment. Discounts also can be had for customers who purchase another type of coverage—such as homeowner’s or rental policies—along with their automobile policy.

One Final Caveat
Keep in mind that there is more to choosing an insurance policy that low rates and premiums. You want to deal with a reputable company that has been in business for a long time and is known for offering dependable, fast, and high-quality service. Checking each company’s online customer ratings and asking friends and families about their policies and coverages are great ways to get started.

Refinancing? You’re in the Driver’s Seat!

Improving “the customer experience” is the name of the game in business these days. Companies are falling all over each other to stand out from the competition, say, by offering shorter delivery times, hot deals, stellar customer service, and buying incentives. They are getting much better at seeing things from the customer’s point of view and that’s great for all of us!

Auto refinancing is no different. RefiJet, for example, does the work of researching refinancing options and comparing loan products to pinpoint the ones that best suit our customers’ needs and then guides them through the entire process. Everything—from the first glimpse of our website through the close of each deal, has been carefully considered to take the pain points out of the refinancing process.

The RefiJet website has just two simple intake forms—essentially capturing contact information and birth date—and then uses a “personal concierge” to walk customers through the loan process. By having a single source to represent multiple lenders, customers can avoid the tedious task of calling all over to gather information and compare refinancing options on their own.

When getting started with your refinancing, you will need to have a few documents on hand so the lender can verify your qualifications. To make things flow as smoothly as possible, it’s a good idea to start gathering this information:

  1. Proof of employment and income—recent pay stubs or the W-2 from a prior year. If you don’t have a single employer, you can use your 1099s or tax returns.
  2. Proof of residence—documents that confirm your physical address, such as a driver’s license, bank statement or utility bill.
  3. Proof of insurance—either an insurance ID card, policy document or other information that demonstrates coverage for your vehicle.
  4. Vehicle information—specific details about your car, including its year, make, model and VIN.
  5. Loan information—amount of your current loan pay-off amount.

You may also want to take a look at your credit report before submitting a refinancing application to make sure it is accurate. Everyone is entitled to review their credit report for free each year at each of the major credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax and Transunion—and draw their attention to any errors. You can be sure that any lender will be checking it carefully and the last thing you want is for them to make decisions on your credit when it looks worse than it really is!

With all your documents in hand, the process just flows from there. You can be busy at work or at home, knowing that someone else is out there looking after your best interests. And especially when it comes to your hard-earned money, it’s nice to know that someone has your back.

How to “Bookout” Your Car

There will come a time when you need to know the value of your car. Say you are looking to trade in your car, refinance for a better rate or sell your car on your own. How will you know if you are getting a fair deal without knowing the base value others are using to calculate your costs? Also, if you have the misfortune of totaling your car in an accident, it’s helpful to know how the car would have been valued pre-accident to compare it to the pay-out from the insurance company.

In industry-speak, this number is called the car’s “book value” because it is derived mainly from three bibles of valuation in the automotive industry: the Kelley Blue Book, Black Book, and the NADA guide. Fortunately, like most everything else these days, these books offer online tools that can help you determine your own car’s value for free.

I decided to give these tools a “test drive” (excuse the pun) by visiting the two sites. First, I tried Kelley Blue Book at www.kbb.com. After filling in a simple questionnaire about the type of car I own, its specific features—down to the color and condition—the computer worked its magic, yielding a current value of between $12,257 and $14,128 for my 2014 Infiniti Q50, based on my geographic location. My results sheet included an overall consumer rating for the car, with customer reviews, a link to car comparisons and shopping options, and an offer to begin the trade-in process.

When valuing your car on the Black Book site, you are automatically redirected to www.newcars.com. Once you enter your make, model, mileage, option information and a few other criteria, you reach the results page—in my case a range between $12,800 and $15,170, pretty close to the Kelley Blue Book range above. Be sure to click on the option at the top of the page for determining your Black Book used car value, or the app will assume you are looking to purchase a car and immediately try to capture your contact information, including your mailing and email addresses!

The NADA site offers a wealth of information also, but it is a little more general. On its site, you can research car values in your area, get free dealer quotes and car history reports for specific vehicles. There is plenty of information that can help you make decisions about particular makes and models you are considering.

You may have heard the old aphorism “knowledge is power,” and in this case it’s absolutely true.