By Janet Groene, F47166
Here’s a look at several items that may be of special interest to full-timers.
A new way to rent movies
There are several new DVD rental programs available that are especially attractive to motorhomers who don’t want to be tied to short rental periods or have to worry about returning a movie rented three states back. Already in place is Netflix www.netflix.com) and a similar program from Wal-Mart www.walmart.com), each touting more than 12,000 movie titles from which to choose.
How do these programs work? For approximately $20 per month (plus tax), you receive three DVDs that you can keep as long as you want, trading them in as often as you like for new titles. To choose the movies you want, visit the service’s Web site, enter your account, and select from the online catalog. You will receive the first three movies you selected in the mail, and when you’re finished viewing one, you return it in the postage-paid envelope that’s provided. Within a few days, you’ll receive the next movie you selected on your list. You can keep a movie as long as you like and never pay a late fee.
Give yourself credit
A good credit rating is important to everyone. Do you know how your credit rates? Credit agencies give applicants a thumbs-down if they score on the low side (300 is the bottom), and will roll out the red carpet for those with ratings in the 800 to 850 range. Your credit score is compiled using several categories of information about your credit history. The score is then used by credit companies and loan officers to decide whether you should receive the loan you desire, and what the interest rates on that loan will be.
The information used to determine your score may include how long you have had a credit history; what kind of credit you have used (mortgage, loans, credit cards); how much new credit you’ve taken on or applied for in the past 12 months; how much money you owe; and how reliable you have been about paying off your debts.
The information is fed into a computer, which comes up with your credit score. While each agency uses a scoring formula that is slightly different, it’s useful to know your score at one, if not all three, major agencies.
Knowing your credit score is important, and not just when you’re applying for a loan. Perhaps someone has stolen your identity and run up bills in your name. Maybe a person with the same name as yours has a bad credit rating that’s been attributed to you. It’s also possible that an honest mistake may have been made by you or a creditor along the way. It’s best to find out about the problem and resolve it before you need a loan.
If during your first year of full-timing, you opened several new credit card accounts, missed some payments because your mail was delayed, or accidentally exceeded your credit limit on one credit card, your credit score could be skewed. The stain may remain on your credit until you get it cleared up. Forewarned is forearmed, and it’s good to check your rating once a year or so. You can find out what your credit score is from Equifax (800-685-1111, www.equifax.com); Experian (888-397-3742, www.experian.com); or TransUnion (800-888-4213, www.transunion.com). The fee for obtaining the reports varies from $9 to $13.
It could be a lifesaver to find out that your new appliance has an overheating problem that could present a fire hazard, or that the sausage you bought several days “” and 1,000 miles ago “” has been recalled. Learn about important recall news by logging on regularly to a new Web site, www.safetyalerts.com. Recalls are listed by category. You also can sign up to receive free e-mail notifications of recalls that apply to categories you choose.
Taking your lumps
If you left your job before the traditional retirement age and took a lump-sum distribution from a pension plan in the past 15 years, you may have been underpaid, according to a survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor. This problem began approximately 20 years ago when many companies changed from pension plans that promised a check in a certain amount each month for life to a plan that provided a cash payout when an employee left the company. Auditors found that as many as 22 percent of workers were shortchanged during the complicated changeover.
Unless you have all records, contracts, figures, and a great mind for math, you probably won’t be able to figure this out for yourself. But if you think you may be entitled to more than you received, three groups may be able to help you sort through the problem.
- The National Center for Retirement Benefits Inc., (800) 666-1000, www.ncrb.com, works on a contingency basis. If nothing is recovered, there is no charge, but if the group finds that you’re owed additional benefits, it collects 20 percent of the additional amount generated by the service.
- Contact the Pension Rights Center in Washington, D.C., (202) 296-3776, or visit www.pensionrights.org and click on Pension Help.
- Although it’s very expensive to hire and pay an actuary by the hour, the American Academy of Actuaries has a program that offers pensioners up to four hours of complimentary consulting. To find one near you, call (202) 223-8196 or visit www.actuary.org and go to the Pension Assistance List. By the end of your free consult, you should know whether hiring an actuary is worth the expense.
Buy and cell
Take another look at your last cell phone bill to see whether you could obtain better coverage for less money. Much depends on your calling patterns and travel range, among other factors. Look, too, at the taxes and fees included on the bill. With a prepaid service, you may pay only state sales tax, or nothing at all. On monthly services, you pay a long list of local, state, and federal taxes and fees. On one of our bills, these add-ons accounted for more than 32 percent of the total. So we switched to a prepaid plan.
When comparing the plans, don’t go by the maps you’re shown in the sales offices. Instead, talk with other RVers about their experiences with different cell phone companies. Then, when you choose one, insist on a money-back guarantee. After two weeks, some companies will refund the cost of the phone minus the charge for minutes used. Note, too, that salespeople quote just their monthly fee. They can’t tell you the final cost after taxes and government fees are added. For help in comparing systems (but not taxes and fees), go to www.wirelessadvisor.com.
For the health of it
The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (IAMAT) is a worldwide group devoted to helping people find qualified, English-speaking medical professionals anywhere in the world.
Members of IAMAT receive services at fixed rates and also can gain access to information about IAMAT physicians at www.iamat.org. Publications available from the group include a small booklet, the Traveller Clinical Record, which is helpful in keeping track of your medical history and immunization dates. Another publication, A Guide to Healthy Travel by Dr. Elaine Jong, includes a timeline to ensure a healthy trip; a comprehensive checklist of health supplies and medications to take along when traveling; and an “A-to-Z” prevention and treatment list for travelers. The book is available for $5 from IAMAT.
If you’re interested in becoming a member of the association, send an e-mail to [email protected]; write to 417 Center St., Lewiston, NY 14092; or call (716) 754-4883. Membership is free and any donations are used to continue research into the medical aspects of travel.
You can change the addresses on all of your magazine subscriptions at once by calling OneSwitch at (800) 687-8161 or (888) 255-7982. The company, which is recommended by the United States Postal Service in its pamphlet Mover’s Guide, makes the address changes at no charge to you. The only drawback is that the offer starts with a sales pitch for new magazine subscriptions (there is no obligation to buy, so you can just say no) and the changeover process could take up to three months.
Still, it’s a free, easy service for the full-timer who has many magazine subscriptions, and the switch will occur as quickly as sending in individual forms to each publication. When you call to make your address change, OneSwitch needs your exact name and address as it appears on the mailing label of each publication, so have a copy of these magazines handy.
The National Fire Protection Association issues safety standards for marinas and boatyards that also make sense for full-time motorhomers who often find themselves in tight quarters in campgrounds. Here are several ways to protect your motorhome from fire.
- Be diligent about electrical and fuel system maintenance. This includes cordsets, which should be inspected regularly and replaced when damaged or worn.
- Don’t leave the motorhome with the stove, heater, or any other flame burning inside or around the vehicle.
- Choose campgrounds that practice good fire prevention measures, such as clearing dry brush and the handy placement of fire extinguishers.
- Practice fire drills for escaping your motorhome and moving your coach to safety if a fire breaks out nearby.
- Don’t try to clean up gasoline spills by yourself. Inform the campground management or park authorities of the problem and let them determine the best way to clean up the hazard.
- Be the eyes and ears of management. If you see fire hazards in the campground, speak up.
- Don’t skimp on your motorhome’s insurance, especially your liability coverage. If a fire in your coach destroys others’ property, your responsibility could be massive.
For nature lovers who travel to the southern tip of Florida, an indispensable guide to have is Everglades Wildflowers by Roger L. Hammer ($24.95, Globe Pequot Press). Novices will like that the book is divided by flower colors: white, pink, yellow, brown, green, and so on. In other field guides, it’s often difficult to find flowers unless you have an idea of their name or type. Each selection includes a color photograph and description of a wildflower found south of a line drawn between Fort Myers and Palm Beach.
Let us know your ideas
Organization is a key element to full-timing successfully. We’d love to know your favorite tip or advice for saving space or keeping an organized motorhome. We’ll select several favorites and include them in a future “Full-Timer’s Primer” column. E-mail your tips to [email protected] or send them to Janet Groene, Family Motor Coaching, 8291 Clough Pike, Cincinnati, OH 45244.