By Janet Groene, F47166
Lucky the full-timer who can say, “My way is the highway!” Still, life on the road presents its own unique challenges. Here is a harvest of news and tips for the happily houseless.
Death and taxes
Of all the reasons full-timers choose one “home” state over another, inheritance taxes are usually the least important. You might not consider yourself a millionaire, but your estate may be worth more than you realize, particularly if you own stocks or real estate that have increased in value in recent years.
It is wise to find an attorney who specializes in estate planning and knows the laws of the state that is your legal home and the laws of the states where you have assets. Laws keep changing, but for now, according to Forbes magazine, the 25 states that do not have a state estate tax are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
However, there is more to the story. In states that have an inheritance tax, the amount of the exemption varies, starting at as little as $675,000 (New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin) and ranging to as high as $3.1 million (Ohio). It’s also worth noting that exemption limits in various states may change frequently. More confusing still, a dozen states have “targeted” tax rates that differ depending on who receives the money.
There are also questions about what an individual state considers to be part of your taxable estate. For example, if you own property in New York, under that state’s laws your entire estate could be taxed, even though your legal address and most of your assets are in Texas and your heirs are in Florida. Attorneys know how to navigate this maze. Perhaps it’s time to take another look at the how and where of your net worth.
Tops in maps
MapQuest CityMaps, new from American Map Corporation, are vest-pocket-sized giants that provide a thumbnail look at 23 U.S. cities (including one for Key West and the other Florida keys) for only $3.95 each. In one compact publication you get a large-scale, detailed street map; an overview; driving distances; climate information; and must-see tourist attractions and activities. These maps are ideal for space-cramped full-timers who do a great deal of exploring in and near cities. Look for them in bookstores or visit www.americanmap.com.
Credit card authorizations
If you order an expensive item online or by telephone and then cancel the order, check your credit card balance to see whether the charge remains on your account. I recently ordered a computer from a major company, which immediately posted an “authorization” for the amount to my credit card. When I canceled the order that same day and received confirmation of the cancellation, I assumed that was the end of it. However, when I tried to order another computer, I found that my credit card was maxed out. Neither the credit card company nor the computer company could help me. For two weeks, my credit card was useless.
It’s not uncommon for merchants to put an “authorization” on a credit card for an amount that might be charged. For example, when you check into a luxury camping resort, you may be asked to leave your credit card number so you can charge meals, drinks, spa treatments, greens fees, and other amenities to your account. At that point the resort may put through an authorization for a certain amount on what you might spend. This protects them in the event you max out your credit card elsewhere while running up a big bill at the resort in non-returnable items such as greens fees and dining.
While the authorization is not a charge, it is a reservation to make a charge, and the amount is deducted from your available credit. When you check in, always ask whether such an authorization will be made to your card. During your stay, review your credit limit every few days (most credit card companies have a toll-free number or online access where this can be done) and occasionally check with the front desk to see what charges you have accumulated. This gives you an early warning if you (or your partner or kids) are spending more than you think.
Likewise, if you order a product online or by phone, then cancel the order, check to make sure the authorization does not remain on your account. When a merchant puts through an authorization, your credit limit is reduced by that amount for up to 30 days, after which it is automatically deleted. If the merchant can’t or won’t retract it, you’re stuck.
What can you do if your credit card is maxed out and you need to use it immediately? One option is to request an instant transfer of funds from your bank account. The card company usually charges approximately $15 for this service, but it can be done by phone. You also can overnight a certified check to the credit card company. Or, call and ask the company to increase your credit limit. This can take several days, but it probably will be issued if your record is good, and it usually doesn’t cost anything. You also can overnight a letter objecting to an illegitimate charge, but the card company may not accept that as a reason to free up your credit. Above all, don’t charge more than your limit. Most credit card companies impose a hefty penalty should you exceed your credit limit. American Express, for example, just raised its over-limit fee from $29 to $35.
Healthy road food
If you’re determined to eat better on the road, Healthy Highways ($18.95, Ceres Press) is your guide to finding health food stores, vegetarian restaurants, and organic produce along your route. Listings are organized by state and city, with good directions to help you find all kinds of healthy dining from gourmet to vegan. Too often we settle for a familiar restaurant chain, because at least we know what we will find there. Now this new book by Nikki and David Goldbeck allows travelers to seek out alternative restaurants and markets with confidence. The book can be purchased through online booksellers or from the publisher at www.healthiestdiet.com.
Take your coach to sea
Travel through Alaska’s Inside Passage (on a ferry, of course) from your armchair in the newest video from John Holod’s RV Adventure series, “Alaska’s Inside Passage.” The videographer, whose previous tapes and DVDs cover Baja and the United States/Canadian border, among others, takes viewers from Juneau to the breathtaking Mendenhall Glacier, Skagway, Wrangell, and dozens of other unforgettable scenes. Call (877) RV-ESCAPE (783-7227) or go to www.rvadventurevideos.com to order the video in either VHS ($19.95) or DVD ($24.95) format. Add $4.95 for shipping and handling.
Dozens of guidebook series vie for the traveler’s budget. One worth noting is Insight Guides, which features dazzling color photography on slick paper and timeless background information. Newest in this series is New Mexico, a photographic wonderland for past and future visitors to the Land of Enchantment. For $23.95, put a complete and masterful New Mexico photo album on your travel bookshelf. This book and others from the Insight Guides series can be purchased at bookstores, through online booksellers, or from the publisher at (800) 432-6277; www.insighttravelguides.com.
Like the folks quoted in this column’s March 2004 “Feedback Forum,” John and Carol Lee, F202724, full-timers for seven years, disagreed with some statements made by industry experts who claim to listen to buyer preferences. For example, they note that slideout awnings are listed as an option, but it’s almost impossible to find a coach without them. As a result, they have awning problems in the very windy areas in which they travel. The Lees said they don’t want a large, vertical window in their bathroom, and they don’t like the new trend toward dark exterior paint schemes and dark interior touches on items such as countertops. John said he finds dark colors hot, impractical, and unattractive.
He also advised, “Don’t be so hard on postal clerks who want to send your mail First Class instead of Priority. In smaller zip codes, both classes of mail receive the same handling, so don’t pay extra for Priority.”
Tom and Rosalie Hager, F257835, hit a snag with Flat Rate Priority envelopes, which I recommended in a previous column. Flat Rate Priority Mail travels for $3.85 regardless of weight, while look-alike Priority Mail envelopes must be weighed and stamped. It was easy for their daughter to use Flat Rate Priority service and drop their mail in any mailbox on her way to work. However, if the envelope weighs more than 16 ounces, it must be presented at the post office to be hand stamped, a security measure. Keep those flat rate mailings under a pound or take them to the post office.
The Hagers also chimed in about coach layouts. “Our new coach had an awkward J-sofa instead of the computer desk we wanted,” they reported, “and we opted for a real stove and oven and the longest kitchen counter we could find.” They spend half the year in the mountains of northern California, and find the microwave-convection oven doesn’t always work well when boondocking.
Noting that courier services can’t deliver to a post office box, Keith Gerlach, F176646, said he receives UPS packages at a UPS store or a storefront such as Mail Boxes Etc. when he’s on the go. However, in several instances he has had to call his credit card company to authorize delivery to a shipping address other than his billing address. “Check with your RV park to see if they would accept delivery,” he advised. Keith also has problems receiving e-mail when he is in areas where there is no toll-free access number for his Internet service provider (ISP). He said he tried Wi-Fi at one campground, but found it unreliable and costly.
I recently heard about a major phone card deal in which the agreed-upon rates were not honored and a cardholder was stuck with $1,500 in charges for calls between the United States and another country. She’d made the deal by phone and had nothing in writing to prove her case except for some fine print indicating that rates were “subject to change.” Her son went to the FCC without success, even though he is an attorney who specializes in communications law.
Do you have a lesson learned the hard way? Please share it for a future column. While we don’t name the company or service in this column, we can put other full-timers on the alert in general terms. Make sure you supply the complete details of your problem. Write Janet Groene, Family Motor Coaching, 8291 Clough Pike, Cincinnati, OH 45244; or e-mail me at [email protected]