By Janet Groene, F47166
If you use dial-arounds (10-10 services) for long-distance calls, you can learn a lot by regularly checking out www.10-10PhoneRates.com. Rates for these services vary by company and can change at any time. If you switch companies, check your bill to make sure you’re no longer paying a monthly access fee that applies even if you don’t make calls using that dial-around. According to the Web site, monthly fees range from zero to $3.95. First-minute fees (connection fees that apply even to the shortest call) are as high as 99 cents.
However, that’s only part of the story. For longer calls lasting 15 to 60 minutes, you’ll find a big difference in per-minute rates. Too, rates vary according to the time of day and whether you’re calling in-state or interstate. Some companies focus on cheap calls to other countries. Check regularly to make sure you’re still getting the best rates available. Rates for 10-10 calls appear on your monthly phone bill, although some can be billed to a credit card.
An extra bathroom
TravelJohn Jr. is a portable potty approximately the size of a pack of cigarettes (when folded) that can be taken anywhere you travel with children. The unit contains special chemicals that turn liquids to a deodorized, disinfected gel. It holds up to 20 ounces and can be reused until it’s full. A unisex collar makes it convenient for boys or girls; the company also makes bags for adults as well as a folding, 12-pound commode chair; privacy tents; bucket commodes; and other portable products for travelers. To find a store near you that carries the product or to order directly from the company, call (888) 518-8389 or visit www.traveljohn.com.
If you’ll be selling your home to bankroll a life of full-timing, a new booklet leads you through the latest tax rules. Written by tax expert Julian Block, The Home Seller’s Guide to Tax Savings tells how to save on capital gains taxes from the sale of a residence. By meeting certain guidelines you can make the sale a tax-free event.
Topics covered in the booklet are ordinary situations as well as special cases, such as the divorced couple, the inherited home, co-ops and condos, and casualty losses resulting from hurricanes and landslides. With real estate prices going up and the alternative minimum tax still a threat, this booklet can save you thousands of dollars. To order, send $19.95 to J. Block, 3 Washington Square 1-G, Larchmont, NY 10538. Shipping is included.
It’s a simple equation. When the air temperature goes up, relative humidity goes down and so does the favorable breeding climate for mold and mildew. An inexpensive way to assure a flow of warm, dry air in your coach in cold, damp climates or when it’s in storage is the Davis Air-Dryr 1000. A simple housing contains a heating unit. Simply plug it in and it pulls moist air in from the bottom and releases warm, dry air through holes in the top. There are no moving parts. In our test coach with interior temperatures in the low 80s, humidity went from 70 percent to 61 percent after just six hours of use.
Except for a thermal cutoff, there are no thermostats, switches, or other complications to this simple problem-solver. Just plug it in and forget it. The Air-Dryr 1000 model, which draws only 1.1 amps, is adequate for up to 1,000 cubic feet. Larger motorhomes will need two or three units. The smaller 500 model is suitable for large storage spaces in your coach. Find Air-Dryr at marine and RV supply stores or contact Davis Instruments, 3465 Diablo Ave., Hayward, CA 94545; (510) 732-9229; www.davisnet.com.
According to the September 2005 issue of SmartMoney magazine, Americans’ highest telecom expense is their cell phones, which cost an average of $66 a month (up 32 percent since 2001). Talking an average of 389 minutes a month, subscribers use only 60 percent of the minutes they pay for. Do the math on several plans (including family plans, free overtime minutes, rollover minutes, etc.) to determine whether you could save by changing plans.
In any case, do everything possible to avoid defaulting on a long-term cell phone contract because penalties can be expensive. However, a company may permit you to change plans without a fine or a change of telephone number. Prepaid plans are still the best deal for some users, but coverage areas differ even within the same company. Shopping Verizon, for example, you’ll see two different coverage maps, one for the monthly plan and another for prepaid. For now, telecom rules and costs are changing rapidly.
If you have old cell phones gathering dust, you may be able to turn them into cash. Go to www.cellforcash.com. Your phone could be worth as much as $100. Phones more than two years old generally are not worth much, but they still can be recycled.
I continue to hear from full-timers, most of them experienced RVers, who have found clauses in their motorhome’s warranty or owners manual that deny coverage if the coach is used as a full-time home. The story is always the same, “The salesman knew that I was buying the coach for full-timing. I told him repeatedly. Yet I was not told that full-timers do not get the full warranty.” The manufacturers who are using this disclaimer are some of the oldest and most trusted in the industry. Please keep your reports coming into the magazine or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be sure to read all warranties, including those in the owners manual, before signing a contract to buy. If you find that the warranty is reduced or void if the coach is used for full-timing, move on. Even if you have a written agreement from the dealer, it may not protect you if you need warranty work at another dealership.
Are you shopping for a new towed vehicle or looking at an unbelievably good buy on a used motorhome? Last year 225,000 stolen vehicles were equipped with “cloned” VINs, or legitimate Vehicle Identification Numbers that actually belong to similar vehicles. The solution: do a title search, which will reveal if the same VIN is being used by more than one vehicle. A good place to start is www.carfax.com. You might also check with your insurance company, the bureau of motor vehicles, or the local police for title search recommendations.
Identity theft update
Until September 1, 2005, credit reporting agencies were required to send one free report a year to residents of only certain states. Now every American can retrieve this valuable information. Identity theft has become so rampant and so sophisticated that the unwary can find themselves deep in debt without realizing that strangers have charged their credit card, taken out loans in their name, or emptied their bank accounts.
If you’re online, here’s an easy way to keep abreast of things. Go to www.annualcreditreport.com. Don’t use a search engine seeking “credit report” or you may reach a look-alike Web site that wants to steal your information. At the AnnualCreditReport.com Web site you’ll be asked for your name, address, Social Security number, and your choice of three credit bureaus. Be prepared to answer such questions as who holds the loan on your motorhome or where you used to live. These details help verify that you are indeed the person you claim to be.
Once you receive the report by e-mail, save it on your computer to make it easy to refer to and to spot changes. Credit bureaus will allow you to revisit the report every one, two, or three months (depending on the bureau). What you are looking for is any financial activity in your name that did not originate with you. This free service does not tell you your credit score. If you need that, it costs an additional $5 to $7.
If you don’t have Internet access, call (877) 322-8228 or write to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. You may receive advertising from the credit bureaus offering identity theft protection programs ($5 to $10 monthly), but you are under no obligation to sign up.
Just add water
If you tow a car or trailer, it’s likely your emergency roadside assistance service covers breakdowns. However, if you tow a boat you may not be covered for a flat tire, a hang-up at the launch ramp, or other problems involving the boat trailer. A special Trailer Tow & Assist policy costing only $24 per year is available from BoatUS, telephone (800) 888-4869. The fee includes membership in BoatUS, which offers many benefits, including discounts on marine items that also are useful in RVs.
Many assistance programs are in place to help uninsured, elderly, and/or low-income patients, but for those on the road who need a medication now, Merck offers an instant discount for people of any age or income. If you have a prescription for a Merck product, go to www.merck.com for a coupon you can print immediately. Coupons are also available by calling (800) 50-MERCK (506-3725). The amount of savings depends on the pharmacy, the state, and the medication. The coupon cannot be used with any insurance program. Note that the coupon is good only on a Merck brand; check to see if a generic version of the same drug is cheaper.
Uninsured patients also should check out the company’s Prescription Discount Program for savings of 15 percent to 40 percent on Merck drugs.