Keep your full-timing lifestyle fund in the black with information about credit cards, debit cards, warranties, auto leases, taxes, Social Security benefits, and more.
By Janet Groene, F47166
The full-timer’s life differs from that of individuals who use their RV to vacation, take an extended trip, or even set out on a lengthy sabbatical. That’s why this column focuses on problems specific to those who live their life on the go. Here is some of the latest news and views for full-timers.
Wise About Warranties
Your new computer isn’t even in your shopping basket yet, but the salesperson is trying to sell you a service contract. Sound familiar? These service contracts are a major profit item for the seller. As a full-timer, you’re tempted, because you want maximum protection with minimum hassle. On the other hand, your purchase probably is covered by the manufacturer’s warranty for 90 days to one year even if you do nothing.
Only you can decide whether to purchase the service contract, but consider this: If you charge the purchase to some credit cards, the manufacturer’s warranty is doubled. Costco’s credit card extends a one-year warranty to two years on some items, while American Express purchases also come with lengthened warranties. Before buying an extended warranty, know who will handle the replacement, recall, or repair. Your Brand X product probably was purchased from Superstore Y, which arranged the warranty with Service Company Z. Don’t get caught in the middle.
If you haven’t checked out survival foods lately, take a new look. They’ve come a long way since the unappetizing dehydrated foods that camping suppliers used to sell. Companies such as Emergency Essentials (www.beprepared.com; 800-999-1863) and Survival Warehouse (www.survival-warehouse.com; 407-349-2525) carry a wide range of foods and camping supplies as well as emergency items such as spark-proof light sticks; grain mills for making flour; water purification systems; emergency toilets; and delicious, lightweight, freeze-dried meats, shrimp, fruits, vegetables, and combination dishes.
Also check out a new generation of powdered eggs from Adventure Egg (www.adventureegg.com). They are convenient and tastier than powdered eggs used to be. These eggs are pasteurized for your safety, so don’t be afraid to taste raw cookie dough, make eggnog, or sip a bit of the custard to determine whether it’s sweet enough. If you’re a full-timer who likes to have backups for your backups, look into new ways to stay prepared.
Credit Card Bills
You’re on the go, free as the wind. Then with a sinking feeling, you check the calendar and realize your credit card payment is due today. What are your safest options? Even if you pay online, a deadline looms. Unless you’ve read all the fine print that came with your card agreement, and know each card’s deadline rules, call Customer Service immediately and ask, because you must do the right things quickly.
Does the payment have to be posted by midnight or earlier? In what time zone? Many bank card offices close at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Can you pay via a toll-free number? If so, is the process free, or will you be charged $12 to $15? Can you transfer funds from another account? How about from another bank? There are many ways out of this pickle, but it pays to ask first.
Debit Card Changes
If you’ve been using a debit card that pays rewards, make sure you’re still getting this perk. Because of new federal regulations that are expected to go into effect this summer concerning the fees that banks can charge retailers on debit card transactions, banks have cut back in other areas. JPMorgan Chase, for example, stopped issuing new debit rewards cards in February and announced that it will halt paying rewards to those who had existing rewards cards on July 19, 2011, when the proposal is set to take effect. (Prior to publication, JPMorgan Chase issued a statement saying that it would continue the program should the regulation, which had yet to be fully approved, fail to go into effect as scheduled.)
Watch for changes in your plan, then shop and compare. In this ever-changing field, a credit card rebate deal may now be preferable to a debit card when making purchases.
Don’t think you’re immune from bedbugs just because you never stay in hotels. They’re now turning up in government buildings, private homes, theaters, and imported clothing. These pests can hitch a ride into your motorhome on just about anything you bring on board.
Usually the first indication your motorhome has bedbugs is that you will see bloodstains on your sheets, or small clusters of dark brown or black spots of dried excrement on infested surfaces. You also may notice small bite marks on your body, particularly the upper body, neck, arms, and shoulders. This is a pretty good indication that the pests have found a host for their feeding, and it is you! Although the bugs do bite, they are not known to carry any transmittable diseases.
Knowing you have bedbugs is one thing, but finding and eradicating them is quite a different matter. These brownish-colored pests are tiny “” 1/8-inch to 3/8-inch long “” and have flat, oval-shaped bodies. Because of their size and shape, they easily can hide in mattress piping or seams, in the headboard, or other areas around the bed where it is dark. They’re also fast and elusive, making it difficult to chase them down. The first step in getting rid of them is to remove all bedding, wash it in hot water, and dry it on high heat. The same goes for the clothing you wear to bed at night and any articles that you may have placed on or around the bed.
If you must call in a professional, find a licensed pest control company that specializes in bedbugs. Home remedies are available in stores and catalogs, but the EPA says most over-the-counter bedbug treatments are ineffective, dangerous, or both. A professional may charge a flat fee or by the square foot. Homeowners are paying $2,000 and up for treating a fully infested house. Aren’t you smart for living small?
Julian Block, the nationally known tax attorney, has a new book of interest to RVers. Julian Block’s Tax Deductible Travel and Moving Expenses ($17.95 paperback, $3.99 e-book, PassKey Publications) wasn’t specifically written for RVers, but the more I read, the more tips I found for those who own RVs.
The pertinence of the information will depend on your personal situation and whether you’re a full-timer or part-timer. However, Mr. Block has invaluable tips about moving between jobs, moving to seek jobs, moving to do volunteer work, and traveling to obtain medical care. Many of his tips, warnings, and case histories may apply to you. Order the book at bookstores or go to www.passkeyPublications.com.
Get Leased, Not Fleeced
Leasing a car has never been more popular, partly because little or no down payment is involved. About 20 percent of all new car transfers are now leases. Many of the old scare stories don’t apply now, thanks to exit strategies such as LeaseTrader.com or Swapalease.com. These services aren’t cheap, but they do offer options if you must get out of a lease early.
If you need a new towed vehicle and believe that leasing might be the right option for you, start bargaining for price just as though you were buying the car. Then go for the lowest interest rate you can negotiate and haggle, too, for mileage allowances. Typically, you are allowed 10,000 miles to 12,000 miles yearly, with overage charges of 18 cents to 25 cents per mile. Since overage charges usually become higher as the end of the lease period nears, it pays to buy a bigger mileage bundle up front unless you’re pretty certain you’ll drive less than the allotment.
Does your leased vehicle have dents, scratches, and general scruffiness? When you return the car you could get charged $500 to $800 for “excess wear and tear.” It’s one of those judgments that could mean almost anything depending on the dealer, so it probably would pay to have any small repairs done and the car professionally detailed before turn-in.
Prelude To Social Security
Whether you’re full-timing already or are looking forward to taking off after your Social Security benefits kick in, it’s important to be ready. Individuals can begin receiving Social Security benefits beginning at age 62, and are eligible for Medicare at age 65. The experts at the Social Security Administration (SSA) say that you should begin by getting an estimate of your upcoming benefits by visiting an SSA office or www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator.
Second, read all mail you get from the SSA. Three months before you want to begin receiving benefits, you should sign up either online at www.ssa.gov or at a local Social Security office. You should sign up for Medicare benefits four months before you reach the age of 65, whether you plan to retire or not. If you miss the window into Medicare, you could pay more, lose coverage, or both. Make sure you’re dealing with the SSA, not a con artist who wants to charge you a fee for doing what the SSA does for nothing.