Understanding the Extrajudicial Settlement of Estate in the Philippines

Not a lot of people know what an extrajudicial settlement of the estate is. Well, not unless they have experienced losing a member of the family and dividing his remaining properties.

Extrajudicial settlement of the estate simply means drafting a contract where the properties are divided among the heirs, as the latter may see fit. Enumerated in the contract are the properties left by the deceased, collectively called the “estate”. The properties may range from real properties such as parcels of land, buildings, or personal properties such as money left in the bank, cars, jewelry, furniture and even shares in a corporation.

It should be well-noted that an extrajudicial settlement by agreement is only possible if there is no will left by the deceased. Even if there is a will but the will does not include all of the decedent’s estate, then those not covered can by extrajudicially partitioned by agreement.

Moreover, extrajudicial settlement is not possible if the heirs cannot agree on how the properties will be divided. In that case, they can file and ordinary action for partition.

Publication requirement

After the settlement agreement is signed, the heirs should cause the publication of the agreement in a newspaper of general circulation to ensure that interested parties, if there are any, such as creditors and unknown heirs, will be given due notice.

Payment of Estate tax

After the publication, transfer of title may follow. Upon the transfer of the estate, the Estate Tax must be paid in accordance with Section 84 of the National Internal Revenue Code of the Philippines.

Estate tax is defined as a tax on the right of the deceased person to transmit his estate to his lawful heirs and beneficiaries at the time of death and on certain transfers, which are made by law as equivalent to testamentary disposition. It is a form of transfer tax, not a property tax. More particularly, it is a tax on the privilege of transferring the property of the decedent to the heirs.

The Estate Tax Return must be filed within six (6) months from the decedent’s death. The deadline may be extended by the Commissioner of the BIR, in meritorious cases, not exceeding thirty (30) days.

It is interesting to note that the estate itself will have its own Tax Identification Number (TIN). The BIR treats the estate as a juridical person.

The Estate Tax Return is filed with Revenue District Office (RDO) having jurisdiction over the place of residence of the decedent at the time of his death.

If the decedent has no legal residence in the Philippines, then the return can be filed with:

1. The Office of the Revenue District Officer, Revenue District Office No. 39, South Quezon City; or

2. The Philippine Embassy or Consulate in the country where decedent is residing at the time of his death.

For estate taxes, the BIR imposes the pay-to-file system which means that you have to pay the estate tax at the same time the return is filed.

In cases involving a huge estate where the tax imposed can get too high, or in cases where the decedent left properties which are difficult to liquidate and they do not have the cash to pay the taxes, the BIR Commissioner can extend the time of payment but the extension cannot be over two (2) years if the estate is settled extrajudicially. If an extension is granted, the BIR Commissioner may require a bond in such amount, not exceeding double the amount of tax, as it deems necessary.

The estate tax is based on the value of the net estate as follows:

1. If not over P200,000, it is exempt

2. If over P200,000 but not over P500,000, then tax is 5% of the excess over P200,000

3. If over P500,000 but not over P2,000,000, then tax is P15,000 PLUS 8% of the excess over P500,000

4. If over P2,000,000 but not over P5,000,000, then tax is P135,000 PLUS 11% of the excess over P2,000,000

5. If over P5,000,000 but not over P10,000,000, then tax is P465,000 PLUS 15% of the excess over P5,000,000

6. If over P10,000,000, then tax is P1,215,000 PLUS 20% of the excess over P10,000,000

In computing the net estate, allowable deductions shall always be considered. These deductions include funeral expenses, share of the surviving spouse, medical expenses incurred by the decedent within one (1) year prior to his death, family home deduction of not more than P1,000,000.00, standard deduction of P1,000,000.00, among others. It is best to consult a lawyer or an accountant to determine to ensure that the heirs can properly indicate the deductions and exemptions and thereby determine the accurate net estate of the decedent.

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Homeowners Guide to Home Insurance Discounts, Reduced Rates and Savings

In today's economy, many homeowners are juggling higher bills on less earnings – facing tight family budgets in the wake of rising costs, credit limits or even job loss. Yet there's no need to struggle with the cost of home insurance. Despite industry increases, homeowners may be able to reduce their insurance rates by as much as 30 percent.

Neverheless, many homeowners are not using insurance discounts to lower rates – even those who apply discounts may qualify for more savings than they're getting. And lowered rates are still possible, even in today's economy.

Consider the findings reported by independent insurance agent association, Trusted Choice, in a 2009 national survey:

"53 million household responders 'admitted they are probably not taking advantage of all homeowners insurance discounts or said that they simply did not know' about policyholder discounts they are reasonably qualify for."

The survey also found that the largest percentage of respondents, about 26%, estimated they save 6-10% on their insurance premiums by using discounts. In fact, many insurance consumers could be saving significantly more-as much as 30%, according to independent insurance agencies, which often shop on behalf of consumers and help them find discounts and compare rates.

Homeowners are usually aware of the more common discounts – such as a multiple policy discount to insure both home and auto under one carrier. But there are other discounts and savings they miss.

How savvy are you as a homeowner and insurance consumer?

Find out using this quick list to explore or measure your potential for insurance discounts. It's also the knowledge you and your insurance agent need to reduce rates for savings:

  • Dual duty – Do not overlook the most common discount available: multiple policy discounts. When the same company insures your home and car, you can probably reduce your overall insurance costs by 10 to 15 percent.
  • New home, new homeowner? The same criteria used to qualify your home for a specific mortgage is often the same that qualifies your policy for discounts.
  • Living in a gated community? Then you may be eligible for discounts. Be sure to ask about auto insurance discounts if your car is evenly 'protected' to boot.
  • Rooftop savings – Some insurance companies offer hail resistant roof discounts for Class 4 roofs – naturally these credits may vary with locale. Moreover, be sure to ask your insurer about potential discounts before putting a new roof on your house – you'll probably want to capture savings if available and a flat roof without roof warranty may disqualify you from your current coverage alike.
  • Be a new policyholder – You may find additional savings extended to new customers based on new rating models that offer a 'sign up' discount. If your insurer extends this discount, your insurance agent may be able to capture it by applying for a new policy with the same company.
  • Your track record counts – make sure you discover discounts for home insurance customers who have a claim-free track record … when was the last time you filed a home insurance claim? A 10-year history typically qualifies you for this discount; If you've never filed a claim, you may save as much as 20 percent.
  • Risk reductions – Ask your agent to identify risk reduction discounts addressing a range of interior and exterior factors: fire and smoke alarms, electrical wiring, fireplace / chimney safety, heating apparatus, burglar alarms, curb and gutter system and landscaping elements. Proximity to a fire hydrant and your community's fire department also applies.
  • Preventive maintenance and home security – Make sure your insurance agent is aware of any alarm systems or preventive measures you take to secure property and to keep your home safe. Although discount criteria varies, you may be able to get savings of 10 to 15 percent for a combined system that may include two or more measures: deadbolt locks, lockable garages and storage buildings, fire alarms, fire sprinklers, fire extinguishers, a burglar Alarm or home security system.
  • Good breeding gone bad – Like it or not, some pets have a reputation. You may adore your family pet but if Fido is a dog breed considered bite-happy or dangerous, your insurance rating may be affected or your coverage in jeopardy. Choose your pet wisely – be aware of the little issues that can turn your insurance into a big issue.
  • Score card – Expect your credit score to impact your home insurances rates. If married, you may be able to reduce your rate by listing the top scorer as the first named on the insurer's application. Plus, if you've had a less-than-score score and recently improved your numbers, let your insurance agent know. You may be able to get a policy adjustment: a lower insurance rate is still possible without the need to write a new policy.
  • Raise the limit – consider the difference a deductible makes. You can probably lower your rate by raising your deductible – $ 2,500 is the standard deductible and you can expect a lower rate if you raise it to $ 5,000.
  • Agent vs. Agent and the extended marketplace – Is your insurance agent an independent who can tap a broad product range? Or an agent affiliated with a name-brand company? Know the difference. Independent agents can shop around – explore options across the marketplace. Brand agents do not usually have the same agility – they're usually limited to the company practice or limited to brand products. Loyalty counts. Still, if you're committed to one company brand you may be just as limited as the insurance agent who is equally missing rate rates, discounts and savings offered by the brand's competition.
  • 'Home pride' and stewardship are vital – Even many insurance agents do not understand the role that stewardship plays in harnessing the broadest range of discounts possible. Why? The better care you take of your home, the more attractive you'll look to insurance carriers. And the best way to harness discounts is to identify as many discounts as possible – it stands to reason that more companies mean more potential for discounts.

So, you'll want to make sure your home qualifies for coverage from every company that offers coverage in your locale since increased competition generally decreases rates and opens your access to discounts.

In a nutshell, homeowners applying the discounts above will soon realize the many ways they can save on their home insurance – even when times are tough.

Get started on discounts for savings ….

  • Shop around to compare insurance company providers and rates – what companies provide home insurance in your community?
  • Get guidance on the details – an independent insurance agent is not tied to one brand, so these agents can help you see the whole marketplace and get the apples-to-apples lens you need to compare products, coverage and rates.
  • Identify discounts – make sure you identify the common discounts most homeowners hit, along with other discounts that frequently miss.
  • Do the 'homework' – the work at home that demonstrates stewardship makes you eligible to select from the broadest insurance product range possible.
  • Optimize selection, and then maximize discounts to benefit from reduced raters and savings.
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What Are the Factors to Consider When Buying Life Insurance?

As you are shopping around for insurance quotes and insurance companies, these are a few basic factors you need to consider before you make any decision.

1. HOW MUCH LIFE INSURANCE COVER DO YOU NEED?

Here is a quick guide if you are not doing this with a financial planning professional yet. For ease of calculation and explanation, we are not taking time value of money and inflation into consideration.

Financial Obligations

Take into account any financial obligation that needs to be paid off if premature death or unfortunate event such as total & permanent disability or critical illness should occur. Examples could be business or personal loans or debts to be repaid or mortgage loan repayments.

Financial Support

Is there anybody who is dependent on you for financial support? Maybe aged parents, spouse or children? If there is, you may want to plan for the financial support to continue should any unfortunate event happen. For example, you may be planning to provide for your aged parents or a young kid for the next 20 years with an annual sum of $20,000. You would need a sum assured of $400,000 should that sum of money be needed right now.

Financial Gift

Is there a lump sum of money you would like to provide if an unfortunate event should happen? Is there someone you would like to leave a financial gift for when you are not around anymore? Or maybe a charitable cause you would like to contribute to? If there is, be sure to take this into consideration in your calculation of how much insurance cover to buy.

Replacement of Income

This is the tricky one where you will read of many differing opinions. The reason why this question is not so straightforward to answer is that guesswork of your income growth rate is involved.

There are general (very general) rules of thumb for this though.

You need to know how many years you would like your income to be replaced for. For example, if you would like your income replacement to be for 10 years. You will need a $500,000 sum assured if you are earning $50,000 currently. That will enable you to withdraw $50,000 per year for 10 years.

Alternatively, some may suggest for you to have insurance cover of 20 times your annual income. If you have a cover of 20 times your annual income, an investment return of 5% from your insurance proceeds will be able to replace your current income perpetually.

2. HOW LONG DO YOU NEED THE INSURANCE COVER FOR?

Knowing how long you need the protection of insurance for will play a part in knowing what types of life insurance products may be suitable. Do you need the insurance cover for a specific number of years only such as for a specific loan payment period or do you prefer the insurance protection for the whole of your life?

3. WHAT IS YOUR BUDGET FOR INSURANCE PREMIUMS?

Knowing how much sum assured and how long you need the coverage for is one thing but your ability to pay the insurance premiums also need to be considered. For example, if you require a specific sum assured but your budget is limited, you may need to buy a term life insurance policy to get the required insurance cover even if you may prefer an insurance policy that can accumulate cash values.

4. WHAT TYPES OF INSURANCE POLICIES SHOULD YOU BUY?

There are different life insurance products to suit different financial needs and wants. Find one that is suitable for yours. There are mainly four types of life insurance products.

Term Insurance

For protection needs with no accumulation of cash value

Whole-Life Insurance

Mainly for protection needs with accumulation of cash value

Endowment Insurance

Mainly for savings needs with accumulation of cash value

Investment-Linked Insurance

Accumulation of cash value through investments. Whether it is for protection or investment needs depends on the specific policy.

The pointers listed above is catered to the Singapore market. They are meant for general information and discussion. It is not intended to provide any insurance or financial advice and you should always seek advice from a qualified adviser if in doubt.

Benjamin Ang has a Bachelor of Business Administration and holds the designation of Associate Financial Consultant (AFC) and Associate Estate Planning Practitioner (AEPP). He writes about wealth matters to share financial knowledge with the public and also writes regularly on living and experiencing all the wonderful things that life has to offer.

Find out more about him at http://www.benjamin-ang.com/

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A Guide To How To Appeal Your Property Taxes

Fair to say, if you are living anywhere in the country, you are probably paying more property taxes than you should. The National Taxpayers Union, in fact, estimates that approximately 60% of all US properties are currently overassessed.

What makes this particularly shocking is that, since 2003, prices of median homes have declined dramatically. We would therefore expect tax assessments to be adjusted so as to reflect such declines in market values – though this has generally not been the case. Therefore property taxes for many homeowners unfairly continue to increase despite a continued decrease in local home values.

Due to a considerable shortfall in budgets, many municipalities are, in essence, heaping extra taxes on homeowners – many of whom are exercising their constitutional right for an appeal. Though appealing property tax assessments can be difficult and time consuming – and not always successful – being well-prepared for the fight can significantly increase your chances of success.

Assess your assessment

It is important to understand how your property is assessed. Ask a local realtor to help you compare your property with similar properties which sold recently to determine its market value. Multiply that value with the assessment ratio that has been established for your town. If the market value of your property is, say, $100,000 and its assessment ratio is 80%, this means the tax levied on that property is $80,000. Some rural areas and high class neighborhoods use another method of assessment by estimating the house replacement cost by adjusting factors such as the land value.

Property Record Card

Check for errors in your assessment next. To do so, you will need to obtain the worksheet of your property from your local assessor’s office. This work sheet is also known as property record card and contains information of your property such as number of rooms, dimensions, number of bathrooms, and so on. Check whether all the information about your property provided in the worksheet is correct or not. If you discover any incorrect or missing information submit this information immediately to the local assessor along with a blue print of your property. In this way you will could receive an immediate reduction and become exempt from a formal appeal.

Comparable Sales

Compare the assessed value of your property with other similar properties in that area. Look at the property’s worksheet to compare other factors like square footage, age, bedrooms, bathrooms, and so on. In this way you may be in a stronger position to appeal if your property’s assessed value is determined to be higher than at least five other properties. Make a list of comparable properties along with their other details like square footage, construction material grades, same neighborhood, and so on. This list should be produced when demanded by the assessor. The record of your neighborhood’s properties is available at the website of your local assessor.

In case you find only three assessed properties at lower and three at a higher value don’t lose hope because in this case you might be entitled to a reduction representing the difference between comparable properties and your property. Your house may be the only property with lousy grading which prevents you from having a garden or a less than desired view of your city’s water tower.

Fight back

Different localities have different rules and your assessment should be capable of explaining how your appeal works. For this you can provide evidence to the assessor including a list of comparable properties, repair estimates, blueprints, and photographs for review. In this way you can obtain a good settlement in an informal way and the assessor may continue completing his rolls and get a fair reduction for you. On the other hand if some settlement is not agreed upon, continue paying your taxes so as to avoid any future penalties on your property. Don’t worry because if the county is satisfied with your appeal, you will get a reduction or check on all future bills thereafter.

Before submitting your appeal form and other related documents, ensure whether or not they comply with all the requirements stated by the county. Keep one copy of all the documents and information submitted by you for your files In a few months you will probably receive a reply and if you think that the reduction you’ve got is not fair, you can follow the next step. The next step is to submit your case in front of an independent local appealing body. This will be more advantageous because you can personally explain your case. You can use photographs, blueprints, etc to prove that your appeal is correct. Also submit a copy of all the assessed document highlighting important points to every board member.

If your case at local level fails, you can take it to state, and even the judicial, level. Bear in mind, however, that judicial hearing will court fees, lawyer’s fees, and other expenses that could negate any savings you might realize from winning an appeal.

Where to search for the right help

It is better to employ an expert assistance which will not only save time but provide proper guidance also. In this way your appeal will become stronger. One more option is to submit your address and case to an online service company. Such companies – for a moderate fee – will highlight comparable homes in your area along with their assessment information and their sale price. If they consider your case strong enough they will send you a report which you can file with your local appeals board. If the appeals board rejects your appeal your money is then refunded.

Should you decide instead on hiring a professional appraiser, confirm that the board to which you are appealing your case permits such a professional or not. Certified appraisers can be found through the Appraisal Institute or the National Association of Independent Fee Appraisers. Most charge anywhere between $250 and $500. Hire a person who is not only experienced in the field but also is familiar with local neighborhoods in your area.

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The Eviction Process

Obviously, evicting a tenant is not a thrilling part of real estate investing for the tenant or the landlord. What follows is a description of the eviction process itself (especially as it pertains to what can be expected in Ohio), peppered with some of my personal comments with regards to how I typically handle evictions.

Generally, if I’ve not received rent monies from a tenant by the 8th or 9th of the month, I call the tenant. My leases stipulate that the tenant has a grace period until the 5th of the month to mail rent monies without being charged any type of late fee. As long as the envelope is postmarked by the 5th – no late fee. Allowing 3 or 4 days (from the 5th) for a tenant’s payment to arrive is pretty liberal and plenty of time to allow for the monies to be received from cross-town mail.

If upon a call to the tenant I believe we’re going to have problems, I immediately deliver a 3-day notice to the property. A copy of the notice is made before delivering. The 3-day notice is posted (taped) on the front door of the property if the tenant or other occupant is not there when it’s delivered. Any tenant that reaches this point (the starting of the eviction process), is advised that the 3-day notice is simply being posted as a way to protect my interests in the event the tenant doesn’t make good on the outstanding monies due.

Attaching a 3-day notice to the tenant’s door does not negatively affect the tenant’s public record. It’s not until the 3-day is formally filed that it becomes public record. The landlord cannot file for eviction until 3 business days have passed from the point the 3 day-notice was placed on the property. Once the 3 business days are up, the landlord can begin the formal eviction process. How does this start? You will take your paperwork, including a copy of the 3-day notice, and file to have an eviction hearing. I use an attorney to process all of my evictions. Specifically, one specializing in handling evictions. I personally prefer using an attorney that will try to remedy the situation with the tenant before the case is even heard. You don’t have to use an attorney – you can do a lot of this yourself and save a few bucks, but I recommend you use one. If you’ve never been to your local court system to witness eviction hearings, I highly recommend it. You’ll quickly get a flavor of what takes place during these hearings and will know what to expect ahead of time should you ever get to the point of processing an eviction on one of your own properties.

You can expect it take approximately two weeks before your hearing is scheduled. It’s important to note that I always keep the communication line open with the tenant through this whole process. I think this is extremely important. I want the tenant to know that I don’t like going down this path just as much as the tenant doesn’t. It’s not my goal just to boot a tenant out of the property. In fact, I try very hard to work out payment arrangements or even payment assistance resources with the tenant in an effort to get him or her back up on their feet. Yes it may take a little hand-holding and some of your extra time, but I’d say eight out of ten tenants going through this extra hand-holding will appreciate your trying to help and will ultimately clear their overdue balances with you. You walk a very fine line here with the tenant in that he or she may also be taking advantage of you. It can be a tough call. At times it can simply come down to relying on your gut feeling with the situation.

If judgement is taken (in your favor) at the hearing, the judge will give you permission to “red tag” the door. A red tag is just that – it’s bright red and has marked on it the date that possessions will be moved out of the property if the tenant has not vacated. The tenant has five days from tagging to get out of the property. It will usually take 2-3 business days after the court hearing for this tag to get placed on the front door of your property. Again, I keep the tenant abreast of my intentions during this process. You as the landlord call the shots with regards to whether or not any possible set-out occurs. I mention to the tenant that I still do not desire to set property out at the curb, and if payment arrangements can be made, the set-out can be averted. You will again have to make the call here. Do you want to accept only partial payment for what is owed and try to arrange a plan for payment on the extra monies? Or do you feel the tenant is just not going to make it, and in this instance, follow through with the eviction process?

The final step is the dreaded set-out. It’s extremely rare that I ever have to get to this point. If it comes this far, frankly the tenant deserves it. I’ve given them every opportunity within reason to try and remedy the situation or move out on their own accord. If the tenant has not moved out by the date stipulated on the red tag, you as the landlord have the right to order a set-out with the bailiff. Again, an attorney that specializes in evictions really helps here. In Columbus, Ohio, you only have a two hour window Monday-Friday to request and schedule a set-out. Additionally, the set-out must be scheduled within ten days following the red tag, or you have to order a supplemental red tag (more money).

When the set-out is requested (it’s generally a day and time agreed upon by you and the bailiff), you will be expected to have at least four people dedicated to setting furniture and belongings out of the house. You will also be required to have trash bags and boxes to pack items before removing them from the house. Good maintenance workers will be handy to have when you get to this point.

As you can see, evictions can be a rather drawn-out process that generally take a good three to four weeks to run their route. This is why I believe it’s very crucial to always maintain good communication lines with your tenant and try and be as professional as possible in handling the situation. It will be frustrating!…but try and keep an open mind into ways you can help your tenant get through this. A good positive attitude can go a long way to making this process less stressful to both you and the tenant!

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Property Tax – Pros and Cons

Property tax can be the fairest and at the same time the not so fair tax collected by municipalities.

Two of the determining factors of how it can affect what an individual will pay for this type of tax are where you live and a person’s economic condition.

Even though we all can appreciate the good points of owning a home vs. renting, when it comes to property tax, renting is by far the better option. States will collect property tax on the following:

Any additions to the property such as improvements to the land

Land itself

Any structures that are not permanent to the property

The assessment is commonly made by an exclusive county tax collector in each state. An individual’s property and land will be appraised of its value and subsequently mailed as a tax payment notice. This usually is paid through a homeowner’s escrow amount stated on their mortgage.

Many times this can negatively affect a property or land owner as the taxes in a specific state can sometimes double or triple in amount and leave the homeowner unable to afford to pay their taxes, forcing them to sell their property or land.

People on a fixed income such as Senior citizens who have retired, can be greatly affected by the increase of property tax. The value of their homes increase, but at the same time they find themselves unable to pay their taxes because of their reduced income. Unfortunately, property tax doesn’t allow much wiggle room in the event of acts of nature or personal tragedy.

Although 2.3 seems to be the average percentage for property tax, it varies greatly from state to state, making it seem highly unfair for certain states such as New Hampshire, as it is a high 4.9 percent.

It also seem unfair when states like Alabama pay 1.3 percent and yet just a little distance away in neighboring Georgia would be required to pay 2.6 percent, then even more in Florida at a rate of 3.1 percent.

So who determines how the money generated from this income is spent or in some cases wasted? The state legislatures will determine this along with the decision to increase or decrease property tax and how frequent it is collected.

Even though property tax can absolutely help states with income,the amount of property tax to be paid can be a determining factor in one’s decision where to reside to achieve the American Dream of land or home ownership.

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The Importance of a Balance Sheet

An individual has two primary tools for managing personal finances. The Personal Balance Sheet is ignored and the Budget is the darling of Financial Consultants and the media. The key to understanding personal finances is that you have to understand your Budget and Balance Sheet individually and also how they work in combination to give you a complete snapshot of your personal finances.

Your balance sheet is extremely important because it shows you where the gold is. It is your personal Fort Knox. It is also extremely important because you need to have a stash of gold in your personal financial picture. The gold in your Balance Sheet is not the Assets. They are the positive side of your Balance Sheet but the real picture of how much gold you have in your Fort Knox is your Net Worth. So just as important to your Balance sheet is your Liabilities. The total of your Liabilities is subtracted from the total of your Assets to give you your Net Worth.

You fill out your Balance Sheet and total up your Assets and Liabilities. You subtract the total of your Liabilities from your Assets. That number, your Net Worth will come out to either a negative amount, an amount of or near zero, or it will be substantially positive. These are the only 3 scenarios possible.

• If your net worth is a minus number, you are not managing your financial resources properly. Your Balance sheet is your report card and you are failing. It is that simple. If you are managing your money to deal with life's challenges and planning your personal finances with your retirement in mind, your Net Worth should be positive and growing. If your net Worth is positive, you can ride out financial storms like the current situation. At the time of your retirement, your Net Worth must be substantially positive so that you will be able to keep costs down and have investment income to replace your working income. During your working years, your Net Worth should be growing steadily because a retirement nest egg does not grow without years of nurturing.

• There are circumstances where where it is acceptable to have a Net Worth of Zero or near Zero. The first is when you are just starting out. It just makes sense that it would be zero. You may have student loans but that is offset by some form of education that will allow you to make more money in the course of your lifetime. The key is that this is the best time to start building your net worth. It allows the principal of compounding value to work its magic on your assets for decades. That saves you a lot of work later in life. However, most of us are not that wise and we find ourselves in our 30s and 40s with little or no Net Worth. This means you have less time for compounding to work. So you have to work harder and especially manage your money smarter to prepare for the financial challenges you face going forward. The nice thing is that you have probably made some mistakes that have made you much wiser. You should be able to recover much faster than you would have in your undisciplined youth.

• If you have a positive net worth that means that you are building assets. Just as important is that you are controlling your debt. This is the key that has probably gotten you to this situation. The key to a positive Balance Sheet is that debt offsets the value of your assets when you look at your personal finances as a complete picture so your debt / equity ratio should be less than one and get smaller and smaller. Debt servicing saps cash flow on your budget that could have been used to build assets that can be used to produce income in your retirement years. Clear title ownership of assets such as your home reduce cash draw and this is incredibly important as you approach retirement.

The financial crisis we are in now is described as a Balance Sheet crisis. We are in this crisis because nobody was paying attention to their Balance Sheets, not even at the rising heights of our financial infrastructure. The symptoms were everywhere. While researching I found that the top sites on the internet for Balance Sheet are those who want to sell you something so that they can gain access to any assets on your balance sheet that might be left after this disaster. Before the disaster, the only thing that had any importance was whether a potential buyer of anything could afford to make the payments on whatever he was buying assuming he made 120% of his declared income. The most outrageous symptom was that people would take appreciating home equity and borrow against it to buy depreciating assets and consumer goods. They overbooked their budgets and now they have gutted their balance sheet.

The resulting loss of home values ​​is the disaster we have now where people have either a zero or minus Net Worth. The other aspect is that we are now wiser. For the good of our society and our financial infrastructure we had better be. Going forward we must pay attention to our Balance Sheets and recognize that is where the gold is. You must save and protect your gold. Net Worth is where financial power is and that is the Importance of a Balance Sheet.

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The Pros and Cons of Discount Travel Clubs

If you love to travel, but can not seam to do it as often as you would like, you should consider looking into a good travel club.

My wife LOVES to travel the world as I am sure many of you do, but it was always so expensive. I am here to tell you, it does not have to be.

This is how travel clubs work.

When you think about it owning a resort property is just like any other business. They need a steady flow of customers to be profitable. Their unique challenge is, they also need a consistent flow of customers preferably evenly spaced through the entire year other many issues start to become problems for them. To many customers all at once is lost business, probably to your competition. Not enough customers means empty rooms and lost business and revenue, which makes staffing as well as many other things VERY difficult.

The challenge is to keep a steady flow of customers, preferably even spaced all year long. But how do they do that?

One way resort owners have discovered to help with this is by affiliating with travel clubs to offer club members unreserved rooms at deep discounts. This helps keep a steady flow of customers all year long, and helps the owner keep a properly staffed business running.

Think about it from their perspective, would you rather have an empty room and NO income, and have a staff to pay with no customers to serve or income being produced? Or, to keep a good quality staff busy, have customers that may only be paying enough to cover your expenses with little or no profit?

It does not take long as a business owner to figure out that "when possible" you sell at full price, when necessary you take a discount and less profit, and when push comes to shove at least cover expenses to avoid taking a loss.

Even taking some loss is acceptable if it helps with staffing issues, inventory, food shelf life, advertising, budgeting, exposure and many other business issues. As long as it is not the norm, obviously.

Now, keep in mind, all travel clubs are NOT created equal.

The owner of the travel club is also doing business. He wants to provide his members with an attractive offer to build membership, but also wants to make money in HIS business, which IS the travel club. If the owner is more concerned about profit, than they are about giving value to their members, that club has a limited future.

The saying that just popped into my head was "It is better to have a little bit of something, than a whole lot of nothing."

The resort owners are constantly negotiating transactions (level of discount) with hundreds of travel club owners.

The owner of a particular travel club may have negotiated with the resort owners the best prices for his club, but if he is trying to make to much profit with his travel club, his members would not be getting the best deals!

It is very hard to negotiate regardless, without something the other party wants. Therefore, the more members you have in your club the easier it is to negotiate great deals. But getting lots of members is no easy task in itself.

The most successful travel club owner has figured out how to build a large following (with minimal cost) so they have the leverage to negotiate great deals other clubs can not, but because of their low overhead they can pass most of the savings along to Their members.

We all know that the BEST form of advertising is, word of mouth. As luck would have it, it is also the least expensive. (Free) So, if you (as a club owner) were to pay your current members (for new memberships) to advertise by word of mouth or however they choose, and generate members for you just by telling potential members about your club and the Huge savings they had received, you would have a growing membership with minimal expenses, therefore, you could pass dramatic savings on to your members which in turn would help generate more members more easily and get better discounts.

As I stated earlier, not all travel clubs are created equal, just as with any other business. You must do your research to find a club that offers a large inventory of locations, at deep discounts to its members, without charging too much for their membership. That travel club will continue to grow in size and value, and provide you with a lifetime of deeply discounted travel for minimal cost so you can travel the world and enjoy what the world has to offer.

Travel clubs can be a great opportunity to save your hard earned money. Just make sure you do your research and find the right one, otherwise you are not going to get the most value possible for your money.

Good luck, and I'll see you on the beaches of the world.

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Geode Crystals & Astral Travel

Astral travel can be enhanced by working with crystals and their vibrational field levels during your session. But where do you start and how to help? There are many different suggestions for this, as well as different ones will resonate within different people and their energy fields.

A good place to start is by working with the crystals you enjoy the most. If you are not sure where to start, go with your intuition and follow your gut instincts as they will not steer you wrong.

A wonderful way to work with them in astral travel and meditation sessions are in geode form. The best ones I have come across that have the highest energy vibrational level are clear quartz, amethyst, citrine and calcite. It is best to work with just one type of crystal within the geode, but you can combine them in your circles if you wish. The energy field will be a combination of the different types and will have them make a weaving type of pattern within the energy field. This is a very unique type of field to work within, but may not always be the best, as opposed to a single type of stronger vibrational field you would receive with just one type of geode.

During your astral travel session, surround yourself with as many geodes as possible, in a circle, or alternating the type of crystal found within. The more the better, and even if they are small, the geodes still put out a lot of vibrational fields for you to work within!

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How to Inventory and Assign Value to Estate Personal Property

There is an old saying that goes: What is the best way to eat an elephant? One bite at a time!

Personal property is the elephant of an estate. It is the responsibility that can take up most of your time, and it provides the estate with the least amount of money for the effort involved. But, dealing with the personal property cannot be avoided. The property must be inventoried, valued, distributed, or sold. Let us start our analysis by looking at what property we have (inventory); then we will determine what it is worth (valuation). In a future post, we will determine what to do with it (distribution/sale).

When you go to the courthouse, the clerk will provide you with the form you will need to fill out for the inventory. The form will ask you to provide general categories and a value for each category you have listed. For example, you would list: furniture, $1500; office equipment, $300, etc.. You will not have to list the items separately, such as sofa, $100; chair, $5; typewriter, $25. I suggest that you do keep a list of the individual items, though. Although you will not have to go into a lot of detail for the court, you will likely want a more detailed inventory for yourself. You will want this for two reasons: to track the sale of estate property, and to protect yourself against claims of heirs and/or creditors.

You do not have to get real fancy with with the inventory; pencil and paper will do. If you are so inclined, there are home inventory record books available at office supply stores, or you can purchase software online. There are also companies that specialize in taking home inventories.

You will need a helper. One person sorts and counts while the other writes. Start inside the house, and work your way from the top of the house to the bottom. Go room to room with a consistent pattern so that you do not miss anything: always clockwise or counter-clockwise around the room. Write down what is on the walls as well, not just what is on the floor. For small goods, write down identifiable groups of items such as 200 hardcover books, 100 paperback books, 42 nick-knacks, etc.. On your list, put a star next to any item that you think may be valuable. If the nick-knacks are porcelain and the books are first editions, they are valuable items. When you are finished, follow the same procedure for the outbuildings: the garage, shed, workshop, or whatever. If there is a rented self-storage unit, vacation home, recreational vehicle or boat, they will need to be inventoried as well.

When you file the inventory at the courthouse, you will need to state a value for the personal property. For run-of-the-mill household items, a good resource for determining the value is the software program It’s Deductible that comes bundled with the income tax program Turbo Tax. It’s Deductible can also be purchased separately. The software lists the thrift shop value for most household items, and it is easy to use.

For the items that you have identified as being valuable, It’s Deductible will not work. There are several ways to determine the value of single items or collections. A good place to start is eBay ( http://www.ebay.com ). To use eBay to help set your values, you will need to be a registered user. Registering for eBay is free; just follow the instructions when you get to the website. Once registered, type in the item you are researching, and eBay will search for the item. When the search results come up, scroll down and look on the left side of the page to where it says Search Options, click on completed listings, then scroll down further and click on Show Items. The search results displayed will be for completed auctions, not for auctions in progress. The prices listed in green are items that actually sold; the prices in red are for items that did not sell. If you find your item listed, and the price is green, you have a good value. Compare the details of the item you found on eBay with the details of the item you have. Use the closest match as your value.

If you are unable to find your item listed on eBay, it is time to go to the library or bookstore. There you will find an assortment of price guides for every sort of antique or collectible. You will also find blue books for automobiles and equipment.

If you have lots of items and no time to research, then it is time to call in an expert. In your local phone book you will find jewelers, antique dealers, auctioneers, appraisers, and other professionals who will tell you what the property is worth. What they will offer you is an opinion of value, not an appraisal. An appraisal is based on actual sales data, not an opinion. I will cover appraisals below; for now, just be aware that there is a difference. For probate valuation purposes, the value placed must be the fair market value at the time of the decedents death. This is the value you should ask your expert to provide.

In my home state of Virginia, individual items or collections that are valued over $500 must have an appraisal. Personal property appraisers are not licensed like real estate appraisers, but the content of their reports is regulated. For a personal property appraisal to be valid and accepted for tax purposes, it must be performed by a qualified expert and follow the federal guidelines of the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice. Most real estate appraisers do not appraise personal property. You can find a personal property appraiser online by checking the websites of the Certified Appraisers Guild of America, the National Association of Auctioneers, or the American Society of Appraisers.

Estate Executors will find that the inventory and valuation of estate personal property is their most time-consuming task, but there are resources available to help.

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