Today: Put Money Back in Your Pocket

This morning on Today, I joined Lisa Gerstner of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance to discuss the easy ways to save money right now from taxes to hotels, insurance and auto. Check out the clip and scroll down to learn more about my advice.

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Choose the Right Health Benefits

With many workers in the midst of their company’s open enrollment season for health care…and Obamacare’s open enrollment expiring at the end of this month, it’s important to take time to review your options and choose wisely.

A 2013 study by Aflac revealed that 56 percent of employees estimate they waste up to $750 a year because of errors made with insurance benefits elections.

Employees say they have made the following mistakes:

  • · 23% put too little or too much in their Flexible Spending Account
  • · 21% chose benefits they didn’t need or the wrong level of coverage
  • · 15% did not elect available benefit or voluntary benefit coverage
  • · 14% did not check to be sure their preferred medical professionals were in network or that the coverage deductions were correct

Save Thousands of Dollars PER YEAR on Property Taxes   

Homeowners will have to set aside a big chunk for property taxes, but this may be an area where you can lower your costs substantially due to inflated property valuations. Thirty to 60 percent of taxable property is, in fact, over-assessed, resulting in inappropriately high property tax bills, according to the National Taxpayers Union.

The NTU’s website has a checklist of steps to take to appeal your assessment. It usually involves an hour in a local courtroom presenting various documents, but it could be well worth your time.

Anecdotally, I know of a New Jersey resident who lowered her annual property tax by $5,000 after proving the “fair market value” of her home. She had to document the value of similar houses sold on the same street within the year and to demonstrate that her house wasn’t purchased at a ‘fire sale’ but was consistent with house values on the street.

Call Insurance Agencies for Discounts – Save hundreds per year 

You can always do better when it comes to insurance costs. From auto to home insurance, there’s a lot of competition in the marketplace and all it takes is being proactive and calling your agents and letting them know you want to save money.

Start with your home insurance. Call and ask about every available discount and mention any upgrades you’ve made on the house.  If you don’t immediately qualify, mention any improvements you’ve made to the home. If you upgraded plumbing or electrical, added a security system, smoke detectors, etc., all that can shave up tp 20% discount off your monthly premium. The latest figures from the Insurance Information Institute show the average homeowners’ insurance premium is about $1,000 a year.   A fast phone call to your insurance company could save you more than $200 a year.

Next, hit up your car insurance company. If you start driving less because you’re working from home now, or taking more public transportation or you’ve taken the keys away from your teenager, it’s worth calling up your car insurance company and letting them that.  Or if you’ve bought a safer car. That changes how the insurance company underwrites your policy.  To them, you’re technically not as high-risk of a client, so you shouldn’t have to pay as much as before. The average cost for auto insurance in this country is roughly $800. If you can shave off even just 15% because you are using your car less, that’s potentially $120 savings with one phone call.

Save More than $100 on Hotel Reservations

A travel tip for those of us planning a spring break or Memorial weekend getaway, take advantage of some new hotel booking websites that guarantee you the lowest prices. For example, online hotel-booking site Tingo.com keeps an eye on room rates up to 24 hours before check-in. If prices drop, they’ll refund you the difference. And at BackBid.com, travelers post existing lodging reservations and let competing hotels outbid their deal with discounts, upgrades or freebies.  The sites says it offers an average savings of $143 per trip!

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