Business

Consumer business by Denisha Maxey

SUMMER has officially arrived and the heat is on! It has been extremely hot and humid lately. Without any relief in sight, it has been predicted that the temperature will continue to rise. Sunshine can be enjoyable; however, you have to keep your body hydrated and drink plenty of fluids.
My personal favorite way to cool off on a hot day is by jumping in the pool! The summer months can be full of fun but we must not forget to make our homes ready for the heat. We apply sunscreen and bug spray to protect our bodies during the summer and we also have to take steps to protect our homes.
There are many do-it-yourself projects but there are others it is best to leave to the professionals. Read on for some summer home-checkup items you can check off your list.
If you have a sprinkler system, check it now. Make sure no repairs or replacement sprinkler heads are needed. Set the system on an automatic cycle to keep your lawn properly hydrated. Nothing makes a lawn look worse than brown, dead grass!
If you do not have a sprinkler system, it is still important to make sure you water your lawn consistently. You also want to check your water hoses for any damage as you might need to replace them.
Summer is the perfect time to tidy up your garden and lawn. Keep your grass cut, apply new mulch in your yard and new soil to your garden. Do not leave out your backyard as it requires attention as well. If you have a deck or patio, you can power-wash the areas or buy cleaning products to give them a fresh look.
Turn your backyard area into the place to be. Examine your patio furniture for repairs or cleaning. Maybe you have been wanting to replace your old outdoor furniture; if so, now is the time.
Check out your grill. Does it need to be cleaned as well? During the summer, a lot of time is spent grilling, so put your equipment in tiptop shape.
Installing a tent or outside ceiling fans can help beat the heat. Either action will make your backyard the perfect space for entertaining. Do not forget citronella candles to fight off the mosquitoes!
If you have a pool, take time to clean it or have it professionally cleaned and treated, but the most important thing is getting a checkup for your air-conditioning unit. If you are not comfortable with cleaning its outside coils yourself, leave it to the experts for cleaning and maintenance.
You can find several reputable air-conditioning professionals and swimming-pool companies at BBBHouston.org.
Finally, summertime is filled with vacations, barbecue cooking and plenty of sunshine! All of those things are important but do not overlook the attention your home needs during these next heat filled months. Complete your summer home checkup and enjoy the sun – happy Fourth of July weekend!
Denisha Maxey is the manager responsible for the dispute resolution and alternative dispute resolution team at Houston Better Business Bureau.

Practical money matters by Nathaniel Sillin

WHETHER you’re planning a future procedure or navigating care after a sudden illness or accident, you should have a plan in place to avoid hidden costs and billing errors common to our ever-changing healthcare system. That’s what smart folks do.
The federal government’s Affordable Care act made it possible for all Americans to buy some form of healthcare coverage regardless of their medical history.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that everyone’s personal-health circumstances and solutions are different and we’re still far from the day when the coverage we buy – either individually or through our employers – can prevent unexpected bills for services and procedures our insurer doesn’t cover or errors made in the billing process.
It’s also important to know that many health insurers are adjusting to the reality of universal coverage by narrowing the assortment of doctors in their networks, leaving more patients at risk of surprise medical bills if they are treated by practitioners outside their insurer’s network.
There are some helpful resources – both public and private – and using them can help avoid some major out-of-pocket healthcare expenses. It’s also essential to determine which practitioners might be in or out of network, particularly in an emergency.
So what can you do to prevent unexpected health costs? If you are not on Medicare, which tends to have more standardized pricing and coverage, you need to question practitioners, or their billing departments, and price-compare procedures the way you would any major purchase. Depending on your local medical resources, you might have the option to conduct your research online. Here are some ways to begin.
Know your coverage. It’s easier to plan for a hip replacement you’ll need in six months than for emergency surgery after an accident or sudden illness but it’s important to think through how your coverage works in both situations:
Emergencies are a challenge to price because it’s tough to know which practitioners and services you’ll actually need. The key is to plan for them.
Speak to your insurer now – and consult your primary-care physician – to confirm that you have a good range of in-network emergency doctors at the hospital of your choice.
If not, you might want to think about switching plans during your next enrollment period. Next to your health-insurance card in your wallet, put an easy-to-find “in case of emergency” card that makes your preferred hospital visible to first responders or other helpers.
Also, list the contact information for your primary-care doctor and the holder of your healthcare power of attorney.
Finally, make sure the person you designate to hold your healthcare power of attorney has access to your insurance and physician network information so he or she can guide your care more affordably if you’re incapacitated.
If your doctor recommends a particular hospital or outpatient non-emergency procedure a few weeks or months ahead, you will have time to plan, so do it. Query your physician or his or her billing department about the cost of the procedure and ask what other practitioners, such as an anesthesiologist, might be involved.
Then spend equal time speaking with your insurer about what you’ve learned and how extensively the procedure in question will be covered. Make sure you understand whether your insurer covers the procedure on an inpatient – hospital – or outpatient – office – basis. Some insurers are reportedly cutting back on outpatient coverage.
Know your deductible. The latest annual Kaiser Foundation employer health benefits survey indicated some whopping figures for healthcare deductibles – the out-of-pocket total you have to pay before the bulk of your health coverage kicks in. For example, if you have a $3,000 deductible that you haven’t touched this year, that’s the initial out-of-pocket amount you’re going to have to pay for any big procedure.
Keep that figure in mind as you continue your research on medical options. That’s why it’s important to keep such amounts in an emergency fund or, if you have the option, to set the money aside in a health savings account where you can keep funds not only for the deductible but also for other potential out-of-pocket health costs.
Review bills closely. One recent study has reported significant errors in medical bills, particularly for hospital stays. Keep in mind that the price-comparison exercise doesn’t stop on the way in to a procedure. You need to keep an eye on pre- and post-procedure bills from practitioners, hospitals and your health insurer for accuracy. If you see an error, contact the appropriate party or parties immediately to correct the problem.
Bottom line: There are very few industries going through as much change as healthcare. Universal coverage is good but it’s important to know exactly what it pays for before you need it. Set aside time to think through your health issues and do your research to help reduce healthcare costs that can impact your overall budget. Learning to save money now can preserve your budget later.
Editor’s note: You can find extra information online through the links included in our electronic version of this article here at thepostnewspaper.net.
Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa’s Practical Money Skills For Life financial education programs. His articles are intended to provide general information only. Always consult a tax or financial adviser on your finances.

Maxey, Denisha 2015                   Denisha Maxey

by Denisha Maxey

THE SAYING goes: “There is more than one way to skin a cat!” This also rings true when we are booking hotel reservations, car rentals, or purchasing products online. You do not have to always purchase directly from the company’s or manufacture’s website.
There are hundreds of websites, known as third-party discount sites or third-party sellers, dedicated to showing you all of your available options in one place. As consumers, we use many of these sites on a daily basis for small purchases, such as electronics and cellphone accessories.
For instance, you can book a hotel and a flight and rent a car all at one time on one website. You are able to see several different hotel chains, airline companies and car-rental agencies conveniently located on the website, creating a one-stop shopping experience and cutting down on the time you spend looking for the best deal.
Who says that, because a website advertises it has the lowest rate, that’s what you are actually going to get? Making purchases from a third-party company is not always the cheapest route. There are usually several hidden fees included with the purchase that can raise the amount you pay to a level significantly higher than the rate the original company charges.
I recently used a third-party seller to purchase concert tickets. I wanted to attend the event but its tickets had already sold out. However, I was able to locate a pair through a third-party company.
Unbeknown to me, I paid an additional $70 for the tickets. I was not aware of all the additional markup until I received the tickets in the mail three days before the concert. I had purchased them for $230.00 but their actual value was $160.00.
On the one hand, the amount I paid could be considered a good deal because, although the concert was technically sold out, I had still had an opportunity to purchase tickets to see it.
However, the moral of this story is that you should know all the extra fees associated with your purchase beforehand. Having the information can help you determine whether your “good deal” is really such a good deal or a bad buy.
Sometimes a small extra fee might not seem like a lot for something you really want but you still should check with the original selling company to verify whether you are actually saving money by purchasing from a third party.
There can be incentives through the original company that you might not receive when purchasing through a third-party seller. Terms and conditions, such as cancellation, returns or warranty policies, can be different.
I have received several complaints at Houston Better Business Bureau from consumers who have made a purchase from a third party and are experiencing problems gaining a refund. It can be much more difficult working out issues with the third-party seller than dealing with the original company directly, so it’s best to do your homework before moving forward with a purchase through a third-party seller.
You can view information on several third-party companies at bbbhouston.org and I urge all online consumers to use our service. Being an informed buyer is being a smart buyer.
Denisha Maxey is the manager responsible for the dispute resolution and alternative dispute resolution team at Houston Better Business Bureau.

Practical money matters by Nathaniel Sillin

ADULTHOOD brings certain financial responsibilities like the building of budgets, bank accounts and proper insurance. It’s surprising how few consider a proper estate plan part of that essential mix.
In fact, a recent ABC News poll found that only about 50 per cent of Americans have created a will and significantly fewer have created the supporting estate documents like a living will or a power of attorney.
Preparing now for the end of your life or for illness might not sound like fun but it is necessary. Having a plan for the future can help bring you peace and even put you on the road to stronger financial security.
It can also help those you care most about. We’ve all heard cautionary tales about relatives or friends who did not have a will and of family members who were left with difficult but avoidable situations.
So, how do you start an estate plan? It has a lot to do with carefully drawn documents but it’s the planning behind them that really counts. Work with a qualified financial, estate or tax professional in your home state at the earliest opportunity to make sure your plans fit your needs and those of the loved ones to whom you will bequeath your estate.
A will, also called a testament, is the starting point. The will is generally seen as the umbrella document that drives the rest of an individual’s estate process. Generally, it accomplishes these objectives:
• It details how you want to leave your property to specific people or institutions after you die;
• If you have minor children, it allows you to name a guardian to care for them after you die or become incapacitated and also indicates who will manage their assets, including whatever you leave them; and
• It lets you name your executor, the trusted person who will carry out all your wishes in the will.
If you die without a valid will, your state’s court system may become involved in distributing your assets depending on its intestacy laws.
A living will – a separate document also known as an advance directive – allows you to define how you want to be treated medically under specific situations, including irreversible injury or terminal illness.
Depending on your state laws, living wills allow you to express your exact wishes about feeding, breathing assistance and other life-sustaining procedures in addition to how you want them carried out at certain decision points in your care.
A living will may also provide information on pain or infection medications you either want or don’t want administered as well as specific instructions about your remains, including release to your family or donation for medical research.
A power of attorney is a legal document that allows you to name a specific person to take care of your money or healthcare wishes if you are incapacitated. It is particularly wise to seek professional counsel from an attorney qualified in trusts and estates in writing these documents. The person you designate as healthcare power of attorney will be speaking with doctors and executing your wishes on various forms of treatment; your financial power of attorney will be in charge of paying your bills and, depending on the range of responsibilities you outline for that person, handling your investment and business affairs.
Both powers of attorney are extremely important jobs that should be carried out by people you trust and that’s why they need to be people in the know. Make their preparation part of your estate planning so they know how to step in and carry out the assignments you’ve given them efficiently.
Bottom line: Estate planning is the final responsible step in all good financial planning. While it might be unpleasant to perform, it is essential in taking care of family and loved ones and causes you support after you’re gone.
Editor’s note: You can find the ABC News poll online through the link included in our electronic version of this article at thepostnewspaper.net.
Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa’s Practical Money Skills For Life financial education programs. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/PracticalMoney. His articles are intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. Always consult a tax or financial adviser for information on how the law applies to your individual financial circumstances.

Consumer business by Denisha Maxey

IN 1983, JUNE was officially designated as national Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. Millions of people are affected by Alzheimer’s every day. Men and women being diagnosed with the disease, family and friends of people diagnosed and caregivers who provide care for a victim of it all experience the effects.
It can be an emotional and physically demanding journey. If you have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or are providing care for someone living with the disease, it is important that you educate yourself about it and its life-altering effects.
Many myths surround Alzheimer’s but determining what is actual fact or fiction is just as easy as visiting one of the hundreds of websites created to educate the public and increase awareness about the disease. Additionally, resources within your community provide support groups and educational resources.
Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s at present, early detection can make living with the disease easier. If you are older than 65 and have a family history of Alzheimer’s, paying close attention to warning signs can help with early detection, so gather information about the warning signs before it is too late.
Awareness is important and June can be the start of educating yourself or someone else about Alzheimer’s. Whether you are personally affected by the disease or not, there are several things you can do to show your support for Alzheimer’s sufferers this month.
• Donate to a charity organization supporting the fight against Alzheimer’s. It does not have to be a monetary donation; you can donate your time to a local charity. Volunteering with an organization that supports Alzheimer’s research is a great way to show your own support and to help someone affected by the disease at the same time. Before giving your time or donating to any charity, verify that it is a reputable organization by reviewing the charities listed at bbbhouston.org.
• Show your support by wearing purple this month. Pull out your purple shirt, tie, or socks to wear. Rock whatever purple attire you have and show you support for Alzheimer’s awareness.
• Update your social-media accounts, change your profile picture or add a hashtag such as #endalz or #igopurplefor to show your support. Spreading the awareness via social media can help increase awareness about Alzheimer’s disease.
• Tomorrow, Monday June 20, is called “The Longest Day”. It is a day designated to getting a team together to raise awareness and funds for fighting Alzheimer’s. On the day, you choose an activity that your team will undertake to support the cause. You can participate with any team, anywhere in the world, so grab some friends and neighbors to start your own team!
These are a few of the things you can do to show your support and help create awareness about Alzheimer’s in your community.
People affected by the disease live with the effects 365 days a year, not just for the month of June. I hope you continue to show your support all year long and continue to spread the word. Join the fight – go purple!
Denisha Maxey is the manager responsible for the dispute resolution and alternative dispute resolution team at Houston Better Business Bureau.