Friday Focus: Southern Maryland Food Bank

For many of us, the holidays are a time of plenty as our tables are filled withsomdfood bank festive dishes, cookies and other treats.  But it’s important to remember that there are people in our community who are not as fortunate. Leading the charge against hunger in the Tri-County area is Brenda DiCarlo, Director of the Southern Maryland Food Bank. We caught up with Brenda for this week’s Friday Focus, where she shared her organization’s story.

Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, what you do, etc.)

A: The Southern Maryland Food Bank has been serving the Tri-County area of Southern Maryland for 30 years and has been easing the pain of hunger since we began in 1983.  We provide supportive services and bulk food to nearly 40 pantries, group homes, soup kitchens and shelters in our area.  These sites rely on us for 50 to 100 percent of their weekly food supply, so that they can provide food to those experiencing food insecurity in their communities.  We also provide SNACK Sak bags to children in five St. Mary County Public Schools who are living in crisis situations.

Q: What is your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?

A: Our favorite bittersweet moment was recently when we distributed over 1 million pounds of food to the community during our 30th fiscal year.  It was a milestone for such a small program, however, knowing that there was that much need in our community enlightened us as to how much more we still need to do to ease the pain of hunger.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

A: Our challenges are many. We are in constant need of food donations, financial donations to purchase food with or expand our services and staffing.

Q: What advice can you give someone looking to work at a non-profit?

A: Always remember that we ourselves could easily be in the same situation as those we serve, so be kind and non-judgmental to those requesting services.

Q: How can people get involved this holiday season?

A: Food drives are a great way to get involved and to support those in need. You can also contact us or any pantry that may need extra help during the busy season of giving and receiving.

 

Online Holiday Shopping Tips

If the weather outside is frightful (or if you’re just looking to save some time), online shopping is the way to go for your holiday purchases. The advOnline shopping safetyantages to the online marketplace are many: no lines, no crowds and no multi-store trips to find that one specific toy. As you zoom from Amazon to Etsy and back again, here are some tips to make your holiday shopping as productive and safe as possible:

  • Protect your data

The holiday shopping season always comes with a host of horror stories about identity theft, so when you log on, make sure you take the proper steps to keep your information safe. Shop only through sites you trust and always check that the site is secure. Secure sites typically have URLs that being with “https” instead of “http” on any page where you’re entering card information. Additionally, you should always see a lock icon somewhere in your browser window when you’re on a secure page.

  • Choose credit

When it comes to checkout time, it’s better to use a credit card rather than a debit card for online purchases. Credit cards tend to have a higher level of fraud protection than debit cards, and you are not liable for debt incurred after a credit card is reported lost or stolen. On the other hand, if your debit card information is compromised, your entire bank account balance could be at risk.

  • Keep track of those receipts

Have a designated place (either a physical folder or folder in your email inbox) to keep track of your receipts, payment confirmations and tracking numbers for your purchases. Always be sure to read the fine print with respect to returns; different vendors’ policies will differ where returns and exchanges are concerned.

  • Buy items together to save on shipping

The one obvious downside to online shopping is the cost of shipping. Depending on the site and the shipping option you choose, a reasonably priced item could easily become one that causes you to hesitate at the checkout page. Sites like Amazon offer you the option to bundle items together and ship them in the fewest boxes possible to save you money, and may also offer free shipping when you spend a certain dollar amount. Plan out your shopping in advance to maximize your transactions on each site—it will help you take advantage of these benefits and keep your shipping costs low.

  • Check the dates

Speaking of shipping, pay close attention to the estimated shipping times on your purchases and make sure to leave enough time for things to arrive. Most sites will provide you with a tracking number for your package once it’s shipped.

Remember: Identity theft increases around the holidays, so take extra care when shopping online. Here are some additional safe shopping tips from Webroot.com.

Friday Focus: Windows of Strength

Undergoing an organ transplant can be a lengthy ordeal for both the recipient and his or her family. This week’s Friday Focus organization, Windows of Strength, Limited, seeks to relieve some of the financial stress for transplant recipients and their caregivers. We caught up with founder, Sandy Walker-Samler, who shared more information about the positive impact her organization has had on the lives of those in need.

Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, what you do, etc.) 

A: Windows of Strength is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization assisting organ transplant recipients and their caregivers with non-medical costs that are not covered by insurance, government programs or other organizations during their transplant process. These costs include transportation to and from follow-up doctor visits and testing, lodging for caregivers and family members during the recipient’s hospital stay, meals and other needs that may arise that do not fall under medical classification.

Q: What is your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)? 

A: We have helped organ transplant recipients and their caregivers in many ways. Each time we provide assistance is considered a special moment. There is such a need for this type of support; we wish we could help more. We have aided in areas such as:

  • Providing gas cards for transportation needs to allow recipients to travel back and forth to their follow-up doctor appointments and tests.
  • Providing assistance with lodging and bus transportation for recipients who live out of their transplant clinic area when they must follow-up with doctor appointments and tests after their transplant surgery.
  • Helping to pay for parking fees for the recipients while at their doctor appointments and follow-up tests.
  • Helping with phone and utility bills, homeowner’s and car insurance for recipients in need of assistance due to their caregiver and/or themselves being unable to work after their transplant surgery.
  • Paying rent for the recipients in need of assistance due to the caregiver and/or recipient being on an unpaid leave of absence.
  • Donating to the Gift of Life Family House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Gift of Life Family House serves as a “home away from home” for transplant patients and their families by providing temporary, affordable lodging and supportive services to those who travel to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for transplant-related care.

These are the main areas where we have helped; however, there have been other miscellaneous requests that we have granted funding to help with financial assistance

Q: What is your biggest challenge? 

A:   Awareness, Funding, and Volunteers.

Windows of Strength was formed in 2010 and received 501(c)(3) status in 2011. Being a newly formed organization, we are faced with the challenge of growing awareness about the organization and our mission.   We started from the ground up and do not have any statewide chapters or a national umbrella that we fall under to assist with awareness or funding. We are not a “known” name throughout the community. Most of our funding comes from two major events we hold each year: a Mother/Daughter Tea and Fashion Show held the Sunday before Mother’s Day and a Holiday Gift Show held the Sunday before Thanksgiving. We have also held smaller fundraising events throughout the year which has helped in these areas.

In addition, most of the transplant clinics are located in the Baltimore and D.C. areas where there is a larger transplant community to draw from. Here in Southern Maryland, we don’t have transplant centers. Though there are many organ transplant recipients in the area, due to confidentiality and the sensitive nature of a transplant, we do not have the access as the larger organizations do to reach out to this community. With that being said, it has also been a big challenge to find volunteers in the Southern Maryland area to assist with the organization. We know the people are out there, but just need help in finding ways to connect to them.

We continue to make baby steps, however we are excited to report that this year we made huge progress in establishing great partnerships with transplant social workers from the Johns Hopkins Transplant Center and the University of Maryland Transplant Center. In order to verify a recipient’s need for assistance, a grant application must be submitted and signed off by their transplant social worker before submitting to Windows of Strength for funding. We have been able to provide assistance to many of the recipients from these centers, some of which are from the Southern Maryland area. 

Q: Are there any upcoming events?

A: Yes. Our Annual Holiday Gift Show – Sunday, November 23, 2014 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the North Beach Volunteer Fire Department, North Beach, Md.

We also sell very delicious tea and tasty creamed honey over the holidays. They can be purchased individually or in gift sets and baskets.

Other ongoing fund raising events:

  1. When you shop online at AmazonSmile and choose Windows of Strength as your charity organization, Amazon will donate a percentage to Windows of Strength.
  2. If you like jewelry, check out www.bravelets.com and search for Windows of Strength as your charity.   Bravelets™ will donate $10 from each jewelry purchase to Windows of Strength.
  3. We have partnered with Phoneraiser.com in collecting used/old cell phones and ink jet cartridges. The donation of these items help Windows of Strength raise money for organ transplant recipients and their caregivers, while at the same time protecting the environment by giving old technology new life and keeping it from polluting our landfills. The unwanted cell phones and ink cartridges are recycled in accordance with EPA regulations or refurbished and reused.     

Q: How can people get involved with your organization?  

A: Contact Windows of Strength by phone at 443-951-5125; email at mywish@windowsofstrength.org; or find more information online at www.windowsofstrength.org. Windows of Strength can also be found on Facebook and Pinterest. Our mailing address is P.O. Box 584, Chesapeake Beach, MD 20732.

Friday Focus: American Red Cross Rappahannock Area

redcross-logoThis week’s Friday Focus organization is part of the world’s largest volunteer network. Active in 187 countries worldwide, the Red Cross plays a fundamental role in the lives of many millions of people. We spoke with Jonathan McNamara, Regional Director of Donor and Media Relations and spokesman for the local Virginia chapter of the organization, about the important role the Red Cross plays locally, nationally and globally.

Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, what you do, etc.)

A: The American Red Cross exists to provide compassionate care to those in need. Our network of generous donors, volunteers and employees shares a mission of preventing and relieving suffering, here at home and around the world, through five key service areas:

Disaster Relief: The Red Cross responds to approximately 70,000 disasters in the United States every year, ranging from home fires that affect a single family to hurricanes that affect tens of thousands, to earthquakes that impact millions. In these events, the Red Cross provides shelter, food, health and mental health services to help families and entire communities get back on their feet. Although the Red Cross is not a government agency, it is an essential part of the response when disaster strikes. We work in partnership with other agencies and organizations that provide services to disaster victims.

Supporting America’s Military Families: The Red Cross helps military members, veterans and their families prepare for, cope with and respond to the challenges of military service. Emergency communications, training, support to wounded warriors and veterans, and access to community resources help an average of 150,000 military families and veterans annually.

Live-saving Blood: Your donations of blood are what make the American Red Cross the largest single supplier of blood and blood products in the U.S. Each year, nearly 4 million people donate blood through the Red Cross, helping to provide more than 40% of America’s blood supply.

Health and Safety Services: The Red Cross is the nation’s leading provider of health and safety courses, such as CPR, First Aid and Lifeguard training. Each year, more than 9 million Americans participate in our training programs, including first responders, educators, babysitters and people who want to be prepared to help others in an emergency.

International Services: The American Red Cross is part of the world’s largest humanitarian network with 13 million volunteers in 187 countries. Working together, we help respond to disasters, build safer communities, and teach the rules of war. Each year, we reach an average of more than 100 million people across the globe. 

Q: What is your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?

A: Every moment where we help a family is special. From supporting families who have lost everything after a home fire at 3:00 a.m., to reuniting a loved ones seperated by armed conflict, our volunteers and staff work tirelessly to alleviate human suffering.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

A: We continue to have to adapt to the challenges our communites face. This is why we work so hard to recruit and train volunteers to support our mission. We also work with a variety of partners to commmunicate our vision and work to bring people together to build more prepared and resilient communities.

Q: Are there any upcoming events?

A: We are participating in a variety of community events across our area. For more information about upcoming events, or to have the Red Cross at your next function, visit http://www.redcross.org/va/fredericksburg or call 757-446-7700. You can also follow the Red Cross on Twitter @RCCoastalVA or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/redcrossSEVA.

Q: How can people get involved with your organization? 

A: Each year, over one million Americans serve as Red Cross volunteers providing local community needs, such as:

  • Helping people in emergencies and disaster response
  • Teaching people how to prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies
  • Teaching first aid and CPR, swimming and other health and safety skills
  • Delivering emergency messages to members of the military
  • Reconnecting families separated around the world through international tracking services, etc.
  • Organizing youth programs

Red Cross volunteers work directly with people, serve on boards of directors, serve as managers, advisors, and provide behind the scenes support. Be a Red Cross volunteer!

Helping others feels good, and helps you feel good about yourself. Your local Red Cross can work with you to provide rewarding experiences, opportunities to utilize your talents, or provide training to help you serve your community.

To join our team visit: http://www.redcross.org/va/fredericksburg/volunteer

Halloween Safety Tips

The candy bowls are full, the Jack-o-Lanterns are carved and your children have been wearing their costumes around the house in anticipation. However, before your children take to the neighborhood on October 31, it’s important you proceed with the proper safety precautions to ensure everyone has a great time while scaring up some fun. Here are a few helpful Halloween safety tips for both parents and chPumpkinsildren alike.

Costume Caution

As much as possible, encourage bright or light colored costumes. However, if your children like to take the scare factor to a whole new level by donning costumes fit for a horror movie set, there are ways to make even the most frightening frocks safer. While it might be difficult to convince your son of the need to brighten up his Batman costume for fear of “totally ruining it,” try adding reflective or glow-in-the-dark tape to the bottom of dark costumes and candy bags. Carrying flashlights and glow sticks can also make dark costumes more visible to drivers while not taking too much away from the costume.

‘One size fits all’ might work for the manufacturer, but such store-bought costumes are often far from that. Make sure your child tries on the costume with whatever footwear they intend to pair it with. Pay special attention to the costume’s length, and make sure it is the right size, as a costume that is too long could more easily result in trips and falls.

Masks can make it difficult to see and can hamper your child’s peripheral vision. Nontoxic face paint or make-up are better options, but start by testing a small amount your child’s arm beforehand to check for any possible reaction.

Safekids.org recommends that children under the age of 12 be accompanied by an adult. While chaperoning the group’s movement from house to house, make certain everyone remains on the sidewalks at all times and cross the street at crosswalks whenever possible. If a street does not have a sidewalk, always walk along the left side watching forward for any oncoming cars.

And if you’re children are old enough to venture out on their own, it’s best to remind them of these trick-or-treating rules. It is also a good idea to have them carry a fully charged cellphone and stick to familiar, well-lit neighborhoods.

Drivers, remember the popular trick-or-treating times are between 5:30 and 9:30 pm. Proceed with caution and keep an eye out for children, especially in neighborhoods, when out on the roads.

Rules of the Road

Safekids.org recommends that children under the age of 12 be accompanied by an adult. While chaperoning the group’s movement from house to house, make certain everyone remains on the sidewalks at all times and cross the street at crosswalks whenever possible. If a street does not have a sidewalk, always walk along the left side watching forward for any oncoming cars.

And if you’re children are old enough to venture out on their own, it’s best to remind them of these trick-or-treating rules. It is also a good idea to have them carry a fully charged cellphone and stick to familiar, well-lit neighborhoods.

Drivers, remember the popular trick-or-treating times are between 5:30 and 9:30 pm. Proceed with caution and keep an eye out for children, especially in neighborhoods, when out on the roads.

Candy Collecting

The Food and Drug Administration suggests giving your children a light meal before heading out. This can help prevent hunger, and cut down on the temptation to snack while trick-or-treating. This is especially helpful for parents as it provides you an opportunity to inspect your children’s candy after getting back home.

When checking your child’s candy collection, be on the lookout for homemade goods and any suspicious wrapping. A good rule of thumb is to stick with only candy or sweets found in commercially wrapped packaging.

Whether you will be out trick-or-treating with your children or on your way home from work, just remember to keep these safety tips in mind on Halloween night. We hope everyone has a safe and very Happy Halloween!

Summer Savings Tip: Turn off the lights!

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average household dedicates about 5% of its energy budget to lighting.Summer Savings Tip: Turn the lights off

It’s an easy budget to start trimming, and here are tips to get you started:

Make the switch
Switching to energy-efficient lighting is one of the fastest ways to cut your energy bills, and you have lots of choices, including halogen incandescents, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Energy-efficient bulbs may cost more than ones you’re used to, but you’ll save over their lifetime.

Visit Energy Star to find the right light bulbs for your fixtures.

Off vs On
Think twice about that old electricity myth that says it uses more electricity to turn a light back on than it does to keep it on. Today’s basic wisdom suggests that, depending on the type of light, you’re apt to save by turning it off, no matter how short the duration before you’ll be turning it on again.

Time out
Use timers and motion sensors to automatically control the amount of electricity you use. Dimmers also provide savings.

Natural light
Take advantage of daylight by keeping your curtains, blinds or shades open, or using curtains that allow daylight in. When you’re decorating, remember that lighter colors reflect daylight and enhance available natural light in a room.

Crunch the numbers
Curious how much you might save — in terms of dollars or energy — by turning off the lights when you leave the house? It could add up. Check out this breakdown at The Simple Dollar.

Find more tips!
Looking to save even more? Visit websites for your local utilities, including the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (SMECO), for more energy saving tips on everything from appliances to heating and cooling.

Is your family good about turning off the lights?

Big Savings for Small Business

Are you a small business owner looking to maximize your margins? Are you trying to realize opportunities to save 75779888registerwithout disrupting your day-to-day processes? With a little creativity and thrifty thinking there are ways you can save without sacrificing efficiency or quality.

Smarter Spending

Used cars cost less than brand new models, and the same is true for office equipment. The next time you’re looking to pick up a printer/copier or conference table opt for a “pre-owned model,” and pay a fraction of the new sticker price. But before heading over to Amazon, eBay or a local office e-tailer, check out these tips http://www.nfib.com/article/buying-and-selling-used-office-equipment-52144/ to help guard against potential scams.

Other discount options exist in the growing number of surplus stores like Overstock.com http://www.overstock.com/, which resell outdated or previously unsold inventory from brand names and top retailers.

DIY Marketing

Of the many advantages of social media, it’s hard to ignore one very appealing fact – the price. All the major channels, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Tumblr, etc., are free for businesses to set up and maintain a profile. Using social sites as promotional vehicles for your latest products and services also improves your search engine rankings and therefore the likelihood of attracting more prospects.

Public relations opportunities are also monetarily attractive options. In addition to drafting and distributing your own press releases in conjunction with events or promotions, consider making senior managers and other specialists within your organization available for interviews and speaking opportunities. The benefits extend beyond the free press coverage, as your business will be seen as a go-to resource flush with industry experts.

Go green to save some green

According to PC World http://www.pcworld.com/article/257306/how_to_save_money_on_printing_costs.html, each sheet of printed paper costs about 10 cents, and that figure jumps significantly with respect to color. When you multiply that by the number of pages printed by each employee over the course of a year the expense grows exponentially.

Opt to “go green” and digitize whenever possible. In lieu of mailing or faxing inventories and purchase orders, send them via email. The same applies to inter-office communications, why print when scanning and sending does the trick. If you’re a brick and mortar business, try offering your customers the option of an e-receipt instead of a printed version. In addition to saving on ink, toner, paper and machine maintenance, your business will also benefit from the goodwill generated by your eco-friendly initiatives.

An even simpler, low-tech opportunity can be found by examining your overhead…lights that is. Replacing your incandescent bulbs with more energy efficient LEDs or compact fluorescents can result in a savings of up to tens of thousands annually. http://www.cnbc.com/id/100863041

What tips or tricks have you used to save your business money?

Friday Focus: Belle Grove Plantation

In its three hundred year history, Belle Grove Plantation has stood witness to many of America’s greatest historic events and has hosted many famous and historical people. As the Plantation prepares for its first major fundraising event, a Blues Concert and Picnic Under the Stars on July 4, we caught up with representative Michelle Darnell for this week’s Friday Focus.

Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, what you do, etc.)

A: Belle Grove Plantation, the birthplace of President James Madison, located in King George County Virginia, is now the home of Belle Grove Plantation Bed & Breakfast. Our Southern Plantation was established in 1670 on the banks of the Rappahannock River. Belle Grove’s stately, historic mansion has four master suites with private baths and views of the river and plantation. Each room is named after a family that owned Belle Grove Plantation through its history, and each is decorated with period antiques to reflect the period that a particular family lived at Belle Grove. Gourmet breakfasts await you in our formal dining room or on the riverside balcony. Social hour at 5:00pm will allow you to relax as you watch the sunset on the river.

Built in 1791, this mansion offers the charm of Southern days gone by. Here you will find the elegant Southern wedding of your dreams or a peaceful retreat for corporate and social gatherings. With historic and local attractions within easy drives and award-winning vineyards just around the corner, Belle Grove Plantation makes a great place to come home to after a day of adventure.

Just 90 minutes from Washington DC or Baltimore, 50 minutes from Richmond and less than a half hour from Fredericksburg, Belle Grove Plantation is a hidden jewel of the Northern Neck.

Q: What is your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?

A: This one is a hard one to answer. We have had so many special moments since we opened in August 2013 and even before we opened. I have to say that one that sticks out in my mind was a very special visit we helped arrange for a local descendant of one of the owners of Belle Grove. Over the years, no access had been given to the public to allow others to come and enjoy the beauty of Belle Grove and to touch the ground where many of the local families’ forefathers once walked.

We were contacted by the wife of one of these families before we opened to arrange a very special birthday surprise. The family was about to move far away and the husband, who was a direct decedent as well as the family historian, had driven by this plantation many times, longing to come back and see where his forefather once called home.

His wife and I made an appointment on his birthday for them to come to the plantation. This was just a day or two before they were to leave for good. She blindfolded him and drove him to the plantation. As she helped him out of the car, you could feel the excitement of seeing his reaction once he knew where he was. When she removed the blindfold, his jaw dropped and I could swear I saw tears in his eyes.

That time with him was not only helpful to us as we were building the past history to preserve, but it was one of the most special times we had as we walked this decedent through the same halls his forefather had walked years ago.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

A: Like with any business or historic landmark, our biggest challenge is money and fundraising. Our historic home, despite being here since 1791 and our plantation, founded in 1670, are really not very well-known landmarks. Most people assume that President Madison was born at Montpelier and don’t realize that he was actually born here; we have been working hard to get the word out to others who, like us, want to preserve this important landmark.

Our biggest challenge right now is the restoration and preservation of our three 1720 outbuildings. Our Summer Kitchen, Ice House and Smokehouse are the oldest buildings on the property and stood here when James Madison drew his first breath. The Virginia Department of Historic Resources has even told us how important they are. Structures like our Summer Kitchen, which is half kitchen and half slave quarters, just aren’t around anymore from this time period, and it kills us as we stand by watching boards pop loose and bricks fall in, all while we rush to raise the needed funds to stabilize them and to restore them.

Our hope is to restore these structures back to the 1720 time period, and to make the Summer Kitchen into a small museum. We would like to use the kitchen side of to house the artifacts we have already found and to tell the story of the history of this elegant Southern plantation.

We would also like to take the slave quarter side of the Summer Kitchen and turn it into a memorial to the enslaved people of Belle Grove Plantation. While the slave cemetery has long been lost, we do have many of the names of the enslaved people from the early 1700s to just after the Civil War. We have uncovered them through death records, wills and inventories. Our goal is to place a bronze plaque in the slave quarter side of the Summer Kitchen to give these very important members of the plantation a name—to let everyone know that they were here, too.

Q: Are there any upcoming events?

A: On July 4, 2014, we will be having our first major fundraiser to help us restore, preserve and improve Belle Grove Plantation. This event will be a Blues Concert and Picnic Under the Stars at Belle Grove Plantation, starting at 6:00pm. We invite the public to bring their lawn chairs or blankets and come enjoy an evening of music, food and fun. There are no fireworks this year, but when you hear the voice of our main band, The Alexis P. Suter Band from New York, you won’t need fireworks—Alexis has a powerhouse voice that will not only excite you, but move you! We will also have an opening act, Mike Mallack from Maryland. His Southern-fried rock sound will make you swear that you are listening to and seeing Chris Daugherty.

Tickets are available through our online store or by calling us directly at 540-621-7340.

Q: How can people get involved with your organization?

A: There are many ways you can help make a difference at Belle Grove Plantation. We have volunteers that help us in so many ways. You can see our list of volunteers on our website under our “Employment” page.

If you can’t volunteer, you can help us by spreading the word. ‘Like’ our Facebook page and share it with your friends and family. Ask them to share it with their friends and family. Help us by taking some of our postcards or brochures to local businesses and encourage them to display them.

Help us with our fund raising efforts. Besides donating yourself, you can help us in our upcoming donation drive to raise the needed funds to get us to the next steps in restoring, preserving and improving Belle Grove Plantation.

Support our public events, tours and bed and breakfast accommodations. By coming and enjoying our events, you are not only have a great time with us, you are helping to provide funds we so desperately need!

For more information, visit www.bellegroveplantation.com or email information@bellegroveplantation.com.

 

Young Adult Blog Series: Renting Your First Apartment

The day has come—you’re finally ready to move out of your parents’ house and find your own place!New Houses series

Renting that first apartment can be exciting and a little bit scary. You will probably look at several apartments to find the one that has the location you want, includes the amenities you need and is affordable.

That’s the exciting part.

Before the landlord will hand over your keys, you’ll need to go through the process of signing a lease. Often times, you’ll also need to do an application before the landlord will rent to you. Be sure to understand all the details, fill out the application completely (and honestly) and ask questions about anything you do not understand before signing anything.

As you go through the process, remember that the landlord is running a business and you are the customer. However, unlike making a purchase at a store, this transaction will span a much longer period of time, and your relationship with the landlord will continue as long as you live in the apartment. Starting the relationship on a good note and living up to your responsibilities as a renter can make the relationship (and your overall experience) more pleasant.

Here are some of the things you may encounter when applying for the lease:

Personal Information – You will probably need to provide information on your prior places of residence, your employment, contact information in case of emergency, information on your car and whether you have pets. You may also be asked about any legal record you may have.

Application Fee – You will probably have to pay an application fee which may be non-refundable. This covers the cost of the landlord processing your application. It’s worth it to ask your landlord if your application fee can be applied to your rent. You may not get it, but there’s no harm in asking.

Security Deposit – Once your application is accepted, the landlord will probably want a deposit that could equate to a couple months’ rent. The landlord holds this as security in case there are damages when you move out. Be sure to inspect the apartment before you move in to find any existing damages. Discuss anything you find with your landlord immediately, and make sure you are not charged for them when you move out.

Credit Report – It’s normal for a landlord to run a credit check on you before approving your application. This is one of the ways the landlord gets some comfort that you will pay the rent each month, based on your creditworthiness.

Guarantor – Depending on your situation, the landlord may require that someone else guarantees your lease. Remember, the landlord is in business to make a profit and he wants to make sure that the rent gets paid on time and that the apartment is well taken care of. It’s especially common of the landlord to ask this of young tenants who haven’t rented before. Don’t be alarmed or frustrated—ask a parent or guardian to be the guarantor.

Finally, be a good renter. Renters and customers that are pleasant to work with and pay their bills promptly usually get better service. A good relationship with your landlord can be important if things go wrong. Remember, your landlord is whom you are going to call if there is a leak in your roof at 3 a.m. or there’s no hot water. A good relationship may get the problem resolved easier and sooner!

Make your first renting experience a good one—check out this article for tips on avoiding 7 common mistakes among first time renters!

Young Adult Blog Series: Student Loans

If you’re spending the dollars on a higher education, you likely have the prospect of student loans hanging over your head. You’re not alone—Forbes.com reports that two thirds of students graduating from American universities today are carrying some amount of debt with them. Even more staggering, the total student loan debt in the United States is estimated at around $1.2 trillion, with the average graduate owing $26,000.

In the flurry of excitement that comes with graduation, job searching and (hopefully!) snagging that first job, it can be easy to put off thinking about loan payback. Consequently, nearly one quarter to one third of borrowers are late or delinquent on their student loans, a misstep that can have a negative impact on a financial future down the line.

When it comes to student loans, it’s beneficial to take the time to understand your personal situation. Every student is different, so be sure to find out who you owe, and how much you have in debt. As you go through that process, there are a few things to keep in mind:

What type of repayment plan will you have? Many loan programs allow you to defer starting the repayment process until you graduate and then have level payments for up to ten years to pay off the loan. Depending on the type of loan you have and your situation, you may be able to extend the term or have variable payments.

What are the terms (repayment and interest rate) of your loan? As you review your loan, be sure to compare the student loan rate with any other borrowing you may have. For example, it may sound nice to pay off your student loan just to get it behind you, but if that means that your credit card balance would grow, it may not make sense.

Would consolidating your loans or refinancing them make sense? Again, you need to review all of the terms of any existing loan with the terms of a potential consolidated loan. Be sure to consider rates, terms and any costs of consolidating or refinancing.

What if you are having trouble making your required payments? Living up to your repayment responsibilities is serious. Missing payments may trigger penalties and ultimately that may be reflected on your credit record. If this is an issue, contact your lender immediately. You may be able to work out an agreement to extend the repayment period or change the terms to ease the problem. Your lender does not want to see the loan go into default and neither do you.

Looking for additional tips for managing your student loans? Click here to read more.