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!

Friday Focus: Southern Maryland Mission of Mercy

The Southern Maryland Mission of Mercy is part of a national initiative to improve the dental health of those without insurance by holding free two-day dental clinics. The clinics provide services ranging from preventative dentistry and cleanings to restorative fillings and extractions. The last clinic held in Southern Maryland took place in June 2012 at Chopticon High School. Led by Dr. Garner Morgan and a team of local dental professionals and volunteers, the organization was able to provide dental services to around 900 people. We caught up with Jean Wathen, a representative from the organization, who gave us more information on the next free clinic, scheduled for July 18 and 19 of this year!

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

A: Southern Maryland Mission of Mercy is a free adult dental clinic provided by volunteer dental professionals and volunteer staff of several hundred people. Dental services for adult patients include:

• Preventive dentistry and cleaning
• Nutritional counseling
• Restorative fillings
• Extractions

All dental services are provided by licensed dentists and hygienists, mostly from Maryland. Mission of Mercy was launched by Virginia Dental Health Foundation in 2000. Over 50 MOM projects are hosted in Virginia, and are now spreading elsewhere.

The first local MOM for Maryland’s Charles, St. Mary’s, and Calvert Counties was held in June 2012 at Chopticon High School in St. Mary’s County.

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

A: Seeing people smile for the first time in a very long time. When you are not ashamed of your teeth, you have much more self-esteem in life.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

A: Our biggest challenge is fundraising; the cost is $80,000 to $100,000 for the two-day clinic.

Q: Are there any upcoming events?

A: The next Southern Maryland Mission of Mercy (SMMOM) will be held on July 18th and 19th at North Point High School in Charles County.

Q: How can people get involved with your organization?

A: This clinic is made possible by volunteers. Upwards of 400 community volunteers are needed as well as 200 dentists, dental assistants, hygienists, oral surgeons, physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses and dental students.

Community volunteers do not need any special dental or medical training in order to participate. We need help with security, parking, volunteer and patient registration, meals, escorting, and more. Please register to volunteer online.

Community Bank of the Chesapeake proudly supports Southern Maryland Mission of Mercy through our annual Casual for a Cause Program!

Look Before You Give: Beware of Charity Scams and Solicitations

There’s a great feeling that comes with giving back, and contributing to help others. And with advances in technology over the past few years, giving to your favorite charity, organization, or cause is now easier and more convenient than ever. But technology has also brought a negative side to charitable giving – it can turn your generosity and kindness into an opportunity for fraudsters to take your hard-earned money.

So how can you protect yourself from becoming a victim of charitable fraud? The Federal Trade Commission offers these tips:

Watch for red flags. While fraudsters have become more sophisticated and use a variety of methods to solicit funds by phone, mail, or online, there are some warning signs to look out for. Beware of organizations that –

• Request cash-only donations.

• Fail to provide information on their organization, including their mission and how your donations will be used.

• Cannot provide proof that your donations are tax-deductible.

• Pressure you to make donations.

• Ask you to wire money or express unnecessary immediacy in receiving funds.

Do your homework. Take these simple steps before you dish out any money or provide your credit card number to anyone:

• Get the full legal name of the organization and conduct an Internet search using the company name and words like “scam,” “fraud” or “complaint.”

• Call the charity to verify that the request for donation is legitimate. This will protect you in the event that a fraudster calls you or sends you an email pretending to be from a reputable charity.

• Contact the National Association of State Charity Officials to see if the charity is registered with a state.

• Find out the percentage of your funds that will go to the actual cause or fundraiser.

• Visit the Internal Revenue Service to see if your contributions are tax-deductible. Note there is a difference between an organization being tax-exempt versus offering tax-deductibility on contributions. Tax exempt simply means the organization doesn’t have to pay taxes.

Be a smart giver. Once you’ve verified the organization is legitimate, take these steps to protect yourself:

• Never send cash. It’s much safer and easier report contributions if you pay by check or credit card.

• Keep track of all your donations.

• Set aside a charitable budget to ensure you don’t give away more than you can afford.

Give back by reporting any scams If you think you’ve been a victim of charity fraud, take a moment to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. That simple step will help you give back by ensuring other innocent donors aren’t victimized

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.

Friday Focus: The Community Foundation of Rappahannock River Region

Since 1997, the Community Foundation of Rappahannock has supported local organizations through its philanthropic efforts. Working with individual donors and corporations alike, the Foundation creates endowments, grants and scholarships that benefit a number of programs, groups and community-oriented charitable efforts throughout Fredericksburg and the surrounding counties.  Our Friday Focus interviewee this week is the Foundation’s Executive Director, Teri McNally, who shared with us the challenges and rewards of grant-making!

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

A: The Community Foundation is a private, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that has been managing charitable giving on behalf of generous local individuals, families and businesses since 1997. We establish named charitable funds and invest and manage charitable assets for the benefit of the entire Rappahannock River region, which includes the City of Fredericksburg and the four surrounding counties of Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford.

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

A: I’m happiest at work when I am talking to area donors about what they believe in, what they are grateful for and how they want to give back. And I love it when we get to “connect the dots” between generous donors and the nonprofit organizations who are working hard each day to meet our community’s needs – whether that be through environmental conservation, arts, education, health and wellness, etc.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

A: They biggest challenge is that there are so many nonprofits doing such great work, but a limited amount of grant funding to distribute. It can be hard to say no when multiple nonprofits are competing for a grant. But it has an upside, too, because it pushes us to look for the most efficient, strategic and well-planned projects to benefit from our donor’s giving.

Q: Are there any upcoming events?

A: We will be hosting a continuing education opportunity for area professional advisors, such as investment bankers, estate attorneys, and accountants. This low cost, high value training will be held on September 16. Our website–www.cfrrr.org—will have more information and registration opportunities as the event draws closer.

Q: How can people get involved with your organization?

A: When the time comes in life to give back to a community that gives so much to each of us, I hope everyone will remember the local foundation that can help.

Opening a charitable fund at the Community Foundation is easy. A phone call is a great way to start! Teri McNally, Executive Director: 540 373-9292 or email terrimcnally@cfrrr.org.

Hot Tips for Summer Vacation Savings

Summer becomes a hot time to give yourself and your loved ones a badly needed break. But with rising food, fuel, and hotel costs, for many people, a summer vacation may seem out of reach financially.

Rest assured, however, there are some ways to cut the cost of summer vacation and ensure you get your time in the sun.

• Be flexible – it pays. If you’re open to trying different vacation spots, you’ll increase your chances of saving money. For example, look at both lake vacations and beach locations for the best deals, and make your decision accordingly. Having flexibility on your vacation timetable will also make saving easier, especially if you choose a cruise, which can offer significantly lower rates during summer season.

• Stay out of the hot spots. While a lot of us love to be where all the action is, vacationing in crowded “hotspots” can cost you a lot more. By staying away from these locations, you won’t just avoid crowds and traffic; you’ll save money.

• Cash in your rewards. Do you have a credit card that offers travel rewards? Summer is a great time to cash in. You may be able to reduce or eliminate the cost of hotels, airfare, entertainment, and rental cars. Plus, if you stay at the same hotel or use the same airline, you can earn rewards that can be redeemed for next year’s vacation. How’s that for smart vacation planning?

• Get a vacation rental. One way to save significantly on your lodging costs is to rent a condo or cottage. Research has shown that renting homes is a lot more affordable than staying in hotel rooms. Plus, with a home, you’ll have more room and privacy – always a plus when you’re traveling with children.

• Dine in. Another advantage of renting a home is that you can make your own meals, putting more money in your pocket. If you plan on staying at a hotel, see if you can book a room with a stove or refrigerator to allow you to make your own meals and store snacks.

• Team up on your vacation. Invite family members or friends you enjoy spending time with to accompany you. With a vacation rental, you can split the cost of the home, making your vacation a whole lot more affordable.

These are just a few simple ways to save. Find more information on ways to save on vacation planning all year long with help from National Geographic.

Young Adult Blog Series: Do you know your credit score?

If your answer is “no”, don’t feel bad; a recent study by the Consumer Federation of America and VantageScore Solutions found that there are many misconceptions and a general lack of knowledge among Americans when it comes to their credit score.

When you’re young, a credit score probably isn’t something you regularly think about, but as your level of financial responsibility increases, it becomes an important thing to keep track of. So what is a credit score, and how do you find out yours?

Essentially, your credit score is a snapshot of your borrowing history, comprised of information from credit card companies, financial institutions and other companies. This history is used to calculate your creditworthiness—in other words, your likelihood of being able to pay back money that you borrow.

Each time you apply for credit, whether you complete a credit card application, apply for an auto loan or sign a lease for an apartment, someone is probably checking your credit report. When it comes to loans, your credit score is a major determining factor on whether or not a lender will approve you. It can also affect your interest rate; the lower your credit score, the more likely you’ll end up paying more in interest.

Here are some tips to help you build and maintain a solid credit rating:

-Make your payments before the due date Remember, promptness counts! Making your payments ahead of schedule will not only help you avoid late fees, but it will keep your account from delinquency.

-Pay more than the minimum on all credit cards if you can. Having a high credit card balance relative to your credit limit can negatively affect your credit score. If you have a high amount of credit card debt, make every effort to pay down your balances as quickly as possible.

-Order a credit report once a year There are three major bureaus that house credit card information: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. You are entitled to one free report per year from each of the financial institutions, so make a yearly credit check-up part of your life! If you notice any errors on your credit report, contact the issuing bureau immediately.

Want to test your knowledge? Take this quiz and see how much you know about your credit score!

Friday Focus: Accokeek Foundation

Along the Potomac River just across from the historic Mount VernDSC_0915 Becky talks about watermelonson plantation sits Piscataway Park, a 5,000-acre span of natural landscape. The park is a product of a large-scale conservation effort begun in the 1950s, when rapid development threatened to
destroy the land. Today, the stewardship of the park is a joint effort between the National Park Service and the Accokeek Foundation, an organization dedicated to sharing the land and its heritage with visitors. This week’s Friday Focus is a conversation with Anjela Barnes, the Foundation’s Marketing Director, who shared some favorite moments and the Foundation’s plans for celebrating the bicentennial of the War of 1812!

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

A: The Accokeek Foundation’s mission is to cultivate passion for the natural and cultural heritage of Piscataway Park and commitment to stewardship and sustainability. We were founded in 1957 to protect the view from George Washington’s Mount Vernon as one of the nation’s first land trusts, and we continue land conservation efforts today to ensure continued protection of the viewshed and the working landscapes in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Through a partnership with the National Park Service, the Foundation uses Piscataway Park to interpret agriculture and environmental stewardship to its 20,000 annual visitors, including school youth, local residents, recreational enthusiasts and D.C. area tourists. The National Colonial Farm, a well known historic farm museum established in 1958, demonstrates Maryland agriculture during the 18th century, and has been the backdrop for hundreds of school tours each year. The Ecosystem Farm, a certified organic 8-acre farm, teaches visitors about sustainable food production using innovative growing techniques. It is the goal of the farm to demonstrate a compelling variety of possibilities that inspire people to want to grow while creating a thriving, engaged community.

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

A: There are so many favorite moments that it’s hard to choose just one, but I would say that the best moments come by way of the school tours offered to kids aged 13 or younger. Last fall, the organic farm we operate was host to a group of kids from D.C.’s Mundo Verde Public Charter School. The kids learned about what it’s like to be a farmer, where their food comes from and even helped to harvest carrots–a lot of carrots! For many of the kids, it is their first time visiting a farm, an experience quoted by one teacher as, “one they’ll never forget.”

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

A: Because of recent federal budget cuts, including sequestration and the October shutdown, the Accokeek Foundation has been impacted by a decrease in federal funding. Support from private foundations and individuals help to provide the funds needed so we can maintain and provide an open space that is available daily and free for all to enjoy its beauty.

Q: Are there any upcoming events?

A: Yes. We’ve just launched a free monthly workshop series on Modern Homesteading which integrates classroom learning with practical, hands-on work on the farm. The series will be held on Sundays through the fall and will cover topics such as composting, permaculture design, kitchen gardening, canning and food preservation and seed saving. We are also in the midst of planning for a large public event on July 12. The event, “Celebrating with Pride on the Potomac”, commemorates the War of 1812 bicentennial with a visit to the Potomac by the Pride of Baltimore. The event will feature deck tours aboard the Pride, shore side captain talks about the life of a privateer, kayak tours by Atlantic Kayak Company, music and historic interpretation on the National Colonial Farm. Admission is $10 per person, and children 10 and under are free.

Q: How can people get involved with your organization?

A: There are many ways to get involved with the organization. Volunteering on a recurring basis is often the most rewarding way to get involved and give back by helping with the gardens, caring for heritage breed livestock, working the on-farm market or lending a hand during special events. Individuals and families can also join and become members of the Accokeek Foundation to support the natural and cultural heritage programs offered. Or simply visit, bring your family and friends, and enjoy the natural beauty of Piscataway Park, preserved and protected for generations to come.

The Business of Online Advertising

Learn through customer analyticsOne thing is certain about today’s consumers–more and more of them are spending more and more time (and money) online. If that’s where they are, shouldn’t your business be there too? If you’re a busy small business owner and not sure where to start with online advertising, here’s a brief background and a few best practices to get you digitally dialed in.

The Basics
Email marketing, display advertising, search engine marketing, search engine optimization, online video and social media marketing all fall underneath the digital umbrella. You can click here to for a quick reference guide http://www.quirk.biz/resources/emarketingone to find more information on the different channels and which are best suited to your current strategy.

And if you’re like most business owners, decisions about how to allocate limited resources will also play a significant role in which channel(s) to explore. This easy-to-read chart http://moz.com/learn/local/digital-marketing-options can help you compare options based on the amount of time and money you can expect to invest in each.

Best Practices Before Getting Started
As with any type of campaign, make sure you set out with a clearly defined goal. Whether it’s generating more awareness for your brand, driving traffic to your site or increasing sales be sure your objectives are designed to help you achieve a certain end.

Dare to be different, and don’t be afraid to try something a new. http://www.inc.com/ss/7-successful-viral-marketing-campaigns Take advantage of the ability to provide prospects with interesting and engaging content. Whether this is an interactive game, funny video, a little creativity can go a long way in getting you noticed by more users.

A great ad with eye-catching imagery, compelling copy or an irresistible offer is only the beginning. If you promise something in your ad, be sure you’re delivering on the other end through a custom landing page, a digital storefront or an information request form. The last thing you want is to get your prospects to act only to find the destination confusing or completely irrelevant. http://www.forbes.com/sites/drewhendricks/2014/02/28/5-landing-page-mistakes-that-are-killing-your-chances-at-conversions/ And it doesn’t end after “going live,” don’t forget to test your ad to ensure everything is working properly!

Measure Your Success
A challenge marketers face with traditional forms of advertising is navigating the murky waters of the measurement. This can make it difficult to determine the return on investment and overall effectiveness of a campaign.

However, you can track and trace you online efforts easily with the help of tools like Google Analytics http://www.google.com/analytics/. The wealth of information in these reports can provide you with data and insights you can learn from to help sharpen your strategy and improve your messaging and conversion rates over time.

Do you plan to include online advertising to help your boost your business’ bottom line?

Young Adult Blog Series: Buying Your First Car

Car Care Tips to Save You MoneyOne of the first big financial steps you’ll likely take is making the decision to buy a car. Buying a car can be exciting, a little stressful and will have a big impact on your financial life. You’ll need to consider what you want, but also what you can reasonably afford. Owning a car doesn’t just involve making a monthly payment on your loan; you will also need to consider things like gas, insurance and maintenance before making a purchase. And always remember that a car isn’t an investment—it’s just a means of getting from one place to another.

Buying a car is essentially a three-step process: choosing the car you want, negotiating the purchase and actually paying for it.

Step One: The New or Used Decision
The automobile industry spends millions of dollars each year to bring you advertisements for sleek, shiny, new cars with countless features and custom furnishings. But as you can imagine, luxury comes with a high price tag, so as you begin your search be sure to set a limit on how much you’re willing to spend.

There are pros and cons to both new and used cars; new cars usually come with a warranty that will cover unforeseen expenses, but can be expensive. Buying used can be a cost-savings up front, but you’ll need to do extra homework on the car’s history to avoid getting stuck with a clunker. Sites like Carfax.com offer history reports that can tell you if a car was ever stolen, salvaged or recalled, so make that part of your research process. It’s also a good idea to have a qualified mechanic take a look at the car before you buy.

Step Two: Negotiating
Negotiating the purchase of your car can be the most stressful part of the process, particularly if it’s your first time. It helps to go in knowing the facts about the car you’re interested in and be firm on your price limit.

The Internet is a great resource for comparing prices. Check out sites like Autobytel and CarsDirect to get quotes beforehand. Don’t be afraid to share competitive pricing with your salesperson. While you negotiate, stay focused on the purchase price of the car you want and keep discussions about trade-ins or financing options separate. Be wary of expensive add-ons, too; often times, dealerships offer things like rust-proofing or extended warranties that are profitable for the dealer but can be very expensive for you.

Finally, if you feel that you cannot get the price you want or you aren’t being treated with respect, don’t be afraid to table the negotiation and take your business elsewhere. There are many dealerships out there who would love to have your business!

Step Three: Paying for the Car
When it comes to paying for your car, you have several different options.

The first and easiest option would be to pay cash in full, that way you’ll avoid any interest expenses. If you’re buying a new or more expensive used car, though, paying cash might not be possible. In that case, most people choose to make a down payment and then finance the rest of their purchase with a loan. You can take a loan through your bank or credit union, or through the dealership itself. If you’re not planning to finance through the dealer, secure your loan before you walk into the showroom.

Another option is to lease a car, which avoids the need for a large down payment. When you lease, you make monthly payments until the lease is up, at which point you return the car. The obvious drawback here is that you don’t actually own the car.

Whether you’re leasing or buying, be sure to fully understand the terms and conditions before you sign any documents.

Are you ready to take your first steps toward owning a car? Community Bank offers auto loans to help you finance your purchase. Stop in and talk to us anytime!