Energy Efficient Windows: A Clear Improvement?
The warm weather is here, and many consumers are looking to make home improvements while sticking to a budget. The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) advises consumers to balance cost effectiveness with energy efficiency, as more efficient windows, doors and skylights can make a big difference in energy consumption over time.
Start by looking for products that carry the Energy Performance Ratings label from the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC). The label can help determine how well a product will perform its key functions - helping to keep your home cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, keeping out wind, and resisting condensation. By using the information contained on the label, builders and consumers can reliably compare one product with another and make informed decisions.
As with any home improvement project, it’s important to make sure you’re dealing with a reputable contractor and reputable materials. The BBB encourages consumers to consult with their home contractor to see that all energy performance materials carry this label.
If you’re looking for a well insulated room, check the window’s U-Factor. During the cold winter months, you’ll want to make sure your windows are trapping heat. U-Factor ratings generally fall between 0.20 and 1.20. The lower the U-value, the greater a window's resistance to heat flow and the better its insulating value.
Is your room sunny and bright? The Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) rates how much solar radiation is admitted through the window. SHGC is expressed as a number between 0 and 1. The lower a window's solar heat gain coefficient, the less solar heat it transmits in the house.
Are you looking for a well-lit room or one that’s on the dimmer side? Visible Transmittance (VT) is an optical property that indicates the amount of visible light transmitted through the window. VT is expressed as a number between 0 and 1. A higher VT means more light is transmitted.
Make sure your window doesn’t emit unwanted breeziness. Heat loss and gain occur by Air Leakage (AL) through cracks in the window assembly. The lower the AL, the less air will pass through cracks in the window assembly.
Check to see that your window will be free from any water leakage. The higher the Condensation Resistance (CR) rating, the better that product is at resisting condensation formation. While this rating cannot predict condensation, it can provide a credible method of comparing the potential of various products for condensation formation. CR is expressed as a number between 1 and 100.
Before Spending Your Tax Refund: 6 Tips to Consider
Do you spend weeks each spring eagerly anticipating your income tax refund? When the money finally comes in, is it gone tomorrow? You’re not alone. Many consumers view tax refunds as unplanned bonuses, but it makes more sense to plan for that new chunk of change so it doesn’t go to waste. Tax refunds provide the opportunity to improve your financial situation. The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) and Clear Point Credit Counseling Solutions recommend the following tips to tax refund recipients:
Pay down your debt. Refund checks usually arrive when many consumers are still struggling with holiday bills. Use your refund for some much-needed debt relief: pay off your credit card. If you have an outstanding balance on more than one credit card, you can either try to pay off the lowest balance card first (good for motivation) or direct the funds toward the card carrying the highest interest rate (wiser from a financial perspective). Or, apply your refund toward other debts, like a car loan or a home equity loan.
Consider your financial goals. Are you trying to save for a down payment on a house or car? Do you hope to contribute to your child’s college tuition one day? Consider applying your tax refund toward these goals. If you don’t yet have a set of short-term and long-term financial goals, put one together. You’ll be more conscientious about how you spend your tax refund, or any other extra money that comes your way.
Save it for a rainy day. Why not give yourself an even bigger return on your tax refund by putting the money into a savings account–or an emergency savings account, CD or retirement fund? Your tax refund will continue to grow if you put it into savings or invest the money. Plus, it’s always helpful to have a savings account to draw from when a major car repair bill, medical emergency or other unexpected expense comes along.
Keep things in perspective. Working your way out of debt can seem daunting. Perhaps you assume that a small tax refund check won’t make enough of a dent in your debt. Think again. Every little bit helps. Paying down debt takes time, but steadily increasing your monthly payments does have an impact. Just stay focused on the end goal. It may take years to pay off your debt, but your ultimate reward – being debt-free – will be well worth the effort.
If debt is a continuing problem, consider a credit counselor. Certified consumer credit counseling agencies can assist people who are facing financial challenges and are looking for debt relief. The BBB has information on more than 2,000 Credit & Debt Counseling firms, including hundreds of Accredited Businesses. BBB Business Reviews are available for free at www.bbb.org/search.
Consider investing in your home or helping others. Even if your finances are in good shape, your refund check provides the opportunity to improve your life or the lives of others. Use the money to spruce up your home or make it more energy-efficient. Improve your career opportunities by taking a class or training course. Use your refund to teach your older children how to handle money. Give them a portion of the refund and help them budget for school, clothing and entertainment expenses and savings. Finally, you may want to donate your tax refund to a charitable organization. You’ll help improve the lives of others, and your charitable gift may reduce next year’s tax burden. For more information on trustworthy charities, check out the BBB Wise Giving Alliance at www.bbb.org/charity.
For more consumer tips you can trust, visit http://www.bbb.org/us/Consumer-Tips/.
BBB Small Business Advice for National Financial Literacy Month
76% of Americans are stressed about money, according to research by the American Psychological Association, and more than two-thirds of employers say that contributed to higher health costs, employee absences and lost productivity. To combat this growing trend, the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability and the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) recommend financial literacy education for employees.
Regardless of the kind of business you own or the financial benefits you provide, every employee should have access to financial literacy planning tips. By giving employees the tools they need to succeed in their personal finances, you are giving your business the gift of dependable employees who aren’t distracted by personal financial woes.
Employers do not need big budgets to provide financial literacy education. Check with your local BBB to see if they offer financial literacy programs or if one of the many BBB Accredited Businesses in your area can assist (banks, credit unions, financial planners and others in the sector often offer this kind of programming).
The BBB also offers “Managing Credit – Made Simpler” for online learning. The Small Business version helps business owners manage credit and business debt, while the Consumer version offers three tracts depending on your financial situation. The BBB has also partnered with FINRA Investor Education Foundation to provide assistance to consumers on investment issues and avoiding investment scams.
For more business tips you can trust or to check out businesses in your area, visit www.bbb.org.