Tips to help stay safe while working outdoors
- Wednesday, 16 May 2012
- Steve Borklund
By Contributing Columnist Steve Borklund:
TRAVELERS REST, S.C. -- According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), nearly 400,000 people are treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries from lawn and garden tools each year. Additionally, one out of five deaths involves a child.
CPSC recommends that the public take the necessary precautions to help prevent injuries from outdoor equipment, including:
- Dress appropriately for the task.
- Wear close-fitting clothes.
- Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts.
- Do not wear jewelry.
- Wear sturdy shoes with slip-resistant rubber soles.
- Use eye and ear protection.
- Wear heavy gloves.
Before starting up machinery, remove objects from the area in which you are working that can cause injury or damage equipment. Make sure that safety devices on the equipment are in place and functioning properly before starting work.The CPSC also recommends:
- Never let a child ride or operate a garden tractor or riding mower, even if the child is supervised.
- Keep children indoors and supervised at all times when any outdoor power equipment is being used.
- Never assume children will remain where you last saw them.
- Be alert and turn off the mower if children enter the mowing area.
- Unplug electric tools and disconnect spark plug wires on gasoline-powered tools before making adjustments or clearing jams near moving parts.
- Be sure power tools are turned off and made inoperable if they must be left unattended to prevent use by children.
- Never work with electric power tools in wet or damp conditions.
- Be sure that extension cords are in good condition, are rated for outdoor use, and are the proper gauge for the electrical current capacity of the tool.
- Handle gasoline carefully.
- Never fill gas tanks while machinery is on.
- Never fill gas tanks when equipment is hot.
- Wipe up spills.
- Store gas in an approved container away from the house.
- Never smoke around gasoline.
Money Matters: Using your tax refund wisely
- Sunday, 05 February 2012
- Steve Borklund
So your 1040 is filed and you are now anxiously waiting for your tax refund. What do you plan on doing with it? Go on that long-awaited cruise, get a new set of golf clubs, or buy that widescreen TV you’ve had your eye on?
According to the Internal Revenue Service, over 75 percent of American taxpayers receive a federal tax refund, with the average being around $2,500. It’s what you do with your refund now that may create a better financial picture for you and your family in the future.
Instead of spending your refund this year, consider contributing to an Individual Retirement Account (IRA), setting up a college savings fund for a child, or paying down credit card debt. These options will help improve your financial situation.
First on your list of priorities might be paying down any high-interest credit card debts you have incurred. By paying only the minimum each month, you may be paying just the interest (or less) on the debt and little or nothing towards the principal. Paying down the debt can help free up additional money for other important financial needs.
If debt is not a problem, your tax refund could provide you an excellent opportunity to contribute to an existing IRA or establish a new one.
Making a tax-deductible contribution to a traditional IRA is an option if you are not participating in an employer-sponsored retirement plan or, if you are participating, your Adjusted Gross Income falls within eligibility guidelines. A Roth IRA may be a better choice, if you are eligible to contribute. Contributions to a Roth IRA are not tax deductible. However, qualified distributions are received free from federal income tax.
Your refund could also be used to contribute to your child's college savings. There are simple and affordable options you can take advantage of today, including tax-advantaged savings vehicles, to help you reach your college savings goal.
One thing to remember after you’ve decided the fate of this year’s refund: the check you received is not a windfall, but the return of an interest-free loan you provided the government.
Regardless of the pleasure you may get from receiving a large check each tax year, adjusting the amount withheld by the government to reduce the amount of future refunds may be an appropriate course. You might not get a refund in April, but there may be more money in each paycheck to contribute to a savings account or IRA or to pay down debt throughout the year.
Take some time to consider your options before making the down payment on that big purchase you may be considering. The earlier you start saving for your future, the more you may have during your retirement.
If you have questions about these options and others, you owe it to yourself to contact a financial services professional that you know and trust. Your financial future may depend on it.
Money Matters: Close the door on dryer fires
- Friday, 28 October 2011
- Steve Borklund
You could be heating up more than clothes in your laundry room. According to the U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, there are an estimated 15,500 dryer fires annually, resulting in nearly $100 million in damage. The most frequent causes of these fires are improper ventilation and/or poor maintenance, which allow lint to accumulate. When lint covers heaters, switches and motors in the dryer, fires can result.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, there are some things you can do to help prevent dryer fires:
- Avoid leaving the dryer running when away from your home.
- Clean the lint trap after every use
- Don’t dry oily rags in your dryer.
- Don’t operate the dryer without a lint filter
- Ensure that the dryer is plugged into an outlet suitable for its electrical needs.
- Keep the dryer area free of combustibles such as clothing and boxes.
Adequate ventilation is key to not only the safety but the performance of your dryer as well. The dryer duct should vent directly outdoors, not into an attic, crawl space or indoors. Ducts should be kept free of lint and combustible debris to prevent a fire from spreading outside of the dryer.
Use only metal dryer ducts. Plastic ducts can collapse, causing blockage and lint buildup within the dryer. Plastic ducts may ignite or melt, and will not contain a fire within the dryer. Follow the manufacturer’s suggestions on the length of ducting you should use, since appliances are tested and certified according to certain specifications. Make sure to consult your owner’s manual for more information.
While there are no sure signs that your dryer may catch fire, the following are some possible warning signs of trouble:
- Clothes, especially towels or jeans, take a long time to dry.
- Clothes are hotter than usual at the end of the cycle.
- The flapper on the vent hood won’t open when the dryer is on.
Consider having a professional disassemble your dryer to clean the lint and debris covering the heaters, switches and motors in your dryer and help prevent fires from occurring.
To read more on dryer fires in Russell Truluck's "Home Maintenance Tips" column on the Tribune, click here.
Money Matters: Choosing a backup generator for your home
- Monday, 05 December 2011
- Steve Borklund
When power goes off for extended periods due to ice, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes and other natural catastrophes, a backup emergency generator can be very beneficial. Generators come in different sizes. The correct generator size is determined by your power need in emergencies. The more items on backup circuits, the bigger and more costly the generator. There are two types of generators:
Permanent Standby Generators
- Installed as part of the electrical system and provide power to the building wiring.
- An automatic switch prevents the generator from back-feeding power into the utility lines and protects the generator from damage when power is restored.
- Should only be installed by a licensed electrician. The city or county building department must inspect the switches and wiring. When the installation is complete, the local utility company should be notified a back-up system is in place.
Typically used when only a few vital electrical circuits are needed. Selected circuits for lights in the general living area of a home, TV (for entertainment and news), furnace, refrigerator, sump pumps and water-well pumps are a few of the items generally considered. It is important to get a generator that is adequately sized. Some electrical motors in home appliances and equipment can be ruined or damaged if they do not receive enough electrical current.
Before You Buy
- Determine which items are needed in an emergency.
- Total the watts needed to determine what size generator is required. An electrician can help make this determination or you can check the manufacturer information for each appliance.
- Remember: Homes in climates that have freezing temperatures need to protect against frozen pipes and the furnace will need to be on emergency power.
- To save the food in the freezer, the refrigerator will need to be on the system as well as any stand-alone freezer.
- Homes with well-water will need to have the well pump on the generator system if toilets are to be flushed.
Electrical current from the generator may back-feed into the home's electrical system and cause damage or fire and ruin equipment if it is not properly installed. It is recommended a qualified electrician install a generator to a home electrical system. Generators can also cause personal injury. For example, if a power company employee is working on the electrical line thinking it is not energized and electrical current created by the generator is in the line, shock or electrocution may occur.
The key to better safeguards against these dangers is professional installation by a qualified electrician and the installation of a generator transfer switch.
Some transfer switches automatically trip to generator power if there is a power failure while others must be switched manually. A transfer switch works by isolating a few of the electrical circuits in the home from the incoming electrical service. If the generator is running and power is restored, the power company's electricity cannot get to those isolated circuits until the generator is turned off and the transfer switch is reset to the non-backup position.
Keep in mind a generator burns fuel and must be run outdoors. Do not run it in the garage. Cords used to connect the generator to the lights and appliances must be properly sized to prevent overheating or damage to the equipment as well.
To estimate your home's power needs, click here.
Money Matters: Write that will
- Tuesday, 11 October 2011
- Steve Borklund
You’ve worked hard to accumulate valuable assets over the years. How do you plan to distribute this property after your death?
It’s important to have a will, regardless of the value of your possessions. This written document instructs how you want assets to be distributed after your death. If you die without a will, your probate assets will be divided according to state law.
Here are some tips for preparing a will:
- Have an attorney draft your will. If you draft your own will, make sure it complies with state law or it could be invalid.
- Name an executor, whose role is to handle all administrative aspects of the will, including collecting assets, paying all debts and taxes and distributing your estate, according to your wishes.
- List personal property such as artwork, collectibles, jewelry and other personal property that you want to go to specific individuals. Be clear about how you want your assets distributed.
- Do not include funeral preferences in your will because it may not be read until several weeks after your death.
- Review your will every few years and have your attorney make changes as appropriate.
A little advance preparation will help ensure that your final wishes are handled the way you planned them to be.