Five Ways to Improve Your Credit Score

Your credit score can sometimes feel like your weight after a long weekend of indulgence. If you never step on the scale, it never happened. Unfortunately, for both our jeans and our credit score, we all know simply refusing to know, doesn’t change the facts. Buying a home, leasing a car, or even getting a job requires a credit check—the step on the scale—and obviously, we want our credit to be in good shape so as to not risk our future. Here are a few tips to achieve a healthy score. Some of them may surprise you!

  1. Keep credit card balances under half of the total credit limit.  Halfway and under says you know how to use credit without abusing credit. If you have more than that on your balance already, make getting under half your first financial goal.
  2. Stop using so many credit cards. Pay off credit card balances on small cards and use one or two cards for all purchases. Start with cards you only use once in a while and are easy to pay off, like store credit. Request a lower interest rate on the one or two cards you decide to keep. Bonus, you have an excuse for a smaller (new) wallet (budgeted, of course).
  3. But don’t get rid of old debt and good accounts. You can’t have good credit, if there isn’t any credit at all. Keep stable, low interest, high reward accounts open. The history of being able to use credit and repay, is what counts. Keeping these accounts can help illustrate a long repayment history.
  4. Pay bills on time. Many late payments will negatively impact your score.
  5. Review your credit report once a year in January. If you notice any errors, report these problems to each of the three major credit bureaus—Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.

If you follow these small steps to steadily improve your credit, it will never come as a nasty surprise right when you don’t need it. Your pants on the other hand….there’s no guarantees.

Home Maintenance Tips for the Fall

When the nights get chilly and the pumpkin spice latte is back, that can only mean one thing. It’s time to do fall home maintenance. Take a weekend and use it as an excuse for donuts. You’ll rest assured all winter.

  1. Seal your windows. A lot of energy is lost around windows and doors. Did you know you can get a free energy assessment from Duke Energy? If you’re not up for scheduling that service, you could alternatively seal any air leaks that you notice, or seal up old windows for the season.
  2. Repair caulking. Cracked caulking can be repaired fairly easily by scraping out the old caulk with a blade and installing a new strip of caulk.
  3. Check you weather-stripping. Inspect the inside of door frames for damaged weather stripping. Weather stripping can come with an adhesive backing and costs merely a few dollars. But replacing damaged weather stripping could save tens of dollars each month so it’s worthwhile to check into this.
  4. Vacuum upholstered furniture and drapes. It’s one of those things we can all remember our mothers and grandmothers doing, but never seem to remember it’s up to us. Try to vacuum these pieces the next time you pull out the vacuum since it’s that time of year.
  5. Window washing. When you’re doing the drapes, it’s a great time to get the interior sides of your windows. Feel free to reach out to me if you need the name of a good window cleaning professional who can also address the exterior of your windows.
  6. Spot clean carpets and furniture. Fall is a great time to do a yearly spot clean any stains on carpets or furniture. Remember to do a test spot clean on the corner first before cleaning a stain that is in the center of a piece.

If you’re having a hard time getting going, here’s a list of donuts you can get first: chocolate glazed, Boston cream, cinnamon sugar, toasted coconut, jelly, cake, sprinkles. Donuts and fall chores go together like pumpkin spice and lattes.

Five Steps to Financial Freedom

Quick. Right now. If something were to happen—a car breaks down, an unexpected vet bill, the Nordstrom Anniversary sale—would you be able to take care of it without using credit? If you are one of roughly 62% of American who have $1,000.00 or less in their savings account[1], you are probably already aware how difficult it can be to stretch for large purchases (including those shoes), unexpected bills, and let’s not even mention your retirement. To make matters worse, cost of living in Charlotte has increased. The average house in Charlotte now cost’s an average of $188,900[2], and our income growth has not kept pace. It’s enough to send anyone to the sale section for a consolation purchase. Can’t get a house, but check out my new whisky glasses.

But before you click over to Nordies, consider this: financial freedom is a game of small steps, not one big one. Much like any lifestyle change (inward groan), we have to make small movements for long term goals.

First step is simple: Know where your money is going. Separate out your fixed expenses (monthly debts combined with annual debts, divided into twelve months) from last month’s extra’s (the morning coffee, restaurants, and yes, those shoes). Combine the total expenses and compare that to your monthly income. How does that look? Frightening? Having heart trouble? Or about what you expected? Either way, you can take this information and….

Second: Set a budget. And not one in your head. Turns out, we’re really good at pretending to have a budget and then basically shoving it behind mental tasks like Candy Crush.[3] Reduce the impact of surprise bills and plan ahead for fun purchases, by making a budget and revisiting it regularly. A good rule of thumb is to revisit your previous month’s budget at the first of every month. This keeps your financial goals and how to get there, front and center.

Step three: Find ways to save. Here’s where you can get creative. Something as simple as turning out the lights when leaving a room can make a difference in those recurring monthly expenses. Other ideas include: changing all your lightbulbs to energy efficient ones, and turning off your HVAC and water heater if leaving for more than two days. Commit the projected savings to an emergency fund.

Four: Commit to automatic savings. In other words, pay yourself first. It is easy to forget to transfer money, so set up automatic savings and transfer any additional money on top of this amount.

Finally, Pay off debt. Barely half of Americans have enough cash saved to cover their credit card debt.[4] “Even though some debts like mortgage or student loan debts are considered “good” debt because they are investments, credit card debt is seen as a problem for many Charlotteans,” says _____ of _____.  (was uncertain of this quote)

Like any long-term change, where we are today decides much of where we will be tomorrow. Change your financial future by following these five steps today.

Sources:

[1] http://www.marketwatch.com/story/most-americans-have-less-than-1000-in-savings-2015-10-06

[2] https://www.zillow.com/charlotte-nc/home-values/

[3] http://time.com/3657285/task-americans-cant-do/

[4] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/51-percent-have-enough-cash-to-pay-off-credit-card-debt-study/

Five (More) Charlotte History Facts

 

Charlotte is a city rich in history. Please read the first article in this series if you haven’t already titled “Four Things You Didn’t Know About Charlotte’s History.” Here are five (more) facts about Charlotte.   

 

  1. Do you know where the NBA Hornet’s nest logo comes from? It dates all the way back to 1780, when General Cornwallis led the British army into Charlotte, but left quickly due to the feisty local patriots. Cornwallis (supposedly) called Charlotte a “Hornet’s Nest of Rebellion.” In 1892 the city named the local baseball team the Charlotte Hornets. Later, the nest was put on the sides of Charlotte-Mecklenburg police cars. In 1974, the Charlotte Hornets became the city’s first professional football team. Finally, in 1988, the Charlotte Hornets became the city’s first NBA team.  
  2. Bet you didn’t know that Charlotte Motor Speedway sits on the former site of a working plantation. President George Washington even had lunch in a house that used to be where the speedway’s offices are located. It stayed in operation during the Civil War. In 1959, the speedway was designed and built by O. Bruton Smith, with his business partner, the late stock car racing star Curtis Turner. 
  3. Before California and the gold out west, this area was the one of the first gold rushes of the United States. In 1799, 12-year-old Conrad Reed found a large yellow rock on his family’s property. The rock turned out to be a 17lb lump of gold. Today the Reed Gold Mine is a museum with restored mine tunnels and hiking trails. Visit in April through October and you can pan for gold yourself! 
  4. Homer the Dragon is Charlotte’s oldest mascot. Before it was official, and before even Hugo the Hornet who emerged on the scene with the Charlotte Hornets basketball team in 1988, Homer was there. Hugo lost his position as longest-standing mascot when he was temporarily ousted by Rufus the Bobcat of the Charlotte Bobcats in 2004, leaving Homer with the title of oldest, continuous mascot. 
  5. Charlotte is known as the Pimento Cheese Capital of the World (a title it argues over with Raleigh-Durham). Our very own Ruth Salad’s produces over 45,000lbs of it every week.

 

Photo by Cody Hughes @clhughes21

Five Charlotte History Facts

 

  1. Stand on the intersection of Trade and Tryon in Uptown Charlotte and you’re standing at the birthplace of trade and commerce for this area. But it isn’t what you think. A large group of Loyalists (colonists who were still loyal to King George) decided to colonize the area that would become Charlotte because it was already the intersection of two Native American trading paths. These paths are now, you guessed it, Trade St and Tryon St.  
  2. Did you know the original branch of the United States Mint was actually located in Charlotte? This was back in the gold standard days and in 1837, when The Charlotte Mint opened, it created more than $5 million in gold currency. During the Civil War, it was used as a hospital and military office for the Confederate government. In 1931, when the building was set to be demolished, a group of citizens came together to have it moved to its current location in Eastover and turned the building into the Mint Museum Randolph—the state’s first art museum! 
  3. The Ballantyne neighborhood almost had another name. See if you can guess what it was going to be, based on the story. The development was first reported on in 1991.  The area was farmland along the city’s planned outer belt. The plan was to transform 1,756 acres of mostly undeveloped land in south Mecklenburg County into offices, shops and residences in a community of 10,000 to 12,000 people. The second choice, “Ballantyne,” was also of Scot-Irish origin. Figured it out yet? It was almost named “Edinborough.” 
  4. Ever wondered why our downtown is actually called “Uptown”? The Native American trading paths (now Trade St and Tryon St) was the highest elevation point in the city, so everyone had to go up to reach this point. Hence. . . Uptown. This never faded, but it wasn’t until the 70’s that the City Council decided that the shopping and business district in the center city area be officially declared “Uptown Charlotte.”  
  5. The “Queen City” nickname comes from the name of King George III’s wife, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.

 

Would you like to go on a tour of some of the locations mentioned below? Feel free to contact me if you’re interested in checking them out in person!  

 

Photo by Cody Hughes @clhughes21

10 Ways to Use Charlotte’s Libraries

It’s easy to forget about the library. The library isn’t offended. It knows you buy your physical copies of books at your local indie bookstore. It knows there is nothing easier than the “One Click Buy” button for your Kindle. But it would also like to remind you, maybe with a polite throat clearing, that the library is still here. Waiting. With books and also more than books.  

 

Here are ten ways to use the library you might not have thought of just yet.  

 

  1. Place a hold on almost any material and have it delivered to a library branch of your choice. The limit is 99 items out at once which is more items than anyone needs at any point in time anyway!  
  2. Access the library of instructional videos—covering business, technical and creative skills, there are more than 3,000 courses with 129,942 video tutorials.  
  3. Learn a new language using Mango Languages, a language-learning software with over 70 world language courses and over 17 ESL/ELL courses.  
  4. View old pictures of Charlotte neighborhoods at The Carolina Room at the Main Library or at The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Story, the library’s local history and genealogy website.  
  5. For those who qualify, you can request Outreach Services which bring the library experience to a person who is home-bound, in senior housing, within correctional facilities, living with disabilities, living in transition, or new to this country.  
  6. Read digital versions of current magazines. There are hundreds of magazines to view on your computer, tablet or smart phone through library services. Just ask your nearest friendly librarian.  
  7. Download five free songs a week!  
  8. Visit the “Idea Box.” Located on the first floor of the Main Library, the Idea Box has 3D printers, sewing machines, laser & vinyl cutters, knitting machines, and more. 
  9. Attend free classes. Charlotte Libraries offer more than 22,000 programs open to the public. Topics include: job skills, how to download items from the library’s collection to an e-reader or smart device, etc.  
  10. Have a quiet moment in any of the reading rooms, surrounded by the smell of old books and magic 😉   

 

Photo by Cody Hughes @clhughes21

Four Things You Didn’t Know About Charlotte’s History

  1. A whole world exists below the surface of Lake Norman. The lake was created in 1963, after Duke Energy flooded the area using water from the Catawba River and the land already contained homes, businesses, cemeteries, a plantation, cotton mills, mill villages and large machinery, the remnants of which still remain at the bottom of the lake.  
  2. The legend, if you believe it (Thomas Jefferson didn’t) is that we were the first to declare independence from Great Britain. The story centers around a document called The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, and the story is the city leaders signed the document—declaring their separation—on May 20, 1775.  
  3. Regardless, the city celebrates the “Meck Dec” every May 20th. We celebrate Meck Dec Day, and even past presidents have come to celebrate the day. In addition, if you go to the corner of Fourth Street and Kings Drive, there is a statue of Captain James Jack on his way to deliver the Meck Dec to Philadelphia. According to legend.   
  4. Uptown isn’t the only place where a historic Native American trail ran through Charlotte. The Tuckaseegee Trail, once ran through the current location of the U.S. National Whitewater Center property and led to the Tuckaseegee Ford, the oldest crossing point along the Catawba.  

 

Please feel free to share related stories with me, if you want, by shooting me an email. You can find my contact info here.

 

Photo by Cody Hughes @clhughes21

Charlotte Treasure

 

There’s a secret treasure hidden all over Charlotte. Something priceless. Magic. You might have already seen one and not even noticed. Hidden throughout Charlotte are over 100 white diamonds to find, but the map has been lost. The diamonds belong to trees.  

 

In the late 80’s, the Treasure Tree program began designating special trees (historical or ecological) in Mecklenburg County. Remember—this is the city that once discussed naming their NBA team the Charlotte Trees. There was even an annual black-tie gala for the trees and caretaker in the past. Throughout 2002, these selected trees were given a small white diamond, the total ending up at 123 trees.  

 

The program isn’t active any longer, and the diamonds are mostly forgotten. But some still wait—for a passerby to notice the treasure they are. The only remaining bit of Treasure Trees is a tiny organization named Queen’s Crown. Started by Patrick George of Heartwood Tree Service, the Queen’s Crown carries on the tradition of Treasure Trees. George is the only person who has seen most of the 123 trees and works passionately to make his community better by taking care of the trees and the history of Treasure Trees.  

 

A few of Charlotte’s favorite trees:   

Queens University Basswood (1830 Queens Rd): Just behind the Gingko on the Radcliffe side of the property. Thomas Jefferson preferred this tree, planting many of its kind that still remain at Monticello.  

 

Glossy Privet (2001 Queens Rd. E): This medium-sized tree hugs the left side of the house when looking at the front door and is easily overlooked given the size of many other trees on this list. This is a North Carolina State Champion tree!  

 

Deodar Cedar (2701 Briarcliff Pl): A non-native tree related to the biblical Lebanese Cedar, it’s a North Carolina State Champion, too. (See if you can spot a Treasure Tree tag at this location.) 

 

Japanese Zelkova (2735 Bucknell Ave): Zelkova’s aren’t native but are often planted as street trees. Looking at the home, this medium-sized tree sits to the right of the front door. Another North Carolina State Champion tree. 

 

Pecan (212 Ridgewood Ave): Maybe one of the worst teases on this list, this massive Pecan sits in the backyard of this home and peaks out at you over the roof. It’s hard to experience its majesty from the distance from the street, though. 

 

Winghaven Chaste Tree (248 Ridgewood Ave): Tour the Winghaven Gardens and see if you can find this one!  

 

Duke Mansion Take a 2-mile walk and experience 10 extraordinary trees on Duke Mansion’s grounds. Here are two you can’t miss:  

 

*Duke Mansion Tulip Poplar (400 Hermitage Rd): Up the driveway leading to the house, you’ll encounter a tree so wide you’d expect it to be a Sequoia.  

 

*Duke Mansion Eastern Red Cedar (400 Hermitage Rd): Just past the Tulip Poplar on the right side of the driveway to the front door of the Inn, you’ll spot this tree. Once called the Graveyard Tree, it was said that if you planted this tree at your birth, by the time you die, it will just be large enough to shade your grave.  

 

Bigleaf Magnolia (531 Hermitage Rd): Located across the street from 530 Hermitage Rd, look for a smooth-barked tree of moderate size with leaves anywhere from 2-3 feet long.  

 

Queens University Gingko (1830 Queens Rd): A relic of the age of dinosaurs, the Gingko here is massive. Look for the fan-shaped leaves to identify this beauty. This tree really shines in the fall when it turns mustard yellow and falls within 48 hours.  

 

Give me a call if you’d like to go check out some of these trees around town together. It’s kind of fun!

 

Photo by Cody Hughes @clhughes21