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USELFUL LINKS:
State Department Travel Information
FlightAware Flight Tracking
Hotels.com
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Important news before you travel:

If you are in the United States you should be aware of certain Travel Advisories which are given to citizens who choose to travel abroad. These advisories can affect you and may even change your travel plans. So before you go to the airport you should always check to see if your destination country is on the List of the United States Government Travel Advisories.

For more information: Check out the link below which will send you to the US Governments official website.


https://travel.state.gov
TIPS ON MAKING HOTEL RESERVATIONS:


When traveling for business or fun, there’s nothing worse than thinking you have a reservation and learning your hotel reservations been lost, your room has one bed and not two bedrooms, or you thought your check-in time was noon, only to find out it is really 3:00pm. To help avoid these things from happening, there are a few helpful hotel reservation tips seasoned travelers recommend:

Always use a credit card when making a hotel reservation. A credit cards offers the guest some level of protection should the hotel stay go awry. Any disputes a guest may have with the hotel, or with the billing can more easily be rectified through the credit card company. The card company will act as a mediator once their client can show effort to resolve the dispute. Additionally, if a dispute cannot be resolved, the credit card company has the authority to remove the charge from a client’s bill. If cash were paid, a hotel guest would have no recourse. Note: If you don’t use your own credit card to secure a reservation, be aware that the person whose name is on the card will be responsible for showing the card and signing at check in. If the card does not belong to the person staying at the hotel, notify the desk before leaving home (prior to arrival) and ask what their identification procedure is. They may accept a letter from the credit card holder authorizing use, and a copy of both the front and back of the card.

Ask for deals/discounts at each hotel. Many hotels offer corporate, AAA, senior, or even mid-week/off-season discounts. If one is not offered - ask about them. Many hotels now offer ‘rewards’ programs and some hotels reduce rates by $50 or more, for simply signing up for their program. If making reservations online, look for internet-only rates and shop various websites to find the best deals. Travel agents can often secure unadvertised specials or late check-in opportunities which can translate into huge savings.

When making reservations speak clearly and repeat spelling of all names. There have been many reservations lost because of inaccurate spelling and guests have been told they did not have rooms when a hotel or an entire city was booked to capacity. If any special requests are made, verify them and if possible get them in writing. Also make sure to get the name of the employee. Verify everything spell names and verify information/requests etc. Double check reservations prior to leaving for hotel and make sure names of all hotel employees you’ve spoken to are taken.

When reservations are made, changed and cancelled-confirmation numbers are given. Make sure all numbers are kept in a safe place until credit cards are billed and all charges are verified. Cancellation and confirmation numbers are often the difference between being charged for a hotel reservation that was cancelled, the possibility of a free upgrade when the hotel overbooks and you can prove when your reservation was made, and being stranded away from home without a room for the night.
Discuss hotel policies prior to making reservations, and verify them at check-in. Some hotels require credit cards at check in for any hotel charges, such as telephone usage, room service, meals in the hotel, or even take -out arranged through the hotel with area restaurants, etc. If a credit card is not available, a cash/check deposit maybe required for any services/fees that may accrue during the hotel stay. Determine when check-in/check-out times are, when cancellation policies go into affect and verify occupancy limits if staying in a room with multiple occupants.

Remember these hotel reservation tips when scheduling your travel plans. Whether by internet, through a travel agent, or by telephone, it pays to research the hotel and be meticulous when making arrangements. A little pre-planning when making reservations can save major headaches when traveling away from home.
AIRPORT TIPS YOU CAN USE

To make your way to a flight on time and to get throught security as quickly as possible you can try the following tips:

1) Sign up. The TSA's PreCheck, a trusted traveler program, has spread to more cities across the U.S. and is now available at some 40 airports. Members of the program are pre-screened and can then whiz through security, sometimes without having to take off their shoes or remove laptops from cases. The U.S. Customs Department's Global Entry program is another shortcut for frequent international travelers, especially as the federal government contracts and customs lines potentially get longer.

Critical Security Checkpoints:
To make clearing security as easy as possible...
-Review the guidelines for liquids and gels on your Flight carriers Carry-On Baggage page before your flight.
-Have your government-issued photo identification and boarding pass ready for inspection.
-Wear shoes that are easy to slip on and off, since all footwear must be x-rayed.
-Remember to place all coats and jackets in a bin for x-ray screening.
-Make your laptop easily accessible for inspection.
-Avoid wearing anything metal or place these items in your carry-on baggage for screening

2) Check flight status. Although this is obvious, many people often fail to do this one simple but critical thing.

I recommend doing the same before abandoning your ride or your car just before you head to the terminal; flight status updates change by the minute, so a last-second check is always a good idea.

Most airlines will text you flight status updates if you sign up on their Web sites, and sites like Flightaware.com do the same by text, on the Web and through smartphone apps.

4) Check in online. Especially if you are not checking bags, this can save you a heap of time. I have found that when checking bags, having the pre-printed boarding pass in your hand doesn't help all that much, and check-in agents often reissue another boarding pass when you check in your bags -- but it sure doesn't hurt.

5) Before you leave for the airport, put your ID, credit card and boarding pass (if applicable) in an easily accessible part of your wallet or bag. There are two reasons for this: one, by going through this exercise, you make sure that you don't leave home without these crucial items. Two, you don't waste your (and other people's) time fumbling around for them at the moment you need them.

Check the airport parking situation online. Knowing ahead of time where to park, which lots are open and how far they are from the terminal can save you a lot of anxiety on your drive in, as well as keep you safer as you navigate tortuous and almost always poorly marked airport ring roads. Additionally, during peak travel periods, lots fill up quickly, so you will want an alternate parking plan.

When you are ready to board always take inventory of what you will need to do when you get to the front of the security line. Do a quick mental review of everything you are wearing that you will need to remove (such as shoes, jewelry, watch, jacket), and what you have inside your carry-on bag that might need to be taken out (liquids, electronics). When you get to the front of the line, blast through your mental inventory and make it happen. Done well, you can go from fully clad for winter weather, with laptops and iPads in your bag, to a T-shirt, pants and socks, and all your sensitive electronics in their own bins, in seconds.

Using these tips will get you through the airport, on your flight and towards your destination as quickly as possible.

more traveler informaiton tips available at the TSA website:
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KNOWING HOW TO FINANCE YOUR NEW HOME

Did you know that very few Americans can afford to pay the entire cost of a home out of pocket, so most have to finance their houses through a mortgage. There may be multiple places to get a loan: You don't just have to go down to your local bank. Online lenders, credit unions and mortgage companies can all provide you with loans. Make sure you do your research and get quotes from a few different lenders before deciding which loan is right for you

Your credit score affects the financing you get: The higher your credit score, the more eager a bank or lender will be to finance your loan. A loan score, on the other hand, could lead to high interest rates or a denial of your loan application. Raise your score by paying off debt, making payments on time on your cards, and not opening new credit cards

Interest rates are also affected by the national market: When there is high demand for mortgages, interest rates may be higher. When there is low demand for mortgage or when the Federal Reserve lowers interest rates to boost the economy, interest rates may be lower.

Mortgage interest is tax deductible: This means you can subtract the amount you pay in mortgage interest from your taxable income, lowering your overall tax liability

You may have to pay closing costs: These are the costs you pay when you get your mortgage loan. They can include your loan application fee, a title search, and the cost for appraisal or inspection of the home.

Points may help lower your interest rate: When you qualify for a mortgage, you may be given the opportunity to buy discount points. Each point is equal to a percentage of the total amount you are borrowing- usually one percent- and it lowers your interest rate by .025 percent. Points are tax deductible, and if you plan to stay in the house for a long time, you may want to consider paying the points to reduce the amount of interest you will pay over the life of your mortgage loan.

You can get pre-approved for a mortgage: This means that before you even find a house, you can go to the bank and qualify for a mortgage. Doing this is a good idea because you will know how much you can afford to borrow and because you can act more quickly when you do find a home you like.

There are different types of mortgage loans: Fixed rate mortgages are usually the safest and can last for either a 15 year term or a 30 year term. With a 15 year mortgage, you pay off your house faster and pay less overall, but your monthly payments are higher.

Other types of financing- such as an adjustable rate mortgage- can have lower initial interest rates but can be a risky move because your payments may eventually rise to the point where they become unaffordable.terms of your mortgage to ensure that you won't end up in a situation where your payments do jump up so high you can't pay them. Otherwise, you could lose your home to foreclosure.

Make sure you can pay your mortgage payments: Stretching your budget to the breaking point to get a mortgage is generally a bad idea. If you can barely afford your mortgage payments, you could lose your house if the slightest financial setback occurs and makes it impossible for you to catch up. Likewise, if you have no wiggle room in your budget, you may not be able to deal with the expense that comes with houses, such as repairs and maintenance.

Knowing how do you get a home loan is essential for most homebuyers. You've saved up a nest egg, tweaked your credit score to make sure that it's the best that it can possibly be, and secured gainful, steady employment. Now you're ready to get a home loan and purchase your dream house and you need to answer the question of exactly how do you get a home loan.

There are several steps in the process of getting a home loan. Generally, you want to ensure both that you are financially prepared and that it is a good time to buy before beginning the process.

Make sure your credit score is in shape. Don't open new cards, and lower your so-called debt-to-income ratio, and you'll be in a much better position to get the rates you want. You will also want to peruse the national housing rate regularly, and research how much properties cost in your target area, so you can intelligently negotiate a good mortgage rate.

One of the first things you'll need to do is to locate a lender. You can use the Internet to compare lender offers, find loan officer references through friends, or triangulate to find a lending institution conducive to your financial goals by getting references from disinterested real estate agents.

The next step is to fill out your mortgage application (called a 1003). Make sure you understand the closing costs, prepayment penalties (if any apply), and terms of the agreement. Your lender must provide an estimate to you within three business days of getting your application.

Work with several lenders to compare fees, and don't hesitate to negotiate. Be aware that you generally don't want to work too many lenders when getting a mortgage home loan, though since every lender inquiry can lower your credit incrementally.

Some lenders will require you to pay fees up front This money goes to assessing your credit report, processing paperwork, and potentially doing an appraisal of your dream property. Next, hand over paperwork and documentation to your mortgage processor. Examine your papers under the microscope before you close your loan.

If you can pay more points on your loan, you'll be able to reduce your interest rate. However, you don't want to necessarily drain your nest egg to qualify for a better rate. Your mortgage should be couched as a major part of your long-term financial plan.

Sometimes lenders will try to change conditions and terms at the last minute and pressure you into signing a less-than-stellar agreement. Don't allow your lender to push you around.

Once you've finished your agreement, you'll have to deposit your down payment into an account and then move that money into your escrow company or title entity to complete the mortgage home loan process.  more on home financing




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