Show Me the Money: Upgrades through Local Utilities

becoming energy efficientDuring the 20th century American consumption was fueled by ‘cheap oil’ and the belief that gross domestic product was directly powered by increased energy use. Economists and utility managers alike predicted that as the economy grew, energy use would as well. Fortunately, our economy did not meet these projections, which would have required astronomical numbers of power plants if they had.*

However, the costs of a fossil fuel dependent economy continue to escalate  as Middle East unrest and speculation push the cost of oil ever higher. This is not good news, but as buildings consume 39% of all the energy used in America, it is particularly bad news for the residential housing sector.

Commercial and industrial properties have been slowly making the conversion to more sustainable management, but residential property has been relegated to 3rd class status. This has allowed developers to continue to build poor-efficiency homes and supporting structures which aggravate an already serious problem.

Fortunately there is help available to retrofit these inefficient buildings.  Most American cities and towns have leadership that recognizes the intrinsic and economic value of improving our building stock and they want to help.

More efficient, tighter building envelopes are the collective future, as 97% of our existing buildings are drafty, poorly insulated and energy-inefficient.

However, as we move toward legally required improvements, local governments and utility providers are offering a last bit of help. In spite of our economic challenges, grants, incentives, tax rebates and other perks are widely available.

DSIRE is a national site (searchable by state) that connects owners with these opportunities, and most local utilities have some type of rebate or incentive program to offer as well. Beyond providing direct financial support, local utility companies are a great starting point for any investigation targeting these types of resources.

Urban officials and the utility sector also recognize the power apartment, dormitory and condominium property managers hold. Given the right tools, these property stewards have the ability to create highly sustainable operations. Not only does this improve the quality of life for staff and residents, but it can save the property owners’ money as well.

For those who  are unfamiliar with more sustainable practices, education, financial assistance and systems guidance are widely available. Even in the most dire economic times there are pools of grant money that never get distributed. These funds are effectively ‘free’, but applicants may need some technical assistance and a solid process to acquire them.

Applicants  can harm a grant or rebate request if they miss timelines, do not provide requested documentation or fail to follow the ‘rules’ and become disqualified.

If your public utility or planning department had nothing to offer a year ago, don’t assume that’s still the case. One example of a brand new offering is New York City’s GreenHouse program (GH), a program which was developed specifically to assist multifamily operators.

The broader educational purpose is to guide property managers by identifying resources, cost savings and practices that make sustainable management more profitable but there is also rebate money available.

The incentive amounts are large enough when combined with state and federal tax incentives and manufacturer’s rebates to be meaningful.

Finding these types of programs in your own region does require some initiative. What kind of money is available?

A great example is the GreenHouse program which provides links to organizations like National Grid (NG).  NG provides natural gas to 6 million customers in New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Any of their customers can apply for a rebate.

NG’s rebates are available for services like the air sealing of a residence by a certified professional or installation of fiberglass electrical conduit. As an example, the cost of this would be about $600 for the average home in New York, but National Grid arranges the service for its customers for a $50 participation fee. National Grid will also pay up to 20% of the cost of insulating a roof or attic to a rebate maximum of $3,000.

As EnergyStar estimates the average home can reduce energy costs by 20% merely by air sealing and adding insulation, in the short term and over the life of the residence the payback is pretty substantial. (Don’t forget the added comfort of living in an air-sealed and well-insulated home or apartment too!)

Although the following rebates are available only to National Grid customers, a quick phone call to your local utility may find similar offers.

Protect Yourself From Unfair Debt Collection Practices

debt collectionThe booming debt collection business as a consequence of the recession is resulting in many debt collectors resorting to unethical and unacceptable behavior in pursuing debt from consumers.

As it may be off-topic from making money, I feel that my readers may benefit from knowing their legal rights in dealing with debt collectors.

This all happened after a few years ago when my wife and I decided to take over mortgage payments from her sister. She told us the literal hell she was going through and asked us to help. Of course we did. But the situation made me really angry. We did eventually sure the debt collection firm.

Debt collectors have been reported to be resorting to harassment through phone calls coupled with abusive language including distasteful violence in efforts to collect money from folks who are financially struggling.

Harassment complaints against debt collectors rose from 50% to 67,550 in 2016 and are poised to rise another 13% in 2017. These figures are based on the number of FTC complaints filed in the first half of 2015.

The number one, most popular complaint was repeated calls. It is very common for debt collectors to haunt consumers through religious calling for days, weeks, months or even years. When they successfully get a hold of the person on the phone, they resort into using abusive communication. Complaints regarding debt collectors utilizing profane language reportedly surged 35% in 2016.

A fifty five year old woman from New York, who preferred to remain anonymous, claimed that a debt collector consistently called her home to personally harass her and her husband. When she chose to ignore the calls, the collector resorted to calling her estranged sister, an ex-boyfriend and even her husband’s ex-wife’s mother.

He consistently called and threatened her using unacceptable language such as ‘If you don’t talk to me, you are deadbeat’. It was very uncomfortable to the point she felt paranoid as if someone may show up at their front door.

Ken Floyd, an attorney who represents victims of debt collection harassment at Floyd Legal Firm in Atlanta, mentioned that one of his clients recorded a shocking phone conversation with a debt collection agent.

In the recording, it revealed that the debt collector threatened the victim by saying that they would come to the debtor’s house to collect the money. According to Floyd, that was indeed a red flag and represented a worrying threat to the consumer.

Other abusive or illegal tactics include calling before 8 am or after 9 pm. They often asked for more than what is owed or attempt to contact a third-party associated with the consumer and revealing embarrassing or private information about the consumer.

There are also extreme strategies adopted by unscrupulous collection agents such as threats that resemble prosecution, jail, property seizure or contacting their employer often resulting in the victim losing his or her job.

The above behavior is not only disturbing but illegal and in violation of the Federal Trade Commission’s Fair Debt Collection Practices Act enacted in 1977.

According to Mark Shiffman, a spokesperson for the Association of Credit & Collection Professionals, there is a growing business of attorneys and savvy consumers who have learned to legally sue debt collectors and reap a lot of money for damages.

According to the FTC, consumers have the right to take debt collectors to state or federal court. If judgment is ruled in favor of the consumer, the debt collector will be liable for any damages as a result of the harassment, loss of income and including medical bills.

Even if the consumer fails to prove the monetary damages suffered but is able to successfully prove evidential signs of harassment, the debtor can be awarded up to $1,000 and will be reimbursed for court or any legal fees.

Below is an excerpt or highlights of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act furnished by the FTC.

806. Harassment of Abuse (Page 9)

A debtor may not engage in any conduct the natural consequence of which to harass, oppress or abuse any person in connection with the collection of a debt. Without limiting the general application of the foregoing, the following conduct is a violation of this section:

  • The use or threat of use of violence or other criminal means to harm the physical person, reputation, or property of any person.
  • The use of obscene or profane language or the natural consequence of which is to abuse the hearer or reader.
  • The publication of a list of consumers who allegedly refuse to pay debts, except a consumer reporting agency or to persons meeting the requirements of section 603(f) or 604(3) of this act.
  • The advertisement for sale of any debt to coerce payment of debt.
  • Causing a telephone to ring or engaging any person in telephone conversation repeatedly or continuously with intent to annoy, abuse or harass any person at the called number.
  • Except as provided in section 804, the placement of telephone calls without meaningful disclosure of the caller’s identity.

There are a lot more juicy details not illustrated here. Know your rights. view the complete updated document of the

Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

Save Money and Recycle with Scrap Crafts

recycable craftsMany of the items that most people discard on a daily basis can actually be used as craft supplies. If you just think creatively, you’ll be able to save money and recycle cans, bottles, cardboard and many other materials, simply by transforming them into something new. You might even be able to sell your creations to earn more money!

Glass Bottles and Jars

There are a number of crafts you can make from glass bottles and jars. You can purchase a set of glass paints, which are transparent and look beautiful when painted on bottles and jars.

Acrylic-based paints are the best choice for children, but there are also solvent-based paints that work best if an adult will be making the craft. You can also use opaque paints to create interesting painted jars and bottles.

You can even use leftover flat wall paint and spray paint on glass, especially if you plan to add a glaze sealant when finished. Before painting, clean the glass thoroughly to improve paint adhesion.

It usually works best to apply light colors first. After they are dry, add the darker colors.

If using standard latex or acrylic paints, apply a clear gloss glaze as the final step to help preserve the finish.

Tin Can Crafts

If you’re like most people, you discard or recycle numerous tin cans each day. However, they can be used to create many interesting craft projects. Cans with plastic lids can be painted and used as decorative storage containers.

However, even if the can doesn’t have a lid, you might be able to find a plastic lid from other containers which will fit.

Spray paint designed for metal surfaces works well on cans. Once the can has been painted a solid color, you can use enamel paints and an artist’s brush to add designs. Or, use decals to make the job even simpler.

You can also use an awl or other sharp object to carefully punch holes into the side of the can to make a decorative candle holder.

For example, lightly trace a heart shape onto the can. Then, use an awl to punch evenly spaced holes along the traced shape.

Scrap Paper

There are an almost unending number of crafts you can make with scrap paper. You can use old greeting cards to make pretty placemats for your table. Cut a piece of cardboard to the desired size and shape for the finished placemat. Then, use glue to cover the cardboard base with cut up greeting cards.

After the glue dries, cover the placemat on the front and back with clear contact paper. Be sure the contact paper extends at least a quarter inch on each side of the placemat, so that the contact paper seals completely.

I saw these at a restaurant called Treebeards. They were festive and totally unique.

You can also cut greeting cards up into strips to make attractive bookmarks, covering them with clear contact paper if desired. Children often enjoy making mosaic pictures from scrap paper.

Simply cut colorful greeting cards or other colored scrap paper into small irregular shapes.

Then, children can glue these shapes onto a piece of paper to form pictures.

Crypto Currencies – The New Way to Hide Money

One of the things you need to think about if you are to become Mega Rich is where to put your money so;

No one can take it from you
You don’t need to pay taxes
You can move your cash around easily with no one knowing where it is or what you are using it for

crypto coinsLuckily, this is easy to do today with the creation of “Crypto Currencies”.

Crypto currencies are electronic money that no government, bank or individual have any control over.

There are no central entities that can create a false market for these currencies, or “coins”.

Not only that, depending on demand for these coins, their price fluctuates due to direct need in the total monetary network. Not because of the Federal Reserve or any other government agency deciding to print more or less. It is a 100% free market.

I also think cryto currencies are a great strategic investment. Take for instance Aurum Gold Coins. I purchased quite a few when they were first brought to market.

Since purchasing them, I have made a 200% profit!

And the best part is you can actually get these coins for “free”.

I add quotes on the free part because Data Mining does take some pretty intensive resources.

A very fast computer in addition to the electrical requirements and time do all cost in one way or another. But if you have these resources, getting money for free truly is an option.

If you’ve never heard of BitCoin or crypto-currency, you REALLY need to look into the future of money. And see why I am getting deeper and deeper into this lucrative field.