So the spring fever bug has bitten you and you’re going to tackle that big home improvement project. But do you know how to pick the right contractor to handle the job?

No doubt there are a lot of things to consider when lining up prospects. But before you even begin your search, you should come up with a plan for what you want done. The more specific that plan is, the better. A detailed outline of your project needs will provide for a more accurate estimates from contractors.

Once you have that plan in hand, you can begin your search for prospects. Here are some ideas to get you headed in the right direction:

Check with family, friends and neighbors for prospects, since customer referrals are a great way to determine who has the best track record. Another good resource is the National Association of Home Builders ( The association has directories for building professionals, remodelers, service providers and more. Local building inspectors also may be willing to help you out, since they come in contact with a lot of contractors. The same goes for local home improvement stores and lumberyards.

Track down previous customers to see how contractors performed. Ask them questions such as were they satisfied with the quality of the work; was the contractor easy to communicate with; was the job completed on time and at the price quoted and, if not, why not; and would you hire the same contractor again.

Check licenses, complaints, and online reviews. Reputable contractors usually are licensed, which typically means they must pass a test to measure competency. Note that licensing varies by state and municipality, and that in lieu of licensing, governing bodies may only require contractors to be registered by paying a fee. You can get a handle on complaints by checking with the Better Business Bureau. And online reviews can provide more insight on what kind of reputation contractors have in the community.

Get at least three estimates or bids. Industry experts recommend that you get written estimates or bids from a minimum of three contractors. An estimate is just that – an approximation of the cost. A bid, on the other hand, is a fixed price. An estimate should include the scope of work to be done, the labor and materials that are required, and the amount of time it will take to complete the job. Bids should provide a more detailed breakdown of what the contractor is going to do and provide.

Be aware that the lowest estimate or bid may not always be the best. Price differences may be the result of the quality of materials that are to be used. Ultimately it comes down to “you get what you pay for.”

Get background information on each of the contractors you seek bids or estimates from. For instance, ask how long they’ve been in business and for references (including financial references) and contact information for previous customers. And see if they are willing to show you examples of their past work.

With some planning and preparation, you can get that home improvement project off on the right foot. Good luck!

Getting a sizeable tax refund this year? If you are, it’s likely you’ll be faced with a familiar predicament – do I save or do I splurge? There’s nothing to prevent you from doing both.

If you’re looking for specific ideas on what to do with your refund money, here are some to consider:

  • Use a portion or all of the money to pay down credit card or other debt.
  • Create or add to an emergency fund that can be used for unexpected expenses, such as car repairs or replacing a broken-down appliance.
  • Open or add to a Roth IRA. And you can also open a Roth IRA for your child. Children are eligible as long as they have earned income.
  • Upgrade energy-draining, outdated household appliances with new energy-efficient models. It will help you save on energy costs in the long run.
  • If you’ve been putting off a visit to the doctor or dentist because you couldn’t afford it, use some of your refund money to take care of yourself and your well-being.
  • Open a college fund for your kids. It’s never too soon to do that, especially when you think how the cost of a post-secondary education tends to rise almost every year.
  • Tackle some home improvement projects like repainting a room or replacing a leaky roof.
  • Consider covering gaps in your insurance, such as adding a personal liability umbrella policy.
  • Create a vacation or holiday gift account.
  • From a short-term savings side, put some or all of the money into a certificate of deposit. This is a great investment vehicle for planned purchases down the road, such as a new car. Interest-bearing savings accounts are a good savings resource, too. BankFive has some great savings products you can take advantage of. Check them out at:
  • Take an “all expenses paid” vacation – one that won’t put you into debt when you return home.
  • Make a charitable contribution to a non-profit organization.
  • Pursue continuing education courses as a way to invest in your professional future.
  • Buy or increase your life insurance policy to provide more for your family.

Whatever you choose to do with your tax refund, try to get the biggest bang for your buck.

If you’ve been thinking about ways to save, but haven’t really started, now’s the time to do it because it’s America Saves Week! In conjunction with this nationwide event, we’ve been offering tips and insights on saving each day this week.

The goal of America Saves Week is to encourage individuals and families to save money and build personal wealth as well as improve financial literacy.

As you well know, you don’t get a heads-up when there’s an emergency. Car repairs, medical situations, household appliances breaking down – these are just a few of the unforeseen things you could be faced with. But you can prepare for them by putting savings aside.

Here are some ways to create and build up an emergency fund:

  • Have money directly deposited from your paycheck into a savings account intended exclusively for emergencies.
  • Consider opening an account that gives you limited access to the money, such as a holiday account. These accounts typically charge a penalty if you withdraw more than your allowed, so you’re less tempted to tap into it.
  • Set a goal and work towards it. And make sure it can be realistically attained. That may mean targeting a goal of saving $1,500 versus $5,000 for the year. If you find you’re reaching your goal sooner than expected, you may want to consider upping the number.
  • Include setting aside a specific amount for emergencies as part of your budget. This will help you stay on track for building the fund and reaching your goal. Consider your emergency fund allotment as paying a monthly bill.
  • Don’t use the emergency fund for non-emergencies. Plan ahead for bills you know you’re going to have to pay, such as an annual car or house insurance payment, rather than tapping your emergency money to cover the bill.
  • If possible, create short-term and long-term emergency accounts. Short-term would cover such things as car repairs and appliance replacement, while long-term would be intended for major setbacks such as job loss or a house fire.
  • Experts suggest having an emergency fund that could cover six months’ worth of expenses.
  • Choose an account that allows you to access the money quickly and without penalty. For instance, a savings account usually is a safe bet, while a CD account could carry a penalty if you withdraw funds prematurely.
  • Look for ways to cut down on expenses and then put that money toward an emergency fund.

We hope you benefitted from the savings tips we offered this week. Check out for additional timely savings tips and advice!



If you’ve been thinking about ways to save, but haven’t really started, now’s the time to do it because it’s America Saves Week! In conjunction with this nationwide event, we’ll be offering tips and insights on ways to save each day between now and Saturday, February 28.

The goal of America Saves Week is to encourage individuals and families to save money and build personal wealth as well as improve financial literacy.

No matter what your age, it’s always good to save for retirement. The goal is to have enough money set aside so you can live comfortably in your “golden years.” Here are some tips for creating a retirement nest egg:

  • If your employer offers a retirement plan or program, take advantage of it, especially if they will match your contributions up to a certain percentage.
  • If you don’t have access to a retirement plan at work, open a Traditional or Roth IRA. BankFive has both available. You can learn more at
  • Even saving a small amount towards retirement can reap big rewards later in life. If money is tight, start out with 1 or 2 percent of your paycheck. You can always increase the amount later when your income increases.
  • Start saving as soon as you can. The sooner you begin, the more time your money has to grow through compounding.
  • If you switch jobs and you have money in a retirement plan at your former job, find out what’s the best way to handle those funds. Options include rolling it over into a retirement account at your new employer, leaving the money where it is or cashing out. Seek help from an investment advisor if necessary to ensure you’re making the right move.

Stay tuned for more ways to save every day this week. And check out for additional timely savings tips and advice!

America Saves Week is here! This is your opportunity to take advantage of all the savings insights that are tied into this nationwide event, which runs until Saturday, February 28. During America Saves Week, individuals and families are encouraged to save money and build personal wealth as well as improve financial literacy.

Here’s some help in making it a habit to save money:

  • Take advantage of free entertainment opportunities as opposed to paying for leisure time activities. (Tip: Pack a picnic and spend the afternoon at the local park.)
  • Make it a habit of taking candy and snacks to the movies instead of buying them at the concession stand. (Tip: Store your goodies in a large purse to provide “cover” for your stash.)
  • Use print and online coupons to stretch your dollars further. (Tip: Several online sites constantly have coupons available, such as
  • Skip the weekly trip to the car wash and give your car a bath at home. (Tip: Many auto service stores have professional car cleaning kits to give your auto that top-notch shine.)
  • One of the easiest ways to automatically save is to have money from each paycheck transferred into a savings account. (Tip: BankFive has five savings account options that you can open right online. Check them out at
  • Make it a habit of doing routine maintenance on your car so small problems don’t turn into big problems. (Tip: Have your oil changed regularly and make sure your tires are properly inflated, which provides for better gas mileage.)
  • Turn a money-spending habit into a money-saving habit. (Tip: Bypass that daily soda fountain fix at the local convenience store by buying a six- or 12-pack of soda at the supermarket. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the savings you realize.)

More savings tips will be offered every day this week. And check out the America Saves Week website at for additional information.

America Saves Week – Family and Youth Savings

February 25, 2015

If you’ve been thinking about ways to save, but haven’t really started, now’s the time to do it because it’s America Saves Week! In conjunction with this nationwide event, we’re offering tips and insights on ways to save each day until Saturday, February 28. The goal of America Saves Week is to encourage individuals and […]

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