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How to tackle YOUR student loan debt

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For more than 15 years, the government has recognized April as National Financial Literacy Month in an effort to teach Americans how to reduce debt and make better financial decisions.

Unfortunately, one of the highest sources of consumer debt in the United States is student loans. Totaling nearly $1.6 trillion, this debt burden doesn’t just affect young adults. More than three million Americans over the age of 60 are still paying off their student loans.

If you’re one of the nearly 45 million Americans struggling to pay off their student loans, here are some ways to reduce your debt.

• Understand your repayment options. There are eight federal plans with varying time frames and monthly payment sizes. You can change your plan at any time to better suit your evolving financial situation.

• Ask for forgiveness. Nurses, government employees, military personnel and teachers in low-income schools might be eligible for a loan forgiveness program. The government will also forgive your remaining debt after 20 or 25 years if you’re enrolled in an income-driven repayment plan.

• Consider consolidation. You may be able to save money by combining your existing student loans into a single loan and negotiating a new interest rate and loan term based on your current credit score and income.

Keep in mind, a proactive approach to paying off your student loans will put you in a better financial situation to reduce credit card debt and save for retirement. To pay off your student loan quicker, consider tightening your budget, using windfalls to make additional payments and if you can manage it, getting a second job.

Last year, the Financial Literacy and Education Commission urged higher education institutions to provide mandatory financial literacy courses, in part because studies show many borrowers don’t fully understand the repayment obligations when they obtain a student loan.

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How to update French doors

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French doors are a great way to separate two interior spaces that are visually connected. They’re also ideal for enhancing your view of the outdoors and letting natural light shine into a room. However, they can sometimes look dated. Here are a few ways to give them an upgrade.

Change the look
French doors are typically made of wood. If you’re not a fan of yours, why not paint them? White is a timeless choice, but you can also turn your doors into a focal point by painting them a color that contrasts with the rest of the room. Alternatively, replace the whole setup with doors that each feature one large pane of glass or have a modern steel frame.

Adopt a new style

While most French doors consist of two doors that swing outwards or inwards, there are different options available. Three- or four-panel French doors, which include two working doors flanked by large windows, are perfect for letting in more light.

Finally, if you love the look of French doors but lack the space for them to swing open, consider sliding or folding options.

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Landscape redesign: 5 factors to consider

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Upgrading your yard can be a major undertaking, and it’s easy to miss a key detail if you’re not careful. Here are five things to consider before you begin.

1. Access
If your upgrade involves moving large objects into your yard, there needs to be a safe access route. Fences, walls, and trees can make it difficult or impossible for trucks to deliver supplies. Create a plan before the work starts to avoid delays.

2. Space

If you want to install a pool or build a large deck, make sure there’s enough room in your yard for both the structure and the installation crew. Also, verify where property lines are located before placing fences, hedges, and trees.

3. Regulations
If your project involves a significant structural change, you may need to obtain a permit from the city. Your landscaping might also have to meet certain requirements such as respecting the maximum height for fences and hedges. Contact your municipality before starting any work.

4. Soil
The consistency of the soil on your property can directly impact the stability of new installations. Heavy rainfall and rapid freeze-thaw cycles can make the ground unstable. Hire a professional to inspect the yard before you begin construction.

5. Upkeep
Gardens may require frequent care to ensure they don’t become overgrown. Also, keep in mind that maintaining trees involves clearing seeds, leaves, and branches. Additionally, many building materials need to be regularly cleaned, painted, or stained.

Landscaping projects can revitalize your yard but for best results, they should be planned in advance.

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Lawn care: 3 reasons to leave it to the pros

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Are you tired of spending your weekends taking care of your lawn? If so, hiring a professional may be the solution. Here are three great reasons to use a landscaping service.

1. You won’t need any equipment
If you hire a contractor to take care of your lawn and garden, you won’t need to maintain a lawnmower, sharpen hedge trimmers or shop for fertilizer. In fact, you won’t need lawn care tools at all. This will save you the hassle and expense of buying, storing, and maintaining them.

2. You’ll have more free time

Did you know that many people spend the equivalent of a week each summer taking care of their lawn and garden? If you hire a professional, your landscaping contract can include everything from mowing the grass and pruning the hedges to watering and weeding your garden. With fewer chores, you can spend your time doing the things you enjoy.

3. You’ll avoid unpleasant surprises
If there’s a problem with your lawn, plants, or trees, your landscaping contractor will know exactly what to do. A professional can identify and resolve issues involving pests, watering, fertilization, and more. This will save you the time and effort of trying to figure it out on your own.

This summer, trust your lawn care to a professional. Your yard will be beautiful and well-maintained, thereby increasing the value of your home and enhancing your enjoyment of the property.

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What type of fruit should you grow?

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Fruit-bearing trees, shrubs, and plants are easy to grow and can add visual interest to your yard with their vibrant foliage and flowers. Here’s what to plant based on various preferences.

If you want a harvest this summer
To enjoy your fruit within a few months, opt for fast-growing plants. A few examples include strawberries, raspberries, ground cherries, cantaloupes, and watermelons.

If you want long-lasting producers

If you’re willing to be patient, plant a perennial tree or shrub that has a long life but only bears fruit after a few years. Apricot trees and blackberry bushes take about two years to produce fruit. For blueberries, pears, and apples, you’ll need to wait three years. Plum trees take six years.

If you want unique but delicious berries
If you want to plant fruit that’s a little out of the ordinary, try black currants, Arctic kiwis, or Saskatoon berries. These berries are great for making mouth-watering jams.

Keep in mind that some trees and shrubs only bear fruit if there’s a second plant nearby to pollinate it. If you want to grow apples, for example, you’ll need to plant two trees.

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The advantages of permeable paving

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Permeable pavers, such as interlocking sto¬nes, can be used to build driveways, walk¬ways, and patios. Here’s why they’re a great choice.

They reduce runoff
Permeable paving allows water to seep into the ground. This means runoff is less likely to pool on the surface or end up in the sewer system. Consequently, you’ll have fewer puddles when it rains and less ice buildup when it’s cold. Permeable pavers also reduce the risk of flooding and erosion.

They keep cities cooler

Permeable pavers remain cooler than asphalt because they’re paler and absorb less sunlight. This makes them particularly suited for cities where large amounts of asphalt create urban heat islands. In fact, some cities are beginning to make permeable paving a requirement for certain projects.

They’re a good investment
Permeable pavers are easy to install because they don’t require the ground to be compacted beforehand. They’re also more durable than asphalt so they cost less in the long run. Plus, they can increase the value of your home.

Lastly, permeable pavers can help filter out pollutants and replenish the water table with clean water. This makes them a particularly great choice for eco-conscious consumers.

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One option for some seniors: Roth IRA

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Some investors could make a big move in this crisis-driven market by converting their retirement accounts to a Roth IRA.

One caution: It might be smart for you, and it might not.

Naturally, with all things about investing, it all depends.

Roth IRAs are great investments when the stock market is down, according to Leon LaBrecque of the Sequoia Financial Group. That’s because, as the market recovers, you make money tax free.

Roths are also good when taxes are low. You hope to pay low taxes on a Roth when you invest and avoid higher taxes when you take distributions. If you are looking at the recent $2 trillion relief bill, with promises of more to come, who would blame you if you thought taxes were going to rise?

Finally, Roths are best for optimists. Do you think it is a bear market that won’t recover for a decade? Or do you think it is a short-term crisis market that will recover swiftly?

A down market that is poised to recover, is an optimum time for converting to a Roth, according to LaBrecque.

To actually decide whether this would be beneficial to your situation, you have to speak to an investment professional. Depending on your financial situation, there are several ways to create a Roth, but also serious pitfalls.

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