Stay up-to-date on the latest information for saving money on fuel, choosing a home state, finding a physician, and more.
By Janet Groene, F47166
The bad news is that things keep changing. When you’re on the go, it’s cumbersome to change habits, switch brands, or adjust financial practices. The good news is that full-timers can stay ahead of the game, because they are nimble, free, and unfettered by real estate. Here’s what’s new.
Many full-timers use self-storage units to keep their belongings that won’t fit into the motorhome, but these household storage units have varying degrees of security. You can buy insurance from the landlord, but it usually covers only the basics. If you want to store a coin collection, jewelry, or other valuables, a separate insurance policy is required, and even then it may not be the ironclad coverage you need. That’s where 24-7 Private Vaults comes in.
Based in Las Vegas, Nevada, the company provides around-the-clock access to your valuables, and you have the only keys to your box or vault. You don’t have to provide your name or any other information. Call (702) 948-5555 or visit http://www.24-7privatevaults.com/ for more information. Check it out thoroughly. No endorsement of the company by the writer or this magazine is intended.
Fuel savings deals are always in the news, but many of them are too inconsistent, too local/regional, or too gimmicky for full-timers. When you’re on the go, you must get the best deals everywhere you travel. Do an Internet search for “cheap gas” or “cheap diesel” and a list of Web sites will pop up to assist you in finding the best fuel prices according to the ZIP code. Other new wrinkles include:
Credit cards that pay back a bonus amount, usually 5 percent, on fuel purchases and perhaps certain other purchases. The catch: many fuel outlets also sell fast food or groceries, so if the computer doesn’t recognize the fuel purchase, you won’t get the 5 percent discount.
A discount for paying with cash, usually 4 percent to 5 percent. The problem is, you see the price sign on the highway, which attracts you to the station, but you don’t see the fine print about “cash only” until you’re ready to start filling the tank.
Warehouse clubs are increasingly offering fuel discounts, but if you’re a diesel user and clubs carry only gasoline, a membership (sometimes costing $40 a year or more) may not be worth it to you. The other catch is that the fuel discount also may require shopping in the store for a minimum dollar purchase.
Supermarket loyalty accounts can mean savings, and some of the large chains give points that add up to a fuel discount after you reach a certain amount. It’s usually easy and free to sign up for loyalty cards, but read the fine print. It still pays to be a sharp comparison shopper.
Gas station credit cards can be useful if you’re brand-loyal and pay off the card each month. Otherwise, watch those interest rates.
Take A Tax Hike
If you’re seeking a safe haven from state income taxes, Forbes magazine points out that the biggest bites for 2010 taxes were in Hawaii. It’s not a likely choice for full-timing, but Hawaii tops the list with an 11 percent state income tax on incomes exceeding $400,000. In Oregon, 11 percent is paid on income over $500,000, and Californians pay 10.55 percent on income of more than $1 million. Rhode Islanders pay 9.9 percent on income over $373,650; that rate drops to 5.99 percent in 2011. Kansas is thinking about lowering its 6.45 percent state income tax as well. The state income tax bite in Iowa is “only” 8.98 percent, but it kicks in on modest incomes over $64,261.
Keep in mind that many cities also have an income tax over and above the state income tax.
States that have no income tax at the time of this writing are Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming. Income tax in New Hampshire and Tennessee is charged only on dividends and interest. But make sure you do your research. Many of these income-tax-free states have high real estate and sales taxes. Choosing a home base continues to be a huge question mark depending on the amount of your personal income, source of that income, and many other factors.
Credit Card Versus Debit Card
Some merchants now charge a transaction fee when a customer uses a debit card. Yet other stores that accept credit cards will give a discount if you pay with cash instead. Keep your radar tuned to changes under new credit card laws that came in for 2011. It’s not good for your credit rating to have too many cards or to switch them too often. Variables keep changing, so always have an eye out for new penalties, rates, and payback features.
Software Versus A Professional
Do you need a personal attorney, lawyer, or solicitor to help with your legal paperwork, or can you do most of it on your own by using today’s new computer programs? Plan to spend about $300 an hour, or a total of $1,200 to $2,000, to have an attorney handle basic estate-planning needs. In the first consultation, explain your status as a full-timer with extra needs. Ask what documents the attorney recommends for your personal situation. Then negotiate a package price.
For example, software for a basic will provides essential boilerplate concerns, but an attorney can fend off problems that can arise should divorce, adoption, assets in several different states, debts, non-liquid assets, or other tricky circumstances become part of the picture. Every family has different wishes, assets, and relationships. This is one area where penny-wise is likely to be pound-foolish.
Durable power of attorney and health care power of attorney documents are two different things, ranging in price from $75 to $150 for the basic language. For full-timers who travel to different states and have assets and family members in other states, a lawyer can make sure your documents are valid in all the states involved. A living will is yet another document that makes your wishes clear. It supplements a health care power of attorney by listing your directives in end-of-life care. Otherwise, these decisions are left to the person who has your health care power of attorney.
Summing up: one-size-fits-all legal forms can save money, but this is another area where full-timers’ situations may not call for cookie-cutter solutions.
Doctor On Call
- As full-timers, we can’t choose where we’ll be when our next illness hits us, but we can find a choice of doctors thanks to http://www.zocdoc.com/. There is no cost, and it’s instant if you have a computer. On the minus side, the site serves only some major metropolitan areas, but it’s expanding. Go to the site and enter a city name or zip code, plus the name of your insurer or other method of payment and the type of doctor you need to see. ZocDoc immediately gives you a list of specialists serving that area who will accept your insurance.
A number of companies produce flash drives that contain your complete medical history. It’s a tremendous time-saver to have many megabytes of information on one thumb drive, and it also can be a lifesaver if you’re unable to speak for yourself. The devices plug into any USB port and can provide medics an instant history, including all your current medications.
One such product is the MedicTag (http://www.medictag.com/), a flash drive/key chain you can always have with you. Another provider is Card4Life Inc. (http://www.card4life.net/). Plenty more can be found by searching online. Some of these devices are for consumer use; some for medics only. When selecting a device, know how much input you will do yourself initially and for updates, and how much is done for you. Some are subscription-based services. You pay by the year for regular updates.
South Dakota Clarified
In the December 2010 “Full-Timer’s Primer” column, it was mentioned that some states, including South Dakota, that are favorite legal residences for full-timers are cracking down on folks who live in one state but buy or register their boats or RVs in another state to avoid a tax or fee. Some FMCA full-timers feared that the warning was meant for them. However, honest full-timers have nothing to worry about. If you have only one legal address for paying taxes and insurance premiums, receiving mail, voting, renewing a driver’s license, and licensing your motorhome, rest easy.
Web sites are filled with advice from well-meaning bloggers whose information may be confusing, incomplete, or just plain wrong. Whatever state you choose as your legal address, learn about your rights and obligations directly from the taxing authorities in that state, not from hearsay or from an eager salesperson. Note, too, that insurance — including health insurance and RV coverage — could be voided if you falsify an address. To vote in two places is a crime. Every state also has rules about how long a motorhome can be in that state before it’s subject to the state's tax and license requirements.