Golden Girl Finance
 
Janine Fracchioni
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Business

License to ride: Would you let your car drive you around?

June 20th, 2017 by

Taking the wheel at self-driving cars

 
 

Back in the day when Joan Crawford and Bette Davis were battling it out in Photoplay magazine, the idea of stepping into an automatic elevator was preposterous. What, no smartly dressed elevator operator at the controls to safely zoom us up to the penthouse and then back down? 

Joan and Bette eventually patched things up, and we got used to pushing a button and letting the machine do the rest. So why do we hesitate to let our cars drive us around?

Savvy car manufacturers have been coaxing us for years into giving up vehicular control with such nifty inventions as cruise control, parking assist, automatic braking and lane guidance. Now they’re upping the ante. Here are some of the players. 

Parts and service

Tesla  According to Elon Musk, CEO, by the end of this year a driverless Tesla will travel from Los Angeles to New York City. He predicts that within two years passengers will be able to nap all the way. 

Uber — Raquel Urtasun, a University of Toronto machine perception expert, leads the company’s self-driving research hub. CEO Travis Kalanick claims, “Self-driving technology promises to make our roads safer, our environment healthier and our cities more liveable”…and taxi services more profitable, right?

Alphabet (Google) — Waymo is the name of the self-driving technology unit currently piloting a fleet of self-driving cars in Phoenix, including minivans from Chrysler. 

Apple — Apple’s Project Titan is currently testing an autonomous Apple-Lexus SUV.

BMW & Intel — BMW has partnered with Intel and Mobileye to put a fleet of 40 self-driving BMWs on the road by the end of 2017. BMW supplies the vehicles, Intel supplies the ‘brains’ and Mobileye supplies the ‘vision’ technology.

Audi & Nvidia — Audi and chipmaker Nvidia have vehicles with technology for driver assistance such as managing road conditions. By 2020, they’ll launch their own driverless cars.

Speed Bumps: What’s up ahead?

If the rise in the use of autonomous vehicles leads to a drop in automobile accidents, insurance rates could drop too. 

But, given the complexity and cost of repairing complicated vehicles, car insurance rates could rise

In the case of an accident, liability may shift from drivers to car companies if the cause is deemed to be the vehicle’s software. 

If the insurance costs increase for car manufacturers, that cost will be borne by consumers through higher prices.

Next up: Elon Musk’s self-loading and self-emptying dishwasher. Stay tuned. 

Travel

7 tips for making your holiday dollars go further

June 6th, 2017 by

Not all those who wander bear costs

 
 

Splurging on a great night out or a special souvenir is part of the fun of a vacation. Spending money “under par” is a little less fun. Even when the Canadian currency is stronger than the local currency, unexpected bank transaction fees wait for your arrival home and then pop up on your credit card statements. 

Here’s how to plan ahead to avoid over-paying on fees.

7 do's and don'ts for those holiday dollars

1. DO pay it forward

Pay for hotel bookings in advance to avoid the risk of currency fluctuations later, and the potential shock of a big credit card bill post-vacation.  

2. DON’T miss a sale

If you pay for your flight or vacation package, only to see the price drop a month later, see if your credit card offers price protection. MBNA Rewards World Elite MasterCard® and Scotiabank® Gold American Express card will reimburse up to $500 and $100 respectively.

3. DON’T pay twice for insurance

Most gold, platinum or travel reward credit cards are equipped with all kinds of insurance assuming your trip is paid for with the card. Some cards, like The TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite®, will cover emergency medical expenses even without the trip purchase.

4. DO choose ATMs wisely 

Typically, your bank charges $3-5 to use a foreign ATM. Then you pay the foreign bank for using their ATM, say another $5. On top of that, a 2.5% foreign exchange fee. Yikes! Find out who your Canadian bank partners with abroad and choose those ATMs. RBC offers a “No-fee US ATM locator” on its website, while Scotiabank and Tangerine Bank are members of the Global ATM Alliance.

5. DO chat with your bank

Some banks provide deposit accounts that do not charge a fee on foreign ATM withdrawals. TD Canada Trust’s All-Inclusive Banking Plan allows unlimited out-of-country ATM use, BMO’s Premium Plan waives their fees on up to five foreign transactions, and the HSBC Premier Account lets you use their own global network of ATMs for free while waiving the forex fee on debit card purchases. 

6. DON’T pay forex fees

There is no avoiding a forex fee on cash, but a few credit cards allow you to skip the 2.5% currency exchange fee entirely. The Marriott Rewards® Premier Visa® or the Amazon.ca Rewards Visa card are blissfully forex-fee free, while Rogers™ Platinum MasterCard®, charges the 2.5% and then provides 4% cashback.

7. DO axe the tax

When shopping in Europe and the UK, ask for VAT refunds. If the retailer participates, you receive a little extra paperwork with your receipt. Fill it out and redeem at the airport before leaving the country. It’s a minor hassle, but with VAT charges of 21% in Belgium, 25% in Croatia, Sweden and Denmark... a little tax relief can be worth the queue.

Home/Real Estate

Change agent: Home renovations with the best returns

May 16th, 2017 by

A luxury real estate agent reveals the best investments in home renovations

 
 

The most common advice before selling a property is to update kitchens and bathrooms. According to Nancy Robertson, Senior Vice President of Sales at Sotheby’s International Realty Canada in Oakville, Ontario, there are no guarantees. “If the quality of the renovation is poor or the style too quirky or unattractive, that reno can actually reduce the value of the home.” 

Trying to decide what to renovate? Here are Robertson’s expert tips on how to invest wisely. 

First impressions

“Most buyers decide to buy a home within six minutes of seeing it, so the best investment is to make that first impression a fabulous one. A pot of pink hydrangeas at the door, a sparkling clean entry, all the light bulbs aglow and not a spot of dust or clutter – these efforts cost little and pay off well.”

1-2-3

“The decision to buy a house is made at three judgement points.”

  1. Viewing the photos. Consult a professional, or get inspiration from Pinterest, for styling tips—and invest in great photos.
     
  2. Curb appeal. Prospective buyers will likely arrive by car, or drive by before making the decision to go to an open house. Make sure your home looks great from a moving car. Make your curb appeal count.
     
  3. Walking through the front door. Make this moment count. The buyer is seeking a connection and will either think, “I love it, this is the one!” or “Eh, I don’t know.”

Clean Slate

“People underestimate the value of elbow grease to get the basics right.”

Mow the lawn, pull weeds and edge flowerbeds. Paint the trim and polish the hardware. Scrub every surface of the exterior and interior. No scuffed walls, dusty baseboards or grimy venetian blinds. You may be blind to signs of wear-and-tear but a new visitor won’t be. 

Pack it in

“Buyers want to see the house, not your stuff.”

Purge your closets and “edit” your rooms. Remove all but the essential furniture. Let in as much natural light as possible. Create space where people can imagine their own things.

Grey, yes—yellow, no!

“Yellow is not a good colour. It doesn’t photograph well and the colour is too subjective.”

Painting is the easiest way to modernize and refresh a space. Keep it airy with white or pale beigey-gray (“greige”). Robertson likes “Agreeable Gray” by Sherwin-Williams.

Keep it classy—and classic

“Kitchens and bathrooms should be timeless.”

Keep the renos simple and neutral. Skip trendy glass tiles and stick to classic subway tiles. White cabinets are popular with 90 per cent of buyers, according to Robertson. Quartz is the new granite.

The hard part

“Hardwood floors make a good impression. Solid or engineered hardwood creates a feeling of quality underfoot.”

Carpet should be limited to upper floors and laminate is only acceptable in the basement.

Care package

“Buyers look for evidence that you care.”

Robertson’s rule-of-thumb is to set aside an annual 1% of your home’s value for maintaining structure and operations.You might not use it every year and some years you will spend more, but on average, you won’t overspend. 

Don’t believe HGTV

“Don’t believe everything you see on HGTV.”

These shows give a false impression for what can be done on a certain budget. The show buys the materials but they don’t pay for labour. Doing a makeover on the same scale will cost you much more.

Tax

Canada's first feminist budget?

April 4th, 2017 by

3 ways the new gender-based federal budget is addressing challenges facing Canadian women

 
 

A feminist budget. A budget for women. Ladies’ day at Parliament? At least it wasn’t available in an array of fashion colours. In today’s marketing parlance, “for women” all too often means a generic product in a jazzy hue marked up to a higher price. 

We called Peky Tsang, tax analyst at TurboTax Canada, for her take on the new federal budget “for women”. According to Peky, three major policy changes do target challenges facing Canadian women.

Taking care of babies 

“This is the big one everyone is talking about,” says Peky. Families may now extend parental leave, from 55% of income over 12 months, to 33% of income over 18 months. 

The cost of infant care under 18 months is higher than toddler care, so an extra six months provides more flexibility to stay at home or split a long leave with a partner. Meanwhile, $7 billion is earmarked for childcare to the provinces, potentially creating 40,000 new subsidized daycare spaces.

“The main thing women need to be aware of is that an 18-month leave could spread across three tax years,” says Peky. “New moms are shocked by their tax bills when deductions during the leave are insufficient. Splitting leave gets even more complicated. We recommend modeling out parental leave scenarios with free online tax software such as TurboTax to sort out the best plan for the family.”

Taking care of parents 

A new caregiving benefit provides up to 15 weeks off work to care for a sick or injured family member. A variety of tax credits have been streamlined into one: “Canada Caregiver Credit”. “The only concern is that many women caring for family members are working part-time and may not meet the threshold to access the new EI benefits,” says Peky.

Having more babies

Up until now, women had to be “medically infertile” to receive tax credit for fertility treatment expenses. To be more inclusive of single women and same-sex couples, anyone may now submit receipts for fertility treatments, retroactive for the past 10 years. 

The budget also expands financial aid for part-time students. “Two-thirds of part-time students are women and four out of five grants to students with kids are women,” says Peky. There are also commitments to address the wage gap, violence against women, leadership training and entrepreneurial support for women. Peky admits she would like to see more details and spending commitments against each of these initiatives, but for now, acknowledges that it’s a step in the right direction. 

The bottom line

“Overall I do think this is a feminist budget,” says Peky. “This is the first budget in our history with a gender statement and the fact we are talking about gender-based analysis in determining government policy is huge progress.”