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Our award this month goes to First American Title Company of Oregon, and particularly Lucy Zandol, Senior Escrow Officer in their Salem office.

An Escrow company is a licensed, neutral third party that holds and distributes legal documents and funds on behalf of a buyer and seller in a real estate transaction. Their role in transferring monies and ownership is indispensable in a real estate transfer. applauds the professionalism, efficiency, and dedication of all employees at First American Title Company of Oregon. While real estate transactions are stressful by nature, employees of this company go the extra mile on behalf of both buyers and sellers to make it as painless as possible.

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• international banks

International BanksAn offshore or international bank is a financial entity that offers financial services, such as payment accounts and lending opportunities, to foreign clients. Anyone can have an offshore bank account. Holding accounts in international banks is extremely beneficial for wealthy individuals and companies with the biggest benefit being low or no taxation. They also offer more privacy since private financial information of account holders is not disclosed. Most international bank accounts are multi-currency and offer easy access to deposits from different parts of the world, along with Internet banking.

These banks offer more loans and investment products than standard banks. In addition, individuals can take advantage of asset protection, estate planning, and foreign direct investment services from offshore or international banks. The only risks to account holders are upheavals due economic or political instability in the foreign country and nationalization of bank assets.

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• auto loans

Auto LoansTake the time to compare automotive interest rates. While most dealerships offer their own auto loans to customers, they may not provide the lowest rate. Research major lenders to see what types of loans are available. If you have an account with a bank or credit union, see if they can offer you a better loan rate because you're an existing customer. You should also get an auto insurance quote from top companies before buying a vehicle since it'll impact your monthly vehicle cost.

Before buying a vehicle, get final approval of the automobile loan in writing. Many auto loan lenders, especially dealerships, promise customers a great loan with a low interest rate but it only applies to people with high credit scores. Consider getting a pre-approved loan but remember that you may not get the loan terms promised if interest rates rise after the quote is provided.

There are many online automotive research and listing services that allow you to search new and used cars for sale, get dealer quotes for new cars and trucks, read automobile reviews, and compare the features, performance and safety of vehicles side-by-side. Several of these sites also allow you to compare and apply for automobile financing. Many of these automobile shopping sites have an auto insurance section where you can get free quotes from thousands of insurance agents.

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• credit cards

credit card companiesA 2008 J.D. Power and Associates survey of credit card user happiness found the following satisfaction rates among major credit card issuers. With an industry average of 724 out of a possible 1,000, American Express received 783, Discover 751, National City 721, Chase 719, U.S. Bank 716, Washington Mutual (now Chase) 712, Citi 710, Wells Fargo 709, and Bank of America 692.

Many credit card companies offer incentives, such as low introductory rates for balance transfers (moving the balance from your current issuer). One of the most aggressive credit card brands in this area is Discover Card. There are several reputable Websites that allow you to compare rates from leading banks and financial institutions. Many credit card providers do not charge a balance transfer fee for a limited time after a new account is established.

Those who have no credit history or who have had credit card applications rejected due to poor credit should consider a prepaid card. Many of these cards offer free direct deposit and cash loads at tens of thousands of locations. There is usually no credit check made when opening these accounts.

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• investing options

Investing StrategiesInvestors have a dizzying array of choices. Investment options include U.S. and oversees stocks, real estate purchases, bonds issued by stable companies, riskier bonds that offer higher yields, forex trading, and the purchase of precious metals such as gold, titanium, and palladium bullion. Since before the 2008 stock market crash, gold value has risen sharply.

Smart investing requires research. Learn what types of investments make the most sense in the areas of expenses and financial risks involved. Are financial goals five years, ten years, or thirty years in the future? If retirement is far away, stocks have outperformed other investment types, including bonds, as a whole over time. While stocks fluctuate in the short term, and may even decline by 25% in a single year, historically they yield an investment return of about 10% annually.

According to U.S. equity strategists, Standard & Poor’s downgrade of the long-term sovereign credit rating of the U.S. from AAAA to AA+ won't keep the nation’s stocks down in the long term. Investors should consider buying large companies and dividend-paying stocks in the short run.

No personal investment strategy is complete without diversification. Put money in a combination of stable investments such as bonds and CD's, more variable types, such as mutual funds, along with money in individual stocks. Consider purchasing a life insurance policy for the future security of loved ones.

In addition, try to set aside a certain amount of money for a secondary retirement fund and keep some money in a personal savings account for emergencies. Fixed annuities are interest based vehicles similar to bank issued CDs, but geared specifically towards retirement savings.

Invest as much as you can spare in an IRA or 401(k), even if it's not the maximum allowed by law. You don't have to contribute $5,000 every year to start building assets tax-deferred. Even $100 a month will make a large impact over time. If your employer offers a match based on your retirement plan contributions and you are not participating, you're missing out on extra money. It's also easy to rollover a 401k or transfer funds from your current IRA to a No Fee IRA.

If you're tempted to take a cash distribution from your retirement plan, keep in mind you'll lose a substantial portion of it to taxes and penalties. Among these is a 10% early withdrawal penalty if you're under the age of 59½ and additional federal income taxes depending on your tax bracket.

It's vital for every investor to review asset allocation (the mix of stocks, bonds, and cash) in their portfolio once a year to make sure it's still appropriate for their current needs.

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