Liz Hieter
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Residents Facing Earthquake Risk Should Bolster Insurance

February 10, 2015 1:48 am

Earthquake insurance provides protection from the shaking and cracking that can destroy homes and personal possessions. Earthquakes are not covered under standard homeowners insurance policies, but coverage is usually available in the form of a supplemental policy, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

Coverage for other kinds of damage that may result from earthquakes, such as fire and water damage due to burst gas and water pipes, is generally provided by standard homeowners and renters insurance policies.

Earthquake insurance carries a deductible, generally as a percentage rather than a dollar amount. Deductibles can range anywhere from 2 to 20 percent of the replacement value of the structure. This means that if it costs $100,000 to rebuild a home and there was a 2 percent deductible, the owner would be responsible for the first $2,000 dollars. Insurers in states with a higher risk of earthquakes often set minimum deductibles at around 10 percent. In most cases, consumers can get even higher deductibles to save money on earthquake premiums.

Source: I.I.I.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Be Wary of Phantom Debt Scams

February 9, 2015 1:48 am

A recent National Consumers League (NCL) analysis of more than 10,000 consumer complaints submitted in 2014 underscores a very real issue: “refund and recovery,” or phantom debt scams.

The predominant version of the “refund and recovery” scam involves a fraudster contacting a consumer claiming to be collecting unpaid debts. If the consumer questioned the debt, the scammer frequently threatened them with jail time, legal action or other consequences. Fake check scams, Internet merchandise scams and bogus prizes/sweepstakes scams are also common.

“Fraud remains one of the most pernicious threats facing consumers today,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “We are particularly concerned about scammers increasingly relying on the ‘old-fashioned’ telephone as a way to reach millions of potentially vulnerable consumers.”

The telephone was reported by nearly 43 percent of complainants as the way that they were first contacted by a scammer, ahead of the Web (almost 31 percent), email (almost 16 percent) and postal mail (almost 7 percent).

“Credit card transactions are a safer way for consumers to pay for products since they can dispute fraudulent charges with their credit card company,” said John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud. “Unfortunately, when a fraud victim sends money via wire transfer or prepaid debit card, the chances of getting their money back are much lower.”

Source: NCL

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How to Take the Stress Out of Renovating

February 9, 2015 1:48 am

(BPT) - If you're ready to hire someone for your first-ever home renovation, you're likely focused more on the result of the project, not the process. Seasoned renovators will tell you that even a foolproof renovation plan will require some major lifestyle adjustments. For first-timers, it's important to be prepared - financially, logistically and mentally - for the project. Keep in mind:

Prior planning prevents poor performance. Some things in life can be over-planned, but renovation isn't one of them. Don't skimp on the planning process. You need to use patience and care when choosing a project that will increase your home's value and your enjoyment of the space. You'll also need to decide how you will finance the project, select a contractor and deal with potentially major issues.

Homeowners also need to define what they want to accomplish. For example, do you just need an updated look or do you want an entirely new living space? You can glean ideas from publications, websites and other resources and also seek out professional assistance, such as from an interior decorator.

Your contractor is going to become your new roommate. Most homeowners continue to live in their homes during a major renovation, so you'll be spending a lot of time with your contractor. Hire a professional contractor who is licensed, insured and certified. Look for a firm that is conscientious about everything it does, has an experienced team and is used to handling large projects.

To find an ideal firm, get referrals from friends and from the firm itself and look at company websites. During the interview process, talk to prospective firms about timeline, logistics, realistic expectations and budget management. It's important to understand the scope of the project and how your contractor proposes to handle any challenges that arise.

There will be dust. Dust will happen - guaranteed. Every phase of remodeling creates dust, and it's the top threat to livability during a renovation. In addition to the nuisance of dust settling throughout your home, it can cause difficulty for people with existing respiratory problems and damage your belongings. Before you sign a contract, make sure the remodeler has a dust control plan for your project.

The little things that will get to you. While your contractor is tearing down walls and re-creating your living space, life will still go on in your home. Piano lessons will continue, deliveries will take place, bedtimes will remain and meal prep will go on. Meanwhile, your contractor's crews need somewhere to park their work vehicles and might not remember to put every tool away (and out of reach of your kids) at the end of a day. It's important to communicate with your contractor about these logistics and how you can work together to make the renovation go smoothly with as little disruption to your lives as possible.

It will be worth it. A major kitchen remodeling project recoups more than 74 percent of its cost at the time of resale, and adding an attic bedroom returns more than 84 percent, according to Remodeling Magazine's Cost vs. Value Report. In addition to financial considerations, completed renovations can improve curb appeal and livability.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Performing a Paint Color Consultation

February 9, 2015 1:48 am

The color of your walls not only impacts how you feel, but sets the overall tone of a room, according to experts at HouseBeautiful Magazine. Selecting the right paint color will help convey the mood you want in your home. So how do you choose which color is right for you? Perform your own color consultation by asking yourself these questions.

What’s my style?
The most common dilemma when deciding on a paint color is whether you want to stick to a classic look or make a bold statement. Think about how certain colors make you feel – neutrals lend themselves to a more traditional aesthetic and are usually the most calming. More saturated colors, on the other hand, tend to energize and inspire. Take time to explore your style before committing to a paint color.

Should I use more than one color?
Overall, the color scheme of your house should be limited. One or two colors throughout is perfectly acceptable; however, it is important to break up the general theme with a few accent walls in complimentary colors.

How will lighting affect my choice?
Once you’ve decided on a color, pick the right shade in that family by choosing three similar hues – one that’s exactly what you had in mind for the room, one that’s a shade lighter, and one that’s a shade darker. Test out these samples next to a window and in a darker corner, and at different times of the day and night, to determine how lighting will affect its presentation.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Six Choices That Sway Success

February 6, 2015 1:36 am

Success is something people crave. It's desired in careers, finances, health and relationships. The problem is that many fall short of the success they desire because of the choices they make.

According to motivational author and speaker Shawn Anderson (www.extramileamerica.org), every area of life can be affected by the choices consciously made throughout the day. Anderson points to six key decisions that have the potential to tip the scale either away from or toward success:

1. Quit or Persist
"Big goals are rarely achieved upon first effort. Massive persistence is required to make them happen," Anderson says. "If we allow early failures to cause us to quit too soon, we will always lessen the degree of success that we eventually achieve."

2. Watch Late Night Television or Wake Up Early
"With a million Internet options and television channels from which to choose, it's easy to disappear for hours into unedifying nothingness," Anderson suggests. "Facebook or ‘Keeping Up with the Kardashians’ may be entertaining, but it throws away valuable time that could be used to create, inspire and build our own success."

3. Spend or Invest

"Creating financial stability is crucial in living a life we love. But every time we splurge on a frivolous item like an expensive coffee or eating out for lunch, it's one fewer chance we have to let our money grow and establish financial success," Anderson points out.

4. Hate Mondays or Love Mondays
"Nothing saps the success out of our lives more than working at jobs we hate. Mediocrity readily greets those whose passion is erased by spending 40 hours a week dreading where they show up to work on Monday," Anderson says.

5. Hang with “Cannots” or “Cans”
"Like attracts like. If you want to know your success potential, take a look at what kind of energy... positive or negative... the people around you radiate," Anderson states.

6. Point Fingers at Others or Yourself
"Is your lack of success your fault or someone else's?" Anderson asks. "If you point to the person in the mirror, you have a greater chance of changing the level of success you are capable of finding."

Source: Extra Mile America

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Refinancers to Save Combined $5 Billion in Interest in 2015

February 6, 2015 1:36 am

Borrowers are continuing to take advantage of near record low mortgage rates to lower their monthly payments, shorten their loan terms and choose the safety of long-term fixed-rate mortgages as they closed out 2014, according to an analysis by Freddie Mac. Borrowers who refinanced in 2014 will save on net approximately $5 billion in interest over the next 12 months.

"Our latest refinance report shows the refinance boom continued to wind down as the pool of potential borrowers declined over the course of 2014,” says Len Kiefer, Freddie Mac deputy chief economist. “However, because mortgage rates fell in the fourth quarter of last year, we actually saw the share of refinance originations tick up a bit despite volumes being down, a similar trend we expect to see for the first quarter of 2015 as mortgage rates have moved even lower. Lower mortgage rates, coupled with greater house prices appreciation last year, also brought about a larger share of borrowers cashing out home equity at the time of refinance.”

Freddie Mac’s report also revealed that of the borrowers who refinanced during the fourth quarter of 2014, 34 percent shortened their loan term, down from 35 percent from the previous quarter. Further, 35 percent of those who refinanced outside of HARP took out a shorter-term loan, while 33 percent of HARP borrowers shortened their term. Borrowers who kept the same term as the loan that they had paid off represented 60 percent and only six percent chose to lengthen their loan term.

Furthermore, about 71 percent of those who refinanced their first-lien home mortgage maintained about the same loan amount or lowered their principal balance by paying in additional money at the closing table. That's shy of the 88 percent peak during the second quarter of 2012. More than 95 percent of refinancing borrowers chose a fixed-rate loan. Fixed-rate loans were preferred regardless of what the original loan product had been. For example, 67 percent of borrowers who had a hybrid ARM refinanced into a fixed-rate loan during the fourth quarter. In contrast, only 4 percent of borrowers who had a fixed-rate loan chose an ARM.

The average interest rate reduction in the fourth quarter was about 1.3 percentage points – as avings of about 23 percent. On a $200,000 loan, that translates into saving about $2,500 in interest during the next 12 months. Homeowners who refinanced through HARP during the fourth quarter of 2014 benefited from an average rate reduction of 1.6 percentage points and will save an average of $3,300 in interest during the first 12 months, or about $275 every month.

Source: Freddie Mac

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Fight Back against Financial Relationship Stressors

February 6, 2015 1:36 am

According to a recent survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC), disagreements over financial matters ranked highest on its list of relationship stressors. Disputes between couples about money management can begin as early as the first date, but they become detrimental to relationships if left unaddressed. As the years go by, what could have started as a constructive conversation about finance becomes a heated battle over who is right.

The survey also found that conflicts over financial infidelity, thriftiness and overspending can contribute to stress in a relationship. But no matter the challenges, “the best approach is to start communicating early,” says Bruce Clary, NFCC. “Understanding those differences means having honest discussions early in a relationship so the rules are mutually accepted and the financial goals are clear.”

Fight back against financial relationship stressors with these tips:
  • Be honest with yourself and each other when it comes to financial matters. As financial challenges appear, work together to address them directly instead of ignoring problems and wishing they will resolve themselves.
  • Establish money rules for the relationship and hold each other accountable. Discuss what will be jointly managed and set rules for making independent spending decisions.
  • Don’t conceal debt or sources of income from each other. Adhere to a policy of financial transparency to strengthen trust in the relationship.
  • Set a time and place where financial matters can be discussed on a regular basis, free of distractions.
  • Keep the tone of the conversation casual, and remain open to what each other has to say.
  • If a disagreement should go unresolved during a conversation, take a moment to find acceptable ways to compromise or consider revisiting the issue after a short time-out.
  • If a financial mistake is made, couples should work together to find solutions without assigning blame. Be willing to accept a fair share of the responsibility for the problem and the solution.
  • When tracking joint financial goals, understand that changing circumstances require a degree of flexibility from both partners in a relationship.
  • Understand that a single financial setback impacting one person ultimately affects the entire relationship, no matter how large or small the issue.
Source: NFCC

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Investors: Keys to Successful Portfolio Management

February 5, 2015 1:33 am

(Family Features) Investor optimism has steadily climbed since 2006, and more investors are managing their own investment portfolios. For the growing number of self-directed investors entering the market, here are three steps to take to manage a portfolio.

1. Gauge Accessibility Needs
Those who self-direct their investments tend to check their portfolio and log into their accounts more frequently. Every investor and trader has different needs, and it’s important to identify how to interact with the investment company.
  • Want to be able to walk into a branch? Not all investment firms operate a branch network, or only have a handful of offices, while others have local offices across the country.
  • Need to call someone after market hours? Many investment firms operate call centers to handle customer questions.
  • Trading on the go? Investment firms have evolved to meet the needs of investors and traders by expanding their availability to include mobile apps. The majority (60 percent) of investors who own a smartphone report using them for banking and investment transactions and related needs, such as checking account information.
  • Want to interact with the firm on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube? Find a firm that provides the opportunities to connect via social media platforms.
By prioritizing needs and comparing the various offerings at investment firms, self-directed investors will be better equipped to find the right firm with which to partner.

2. Research Your Resources
Explore an investment firm’s online resources. Whether pre- or post-log in, most online research tools are available free of charge. More than one-third of investors say they taught themselves how to invest by using online investment education tools.
  • Learn what research tools each investment firm offers. Make sure real-time information is available to track a portfolio with charts and news. Learn about customizable features within each account and set up a system to easily see relevant information and take advantage of market momentum.
  • Look for market calendars that present expected activity (such as initial public offerings, earnings reports, dividends, etc.) in ways that are easy to understand.
  • Check for on-demand webcasts and live webinars to educate investors and traders on a variety of topics that interest them and meet their trading experience levels.
  • Engage in an online trading community. These virtual groups bring investors and traders together, allowing them to swap investment strategies and learn from like-minded people. Most communities are also moderated by an investment firm with professionals who can answer investment-related questions and provide customer support.
Many find investing fun. Self-directed investors’ confidence has strengthened as the Internet has made information about the markets, rules and guidelines more accessible. While online trading saves investors and traders time and money, it does not take the homework out of making investment decisions. Before making a trade, investors need to understand the risks of each investment and the goals of their portfolios.

With the right tools at hand and by partnering with a reputable investment firm that meets individual needs, self-directed investors can take charge of their investments with confidence.

Source: Scottrade, Inc.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Map Out Your Winter Weather Safety Plan

February 5, 2015 1:33 am

Most homeowners retreat indoors when faced with a brewing winter storm, but even staying inside can be risky. Fierce winds and heavy snowfalls can leave homes without power or homeowners unable to travel.

Stay safe during winter weather this season with these tips.

Ensure you have water.
Power outages mean no water for homes that rely on wells, so families should stock up on drinking water. Filling up the bathtub before power is lost is also a good idea. The water can be used to flush the toilet if pumps stop working.

Buy non-perishable food.
Families should have three days of non-perishable, ready-to-eat food items on hand. Buy crackers, canned food and cereal.

Prepare for furnace failure.
Even gas furnaces will not supply heat in a power outage since the fan and pilot are electric. Wood stoves and fireplaces are safe ways to heat the home, but no other indoor fires should ever be lit. Operating outdoor BBQs (including propane) inside and inhaling deadly carbon monoxide is the leading cause of death during a power outage. If you don't have another heat source, dress warm and grab plenty of blankets.

Clear HVAC exhaust.
Heavy snow can also disable a furnace by blocking the exhaust vent on the outside of the home. Be sure to keep it clear as snow drifts push up against the house.

Keep medical supplies stocked.
Make sure the house has a supply of bandages, ointments and rubbing alcohol in case of cuts. Those who rely on daily prescriptions, such as insulin, should have an ample supply on hand.

Source: Aprilaire

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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5 Inexpensive Steps to a Speedy Home Sale

February 5, 2015 1:33 am

If you’re a homeowner considering a move, you may be wondering what’s next. Do I need to renovate the kitchen? Repaint the exterior? Replace the flooring? Before taking on a costly remodel, consider this: these measures don’t always recoup the highest percentages in return. Many sellers have much more success by investing in upgrades that boost their home’s value in the process. The best part? Both sides of the transaction profit.

Consumer Reports recommends completing these updates:

1. Paint key rooms.
In the grand scheme of things, painting is one of the least expensive ways to freshen up your home for sale, but it can cost up to $300 a room if you’re hiring a pro to do your entire home. Save big by painting just a few select areas: high-traffic rooms, like the kitchen and bathrooms, and rooms with brightly-painted walls. You can save even more by doing the project yourself – a gallon of paint averages about $30.

2. Spruce up the exterior.
Your home’s exterior is the first impression for many buyers online and in person. Aside from keeping up with maintenance like mowing the lawn and trimming shrubs, assess the outside of your home for any repair work – a fading front door, cracked siding or a loose step – that needs to be completed before selling. And don’t forget about the roof. If it needs to be replaced, choose an inexpensive but durable option, like standard, three-tab asphalt shingles. They cost approximately $75 per 100 square feet, including installation.

3. Upgrade the bathroom.
Bathrooms can become a point of contention for buyers if they’re not in tip-top shape. Rather than taking on an expensive renovation, make minor upgrades that have an impact. Caulk the tub, re-grout tile, and install new fixtures. Larger, less costly fixes are also a possibility if you know where to look – a new vanity, for instance, can cost less than $1,000 if you shop around.

4. Make kitchen repairs.
Buyers want to be wowed by the kitchen, but that doesn’t mean you have to fork over tens of thousands of dollars to make that happen. Focus on making repairs that cost well under $500, like tightening a leaky faucet or eliminating burn marks on countertops. For a cheap alternative to repainting your cabinets, consider updating your hardware in a modern finish.

5. Clean, clean, clean.
Even if the home has been renovated top to bottom, a messy appearance can be the ultimate deal breaker. Fortunately for sellers, de-cluttering and de-personalizing doesn’t have to cost a dime. A short list that will help buyers visualize living in the home:
- Vacuum, dust and wipe all surfaces regularly while your home is on the market.
- Pare down closets to the bare essentials.
- Replace family or otherwise personal photos with neutral wall art.
- Cut clutter in cabinets and on bookshelves.
- Keep counter and tabletops clear, especially during an open house.
If the project is overwhelming, consider hiring a professional cleaning service or organizer to cut through the chaos. A pro can cost anywhere from $600 to $2,500.

Source: Consumer Reports

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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