January 11, 2012 4:16 am
Winter is steadily upon us and the last thing you need is for something to go wrong with your heating system and not know where to go first. If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, be prepared and use these tips to help find a contractor:
Study up - Find out about license and insurance requirements for contractors in your state. Before you call a contractor, know the model of your current system and its maintenance history. Also make note of any uncomfortable rooms. This will help potential contractors better understand your heating needs.
Ask for referrals - Ask friends, neighbors, and co-workers for contractor referrals. You can also contact local trade organizations for names of members in your area.
Call references - Ask contractors for customer references and call them. Ask about the contractor's installation or service performance, and if the job was completed on time and within budget.
Find special offers - A heating and cooling system is one of the largest purchases you'll make as a homeowner. Keep your costs down by checking around for available rebates on energy-efficient ENERGY STAR qualified heating and cooling equipment. Begin your search at www.energystar.gov.
Look for ENERGY STAR - ENERGY STAR qualified products meet strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and offer significant long-term energy savings. Contractors should be able to show you calculations of savings for ENERGY STAR heating and cooling equipment.
Expect a home evaluation - The contractor should spend significant time inspecting your current system and home to assess your needs. A bigger system isn't always better; a contractor should size the heating and cooling system based on the size of your house, level of insulation, and windows. A good contractor will inspect your duct system (if applicable) for air leaks and insulation and measure airflow to make sure it meets manufacturers’ specifications.
Get written, itemized estimates - When comparing contractors' proposals (bids), be sure to compare cost, energy efficiency and warranties. The lowest price may not be the best deal if it's not the most efficient because your energy costs will be higher.
Get it in ink - Sign a written proposal with a contractor before work gets started. It'll protect you by specifying project costs, model numbers, job schedule and warranty information.
Pass it on - Tell friends and family about ENERGY STAR. Almost one-quarter of households knowingly purchased at least one qualified product last year, and 71 percent of those consumers say they would recommend ENERGY STAR to a friend. Spread the word, and we can all make a big difference.
January 11, 2012 4:16 am
A new year marks a perfect time to start new routines and many of the resolutions people make involve trying to lead healthier lives. The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) offers this list of five reasons consumers should make bottled water a part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle in 2012.
1. Choose bottled water for safety and convenience – Available in many different sizes, including 3- and 5-gallon containers used in bottled water coolers; 2.5-gallon refrigerator-size containers; and “on-the go” half-liter (16.9oz), one-liter, and 1.5 liter convenience-size packages, bottled water is always ready to quench your thirst. At home, in the office, or on the move, consumers can drink bottled water with confidence throughout the day. Bottled water is comprehensively regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for safety and quality and it comes sealed in 100 percent recyclable containers.
2. Choose bottled water for its great taste – When water tastes better, it’s more likely to be consumed, and staying hydrated is important for your health, even during winter’s colder months. Many people enjoy bottled water because of its crisp, refreshing taste and with options that include spring, mineral, sparkling and purified, bottled water has a lot to offer.
3. Choose bottled water instead of sugary or caffeinated drinks – According to the Centers for Disease Control, Americans get up to one-third of their daily calories from sugary beverages. Making the switch to refreshing zero-calorie bottled water could help reduce up to 700 calories/day or 255,500 calories a year! Drinking water also helps to curb your appetite; a healthy option for reducing calories and maintaining proper hydration.
4. Choose bottled water for its ability to multi-task – Need a cooler pack to bring your lunch to work? Pop a bottled water in the freezer the night before and toss it in your lunch bag as you head out to work. The frozen bottle will chill your meal and then provide a healthy, zero-calorie beverage to enjoy. A bottled water in each hand doubles as weights during a hike or run; handy fitness aids you can consume when you’ve finished your workout.
5. Choose bottled water because it’s the healthiest choice – Choosing to lead a healthy lifestyle can sometimes mean a lot of changes in your life. Opting to drink bottled water makes one of your most important decisions also one of the easiest. Fitness experts recommend staying hydrated throughout the day. What better way to do just that than to choose bottled water when it’s time for a drink?
January 10, 2012 4:14 am
According to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) December online poll, consumers remain very connected to their credit cards. When asked to rank their 2012 financial resolutions, only six percent of more than 2,300 respondents indicated that decreasing dependence on credit cards was their No. 1 goal.
“At first glance, that statistic could appear to be a warning sign of future trouble. However, credit is not the problem. Instead, it is the misuse of credit that leads people into financial distress,” said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the NFCC.
Balancing the continuing reliance upon credit, an encouraging statistic from the poll is that the overwhelming majority, 62 percent, selected decreasing debt as their focus for 2012. If consumers are able to decrease their debt load, continuing to use credit responsibly will help them meet the goal selected by 24 percent of respondents: increasing their credit score.
While decreasing debt is always a positive, consumers should not neglect savings, yet that is exactly what respondents appear to be doing. Only eight percent of those weighing in ranked saving as their most important resolution. Without the security of a well-funded emergency savings account, consumers are living without a financial safety net, as unplanned expenses will occur, usually at the worst possible time.
The poll also revealed some interesting trending from 2010 when the identical question was posed. Showing the largest percentage difference between the years, the 2010 poll noted 69 percent of respondents were most interested in decreasing debt, compared to 62 percent in 2011.
The second largest year-over-year difference involved improving the credit score, with that category posting a six percent increase. In 2010, 18 percent of consumers chose increasing their credit score as their main goal, while in 2011, 24 percent selected that category as most important in the New Year. This increase indicates that consumers understand the relationship between the credit score and obtaining credit, confirming their interest in continuing to have access to credit.
For more information or for professional credit assistance, visit www.nfcc.org or www.DebtAdvice.org.
January 10, 2012 4:14 am
With the gift-giving holidays behind us, people may now be looking for ways to save, making this the perfect time of year to learn a few tips on how you can save money on auto insurance.
The major ways to save money on car insurance include a multi-car discount and a combination discount, which would include the insured’s car(s) plus homeowner’s or renter’s insurance.
Here are some other ways:
Increase your deductibles. If your deductible is low ($200-$250), ask an agent to show you the difference in price if it’s raised to $500 or $1,000.
If your car is older and the loan is paid off, consider dropping collision and/or comprehensive coverage. The general rule of thumb is if the car is worth less than ten times the premium, consider dropping it.
Take advantage of low mileage discounts. The discounted mileage varies by carrier. Some give discounts at 6,000 annual miles driven and others at 10,000 miles driven.
It is also a good idea when shopping for a new car to compare the insurance rates of the various cars being considered. You should also check rates of different models of the same car. Insurance rates can vary quite a bit depending upon the engine size and whether or not a particular vehicle is considered a sport vehicle.
Other discounts to keep an eye on include anti-theft devices, student drivers with good grades, college students who go away to school, and a good credit score. Above all else, be a good driver. The lack of tickets or accidents will save thousands of dollars.
Source: BMCC Insurance
January 10, 2012 4:14 am
According to a recent monthly index report on flexible job openings, telecommuting, part-time and other accommodations, work/life-balance employment opportunities have increased heading into the new year.
Job openings that offer some type of flexibility, such as telecommuting, freelance, part-time or flexible schedules, were highest for Business Development, Non-profit and Philanthropy, Account Management, Medical & Health, and Data-entry positions heading into January, says the report by FlexJobs. Fresh off the heals of several predictions, 2012 will be a big year, in general, for telecommuting jobs.
Medical & Health reclaimed the top position as the career field with the highest percentage of flexible job openings, a position it held for the majority of 2011 (9 of the 12 months). Following Medical & Health with the next highest number of flexible job openings were Administrative, Education & Training, Computer & IT, and Sales, respectively.
“It’s exciting to see more and more telecommuting, freelance, part-time and flexible schedule jobs being offered in wide range of careers. There are many, many studies that have been concluding the overall benefits for companies to offer jobs that provide work flexibility for their staff, such as cost savings, increased productivity, and overall happier and less stressed employees,” said Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and founder of FlexJobs.
Career fields which saw the largest declines in available positions in December of 2011 were Graphic Design, Bilingual, Web & Software Development, Art & Creative, and Customer Service.
The ongoing Flexible Job Index report demonstrates the growing depth and variety in the employment market for telecommuting, part-time, and other flexible jobs, and provides reliable data on top career fields that offer work flexibility. Only professional jobs that can both be confirmed as legitimate and as having some kind of work flexibility (telecommuting, part-time or flexible schedule, or freelance contracts) are included in FlexJobs’ job database.
For more information, visit www.FlexJobs.com.
January 9, 2012 4:14 am
When someone is considering paying off debt, they are often under the misconception that closing a credit card will damage their credit score. While this may be true in some circumstances, there are many instances in which it will not cause a score to drop. When helping people decide whether to close a credit card account, there are two important factors to consider.
First, consider whether you still owe a balance on the credit card. If you do, this is probably not the time to close the card. By electing to close a credit card before it is paid off, you effectively lower your available credit limit-to-credit balance ratio (utilization ratio). To have a good credit limit ratio, you need to keep balances at 30% or less of your available credit limit. When you close a credit card with a balance on it, you effectively lower the credit limit to the level of the current balance.
Here is an example:
Open credit card: credit limit is $1,000; current balance owed is $300.
Ratio = 30%
Closed credit card: credit limit is $300; current balance owed is $300
Ratio = 100%
That 100% is very hard on a credit score and will cause it to drop. It is important to note that utilization rates do not look at one card at a time. If someone has multiple cards, the rate will consider the total limits and amounts owed on all cards. If possible, pay off your credit cards in full each month.
Another misconception about closing credit cards is that the card will be removed from the credit report after seven years. The truth is that positive credit history can remain on your credit report forever; even if you close the account. The only items required to come off a report in seven years are negative entries (10 years for some items like bankruptcy and judgments). It is true that items that have not been reported in the last 24 months may not be as heavily weighted in a credit score. However, they will still be included.
Finally, think about how you may be using your credit in the next six-to-12 months. If you are considering purchasing a home or a car, you may do better to wait to make changes to your credit until after you have completed the purchase. It is not a time to be opening a new credit account or incurring additional debt on existing accounts. At that point the focus should be on paying down any credit card debt you may already have.
Bottom line, when considering closing credit card accounts make sure the accounts are paid-in-full first. Also, understand that a positive account in good standing may remain on a credit report indefinitely. That is a good thing.
To learn more about managing credit and credit cards or to learn more about options for getting out of debt, visit www.myfinancialgoals.org.
January 9, 2012 4:14 am
Unemployment and other factors have caused many homeowners to involuntarily default on their mortgages. At the same time, falling home prices, the possibility of being underwater for many years and advice from certain influencers, or "mavens," may have encouraged others to simply stop paying, with deleterious consequences in some markets, according to a study released today by the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA).
The study entitled "Strategic Default in the Context of a Social Network: An Epidemiological Approach," conducted by Michael J. Seiler of Old Dominion University, Andrew J. Collins of the Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center and Nina H. Fefferman of Rutgers University and sponsored by MBA's Research Institute for Housing America (RIHA), received the Governor's Technology Award for 2011 for Virginia in the category of "Cross-Boundary Collaboration in Modeling & Simulation." The study examines the factors that can lead to mortgage default, the role that influential members of our society play in people's decision to stop paying their mortgage, and the impact on the broader housing market. The award was presented at the 2011 Commonwealth of Virginia's Innovative Technology Symposium (COVITS) in Richmond on September 26, 2011.
"Recently, the overwhelming media coverage of the current financial crisis has made homeowners aware - or at least alerted them to become aware - of their equity position in their home," said Michael Seiler. "While the merits of such a choice can and will continue to be debated, what is indisputable is that the possibility to strategically default has certainly been brought to the attention of current homeowners like never before, with potentially negative consequences for housing markets," said Seiler.
Key findings from the study include:
• The study, citing other research, reviews the main drivers of default including unemployment, declines in home prices, life changes such as illness or divorce and other shocks to household income or wealth. Strategic default is a result of a borrower's unwillingness to pay, even if able. It can be very difficult to determine whether a borrower is unable or unwilling to pay.
• Ideas are transmitted through the population in ways similar to those in which diseases are transmitted. Thus, they can be modeled in a similar manner. Certain corrective factors may lead some borrowers to be resistant to the temptation to strategically default, including the ability of lenders to pursue deficiency judgments, provisions of the tax code and bankruptcy laws.
• The model shows that real estate experts can influence market dynamics, but not in all cases. Markets are strong or weak due to fundamentals, however, markets in between can be pulled down or lifted up depending upon individual and expert behavior.
The study highlights those factors that distinguish an "economic default" (caused by hardship) from "strategic default" (selected as an option by homeowners who may be underwater on their mortgage), and the methods by which an idea such as "strategic default" can be transmitted through a population by contact with individuals and through social networks. Through simulation modeling, the authors demonstrate that because defaults and foreclosures lead to lower home prices, an epidemic of strategic defaults initiated by advice from those who might be considered experts can lead to the collapse of a housing market.
"Housing pundits share their expert opinion with a large audience on a frequent basis through the media. These social networks create the potential for much faster disease spread/cure than in the past. They can greatly impact mortgage markets through their use of behavioral advocacy. In fragile markets, advice by those considered to be experts, can result in a flood of strategic defaults, causing a contagious downward spiral of home prices and potentially a market collapse," said Seiler.
"Whether by choice or necessity, as foreclosures increase, they have an increasingly negative impact on the price of the healthy homes around them," said Selier. "One default does little to negatively impact the price of surrounding homes. However, as more and more mortgages in the neighborhood go into default, the negative impact is felt at an increasing rate. Much the same way as a disease spreads throughout a population, so, too, do decisions to 'strategically' default."
Michael Fratantoni, MBA's Vice President of Research and Economics added, "Research has clearly shown the factor that is most predictive of a mortgage default - a borrower's inability to continue making mortgage payments. It is much more difficult to predict or even detect a strategic default - a borrower who has the ability to pay, but simply stops in expectation of a financial gain. This research illuminates the consequences of strategic defaults on housing markets, finding that they can be destabilizing, particularly in markets that are already on the edge. From a policy standpoint, the research supports the contention that opinion and information (or disinformation) can move markets. More specifically, that policymakers and Mavens have the ability to stabilize or de-stabilize markets."
To access a copy of the report, please visit the RIHA website at www.housingamerica.org.
January 9, 2012 4:14 am
Listing photos are crucially important for both listing and selling your home. The highest quality photos are the best tool sellers can use to lure buyers to view the home and hopefully make an offer. Consider these tips when taking photos - they could end up being a make-or-break factor for your transaction.
Removing clutter is the first step. Nobody wants to see pictures of a home filled with your personal junk. Hide stacks of papers, fluff your pillows, and clean your counters. A neat and organized home looks great in photos and can really bring buyers in.
Stay out of the frame. Beware of any reflections that may occur near windows or mirrors. Keep the image clean and make sure that you and your equipment are hidden from view.
Vary your shooting angles. While wide shots can really show off a home's spaciousness, focus in on some well-chosen areas for added detail as well. It can help paint a different picture for the prospective buyer, providing him or her with a different view than what listing photos usually offer. In addition, try to avoid shooting at downward or upward angles. These types of shots may not always convey what you want them too.
Be mindful of the sun. Shooting into the sun will not produce great shots. The best time to shoot outdoors is in the morning or early evening. You'll capture the ideal natural light backdrop for your home that way.
Listing photos hold lots of power. They are usually the deciding factor as to whether or not buyers want to visit and tour your home. Put your best foot forward and offer prospective buyers the best visual picture you can offer.
Source: AOL Real Estate
January 6, 2012 4:10 am
The International Window Film Association (IWFA), a non-profit organization, is educating the public on window film use for residential and commercial applications, to reduce harmful solar glare, while delivering significant energy savings.
"People often wear sunglasses outdoors during winter months to protect from glare and ultraviolet (UV) rays, but glare is ever-present inside too," said Darrell Smith, executive director of the IWFA. "With winter sun lower in the sky, it passes directly into windows with damaging effects on furnishings and art, along with unhealthy UV rays' impact on people's eyes and skin," he added.
In northern states, snow on the ground can reflect up to 85% of harmful UV rays upwards, according to the Vision Counsel of America. This magnifies the issue of glare coming into windows, added Smith. Professionally installed window film can be a cost-effective solution to make interior environments more enjoyable.
Glare issues can be ameliorated by window film, which uses advanced technology to deliver energy savings similar to low-e windows. Window film is available in a range of shades from clear to darker. It reduces glare and still allows adequate light in while blocking UV rays that can harm skin and eyes, and fade furniture, carpets and fabrics.
According to the IWFA, window films may also eliminate uncomfortable hot spots by blocking solar heat. This enables HVAC systems to work more efficiently. For larger commercial and office buildings, which run heating and cooling systems year-round, energy savings are even more significant.
For more information on protecting a home or office from glare, please visit www.iwfa.com.
January 6, 2012 4:10 am
For those who made the “nice list” last year and received an extra special gift for the holidays, like diamonds, furs, watches, or fine art, to name a few, it is important to insure the item in case of unforeseen situations that may cause damage.
Homeowner’s policyholders, including those with condo or renter’s insurance, who received gifts during this past holiday season, are automatically covered for losses such as fire, vandalism and wind, with some limitations. For those without homeowner’s insurance or with limitations to their policies, the following advice may be of help to make sure their most valuable gifts are protected in the New Year.
1. Review your homeowner’s policy for coverage limitations.
For those who are currently covered under a homeowner’s insurance policy, their gift will automatically be covered by the policy for losses such as fire, vandalism or wind damage; however, there may be situations in which the homeowner’s policy does not extend coverage to an expensive gift received during the holidays. Items such as jewelry, watches, coins, hand tools and guns have coverage limitations for certain types of losses, including theft. Additionally, accidental breakage of any item is typically not included in a homeowner’s policy. Policyholders should speak with their insurance agent to discuss broadening their coverage to include losses such as breakage, as well as increasing coverage limits for valuable gifts.
2. Get a stand-alone insurance policy for valuable gifts.
If you do not have a homeowner, condo or renter’s policy, consider investing in one. There may be value limitations for items including jewelry, furs, fine art, musical instruments, coins, guns, cameras and silverware. Often these limits are not an issue as the majority of gifts purchased fall below the value limitation, which can range from $5,000 to $100,000 depending on the state.
3. Ask the gift-giver for a receipt or bill of sale.
In order to insure a gift, the recipient should retain the proper information, including a receipt or bill of sale, and a detailed description of the gift. An appraisal may be required. Consult with your independent insurance agent regarding coverage. He or she will need to know exactly what the gift was, as well as its monetary value, in order to provide proper coverage.
For more information about which gifts may be covered under a homeowner’s policy, visit www.GrangeInsurance.com.