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Is It Legal to Drive with Pets in Your Lap?

February 21, 2014 8:21 pm

Pet lovers and annoyed drivers alike may be wondering: Is it legal to drive with pets in your lap?

The answer depends on your state's traffic laws. At least one state has an explicit statute that prohibits you from holding your pet while driving; in other states, drivers with animals in their laps can potentially be ticketed under distracted driving laws, according to USA Today.

Bottom line: Those with furry passengers on their person could be in for a bumpy ride. Here's what you need to know about driving with pets in your lap:

Driving with Pets Can Be Distracting

At least one state -- Hawaii -- makes it illegal to operate a motor vehicle while holding an animal in your lap (or even allowing an animal to be "in the driver's immediate area") if it interferes with the driver's ability to control the car.

New Jersey offers a slightly different example. Police in the Garden State can stop drivers who are improperly transporting animals, which can include dogs sitting in a driver's lap, according to the state's Motor Vehicle Commission. If caught, drivers could face up to $1,000 in fines, and can even be charged with animal cruelty if the offense is particularly bad.

In other states with general distracted driving laws, officers may still be able to ticket you for holding a pet on your lap if it affects your driving.

Distracted driving can include any activity that prevents you from driving safely -- even eating while driving can suffice. Because the definition of distracted driving is so vague, cops may be able to pull you over if cuddling your kitty is causing you to swerve all over the road. For example, Connecticut's general distracted driving law allows drivers to be charged for driving with pets in their laps, according to the state's Office of Legislative Research.

Protecting Pets as Passengers

Not only can it be illegal to drive with pets in your lap in certain situations, but it can also be very dangerous for Fido and friends. Think about it: You wouldn't let a child sit in the car without a seat belt because they could go flying if there's an accident. The same applies to pets.

Animals can act like "flying missiles" in an impact and can get severely injured -- or even hurt your other (human) passengers, according to USA Today. So if your pet is in the car, consider purchasing a restraint. For example, there are dog harnesses which can fit around a dog's body and clip into a seat belt buckle. Securing your pets when you're on the road not only keeps them safe, but can potentially prevent you from getting a ticket.

If you're still wondering if it's legal to drive in your state with a pet on your lap -- or if you've been cited for driving with pets and want to fight your ticket -- check with an experienced traffic law attorney in your area for more guidance.



Word of the Day

February 21, 2014 8:21 pm

Credit report. A past history of debt repayment used by creditors as an indicator of future readiness to responsibly repay debt.


Q: Do I Have to Disclose Information about My Home?

February 21, 2014 8:21 pm

A: Disclosure could protect you from a lawsuit. Today, home sellers in most states must now fill out a form disclosing material facts about their homes. Material facts are details about the home’s condition or legal status, as well as the age of various components.

If your state does not require a written disclosure, the real estate laws probably require sellers to disclose any known problems with the home they are selling.


Unique Ways to Diversify Your Retirement Portfolio

February 20, 2014 8:18 pm

(BPT) - Many investors are taking more control of their financial future by investing in alternatives to the stock market including real estate, land, promissory notes, oil and gas.

Sue Jensen of New York grew frustrated after watching her life savings take a hit year after year in the stock market. A couple of years ago, after another year of less-than-desirable returns, she couldn't take it anymore. She sought out a way to further diversify her investments that wouldn't leave her on the sidelines, watching helplessly.

Jensen is just one of many Americans who for years knew only one way to save for retirement. Growing concerned that it wouldn't yield enough money to live comfortably, Jensen sought out alternatives.

The good news is that there are options. You can diversify your portfolio by investing your retirement savings in assets other than stocks and bonds. As Jensen and many others have discovered, the Internal Revenue Service allows you to invest your retirement funds in an array of assets, including real estate, promissory notes, private placements and tax liens. The investments are made using a self-directed account such as an IRA.

Self-directed IRA custodians, such as Equity Trust, offer options for nearly everyone when it comes to saving for retirement. These options include:

* Individual retirement accounts: IRA, Roth IRA

* Small-business accounts: SIMPLE IRA, SEP IRA, Solo 401(k), Roth Solo 401(k)

* Accounts that allow you to save for other expenses: Coverdell Education Savings Account, Health Savings Account

Investing your IRA or other account in alternatives is nothing new. IRS Publication 590 outlines the types of investments allowed in a self-directed IRA, including:

* Real estate - including apartments, single family homes, and duplexes

* Commercial property, developed or undeveloped land

* Mortgages/deeds of trust

* Publicly traded stocks, bonds, mutual funds

* Private limited partnerships

* Private stock offerings, private placements

* Private limited liability companies

* Secured and unsecured notes

* Judgments/structured settlements

* Tax sale certificates

* Car paper

* Factoring

* Accounts receivable

* Commercial paper

* Equipment leasing

You should be aware that not every IRA custodian allows you to self-direct your funds. Only qualified self-directed IRA custodians, such as Equity Trust, will allow you to invest your retirement funds in real estate and other alternatives to the stock market. For those who prefer to continue to diversify with a mix of alternatives and stocks or mutual funds, Equity Trust provides the capability.

Jensen, an Equity Trust client, has diversified into tax liens and promissory notes. In addition to the profits from those investments, which grow tax-deferred or tax-free in her IRA accounts, she has gained peace of mind in knowing all her retirement "eggs" aren't in one basket.

Self-directed IRA custodians are passive, which means they cannot give investment advice.



Word of the Day

February 20, 2014 8:18 pm

Buyer’s market. Describes an excess supply of homes for sale, in which there are few buyers and many sellers. In such a market, the buyer can typically negotiate more favorable prices and terms. 


Q: Do I Have to Be Concerned with Building Codes and Permits?

February 20, 2014 8:18 pm

A: Depending on how your contract is written with the home improvement professional, either you or the contractor will be responsible for securing government approval to perform most remodeling jobs. Building codes set minimum public-safety standards for such things as building design and construction. Codes vary from one state, county, city, and town to the next, but specialized codes generally exist for plumbing, electricity, and fire. Each usually involves separate inspections and inspectors. In addition, permits are generally required when any structural work is planned or the basic living space of a home is altered. They generally cover new construction, repairs, alterations, demolition, and additions to a structure. Some jurisdictions require permits to be posted in a visible spot on the premises while the work is being done. Besides structural changes, permits also may be needed to cover the installation of foundations for tanks and equipment, as well as the construction or demolition of ducts, sprinkler systems, or standpipe systems.


How to Navigate Retirement in the 21st Century

February 19, 2014 10:18 pm

While the world is still feeling the long ripples of the economic meltdown that began six years ago, our economic institutions remain “too big to fail” – at least in the minds of  millions of retired Americans and those soon to join their ranks, says veteran financial advisor Curt Whipple. 

“That’s what we see when we review their retirement portfolios,” says Whipple, a Certified Wealth Strategist, Certified Estate Planner and CEO of C. Curtis Financial Group. He recently published “Retiree Lifeline! How to Get Government Out of Your Pocket,” (, a retirement planning guide.

“I see it all the time: a new client comes in with what they believe to be a ‘diverse’ portfolio. While it may be diverse in terms of Wall Street holdings, a solid retirement plan also requires diversity outside of a system that’s ‘too big to fail,’ which could fail yet again.”

When Wall Street falls, it shouldn’t mean that Main Street must as well. Whipple outlines the three kinds of money retirees should have available for enjoying the golden years with peace of mind.

• Red money … can be defined as that which is tied to Wall Street, by far the most popular kind of investment, including stocks, bonds and mutual funds. “I’ve been looking at the accounts of new clients for nearly three decades, and on average, 92 percent of their retirement plan is based in these investments,” he says. “That’s risky, especially as you get closer to retirement age or once you retire. You don’t want 92 percent of your retirement premised on that kind of potential volatility.”

• Blue money … is often referred to as “alternative investments,” which typically include Real Estate Trusts (REITS), equipment leasing programs, precious metals such as gold and silver, high grade rare coins and collectibles. “This ‘color’ of money has been an important portion of the pie for success in my clients’ investments; they were essentially unaffected by our recent economic collapse because they were so well diversified.” This is a highly advantageous part of a portfolio because it historically creates good income with a low correlation to the stock market.

• Green money … is accounts that come with a guarantee of some sort. They are either backed by the FDIC, the Legal Reserve System, which is supported by the insurance industry, or insurance companies themselves. “Not all wealth is created equally, and this is the safest kind of money you can have in your retirement plan,” he says. Green money includes investments in one’s portfolio that have guarantees to not lose one’s principal and, sometimes, one’s earnings.

“Investment in Wall Street should be much lower for those who are either retired or are about to be retired,” Whipple says. “Depending on a person’s age, a good investment portfolio could include about 36 percent red money, 32 percent blue money and 32 percent green money.” 


7 Tips for Protecting Your Identity & Money

February 19, 2014 10:18 pm

At least 110 million consumers were affected by the hack involving Target and Neiman Marcus retailers. Whether or not millions more will have their identities manipulated and finances ruined within the coming months due to more breaches of security at other stores is anyone’s guess, says identity theft recovery expert Scott A. Merritt.

“By necessity, I became an expert on identity theft. My information was stolen in 2006, and in repairing the damage, I learned some not-so-obvious ways we can all protect against identity theft in the first place,” says Merritt, CEO of Merritt & Associates ( and author of "Identity Theft Do's and Don'ts."

Merritt’s problems began quickly. While disputing financial charges and dealing with resulting business problems, in 2007 he was stopped for a traffic violation and arrested on a false outstanding felony warrant. He immediately knew why.

“I had to enlist my U.S. congressman and convince the state police, NCIC, FBI and Secret Service that I didn’t commit the felonies. For a few years, I had to prove that the prints did not match the false record in question. After legal action, however, I was able to have this corrected.”

Unfortunately, the millions affected by the recent hacks may be dealing with similar repercussions in the years ahead, he says.

Before you become a victim of identity theft, Merritt offers seven ways to guard against it.

• Understand how and where it happens. Identity theft is like being robbed when you are away from home; most thefts occur in places where you do business every day. Either a place of business is robbed, a bad employee acts improperly or a hacker breaches the office through the computer.

• Secure your wallet’s information. Photocopy everything in your wallet: photos, credit cards (front and back), membership cards – everything. Put the copies in the order the cards are arranged in your wallet, staple the pictures and place them in a strong box or safe.

• Make sure your information is consistent. For all of your identity and financial documents, make absolutely sure, to the smallest detail, that all of your personal information is accurate and consistent! Discrepancies such as using your middle initial on some documents, and not others, or having different addresses, can wreck havoc in proving your identity, and can compromise your credit score.

• Secure your digital habits and data. Change your passwords at least twice a year on a non-scheduled basis – don’t be predictable. Have a strong firewall if you shop online, and only access sites that are protected by a strong firewall and high industry standards. Access accounts of a financial nature only from your personal computer.

• Protect your banking information. While in the bank, keep account numbers and other data out of sight, and avoid stating account numbers, Social Security numbers and similar information out loud. When planning a bank visit, have items such as deposits and withdrawal slips prepared in advance.

• Account for your interactions with vendors. Every time you speak to someone with whom you do business, write down the time, date, name and the purpose or outcome of the call. If an identity theft occurs on the vendor’s end, you will be able to reference these prior conversations effectively. Be sure to note any animosity or reluctance from the vendor.

• Don’t carry around your birth certificate or Social Security card. Unless it’s necessary, keep those vital items in a safe, or at least a firebox. If you know someone is going to need a copy of your tax returns or your driver’s license, for example, make the copies ahead of time. This avoids the need for a firm’s employee to leave the room with such information.

“Of course, you can greatly reduce being a victim of such recent hacks that occurred at the major retailers by using cash more often,” he says. “But if you’re going to use credit, use a card from a national bank or a national credit union and never a debit card, no exceptions.”


Some of the Hottest & Coolest New Appliances Debut at CES

February 19, 2014 10:18 pm

The reviews are in, and I am intrigued to see home appliances nudging out fancy entertainment systems for some prime attention at the 2014 International CES (Consumer Electronic Show) which took over Las Vegas in mid-January.

Haven't heard of CES? It is an international showcase owned and produced by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the technology trade association representing the $203 billion U.S. consumer electronics industry. In other words, the people who get you all your stuff!

So in the next few reports we'll scope out some of the chore-easing innovations being dished for your kitchen at the 2014 CES.

With insights from some of the world's top professional chefs, a new refrigerator, an electric slide-in range, and one of the most buzzworthy dishwasher cleaning innovations in the past 40 years were among the Samsung appliances on display at the CES

Chinese appliance manufacturer Haier used the 2014 CES arena to announce it has become the first such company to be accepted into Apple's MFi licensing program. Haier's 'Tianzun' cabinet air conditioning unit is the first appliance to carry an MFi designation, integrating it to iPhone, iPad or other mobile ports.

Whirlpool showcased select innovative designs at CES - from an interactive, multi-purpose cooktop surface, to a smart refrigerator that "learns" a family’s habits, to custom-designed laundry pairs and microwaves inspired by consumer input.

CES also saw LG introducing its Studio collection of kitchen accessories, including ranges, wall ovens, cooktops, microwaves, and dishwashers featuring new adaptive designs and cutting edge technologies.

Dacor, manufacturer of ultra-premium kitchen appliances, also debuted its first series of “smart” appliances at CES this year as well. We'll start zooming in on a bunch of these hot new cooking innovations in our next report - so stay tuned.


Word of the Day

February 19, 2014 10:18 pm

Nonconforming use. Use of property that is permitted to continue after a zoning ordinance prohibiting it has been passed.


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