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Thomas Skiffington,  CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
Thomas Skiffington, CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
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Tom's Blog

Don't Be Hoodwinked by 'Gray Market' Goods

January 23, 2014 7:42 pm

Up until recently, I would hear whispers about gray market goods, but it was usually associated to knock off fashion accessories and designer jeans. Enter the Alliance for Gray Market and Counterfeit Abatement with a potent warning to homeowners when it comes to gray market home appliances, electronics and even certain building materials.

 

Gray market goods are manufactured abroad for sale in other countries and imported into the U.S. without permission of the trademark holder, according to the Better Business Bureau. In some cases, merchandise is manufactured under different specifications and may not meet US regulatory requirements, BBB notes.  

 

A larger problem for consumers, is that in an effort to stem the unauthorized sale of these items, manufacturers' warranties will not cover gray market goods, so if the product breaks the cost of repairs or replacement may eliminate any savings.

 

Gray market distributors sell through small websites and online auctions. So the Alliance for Gray Market and Counterfeit Abatement reminds consumers that these unscrupulous re-sellers may advertise products as new, authentic, and branded goods.

 

But customers may wind up receiving goods ranging from used or  re-marketed products, to those that have been wholly or partially  counterfeited or mislabeled. Better Business Bureau offers the following tips to avoid problems with gray market merchandise:

  • Check to see if the price is unrealistically low - beware of a brand name product that is being sold at significantly below the manufacturer's price.  
  • Ask the seller - Sellers are obliged to disclose whether they are selling a gray market product.  Your state or county Consumer Protection office may require such disclosure.
  • Carefully inspect the merchandise - Check to see whether the manual and other printed material is in English.
  • Ask about repairs - Gray market merchandise will most likely not be eligible for repair at a manufacturer's authorized service center.
  • Use a credit card - A credit card allows you to dispute charges for a purchase of gray market merchandise that was misrepresented at the time of sale.
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10 Tips for an Affordable and Memorable Destination Wedding

January 23, 2014 7:42 pm

(BPT) - A flurry of congratulatory phone calls, social media announcements and sparkling ring pictures all mean one thing: engagement season has arrived. With approximately 39 percent of marriage proposals taking place between Thanksgiving and Valentine's Day, engaged couples are taking note of one of the fastest-growing nuptial trends - destination weddings.

These days, one in four weddings is a destination wedding, giving couples - and their guests - a reason to blend the joy of a marriage celebration with a fun and memorable vacation. Planning a destination wedding suitable for all your attendees is easier than you think, thanks to some key insights from Myrtle Beach-based expert wedding planner, Cheryl Cox.

Plan ahead. Cox says nine to 12 months is the optimum planning time, especially for a destination wedding. Many couples start planning a destination wedding as soon as they get engaged. While the summer months are typically most popular for couples, when choosing a date, Cox recommends considering a Friday or weekday wedding, or planning the big day during the less-crowded but still desirable shoulder seasons (spring and fall).

Select a destination that caters to all guests. Consider a location with something for everyone. Myrtle Beach, S.C., is the perfect example. The destination offers pristine greens for golf enthusiasts, museums and historic plantations for cultural buffs, delicious Coastal Carolina cuisine for the foodies, fun in the sun with a day at the beach or one of the many water parks, and for brides looking for some quality time with the girls, numerous spas for a day of pampering. Plus, there are plenty of lodging options for your guests including oceanfront resorts, beach home rentals and quaint bed and breakfasts.

Research ceremony locations. Beautiful and unique ceremony locations are one of the perks of having a destination wedding. "Research wedding venues, travel and accommodation options, and rates, then rank the venues you like best," suggests Cox. As a Myrtle Beach wedding planner, she notes that the area's 60 miles of stunning coastline make the perfect romantic backdrop. Whether you're looking for a beachside wedding outside a charming beach home or at the Myrtle Beach State Park, or a historic location like Litchfield Plantation or Pine Lakes Country Club, there are countless ceremony locations to choose from. You can even tie the knot 200 feet above the ground on the Myrtle Beach Skywheel. Visit www.visitmyrtlebeach.com for more information.

Help guests plan activities. Travel is the foundation for long-lasting memories. In fact, a recent Harris Interactive survey found 62 percent of adults said their earliest memories were of family vacations taken when they were between ages 5 and 10. Help your guests - particularly families with young ones - get the most out of their trip by suggesting activities or even making reservations for dinners, tee times, theme parks, museums, etc., before arrival.

Hire a wedding planner. Planning a destination wedding doesn't need to be stressful - hire a wedding planner. "Wedding planners know the local wedding professionals and venues including the city regulations for beach weddings," says Cox. The perfect beach wedding can be accomplished with the help of a wedding planner as they know the ins and outs of planning a beautiful beach wedding so couples and their guests can enjoy the true beauty of a beachside wedding.

 Consider a pre-wedding visit. "If possible, attend a local wedding show to meet wedding professionals one-on-one or plan a 'wedding planning trip' to visit venues and meet with wedding vendors," Cox suggests. "Remember to take notes so you can recall all the details when you're back home."

Get wedding insurance. Give yourself peace of mind by purchasing the appropriate wedding insurance. And, Cox notes, "Research to find the best coverage for your wedding - I highly recommend it."

Be mindful of budget. Start your marriage off on the right financial foot by keeping your wedding on-budget. Many couples planning destination weddings find them to be similar or even more affordable than traditional weddings back home. Myrtle Beach offers a variety of wedding venue options at various price points, so you can have your dream beach wedding and still stay on a budget.

Enjoy! This is perhaps the most important step of all. Don't forget to enjoy the experience of planning this memorable day and enjoying the company of your guests. Take pictures, sample cakes, pick out flowers and remember these moments and the beautiful destination you selected.

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Word of the Day

January 23, 2014 7:42 pm

Default. Breach of a contract or failure to meet a legal obligation. Nonpayment of a mortgage beyond a certain number of payments is considered a default.

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Get Back to Basics with Business Technology

January 22, 2014 9:30 pm

(BPT)—Technology can do a lot for home offices as well as small and medium-size businesses, but choosing and investing in the appropriate level of technology can sometimes feel overwhelming and time-consuming. Business owners and consumers alike sometimes overspend on technology rather than selecting the right tools to help them improve their productivity while keeping their costs at a minimum.

"As business owners, we face the challenge of accounting for everything that keeps our businesses running," says Michael Spadaro, owner of Profound Cloud, a New York-based IT consulting firm, and member of the Brother Small Business Advisor Panel. "One solution to help avoid overspending on technology is finding tools that multitask, but don't go overboard on features that won't be used."

If you're starting a new company or looking to make technology investments to help grow your business this year, you might consider making changes in these areas:

* Phones—If several employees in your company need individual phone lines, you might want to search for a phone service that houses multiple lines within a single system. But if your employees frequently travel for client meetings, be sure to investigate if it would be more economical to eliminate landlines altogether and provide employees mobile phones set up under a single business contract. Take a careful analysis of how many phone lines are needed so you don't over-invest.

* Printers—Only purchase what you need for your business. If you only print documents like emails and reports, but don't need to print in color, consider a black and white laser printer, which will typically have a lower purchase price than its color laser equivalent. Automatic two-sided printing and super high-yield replacement toner cartridges can help keep printing and supply costs in line, too. The Brother HL-6180DW is a robust machine ideal for small businesses or workgroups that need a reliable black and white printer, while the MFC-8950DW is a multi-function printer that also scans, copies and faxes.

* Organization systems—Staying organized is critical to any business looking to be productive and profitable. Scanning paper documents to online storage services like Google Drive, Evernote and Dropbox can help reduce clutter and enhance organization, but you'll probably still have hardcopy files you need to keep on hand. Depending on how many files you need to physically store, you might be able to use a simple filing cabinet or banker's boxes, rather than a complicated professional organizational system. Just be sure to carefully and neatly label everything using a label printer so you can quickly identify and access the appropriate file when needed.

These tips can help your company get back to the basics and maintain a healthy bottom line. Take a look at your current technology and see if there are areas where you could cut back and simplify what you're using and how you're working. Visit www.brother-usa.com for help in choosing the right printing, scanning and labeling products to help you reduce your costs and boost your productivity.

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Simple Tips Keep Clutter at Bay

January 22, 2014 9:30 pm

(Family Features)—If yours is like the average American household, you have amassed a collection of unorganized stuff, tucked away in piles or behind closed doors to deal with "later." Establishing good organization habits and creating proper storage areas can transform that chaos now and set the stage for less mess in the future.

Following are some simple tips to help make your apartment or home clutter-free, and get you started with some new habits to keep disorganization at bay.

1. Don't buy things you don't need. Living clutter-free gives you a better perspective of what you have, so you don't make unnecessary purchases, which can be costly and only add to the clutter in your home. Be wary of accumulating "aspirational clutter"—things you plan to use someday, but never quite get around to using. Though tempting, also avoid freebies and gifts with purchase that you don't really need. Remember, clutter creates more clutter.

2. Create zones. In other words, make a space for everything. Your entryway can become a repository, so sort mail immediately (recycle what you don't need), hang coats rather than draping them on available furniture and use a shoe bin or tray to organize pairs you wear frequently.

In the bedroom closet, use vertical space to create additional storage with organizing units. Wood organizers offer an attractive way to de-clutter with kits and add-on pieces that let you create a customized storage system for your personal needs. A second shoe rack in the closet helps organize shoes you wear less often. In the living room, create specific storage spaces for remotes, blankets, gaming equipment and other items using storage bins and containers that complement your decor.

3. Reset yourself. Every night before you turn in, take a few moments to put things where they belong. This gives you a fresh, stress-free start in the morning and peace of mind knowing where everything you need is located.

4. Turn clutter into cash. Motivate yourself to de-clutter by making money on your unused and unwanted possessions. You can sell gently used clothing to local consignment shops, or donate to Goodwill, Salvation Army or another nonprofit organization. Remember to get a donation receipt, because you may be able to take a tax deduction.

Source: www.ClosetMaid.com

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7 Tax Moves to Make Now

January 22, 2014 9:30 pm

Even before you file your 2013 tax returns, say MarketWatch finance experts, you should be thinking about tax moves you can make right now to keep you organized and prepared for the next tax year:

  • Set up your 2014 tax file – Label an expandable file, so you have a specific place to store your 2014 records and receipts. The sooner you start filing them away, the less likely you are to be frantically searching when tax time rolls around again.
  • Set up your 2014 tax calendar – Individuals can use IRS Publication 509 to pinpoint quarterly tax and other deadlines for the year. (Businesses can refer to the IRS Small Business Calendar showing the 2014 due dates.)
  • Update your address – If you moved during 2013, update your address with everyone who may be sending you tax-related documents: Former employers, banks, lenders, brokerages, the IRS and your state tax agency, plus clients, investments, trusts, and the like. Homeowners using a P.O. Box or other address to receive mail should also do something to establish your home address as your principal residence, such as update voter registration or driver’s license address.
  • Update name changes – New brides generally remember to change their names on driver’s licenses and paychecks, but often forget to notify the Social Security Administration. You won’t be able to e-file your tax return with your new name if it doesn’t match the Social Security Record.
  • Get Social Security Numbers – Did you have a new baby in 2013? Did your spouse get a Green card? File applications for their ID numbers now. It can take months to get them issued.
  • Get a special IRS PIN – Tax identity theft was a huge problem last year. Were you a victim? Contact the IRS and have them issue you a special IP PIN (identity protection personal identification number). Notifying the IRS about an identity theft will flag your account. Once the IP PIN is issued to you, no one will be able to file a tax return under your Social Security Number and generate a phony refund.
  • File a new W-4 with your employer. – Update your withholding so you don’t find yourself short next year – or with more of a refund than necessary. Use the IRS withholding calculator to determine the correct amount to withhold.
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Word of the Day

January 22, 2014 9:30 pm

Contingency. A provision in a contract that keeps it from becoming binding until a certain event happens. A satisfactory inspection report might be a contingency.

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Q: What Is Seller Financing?

January 22, 2014 9:30 pm

A: Also known as a purchase money mortgage, it is when the seller agrees to “lend” money to the buyer to purchase and close on the seller’s home. Usually sellers do this when money is tight, interest rates are high or when a buyer has difficulty qualifying for a conventional loan or meeting the purchase price.

Seller financing differs from a traditional loan because the seller does not actually give the buyer cash to complete the purchase, as does the lender. Instead, it involves issuing a credit against the purchase price of the home. The buyer executes a promissory note or trust deed in the seller's favor.  

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7 Tips for Protecting Your Identity & Money

January 21, 2014 7:24 pm

At least 110 million consumers were affected by a recent 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 (scottamerritt.com) 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 wreak 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.”

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Protect Yourself from Mortgage Abuse

January 21, 2014 7:24 pm

In this report, I will pick up where I left off: reviewing details from the Connecticut Public Interest Research Group - ConnPIRG - about new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) rules that just went into effect to help protect homeowners and homebuyers from mortgage abuses.

ConnPIRG is a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization that takes on powerful interests on behalf of its members. As a founding member of the coalition Americans for Financial Reform, ConnPIRG helped lead the fight to establish the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Abe Scarr, ConnPIRG Director said in addition to the CFPB's new rules protecting homebuyers and homeowners, the agency has released a variety of self-help tools so consumers can protect themselves.

Scarr says with these new rules and tools, consumers will have a better chance to protect themselves against unfair practices in the mortgage marketplace, whether they are buying a new home or already living in it.   

The new mortgage guidelines are part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which was enacted after the mortgage market collapsed and millions of consumers lost their homes, according to the ConnPIRG release. It is the first federal financial regulator with just one job: protecting consumers.

It has jurisdiction over both banks and non-banks, so it protects consumers no matter where they shop. Among numerous other achievements, it has already ordered big credit card companies to refund nearly $800 million to consumers for unfair practices.

The CFPB’s new tools will help consumers:

  • File a mortgage complaint
  • Find a housing counselor in their area
  • Get answers to mortgage-related questions
  • Read tips for homebuyers and homeowners
  • Download a guide for housing counselors

We'll be taking a closer look at specific services and issues covered under the newly enacted CFPB mortgage rules in future reports. In the meantime, get more information and access the consumer toolkit of links, including a way to ask questions directly to the CFPB by clicking here. 

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