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

Q: When is the best time to refinance?

November 8, 2013 3:45 pm

A: Many people flock to refinance while mortgage interest rates are low, particularly when rates are about two percentage points below their existing home loans.

Other factors, like when to finance, will depend on how long you plan to hold on to your home and whether you have to pay considerable fees to refinance. It also will depend on how far along you are in paying off your current mortgage.   

If you expect to sell your home relatively soon, you are not likely to recoup the costs you incurred to refinance.  And if you are more than halfway through paying your current mortgage, you probably will gain little by refinancing. However, if you are going to own your home for at least another five years, that is probably long enough to recoup any refinancing costs and realize real savings as a result of lowering your monthly payment.

In fact, if it costs you nothing to refinance, you can gain even more. Many lenders will let you roll the costs of the refinancing into the new note and still reduce the amount of the monthly payment. Plus, there are no-cost refinancing deals available.

Contact your lender, and its competitors, before you refinance.

 

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Word of the Day

November 8, 2013 3:45 pm

Property tax. Assessment levied by city and county governments on real and personal property to generate the bulk of their operating revenues to pay for such public services as schools, libraries, and roads.

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How to Identify Legitimate Debt Collection Activity

November 7, 2013 9:42 pm

Nothing is worse than trying to pay off debt, only to fall into a faux debt collection scam, leaving you—and your finances--in worse condition than before.

"Unscrupulous scams hurt consumers and unnecessarily impedes legitimate debt collection efforts," says ACA International CEO Pat Morris. "The recovery of consumer debt is vitally important to our local, state and national economies. Those who purposely violate the law to exploit consumers should be held fully accountable for their actions."

In response to recent news reports about debt collection scams, ACA International offers the following tips for consumers to identify legitimate collection activities.

In addition to federal and state regulatory oversight of the debt collection industry and state law, the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) outlines several important items that consumers can use to discern a legitimate attempt to recover a debt. Generally:

A debt collector may not contact a consumer at times known to be inconvenient to the consumer - assumed to be contact prior to 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m. in your time zone.  Further, a debt collector may not contact a consumer at his/her place of employment if they know that such contact is prohibited by the employer or consumer.

A debt collector may not communicate, in connection with the collection of the debt, with anyone other than the consumer in question or his or her attorney (or the consumer's spouse unless prohibited by state law).

For debt collection communications, a debt collector must disclose its identity to the consumer and notify the consumer that the communication is from a debt collector, and—in the initial communication—that any information obtained will be used to effect collection of the debt.

A debt collector may not make false representations and may not threaten to take action (e.g., lawsuit, jail, garnishment, etc.) against a consumer if it doesn't actually intend to seek such action.

A debt collector must notify consumers of their right to dispute the validity of the debt, in part or in full, with the debt collector. The notice is required to be sent by debt collectors within five days of the initial communication with the consumer. The consumer has 30-days to request verification of the debt from the debt collector.

If the consumer disputes the validity of the debt within the 30-day time period, a debt collector must cease collection of the debt until it provides verification of the debt.

Consumers should also take great care when giving out personal information including a credit card, bank account or Social Security number until certain of the authenticity of the other party.

Consumers should monitor their credit report, as well as accounts and immediately report any suspicious or unauthorized purchases to the bank or credit card provider. If a consumer believes his/her identity has been stolen, [s]he should contact the local police department and visit www.ftc.gov/idtheft for information on what to do.

"Debt collectors are not an enemy of consumers," Morris said. "We are advocates for protecting consumer rights while balancing the ability to recover rightfully owed obligations that maintain America's credit-based economy."

Source: www.askdoctordebt.org.

 

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7 Year-End Tax Tips for Small Businesses

November 7, 2013 9:42 pm

Small business owners, it's time to consider some year-end tax tips. As a business owner, this may be one of the busiest times of year for you. With less than two months left in the tax year (for most of us), you'll want to ensure that everything is in order, tax-wise -- and that you'll be able to take advantage of as many potential tax deductions as possible.

Consider the following seven tips for your year-end "to-do" list:

  • Get assistance. If you don't already have one, you may want to look into hiring a certified public accountant who can look things over for you. But there are certain situations when you'll need a good tax lawyer, not a CPA.
  • Throw a holiday party. Did you know that holiday parties provided for your employees can potentially be up to 100 percent tax-deductible? Also, parties for clients and associates may be 50 percent deductible. These deductions are subject to many rules, of course.
  • Donate to charity. There's no better way to celebrate the holidays and get a nice tax deduction for your business than by making a charitable contribution. Of course, remember that not all charitable donations are tax deductible -- they must meet specific criteria.
  • Set up a retirement plan. If you are a sole proprietor or self-employed, you may want to think about setting up a retirement fund of some sort before the year ends. There may still be time to max out your contributions so that you can lower your taxable income.
  • Classify your workers correctly. Don't forget that it's crucial that you don't misclassify your workers. There are certain key factors that determine whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor. This could cost you if you aren't careful.
  • Keep good records. Make sure you're keeping good records of all relevant, tax-related documents for the year. This includes a record of all expenses, like receipts, for the many possible write-offs that your business may be qualified for.
  • Consult with an attorney. Feeling overwhelmed? Sure, April 15 is months away, but it may be wise to consult an experienced tax attorney now, to relieve some of that holiday stress.

Source: FindLaw

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Deck the Halls with Tissues and Allergy Meds

November 7, 2013 9:42 pm

(BPT) - Whether you live near or far, returning home for the holidays can be a nostalgic time. But for those with allergies and asthma, celebrating the season with family and friends can be anything but enjoyable.

"Stress from the holidays, traveling and briefly staying in a new environment can weaken your immune system," says allergist Dr. James Sublett, chair of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Indoor Environment Committee. "Being in these different situations can also mean coming in contact with allergens that can spur sudden allergy and asthma attacks."

To help deck the halls with holiday cheer instead of tissues and allergy medications, the ACAAI has put together the following tips to help you understand what can trigger your symptoms when returning home for the holidays.

  • Allergies are coming to town - Even if you've never before had a problem with your grandma's cat, you may find yourself suddenly sneezing and wheezing. These sudden symptoms are known as the Thanksgiving Effect, which earned its name after visiting relatives and college students, heading home for holiday breaks, suddenly noticed an allergic reaction to their pet. Allergies can strike at any age, meaning being a houseguest in a pet's home can be bothersome. If you notice you are having an allergic reaction, ask the host to keep the pet away from where you will be sleeping. Be sure to take your allergy medications and wash your hands immediately after petting your new furry friend.
  • Pass the sneezy pudding - Festive feasts are a staple of this time of year, but they can contain several health hazards if you have a food allergy. Be sure to check ingredient labels and don't be afraid to ask your loved ones how the meal was prepared. Items like stuffing can contain shellfish and holiday sauces can often have peanuts or tree nuts included.
  • Oh Christmas tree, how sappy are your branches - If you find yourself sneezing around the Christmas tree, wreaths and garland, you might be allergic to terpene. Naturally produced by plants, terpene can be found in oil and sap. Poinsettia plants can also be a problem for those with a latex allergy. Other decorations, such as menorahs and ornaments might be laden with dust from being stored in an attic all year, irritating those with a dust mite allergy.
  • Make a list and check it twice - Before you travel home for the holidays, pack wisely. Be sure you take along allergy medications, an inhaler and allergist-prescribed epinephrine if you are at risk for a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. If you rely on immunotherapy (allergy shots) for relief, be sure to schedule an appointment with your allergist before you leave.

Allergies and asthma shouldn't put a damper on holiday celebrations. Before you set out to visit with friends and relatives this season, check out smoke and pet-free hotels in the area just in case you need a new place to stay.


Source: www.acaai.org/AllergistFinder.

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Q: Can I refinance a home loan more than once?

November 7, 2013 9:42 pm

A: You most certainly can. During the most recent refinancing boom, for example, many homeowners refinanced their home loans two or three times within relatively short periods of time because interest rates kept treading downward, making it extremely attractive to trade in one loan for another.

Just remember that refinancing is basically like applying for a mortgage all over again. Each time you refinance, you will still have to go through the application process, get a home appraisal, and likely incur closing costs. Also, if you have a pre-payment penalty clause in your present mortgage, you will have to pay that penalty if you refinance. So be certain that it is actually worth it for you to refinance.

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Word of the Day

November 7, 2013 9:42 pm

Planned Unit Development (PUD). Individually owned houses with community ownership of common areas, such as swimming pools and tennis courts.

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10 Tips for Increasing Your Personal Energy

November 5, 2013 5:33 pm

Time is finite. But while we can’t increase the number of hours available in a day, we can increase the personal energy level that helps us make the most of them.

From The Energy Project, a consulting company that helps organizations improve employee satisfaction and productivity, comes a list of 10 mental and physical strategies everyone can use to help reduce stress and improve general well-being:

Stay active and moving – Physical activity helps clear the brain and increase oxygen intake. Once or twice a day, even if you are planted in front of a computer, get up and take a short walk, outdoors if possible.

Eat well – The right physical nourishment prepares us for positive outcomes. Research good nutrition, plan your meals, and eat at regular intervals.

Take back your lunch – Eating at your desk should not become a habit. Take a lunch break, take a walk, relax to music, or read a bit for pleasure even if only for half an hour.

Change channels on Friday – Energy levels ebb by the end of the week. It’s a good day for open-ended work like brainstorming or long-range planning.

Start Mondays slowly – Avoid the stress of beginning the week with an untenable to-do list. Make a list on Friday of the two most important things you need to do on Monday.

Do one thing at a time – Try to focus totally on the job at hand, blocking out thoughts of all the things you area aware you must tackle next.

Accentuate the positive – At least once a week, take time to make a list of all the positives in your life – relationships, goals, upcoming events, past pleasures.

Walk the talk – Take some time to observe the behavior of others. What behaviors do you admire? What behaviors do you hate? Make the effort to emulate what you admire most.

Practice realistic optimism – We can’t change what happens to us, but we can make a choice about how to respond. Look for a hopeful or empowering aspect to events.

Reflect on how you make people feel – After a business or personal conversation, ask yourself if the other person went away feeling better or worse. Understanding how others feel is the first step toward building better relationships.

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5 Reasons to Remove a Trustee from Your Trust

November 5, 2013 5:33 pm

When it comes to managing a trust for the benefit of you or your loved ones, removing a trustee is sometimes the only way to deal with problems that may arise.

This can be especially important when trusts are used to provide for relatives and dependents both in life and after death.

With the assets held in trust being so crucial, here are five common reasons to remove a trustee from a trust:

1. Failure to Comply with Trust Terms

A trustee is a person who is endowed with the legal ownership and management of trust assets, which are held for the benefit of the beneficiaries. With this grant of power comes the obligation for the trustee to act in the best interest of the beneficiaries and fulfill the terms of the trust.

If the trustee ignores or fails to abide by those trust terms, the beneficiaries can petition the court to remove him or her.

2. Neglecting, Mismanaging Trust Assets

The trustee has a fiduciary duty to manage the trust assets in such a way that does not waste or devalue a trust's funds. So when a trustee breaches that duty out of negligence or incompetence, the beneficiaries may petition for removal.

3. Self-Dealing

Similar to neglecting or mismanaging trust assets, a trustee who uses his or her control over the funds in a trust to his or her own benefit breaches the trustee's fiduciary duty to the trust's beneficiaries. This can prompt removal by the probate court.

However, when trustees are large financial institutions and the beneficiaries sign conflict-of-interest waivers, self-dealing may legally occur.

4. Good Cause

When beneficiaries and trustees butt heads on how to distribute trust funds, beneficiaries can make their case more generally to a probate court why there is good cause for trustee to be removed. These reasons must be rational and reasonable given the circumstances.

5. Hostility toward Beneficiaries

Even the paragon of peace, Nelson Mandela, had beneficiaries fighting with trustees over his trust. A significant breakdown of communication or hostility between trustee and beneficiary can lead to removal.

In any of these instances, beneficiaries must petition a probate court for a trustee's removal, and then attend a court hearing to make it official. Because removing a trustee can get complicated, it's often wise to consult with and employ an experienced trust attorney before you take this step.

For more information, visit www.Findlaw.com.    

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Five Tips to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

November 5, 2013 5:33 pm

(BPT) - Who doesn't love the smell of a warm kitchen during the holidays? They're designed around food and bringing family, old friends and new friends together. However, holidays can also be a detriment to your healthy lifestyle and cause you to lose your focus through the end of the year.

But they don't have to.

"Think of fall as the perfect time to reassess the state of your health and prep for the challenges of the holiday season," says Alicia Rodriguez, corporate registered dietician at Life Time - The Health Way of Life Company. "When it comes to nutrition and avoiding weight gain, my motto is, keep it simple and easy."

Here are some tips to help you do the same.

Bulk up your plate with protein and vegetables

The side dishes at most holiday meals are often as good as the turkey or ham, but stuffing and mashed potatoes aren't the best way to fill your plate. One way to avoid-weight gain is to build your plate with protein. This should be easy since holiday dinners revolve around meat. Second, fill your plate with side dishes that include vegetables. You may have a little spot left on your plate - use this space for your "indulgence." When you look at your plate, the goal is that the majority is still providing you with good nutrients and reduced carbohydrates.

Use the "fork" trick

Many of us go back for seconds, and even third helpings at holiday meals. This year, focus on asking yourself if you're enjoying your food. To help you answer this question, use the fork trick. Once you take a bite of food, place your fork down on the plate and let it go. Chew your food, swallow and then pick it up again. The key to this trick is letting go of the fork. This will remind you to slow down, enjoy your food and converse with friends and family.

Avoid the clean plate club

Growing up, many of us were always told "You can't leave the table until you finish everything on your plate" and inevitably, we spent many nights sitting alone at the dinner table. These days, Rodriguez advises her clients to eat until they are full and, if their plate is not clean, it's OK. Focus on one plate of food, slow down and be careful not to overeat. Overfeeding is never really a healthy thing to do.

Share your dessert with a loved one

After a satisfying meal, it is hard to avoid the sweet smells of pumpkin or warm apple pie. If you choose not to skip dessert, share a small slice with a loved one or new friend. If you are hosting, designate one family member to bring dessert to limit the endless selection of pies and reduce the urge to over indulge.

Make like a turkey and trot out the door

Start your holiday with a new tradition this year and gather the family to do something active. Take a walk to a local park, put together a family friendly flag football game, rake the leaves up in the yard (and jump into them) or encourage the family to sign up for a run/walk event.

Holidays are a time to be thankful for family, friends and everything in between. Savor the moment, really take time to taste your food, get out and have some fun, and avoid the-holiday weight gain.

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