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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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Perkasie, PA 18944
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Office Phone: 215-453-7653
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Tom's Blog

Q: Will I Be Able to Buy again after Losing a Home to Foreclosure?

August 5, 2013 10:02 pm

A: It can happen.  But a lot will depend on your circumstances and the mortgage interest rate you are willing to pay.  Generally, most lenders will consider your request for a home loan two to four years after your foreclosure.  Predatory lenders will issue a home mortgage in less time.  But beware – they routinely charge high mortgage interest rates, fees, and penalties for this privilege.

A quality lender will expect you to show that you have cleaned up your credit.  Providing a reasonable explanation about the circumstances that led to the foreclosure – such as exuberant medical expenses – is also helpful.

 

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Small Home Improvements That Save Big

August 2, 2013 9:54 pm

Home improvements almost always increase the value of your home. But you don’t necessarily have to spend a lot to get results that will save you big money in the long run.

U.S. News personal finance experts suggest eight budget-friendly but energy efficient fixes guaranteed to be worth more than what they cost:

  • Low-flow fixtures – Easily installed low-flow showerheads, which cost as little as $20 at most home improvement stores, and other low-flow fixtures, can reduce your home water consumption by as much as 50 percent and save you up to $145 annually, according to Energy Star estimates.
  • Programmable thermostats – Used properly, Energy Star reports, these energy-saving devices are more accurate and can save users up to $150 per year
  • Weather stripping – Air escaping from under your doors can account for as much as 30 to 40 percent loss of heat and cooling. Up your comfort and save money with weather stripping materials that start at as little as $5.
  • Ceiling fans – The average ceiling fan, at about $50 in cost, can help keep your home more comfortable while reducing your energy bill by about $15 per year.
  • Insulation – Adding insulation, at about $15 per roll, can reduce energy costs by up to 20 percent, experts say, while keeping your home cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.
  • Compact fluorescent light bulbs – The odd-looking bulbs cost a little more initially than standard bulbs. But they last up to 10 times longer and will save you approximately $6 per year.
  • Tankless water heaters – Tankless options cost a bit more, but will allow users to cut 20 percent off their water bills. They will also last up to 10 years longer than traditional water heaters and will never run out of hot water. Bonus: According to Energy Star, you can get a federal tax rebate if you buy one.
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Post-Recession Optimism Brightens Fall Home & Garden Trends

August 2, 2013 9:54 pm

Lighten up! That’s the buzz phrase for fall as a recovering economy fans a collective determination to put the bad news of recent years – from layoffs to natural disasters – behind us, says Roy Joulus, CEO of the award-winning, design-forward Greenbo, LLC.

“We’ll see an insistence on hope, optimism and joy in the simple things in life reflected in bright, happy colors and clean designs with strong lines,’’ says Joulus, whose innovative new railing flowerbox, Greenbo XL, won the prestigious international Red Dot Design Award for product design in 2012.

As a manufacturer of high-quality products for urban homes, Joulus says he and his team must forecast global style trends two to three years out. That’s why their new line of garden containers is made from sustainable and recyclable materials in uber-upbeat colors, with attached drainage trays that can be mixed and matched for custom color combos.

The Greenbo designers also see a growing demand for products whose form is as appealing as their function. That’s why the Greenbo XL railing planter is a flowerbox “that you don’t have to hide with flowers,’’ Joulus says.

“Consumers’ desire for sustainability and ‘green’ products is only going to continue to grow; in fact, that was one reason we launched our company in 2008 even though the global economy was tanking at the time,” says Joulus. “The interest in gardening will continue to grow, as will demand for high-grade products that can either be recycled or are made from recycled materials.”

The fall colors, which you’ll see in everything from fashion to furniture to the garden, include bright greens, deep fuschia, bright orange, fiery red, ochre yellow and violet. How can you brighten your garden with these colors? Joulus offers some tips:

• Forget terra cotta – use containers that offer a vivid pop of color. Colorful containers add a carefree, cheerful element to any garden – whether it’s a full yard, a patio, a balcony, or a cluster of plants indoors by a south-facing window. “Plastic containers require less watering than terra cotta or unglazed ceramic, but be sure to get a very high-grade plastic,” Joulus says. “Nothing looks worse than plastic that has faded and cracked, which will happen quickly when low-quality plastics are exposed to the elements.” Mix up the colors, just as you would wildflowers in a garden, or use all one color for more impact.”

• Coordinate plant color and pot color. Play with different combinations to see what you like. One extreme is the monochromatic approach – where container and plants are all the same color, although shades may vary. On the other end of the extreme, a “cottage garden” with a jumble of colors (polychrome) will work beautifully, too. You might try pairing containers and plants from opposite sides of the color wheel, such as red and green, violet and yellow, or blue and orange. Or use colors that reside side by side on the color wheel, such as salmon and violet or fuchsia and bright red.

• Create a pattern of repeating colors and textures. Containers and plants with different colors can create an eye-catching display when arranged so that each color repeats at a regular interval.  For instance: blue, purple, violet, green, blue, purple, violet, green. This technique is sometimes used with border plants, or plants in linear beds. The addition of colorful containers heightens the effect and adds to the options for placement. Create a repeating pattern on a railing, along a patio or even using hanging containers.

Roy Joulus is CEO of Greenbo, which was founded with a focus on simplicity, efficiency and innovation in creating urban agricultural products.

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Planning for an American Dream Retirement

August 2, 2013 9:54 pm

It’s no wonder baby boomers worry about outliving their retirement savings. One out of four 65-year-olds today can expect to live past 90, and if they’re married, one of every four will live even longer.

With 10,000 boomers turning 65 every day, it’s a big worry for 26 percent of the U.S. population.

“The biggest concern for boomers is living too long, or getting sick, and running out of money,” says Rao K. Garuda, (www.aca-incorp.com), an engineer-turned-independent financial planning advisor specializing in work with seniors, high net worth business owners, and professionals.

“The average 65-year-old retires today with $500,000 to $1 million in assets, and while that might sound like a lot to a 20-year-old, it isn’t,” Garuda says.

Even if you plan to continue some kind of work post-retirement – as many people do whether because they must or because they enjoy it – it’s imperative to plan ahead for the day you can’t work, he says.

“Equally important, people deserve the freedom to make choices about how they’ll spend their last 20 or 30 years, especially if they’ve spent 45 years going to work every day. That’s part of the American dream,” Garuda says. “And you don’t have to earn a fortune to save a fortune!”

Garuda shares four things everyone should know about preparing for retirement:

• Save first, then spend. Most people spend first, then try to save what’s left, Garuda says. The secret is to make saving first your priority. “The people who save first will always be the people who are employing everyone else!” he says. The more you can save the better, but that will vary at different stages of your life. At the minimum, 10 percent is a good rule of thumb.

• Take advantage of tax-free savings. Taxes are the biggest expense anyone has. Besides federal, state, city and death taxes there are 59 other different ways your money is taxed, Garuda says.
“If you save $1, Uncle Sam will help you by waiting for his cut of that $1. With planning, you can put him on hold for about two generations,” he says.
With tax-free compounding, a relatively small amount of money saved can yield huge returns years from now.

• Decide how you’ll manage risk. There is risk in everything, and Garuda warns that those who simply choose to ignore it do so at their own peril. Others choose to “go broke safely” – they avoid risk to such an extent, they lose money. A good example is people putting all their savings in CDs that pay just 1 percent; since that’s lower than the rate of inflation, they’re losing money. In some cases, people transfer risk to someone else, for instance, when they buy homeowners insurance. Finally, they choose to manage their risk emotionally, psychologically and technically through asset allocation rebalancing and other tools that allow you the amount of risk you’re willing to assume while still providing opportunities for growth.

• Create tax-free income. “My favorite question to ask people is, ‘What have you done to create tax-free income?’ ’’ Garuda says. There are many ways to do this – Roth IRAs, life insurance, tax-free bonds, annuities -- but most involve working with a knowledgeable financial planner. “An indexed life insurance policy is a great one; it protects your money while offering a lot of benefits. But it’s like a Swiss army knife – there are a lot of ways to use it, and most people don’t know how to use it properly,” Garuda says.

Rao K. Garuda, CLU, ChFC, is president and CEO of Associated Concepts Agency, Inc. – “The Missing Piece” of financial planning -- founded in 1978, and a popular speaker at seminars and conferences for financial industry professionals.

 

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Word of the Day

August 2, 2013 9:54 pm

Encroachment. A building or other improvement that extends beyond its boundary and intrudes upon the property of another.

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Q: Who Are the Professionals That Do Home Improvements?

August 2, 2013 9:54 pm

A:  They vary depending on the size and scope of your job.  General contractors are companies or individuals who contract with you to manage all aspects of the project, including hiring and supervising subcontractors, obtaining building permits, and supplying materials and labor equipment needed to do the project.  Specialty contractors, on the other hand, are mainly concerned with installing products, such as cabinets and fixtures.  Architects design homes, additions, and major renovations. And design/build contractors basically offer one-stop service, providing design and construction services and overseeing a project from start to finish.

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How to Get the Most from Your Social Security Benefits

August 2, 2013 7:52 pm

Too many people end up getting less than what’s due them from Social Security when they retire because they don’t know the rules and the real financial impacts, says independent retirement advisor Gary Marriage, Jr.

“There’s a lot of talk about the future of Social Security, but we still have this benefit and if you’re 50 or older, you should be planning to make the best use of it,” Marriage says.

Marriage, CEO of Nature Coast Financial Advisors shares important facts to keep in mind as you plan for how Social Security will factor in your retirement:

  • “Can I convince you to wait a few more years?” Many people are understandably eager to retire as early as possible; others fear Social Security retirement benefits will suddenly vanish, so they want to get what they can as quickly as possible – at age 62. But if you’re counting on those benefits as part of your income, you should wait until you’re eligible for the full amount. That’s age 66 if you were born 1943-54, and age 67 if you were born in 1960 and later. If you’re in the older group, retiring at 62 cuts your benefits by a quarter; for the younger group it’s nearly a third. “Chances are, you’ll be better of mentally and physically if you wait anyway,” Marriage says. “Many studies show that people live longer and are more vital the longer they remain employed; more importantly.”
  • The reductions in Social Security add up to a considerable sum. The average retirement benefit in June of this year was 1,222.43, according to the Social Security Administration. People born in the 1943-54 group who are eligible for that amount at age 66 will get just $916.82 a month if they retire at 62. If they live to age 90, that’s a total of $308,052.36. By waiting just four years, they’ll net an additional $44,007.48. Waiting until age 70 can make you eligible for a bump in benefits – up to 8 percent a year – but there are no increases if you delay longer.
  • If divorced, were you married for at least 10 years? Were you married for a decade and aren’t currently remarried? You may be eligible to received benefits based on the former spouse’s work record. Here are some of the other requisites: you must be age 62 or older, and the former spouse must be entitled to receive his or her own benefits. If the former spouse is eligible for a benefit, but has not yet applied for it, the divorced spouse can still receive a benefit. Additionally, two years must pass after the divorce.

Source:  www.naturecoastfinancial.com

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How to Keep a Speeding Ticket Out of Your Summer

August 2, 2013 7:52 pm

(BPT) - Want to know how to avoid a speeding ticket? Easy - don't speed. But even the most law-abiding drivers with flawless records can make mistakes and find themselves pulled over. In fact, 34 million people in the United States receive speeding tickets each year, according to the National Motorists Association.

A ticket can raise insurance rates and tarnish your driving record, according to FindLaw.com, the nation's leading website for free legal information. If you get arrested or fined for other traffic violations, those tickets can lead to stiffer fines and penalties.

"The big rule of speeding tickets is that most come at the discretion of the police officers involved," says Don Cosley, a criminal defense attorney of the Cosley Law Office in Chicago. "Unless the officers are working a state or federal grant where they are required to issue traffic tickets, how you interact with a police officer will play a considerable role in whether you drive away with a warning or a ticket."

"Always cooperate with law enforcement officers," Cosley says. "They've heard every excuse in the book. If you immediately start arguing or making smart comments, your chances of driving away with a ticket increase."

Here are some additional tips from FindLaw.com on how to avoid a speeding ticket:

  • Watch for posted speed limit signs. According to a 2013 survey by Insurance.com, the top excuse for speeding is, "I didn't see the sign." The safest way to avoid a speeding ticket is to carefully watch posted signs and not exceed the limit. Even five miles per hour over the speed limit can land you a ticket - particularly near schools, road construction zones and other hotspots where police try to increase safety.
  • Give yourself plenty of time. If you're running late, you're more likely to speed. One simple trick you can do to build in some travel time is to set your house clocks a few minutes ahead. Remember, you'll arrive even later if you get pulled over.
  • Keep a clean driving record. Police cars are often equipped with computer systems that allow law enforcement to instantly look up your driving record. A driver with a clean record is more likely to be let off with a warning than one with several traffic violations.
  • Stay off your cellphone. Cellphone use is legal in some states and illegal in others, but distracted driving should always be avoided. If you are observed speeding and using your phone at the same time, it will dramatically boost your odds of driving away with a ticket, rather than a warning, and it may increase fines associated with the violation.
  • Avoid speed traps. Speed limits typically drop when you approach a small town or city. That's prime real estate for speed traps. Police often use highway overpasses, bridges or medians with a clear view of oncoming traffic to hunt for speeders.
  • Don't stand out. Drivers who go too fast, swerve or aggressively pass other drivers are more likely to draw the attention of the police.
  • Move over. After using the left lane to pass a car, move back over to the right lane. Cars that continue to pass other cars while in the left lane are easy targets for police. Also keep in mind that in some states, the left lane is only for passing.
  • Cooperate with the police officer. Being cooperative and respectful toward the police officer who pulls you over is one of the best ways to avoid a speeding ticket. It also can help defuse a potentially stressful situation. If you are pulled over, start by turning off your car, put away your cellphone and place your keys on the dashboard and your hands on the wheel in the 10 and 2 o'clock position to show the officer that you aren't doing anything illicit before he or she arrives. Taking off your sunglasses also can be a show of respect. If it's nighttime, turn on the interior lights of your car.
  • Save your arguments for traffic court. If you believe you don't deserve a speeding ticket, take your argument to court. Don't argue it with a police officer at the scene.

Source: FindLaw.com.

 

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Word of the Day

August 2, 2013 7:52 pm

Real property.  Land and buildings and anything permanently attached to them.

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5 Legal Tips for Babysitters

August 2, 2013 7:52 pm

If you're a babysitter or nanny, at the end of the day, the goal should be to keep the child occupied, happy, and above all, safe. At the same time, you'll also want to keep yourself away from any potential legal trouble.


Here are five legal tips for all the babysitters out there:

  1. Be wary of spanking. In general, state laws allow a babysitter to spank a misbehaving child using a reasonable amount of force. Since the law is somewhat unclear, and spanking makes children susceptible to medical issues, it's probably best to keep your hands to yourself.
  2. Know that you may be on hidden camera -- but it may not be legal. Video-only nanny cam recordings are generally legal, but they must be used for a reasonable purpose. Many states laws don't allow the use of nanny cams that also record audio. And several states require consent.
  3. Watch out for toppling TVs. TVs falling on children may conjure the image of a silly cartoon, but in reality, it's a disturbing trend that's proving fatal for some children. If you can't reinforce a TV yourself, don't let the kids out of your sight. If you put the child at risk, or don't provide adequate supervision, you could face child endangerment charges.
  4. Be careful about "babysitting" teens. When teens drink or do drugs behind your back, you could be in trouble, too. If you knowingly furnish teens with alcohol, or should have known they were drinking while under your care, you may be arrested under social host liability laws.
  5. Don't forget to pay your taxes. Babysitting income is generally taxable, though there are exceptions depending on whether you're under 18, how much money you made, and whether babysitting is your primary occupation, among other factors. In many cases, an employer may be legally required to (but chooses not to) withhold babysitter taxes, reports The New York Times. This area of the law can get complicated, so you may want to consult an experienced tax lawyer to figure out what applies to your situation.

    Things can get even more complicated if your weekend babysitting gig grows into a small business, which may require a license. If that's the case, then it may be time to give a local business attorney a call.


Source: FindLaw.com

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