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Back to School Safety for Teen Drivers

September 4, 2013 11:54 pm

September marks the end of summer, and it's back to school for families across the country. When school bells start ringing, so do early morning alarm clocks as the new school year brings brand new schedules that require an adjustment from the entire family. Whether your teenager is starting high school, contemplating where they might apply to college or learning to manage the teenage anxiety shared by so many during their sophomore or junior years, it's important to keep back-to-school safety in mind during this time.

As part of their ongoing effort to help raise awareness for teenage driving safety, recently released a new Parent-Teen Safe Driving Contract, which is available for free download here.  

You might be asking, "Why is a Parent-Teen Driving Contract necessary?"

Consider that conversations between parents and teens are often difficult. The discussion around handing over the keys to the car - and establishing ground rules and curfews with a newly licensed driver - can prove to be particularly challenging. Not only can a contract make it easier for parents to establish family rules as well as consequences for breaking them, it will also help to instill safe driving habits by emphasizing safety and good driving skills while also clarifying high risk driving situations.

Car accidents are still the leading cause of death for 15-20 year olds, accounting for almost 40 percent of all teen deaths. Helping your teenager learn how to be a safe, careful driver can make the difference in their survival behind the wheel. Although this parent-driver contract may seem rather formal, it should serve as a symbol of the great passage of knowledge that goes into learning how to drive. This contract might not hold up in a court of law; however, it is a binding pact between parent and teen that says "I'll be a good teacher, if you be a good student."

In addition to the safe driving contract, has also prepared 7 Safety Tips to help both parents and teens stay safer behind the wheel and maintain their focus on the road:

Catch Some ZZZ's: Studies have shown driving while deprived of sleep can have the same hazardous effects as being intoxicated. Driving while tired can decrease reaction time, impair vision or judgment, and can increase the chances of getting into a car crash. Make sure you are prioritizing a good night's rest when the school year begins.

Be the Early Bird: Teens are more likely than older drivers to underestimate dangerous situations and they have a harder time recognizing hazardous situations. Running late for school can put added pressure on stressed out adolescents; teens have less impulse control so being late can contribute to speeding, tailgating and weaving through traffic to make up for lost time. Try to leave ten minutes earlier than you need to and allow ample time for delays.

Buckle Up: At least 56 percent of young people between the ages of 16 to 20 years old involved in fatal crashes were unbuckled. Teens buckle up less frequently than adults do. Despite efforts aimed at increasing seatbelt use among teenagers, only about 80% of teens remember to buckle up. Everyone should wear a seatbelt at all times, even passengers; remember to buckle up today!

Curfews Are Cool: According to the CDC, half of teen deaths from motor vehicle crashes occurred between 3 p.m. and midnight and 55 percent occurred on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. Set a curfew to ensure no unsupervised driving occurs after 10 p.m. even on the weekends when there are more cars - and more drunk drivers - on the road.

Limit Passengers: A teenage driver's risk of an accident grows exponentially with each passenger added. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a teen's crash risk increases by 48 percent with each additional passenger.  During a teen's first 12 months of driving, passengers should be prohibited from riding along with a new driver.

Ignition On, Cell Phone Off: Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for about 4.6 seconds.  At 55 miles per hour, that's like driving the length of an entire football field, blindfolded.  Cell phone use should be banned among all drivers, and parents should lead by setting a good example. Just remember this simple rule: ignition on, cellphone off!

Zero Tolerance for Drinking and Driving: Nearly one million teens drank alcohol and got behind the wheel in 2011.  Even though every state has a "zero tolerance" law for underage drivers parents should still emphasize the dangers of drinking and driving; consider using a safe driving contract to open the lines of communication and establish clear guidelines.


Word of the Day

September 4, 2013 11:54 pm

Commission. Payment, or brokerage fees, given by the seller of a property to a real estate agent for services rendered.  Usually paid at the closing.


Q: What Should I Consider When Redoing My Kitchen?

September 4, 2013 11:54 pm

A: It is tempting to discard existing appliances when you build new cabinets around them.  Rethink the idea.  If the appliances are workable, keep them – and save yourself from $1,000 to $5,000, according to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.  Also keep the present location of major fixtures, appliances and utilities relative to the plumbing, gas and electrical outlets.  Rearranging plumbing, wiring and jacks can be very expensive.  Refacing existing cabinets can reduce the cost of your kitchen remodel considerably and eliminate the need for new flooring, countertops and appliances.  If you must get new cabinets, options such as spice racks and slide out wire baskets can be added later.  Also, install cabinets without soffits to decrease labor cost; and avoid trim moldings, or use a simple trim.  If you must have a new wood trim to match the new cabinets, order pre-finished trim to decrease labor cost; avoid having the painting or staining done on-site.  Other helpful tips: choose neutral colors for fixtures, appliances and laminates and avoid the need for a new floor by sanding and refinishing a hardwood floor that may be underneath the existing vinyl flooring.



Tips for Capturing Memorable Back-to-School Photos

September 4, 2013 1:51 am

(BPT) - As children across the country gear up with their new backpack, school supplies, clothes and haircuts, parents are reaching for their cameras, ready to capture another milestone: the annual back-to-school photo. This year, capture that memorable shot like a professional with a few expert tips and tricks.

Lights, camera, action! Here's how to get the best back-to-school photos of your child.

Preparation: Change the batteries in your camera or charge your phone the night before school starts so it's ready to go in the morning.

Lights: Make sure you have proper lighting - using natural light like the sun may be best. Lighting can make or break your photo, so be sure there is enough light to showcase your child, yet not distract from the photo. Avoid having your child look directly into the sunlight, which causes squinty eyes. Also avoid shooting directly into the sunlight as it will darken the photo overall. If you are using a flash, make sure that your child is not too close to a background that may cast a shadow.

Setting: What says "back to school" better than a yellow school bus? Choose a background that will visually tell the story of the special occasion.

Framing: Try different angles - close-ups, mid-range, long-range - to add visual appeal. Try some photos in landscape mode, some in portrait, and maybe some that are even off-center. You can add some depth by framing a photo with an interesting foreground or background.

Capture the moment: Going back to school touches on a variety of emotions: excitement, nervousness or maybe even a little reluctance. Convey the day's true feelings with natural expressions and poses through candid photos. Catch your children as they are getting ready for their first day, as they are awaiting the school bus, or as they are waving good-bye. Candid shots that show true emotions will capture the spirit of the day and tell a better story than posed shots.




Five Inside Credit Secrets for Getting a Great Mortgage

September 4, 2013 1:51 am

With home prices rising and interest rates well below historic norms, many potential buyers would like to get into the marketplace but are stymied by one hurdle: credit.

"The credit process mystifies many borrowers," says Ray Brousseau, Executive Vice President of a mortgage service company active in more than 40 states.

"They worry that their credit may be imperfect or that a late payment from long ago will doom a loan application, when the reality is different."

Brousseau explained that "lenders and borrowers have similar goals. They both want the mortgage application to go through. The lender will create a package to provide a full picture of the borrower's financial status. In many cases, borrowers will be surprised that their credit standing is stronger than expected."

So, how do you make sure you have tip-top credit when applying for a mortgage? Here are five strategies that can lead to a faster -- and better -- mortgage credit review.

First, prepare for your mortgage application.

Since 2010, most real estate financing has been in the form of "qualified mortgages," loans that meet the standards outlined by Wall Street Reform. A qualified mortgage -- or QM -- must show that the borrower has the ability to repay the loan.

To meet QM requirements, you can expect lenders to want signed tax returns or W2s for at least the past two years, year-to-date pay stubs from the past 30 days, plus complete copies of all financial statements, usually for at least the last two months. If self-employed, a lender might also want a balance sheet as well as a profit-and-loss statement.

Having such information in hand can greatly speed the mortgage review process.

Second, check your credit report in advance.

The better your credit report, the better your credit score -- thus the reason to check credit reports for errors and outdated items.

Under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA), consumers can get one free copy of their credit report from each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies every 12 months. This can be done in a few minutes by going to the official website, Print out your report or save it as a PDF.

"Look at your report in advance to make sure it fairly reflects your credit history," says Brousseau. "If you spot items that are inaccurate, you'll want to contact the credit reporting agency. Most negative items -- but not all -- fall off after seven years. Some bankruptcies stay on for 10 years. Check the report to be certain that outdated items are not included."

Third, know how credit scores work.

In basic terms, credit scores weigh the answers to five questions:

  • Have you paid bills on time?
  • How much of your credit is now in use?
  • How long have you had credit and when was the last time you used selected accounts?
  • What is your mix of credit card debt, auto loans, student debt, mortgages, etc?
  • Have you recently opened additional lines of credit?

"Once a loan application is made most lenders will automatically provide borrowers with a free copy of their credit score," says Brousseau. "A good credit score can greatly help in the application process, and a lower score can often be overcome by selecting a certain type of mortgage product."

Fourth, a lower credit score does not always mean no credit.

Borrowers can readily finance and refinance with an 800 credit score, but it's also true that mortgages are available with lower credit scores. For instance, more than 40 percent of recent FHA borrowers had credit scores between 620 and 680.

Fifth, beware of surprise credit snags.

It used to be that lenders checked credit reports when a loan application was first made and then again just before closing. Now lenders have the ability to even check for daily credit report changes. When new debt or credit lines show up lenders re-calculate the ability of borrowers to qualify for financing.

Brousseau explains that "after a mortgage application is made, borrowers should enter a financial quiet period until closing. During this time, avoid non-essential purchases, stay away from new credit accounts, and ignore offers for higher debt limits. This way you can stave off the problem of 'undisclosed' debt and protect your mortgage application."

Source: Carrington Mortgage Services



Two-Year College Degrees Worth Seeking

September 4, 2013 1:51 am

While a college education is expensive, most students would agree it’s worth the cost if it helps you get – and thrive in – an interesting and lucrative position. But, say career development professionals, there are plenty of good-paying jobs available for those who have only a two-year associate’s degree.

If you can’t afford the time or money for a four-year degree, consider pursuing one of these five areas:

Information science – If tinkering with technology is your bag, an associate’s degree in information science is all you need to land a lucrative job in the support, repair and maintenance of computer equipment and software.  According the U.S. Department of Labor, the median annual salary for a computer support specialist is $46,420.

Paralegal studies – If you are interested in the field of law, a two-year degree in this area can prepare you to organize case files, conduct legal research, and draft documents for attorneys – an interesting job with an average median salary of $46,990, the Department says.

Nursing – If you have a passion for the medical field, you may find great satisfaction as a nurse. Registered nurses earn annual pay of around $65,000, and an associate’s degree is one of three pathways to employment in this growing field. (The others are a bachelor’s degree in nursing or a diploma from an approved nursing program.)

Industrial engineering technology – If you are analytical and detail-oriented, a two-year degree in industrial engineering will prepare you to manage personnel, materials and machines in factories, stores, health care organizations, and other areas. As assistants to industrial engineers, you can earn a median of $50,980 annually.

Dental hygiene – Earning a two-year degree in this field is a win-win situation for people interested in dentistry. You can clean teeth, examine patients, and provide other preventive dental care while receiving a median salary that exceeds $70,000 a year.


Word of the Day

September 4, 2013 1:51 am

Appraisal. A formal estimate of property value conducted by a professional qualified to make such an opinion.



Q: There Seem to Be No Shortage of Contractors; How Do You Identify One Who Is Less Than Reputable?

September 4, 2013 1:51 am

A:  They often give themselves away.  The telltale signs:

  • Pressure is used to get you to sign a contract;
  • Verifying the contractor’s name, address, phone number and credentials is impossible;
  • Cash payments are only accepted, not checks made out to a company;
  • Payment for the entire job is demanded up-front, whereas most remodelers typically require a down payment of 25-50% of the contract price for small jobs and 10-33% for large jobs.
  • The contractor suggests that you borrow money from a lender the contractor knows, which could make you the target of a home improvement loan scam – a sure way to lose your home;
  • The contractor offers information that is out-of-date or no longer valid;
  • No references are available;
  • An inability by the contractor to communicate the project well;
  • Exceptionally long guarantees are offered;
  • The contractor fails to listens and talks over you; and
  • The contractor fails to notify you of your right to cancel the contract within three days; this “right of recision” is required by law and allows you to change your mind without penalty if the contract was provided at a place other than the contractor’s place of business or an appropriate trade premise.

Get Kids Active with Fun Adventures

August 30, 2013 5:30 pm

Family Features—The great outdoors are full of wonderful adventures for kids. If you want to encourage your children to get active, try to make sure they have positive experiences. It's always easier to get them engaged when past adventures are full of wonderful memories.

Great experiences are safe ones. Here are a few tips to keep your kids healthy and happy during their adventure:

Bring a friend: Whether they are playing at the park or just exploring the neighborhood, kids should always bring along a friend. Remind them that even their favorite television characters often travel in pairs, such as Dora the Explorer and her best friend, Boots. It's not only safer playing together outside, it's much more fun. Learn more at

Be careful where you explore: Make sure your children familiarize themselves with their surroundings so they are comfortable biking, skating or exploring. Never let them play in the street -- even if a pet or toy goes into the road.

Wear protective gear: Some adventures require special gear, like biking, skateboarding and roller skating, in order to enjoy it safely. Make sure your child wears a helmet, kneepads, elbow pads and wrist guards when skating and biking.

Be prepared: Bring a backpack with essentials, such as water, healthy snacks and sunscreen.

Warm up: Before your children leave for a long bike ride or skate in the park, have them take the time for a few simple stretches. Athletes know this is the best way to avoid an injury or future aches and pains.

Keep it clean: After a fun time discovering new adventures, make sure children wash their hands to get rid of any germs. Parents, be on the lookout for any bumps, bruises, mosquito bites, ticks or sunburns, as kids tend to get wrapped up in the fun.


Shopping on a Dime? How to Maximize Savings at Discount Stores

August 30, 2013 5:30 pm

Bargain hunting for some new fall favorites? Follow the below tips, provided by, to get the most out of your bargain shopping.

Write a list and avoid "browsing": Be aware of marketing tactics - A crucial way to not overspend is to learn how to spot a store's marketing gimmicks. Items are placed in certain locations deliberately and there is a proven science to shopping. Learn the layout of your store and stick to a pre-written shopping list.

Never shop tired or hungry: Shopping on an empty stomach or when tired is the number one way for consumers to buy more than they need. The discipline required to successfully bargain hunt requires a clear head.

Make sure that you definitely want to shop there before paying for membership: Check it out a few times before you sign on the dotted line. Visit the store to see if it is suitable.

Share a membership with a friend or family member: Cut costs even more by having a communal membership, thereby splitting the membership fee.

Use a smaller cart: If you choose a bigger cart, you will fill it up and buy more. A smaller cart means that you are limited to buying less, therefore saving more. This is a psychological trick that can save precious dollars and avoid over-shopping.

Pay in cash: Estimate the cost of what items need to be bought and bring the exact amount in cash. can connect consumers to emergency lenders that can pay out cash directly into bank checking accounts within 1 working day or faster.



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