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

How to Find Free Money for College: The Scholarship Hunt

July 2, 2013 2:32 pm

(BPT) - While college can be one of the best experiences of your life, it can also be one of the most expensive. The average cost per year for a four-year degree at a state-sponsored school currently runs $22,261 for in-state students and $35,321 for out-of-state students, according to a 2012 College Board report. With a few tips and strategies, you can ease your financial burden by applying for scholarships.

The fact is, the more money you can get in scholarships, the less you'll need to borrow. Scholarships are awarded by universities, nonprofit organizations, corporations and private individuals. There are many different kinds of scholarships - some are needs-based while others focus on what a student's interests are - so start searching early and be persistent.

Do your research

Fortunately, there are plenty of helpful ways to find scholarships. Look online by conducting a simple keyword search or by using free scholarship search services such as Fastweb, CollegeBoard or Edvisors.

Visit your high school counselor or college resource center

If you are still in high school, counselors can give you directions for what types of scholarships you should apply for. If you know where you're going to college, be sure to talk with the financial aid office and see if they can assist you with your search. The admissions office may be able to help you determine if there are any school-specific scholarships.

Be community-minded

You can also look for scholarship sources within your own community. Check with your local newspaper, community organizations, and your parents'/guardians' employer. Religious organizations, banks or other civic organizations often offer scholarship programs.

Beware of scholarship scams

Scholarships are "free money," so you should never have to pay money to get them. Watch out for scholarship scams or companies that require a credit card number just to perform a search. Save the money and do it yourself.

Once you identify the scholarships and grants you want to apply for, take careful note of the due dates, then complete and submit the applications accordingly. Give yourself plenty of time to devote to the scholarship hunt and application process. It may seem like a lot of work when you don't have a lot of time to spare, but in the end, it's worth it to secure college money that doesn't need to be repaid.

 

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Word of the Day

July 2, 2013 2:32 pm

Special assessment.  A special tax imposed on specific parcels of real estate that will benefit from a proposed public improvement, such as a street or sewer.

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Planning for an American Dream Retirement

July 1, 2013 4:30 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, 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, and 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.

Source: www.aca-incorp.com

 

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High-Impact Home Improvements

July 1, 2013 4:30 pm

(BPT) - Yes, everyone knows making home improvements is a worthy investment in your greatest material asset. Sure you want every improvement job done well with top-notch end results. But when all is said and done, do you really want to have to put a lot of effort and money into maintaining those improvements? For most people - whether they'll admit it or not - the answer is "no."

The best home improvements are the ones that not only enhance your home's value and livability, but also require little work from you afterward to keep them looking great and functioning well. If you're looking for high-impact, low-maintenance home improvements, consider these popular projects:

No-leak skylights

When it comes to an improvement that brightens your home, enhances its indoor air quality and boosts energy-efficiency, skylights deliver. Unfortunately, early skylights had a reputation for being leaky - a problem that simply doesn't occur with modern, no-leak, energy-efficient skylights. Pre-engineered flashing kits (the metal shield that surrounds any opening in a wall or roof) work with all types of roofs, from shingles to metal, to ensure a properly installed skylight won't leak.

Need further low-maintenance points to make the case for adding a skylight? Not only do modern skylights keep water out, they're energy efficient as well. Energy Star-qualified, no-leak, solar-powered fresh air skylights deliver fresh air through cost-effective passive ventilation. Adding remote-controlled, solar-powered blinds allows you to easily open or close a fresh-air skylight and shade it when the sun hits that part of the roof, boosting the skylight's energy efficiency by 39 percent. Keep the shade open during cold weather to admit warmth and reduce heating costs. A 30 percent federal tax credit on both products and installation costs makes a skylight project even more appealing.

Lighting upgrade

Older light fixtures not only look dated, they often use outdated, inefficient bulbs and are lacking in the energy-efficient emphasis that comes with newer fixtures. Upgrading lighting throughout your home is a great way to ensure you won't have to think about it again any time soon.

If a total lighting redesign is out of the question, you can still make your existing light fixtures lower maintenance simply by swapping out old, inefficient incandescent light bulbs with newer, electricity-sipping versions. Options like CFLs and LEDs provide all the light of incandescents while using a fraction of the energy. Energy.gov says Energy Star-rated LEDs use at least 75 percent less power than incandescent bulbs, and last 25 times longer. Imagine the time, hassle and money you'll save not having to replace bulbs constantly - especially in lights that get a lot of use, like porch lights, or that are hard to reach, like the chandelier in your two-story entryway.

Vinyl siding

Wood, fiber cement, stucco, brick - there are nearly as many types of exterior siding as there are colors to paint it. When it comes to low- or no-maintenance siding, vinyl remains the gold standard. In fact, more new homes are built using vinyl siding than any other type of siding product, according to the Vinyl Siding Institute.

While early versions of vinyl siding introduced in the 1950s earned criticism for being less lovely than wood, even those less sophisticated versions had staying power; it's possible to find homes in use today sporting vinyl siding that was added to the house in the 1970s or even earlier.

Vinyl siding never needs to be painted, and when properly installed provides exceptional shielding from the elements. New technology has made modern vinyl siding look better and last longer without fading issues associated with older versions of vinyl. It requires basic cleaning, and overall maintenance demands are much less than other types of siding. Visit www.vinylsiding.org to learn more.

Source: veluxusa  

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Word of the Day

July 1, 2013 4:30 pm

Subdivision. A tract of land divided by the owner into smaller lots for homesites or other use.

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Q: What is a bridge loan?

July 1, 2013 4:30 pm

A: It is a short-term bank loan of the equity in the home you are selling. You may take out a bridge loan, or interim financing, to help with a knotty situation: closing on the home you are buying before you close on the property you are selling. This loan basically enables you to have a place to live after the closing on the old home.

The key to a bridge loan is having a qualified buyer and a signed contract. Usually, the lender issuing the mortgage loan on the new home will write the interim financing as a personal note due at settlement on the property being sold.

If, however, there is no buyer for the property you have up for sale, most lenders will place a lien on the property, thereby making that bridge loan a kind of second mortgage.

Things to consider: interest rates are high, points are high, and there are costs and fees involved on bridge loans. It may be cheaper to borrow from your 401(K). Actually, any secured loan is acceptable to lenders for the down payment. So if you have stocks or bonds or an insurance policy, you can borrow against them as well.

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State-of-the-Art Space Savers for Your Kitchen

June 28, 2013 10:28 pm

In my quest to promote decluttering, we're going to briefly turn attention back to the kitchen -- specifically kitchen cabinets. There are many companies and places a homeowner can turn for ideas about how to create clutter free kitchens through the use of cabinet systems, like the ones designed by Ultracraft (http://www.ultracraft.com)

This company out of Liberty, N.C. has upgraded its organizing systems to include a number of innovative storage and decluttering systems as integrated with the cabinets the company offers through dealers and installers in virtually every state, according to its website.

Take Ultracraft's Hanging Trash Bin, for example. It tucks neatly away among your lower kitchen cabinet array and holds two 43-qt trash bins in only 18" of space, and features a floating lid to keep odors inside.

What about those unsightly sponges? Ultracraft features both a wood and metal tilt out tray that mounts just in front of your kitchen sink to hold those sponges and other cleaning tools, wool pads and even your drain stoppers.

Depending on the amount of spices you keep for cooking, you can choose either an integrated under counter pull-out, or cozy drawer based spice organizing system. The UltraCraft Mixer Stand accessory allows you to store your mixer, but more importantly, the tension adjusted springs will help you lift the mixer out with less effort.

The stand is sturdy enough to use while its sitting on the stand in the up position, and a pull out below the stand conveniently stores all of your mixer accessories.

You can move your plates to a low and convenient large drawer base and utilize Ultracraft's Plate Rack Organizer to make them easy to move from drawer to countertop to table. No more reaching, juggling and occasionally dropping plates that are stored up high in an upper cabinet.

And for those who have hard-to-reach under counter "blind base" cabinets, the company's Blind Base Chrome Pantry Pull Out unit helps homeowners access these often wasted recesses without them having to crawl on their hands and knees.

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5 Careers on the Rise

June 28, 2013 10:28 pm

For those who are off to college in the fall, or anyone who may be thinking of a job change, there are at least five careers poised for major growth in the next decade in terms of both job openings and salaries.

From recent research at the U.S. Department of Labor, here are five hot career paths to consider:

Registered nurse – The baby boomers are aging, most people are living longer, and the Affordable Care Act will open medical care to record numbers of Americans. As a result, the job outlook for registered nurses is bright. Requirements are an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing or a diploma from an approved nursing program and a passing grade in a national licensing exam.

Home health and personal care aide – As the population ages and health care costs force shorter hospital stays, the home health care field is expected to grow by an astonishing 70 percent in the next decade.  A high school diploma is all that is needed in most cases, and those working through home health or hospice agencies must pass a standardized test.

Veterinary technician – Like working with animals but don’t want to pursue a veterinary degree? Employment of veterinary techs is estimated to grow by 40,000 jobs by 2020. Techs must have postsecondary education in veterinary technology, take a credentialing exam, and, depending on state requirements, be licensed, registered, or certified.

Convention and event planner – If organized party planning is your thing, consider working as an event planner. Jobs in the industry are expected to grow by 44 percent in the next few years. A bachelor’s degree in marketing, public relations or hospitality management should get you headed in the right direction.

Software developer – We live in a world of electronics, and software developers are tasked with creating new applications and their underlying systems. More than 30 percent growth in the field is anticipated by 2020. In most cases, candidates have a bachelor's degree in computer science, software engineering, or a related field as well as strong computer-programming skills.

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Check Out This Home Maintenance Safety Checklist

June 28, 2013 10:28 pm

(Family Features)--Keeping a healthy home for your family means more than daily chores and the occasional deep cleaning. It's important to add routine inspections of often overlooked areas and regular maintenance to your list of tasks.

"Every home can have unhealthy, harmful, or even hazardous areas," says Mike Holmes, renowned contractor on HGTV and healthy home expert. "It's important to check them out, especially during regular maintenance. Addressing these 'hidden hazards' helps create a healthy home and keeps your family safe."

Holmes recommends following his "SAFETY" checklist to ensure your home is safer and healthier for your family.

S - Seek out lead in the home. If your home was built before 1978, it could contain lead. Your family could be exposed to it through the air, drinking water, contaminated soil, deteriorating paint and dust in and around the house. If you disturb any material that contains lead, tiny lead particles could become airborne at home. Talk to a professional to test the entire house, and take the necessary steps to ensure your family's safety.

A - Address indoor air quality and change your air filter. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor air pollution levels can be 2 to 5 times higher than outdoor levels -- sometimes even 100 times higher. Your lungs shouldn't be cleaning the air inside your home. Use an electrostatically charged Filtrete Brand air filter to help capture odors and airborne particles, such as mold spores, dust mite debris, bacteria and viruses. Plus, changing your filter at the start of every season helps protect and maintain your system.

F - Fix leaks to prevent mold and mildew. Mold spores need moisture to grow and thrive in warm, humid conditions. When mold is disturbed, its spores can get into the air you breathe. Inspect your home for excess water and moisture build-up from leaky roofs, faucets, basement drains, dishwashers and washing machines, and fix them immediately. Also, reduce your indoor humidity to 30 to 60 percent, and use vents and exhaust fans whenever possible.

E - Exercise caution around appliances. Before using appliances such as space heaters and toaster ovens, make sure they are working properly. Never drape an electrical cord over a sink, as electricity should never come into contact with water or any other liquids. Also avoid overloading wiring or plugging too many appliances into a single wall socket because it can cause electrical sparks, leading to an electrical fire. Be sure to unplug appliances when they're not being used, and cover sockets with outlet protectors.

T - Test for dangerous gases. One out of every 15 homes in the U.S. has dangerous levels of radon, according to the EPA. You can purchase a short-term home radon test for less than $20. Test the lowest lived-in level of your home, and if you have elevated levels of radon, call a qualified contractor immediately. Make sure they have plenty of experience dealing with radon. Also, test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors every month by pushing the test button on the unit. Remember to change the batteries every season, and replace the entire unit every 7 to 10 years.

Y - Yield healthier results with regular upkeep. Keep up with regular home maintenance to help keep your home healthy and your family safe. Fix small problems now to avoid big repairs later. Remember, big repairs come with big price tags and can lead to unhealthy and unsafe living conditions.

Source: www.Filtrete.com

 

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Word of the Day

June 28, 2013 10:28 pm

Principal.  The amount of money borrowed; the amount of money still owed.

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