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Education for Less: 10 Top Values in Public Colleges

January 22, 2013 4:48 pm

If your high schooler is considering options for higher education, many factors come into play; a college’s geographic location, reputation for excellence in a chosen field, and financial viability among them.

Kiplinger’s, which annually rates colleges nationwide on the basis of educational quality and affordability, has released its top ten picks for 2013:
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill –Credited with stellar academics, reasonable sticker price and generous financial aid. The student-faculty ratio is 14-1, and the cost is about $18,000 for in-state and $39,000 for out-of-state students.
  • University of Virginia – A Kiplinger pick since 2008, UVA has an undergraduate enrollment of less than 16,000. It is said to meet 100 percent of financial need and has a four-year graduation rate of 87 percent.
  • University of Florida – Although a big school with 16 colleges, UF scores high on academics and cost, with an average annual rate of $16,500 for in-staters and $38,800 for out-of-state students.
  • College of William and Mary – Small and highly competitive, the Virginia school is considered by many a ‘public Ivy.’ Annual cost is on the higher side, but the school boasts an 87 percent four-year graduation rate, which could save an extra year’s tuition.
  • University of Maryland, College Park – With an average debt at graduation rate of just over $24,000, the school will join the Big Ten in the 2014-1015 year – a boon to athletes and still highly rated and fairly reasonable in cost.
  • UCLA – Despite tuition increases in California, UCLA remains competitive thanks to generous financial aid. Known for rigorous academics, the school meets 84 percent of need for in- and out-of-state students.
  • New College of Florida – This tiny school boasts solid academics and outstanding affordability, with an average debt at graduation cost of just over $14,000.
  • UC Berkeley – Berkeley admits only 22 percent of applicants, making it the most selective school in these top ten. Out-of-state cost is high, but average debt at graduation is $17,116, the third lowest in these ratings.
  • SUNY Geneseo – With the lowest cost for out-of-state students in the top ten, the New York school rates high in academics and excellent student to faculty ratio.
  • UC San Diego – Delivers on academics and generous financial aid, with the lowest total cost of any California college. Average debt at graduation rate of just under $20,000.

Word of the Day

January 22, 2013 4:48 pm

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

Q: My Budget Won’t Allow for Expensive Add-Ons; Is There Another Way to Find and Make Space?

January 22, 2013 4:48 pm

A: That space may be as close as the next room, particularly if there is unused or under-utilized areas in your home.  A garage, attic, side porch, large closet, or basement can all be converted to fit the use you have in mind.  Or, maybe, a small area can be carved from a larger area like a kitchen or living room to create, say, a powder room.  This concept of “stealing” space from a neighboring room is called space reconfiguration and it is much cheaper than a major remodeling job.

What Can You Do to Avoid the Flu?

January 18, 2013 6:32 pm

If you watch the news or read the paper, then you know the flu has hit big this year. In fact, it has been declared an epidemic, with a particularly dangerous strain that has hospitalized more than 3,700 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

There are a number of steps people can take – at work, at home and at school – to help reduce their chances of getting the flu.

"Chief among them is getting a flu shot," says Kelly Arehart , Ph.D., Global Innovation Manager for The Healthy Workplace Project, Kimberly-Clark Professional. "But even people who get vaccinated can still get sick. There are additional precautions people should take to keep themselves and the people they spend the most time with healthy, such as adopting a simple three-step 'wash, wipe, sanitize' protocol."
Arehart offers the following five flu-prevention tips:

1. Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces
– Viruses on surfaces like sink faucets and door handles can spread rapidly, especially in public places such as offices and schools. Cleaning surfaces with disinfecting wipes can reduce surface contamination on these germ "hot spots." Facilities that provide these and other tools to employees, teachers and students can make a difference. A recent study for The Healthy Workplace Project by Dr. Charles Gerba of the University of Arizona found that implementing the program's "wash, wipe, sanitize" protocol in the workplace reduces the probability of catching the flu or common cold by 80 percent. It can also reduce the number of surfaces contaminated by viruses by 62 percent. Another study of elementary schools found that when students were provided with the tools and knowledge necessary to break the chain of germ transmission in the classroom, contamination levels were significantly reduced throughout the entire school. The Healthy Workplace Project is a Kimberly-Clark Professional program that gets employees actively involved in helping to reduce the spread of cold and flu germs throughout the office. The Healthy Schools Project is a similar program for schools.
2. Wash hands often – especially before eating, after using the restroom and after being outside. Use soap and warm water for 20 seconds. It is also important to dry your hands with a clean, fresh towel. Use instant hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available.
3. Take steps to prevent the spread of germs – Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you sneeze and then throw the tissue away. Try to use an anti-viral tissue, since some cold and flu viruses can live up to 24 hours on regular tissues.
4. Cough or sneeze into your elbow – This will also help prevent the spread of germs since one sneeze can spray up to 3,000 infectious droplets into the air at more than 100 mph. If you don't have a tissue handy, use the inner part of your sleeve at the elbow.
5. If you get sick, stay home – If you do become sick with a flu-like illness, the CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone.


How to Make Your Small Business More Efficient

January 18, 2013 6:32 pm

Everyone loves feeling productive and efficient. Whether it’s saving money or time, it’s never a bad idea to improve. Below are 5 tips to make your small business more efficient, just in time for the new year.

1. Save on Travel Costs – Travel can be expensive, especially on a small business budget. Businesses can save by buying items for their company with business rewards cards, where companies can earn miles on every purchase. GoToMeeting is also a great solution that allows for virtual collaboration for up to 25 participants to screenshare and video conference.
2. Use Online Services Instead of Professionals - To run a smart business, companies can reduce expenses associated with specialized skilled jobs by taking advantage of the right low cost tools and services. Using LegalZoom for straightforward legal services is far cheaper than hiring an attorney. And just about anyone can master dynamic accounting software like QuickBooks for all of their bookkeeping needs. QuickBooks Online allows businesses to access their accounting information anywhere and a free trial is available on
3. Utilize Mobile Services to Accept Transactions – Transactional based companies should look into apps like GoPayment, which turns smartphones and tablets into credit card readers. It also makes bookkeeping a snap for companies that download their GoPayment records into their QuickBooks software, sending all of the company's financial information to one easy-to-access place.
4. Purchase Products that Will Last – When furnishing an office, companies should buy new and high quality equipment and office furniture to avoid having to spend more money in the long run. Cheaper and substandard furniture breaks easily and wears out faster, forcing you to spend more money later to replace it..
5. Use Online Forums - Not only does American Express and QuickBooks partner with to make great deals available for small business owners, they also host forums and resources to answer small business questions. Companies can take advantage of free advice from experts to help their small businesses thrive.


Word of the Day

January 18, 2013 6:32 pm

Eminent domain. The right or power of government to acquire private property for public use without the consent of the owner, provided fair compensation is provided.

Q: Do I Have to Disclose Information about My Home?

January 18, 2013 6:32 pm

A: Disclosure could protect you from a lawsuit. Today, home sellers in most states must now fill out a form disclosing material facts about their homes. Material facts are details about the home’s condition or legal status, as well as the age of various components.

If your state does not require a written disclosure, the real estate laws probably require sellers to disclose any known problems with the home they are selling.

Selling In Winter? Chill Out - It Might Be Easier Than You Think

January 18, 2013 4:32 pm

Just because it's cold outside, or the days are short doesn't mean you need to dial down your hopes of selling home until spring. I recently ran across some inspiring winter home selling ideas from Dana Dratch, a long-time Georgia real estate professional and writer for

Dratch says while it's true that in most areas you'll probably have fewer buyers during the winter, you will have less competition from other sellers. Check out her tips for winter home sellers, which we will begin focusing on in this first of two installments.

According to Dratch, the top tip from REALTORS® is about snow and ice -- if the buyer can't get in easily, the house won't sell. That means keeping walkways and driveways free of the frozen stuff. If you're away frequently or live in an area that's subject to bad weather, it can pay to hire a service to regularly salts or shovels the driveway and sidewalks.

If you're showing during the winter, think "warm, cozy and homey," says Ken Libby, a real estate professional in Stowe, Vt. Before a buyer comes through, adjust the thermostat to a warmer temperature to make it welcoming. And if you have a gas fireplace, turning it on right before the tour can give the house a little ambience, says Libby.

Take advantage of natural light by making the most of the light you do have. Have the curtains and blinds cleaned and open them as wide as possible during daytime showings. Clean all the lamps and built-in fixtures, and replace the bulbs with the highest wattage that they will safely accommodate. Before you show the house, turn on all the lights.

Get the windows washed - they are one thing that many sellers don't even consider. In winter that strong southern light can reveal grime and make it look like the home hasn't been well maintained.

And to create a little atmosphere, tune the radio to the local classical station and turn it down so that you just hear it quietly in the background. In our next segment, we'll continue with Dratch's remaining tips to help you sell your house this winter.

7 Ways You're Sabotaging Your Own Business

January 18, 2013 4:32 pm

It's not that you're doing it intentionally, but if you're a stressed-out small business owner there's a chance that you're sabotaging your own business.

Not all the work you do for your business is necessarily helping you move forward. Putting in all the overtime and taking on all that work may actually be setting you back. That's obviously not the goal.

But it's hard to fix a problem if you don't know what you're doing wrong. To help you out, here are some of the more common forms of self-sabotage that can happen to business owners:

  1. Sending the wrong message. You can't be all things to all people, no matter how great your business model appears. Attempting to do that will just confuse people and may make it hard to grow your customer base. Decide what you want your company to be about and then make sure to follow that.
  2. Not reading the fine print. Businesses involve lots of paperwork, which means a lot of fine print. It may seem like a time saver to use boilerplate contracts for employment and incorporation, but in most cases those won't address your specific needs. Take time the read the fine print and better yet, have a professional go over it with you.
  3. Overpromising. High expectations can be a good thing, but if you fail to perform it will significantly hurt your reputation. Don't set yourself up for failure by promising something you can't deliver. Instead, plan for some extra time in case something comes up to prevent timely action. It never hurts to overdeliver.
  4. Failing to delegate. It doesn't matter how organized you are or how much time you have to devote to the business, at some point you have to share the work. That doesn't mean overall quality has to suffer. Get someone else to do the task and then check their work to make sure it's up to your standards.
  5. Not having a support team. You expect your clients to trust you as an expert, but that also means you should trust experts when you need them. Dealing with accounts and filling out legal paperwork can get pretty complicated, so work with professionals like an accountant and a business attorney to protect your interests.
  6. Growing too fast. It's great to feel like your business is growing, but if it grows too fast you may have to skimp on quality to make up for it in quantity. When deciding to expand your hours, offer new products, or order more merchandise, first take the time to think about whether growing so fast will set you back financially.
  7. Failing to take care of yourself. As a small business owner, you are the heart and soul of the company. If you're not staying healthy, getting rest, and taking a break once in a while, your company won't be doing so well either. Take some time to yourself so you can get things done in the office.


New Increase in FICA Tax Hitting Americans' Paychecks

January 18, 2013 4:32 pm

As wage earners in the United States begin to receive their first paychecks in 2013, they'll likely notice their net pay has gone down. That's because a two-year payroll tax holiday expired on December 31, 2012, and was not renewed as part of the fiscal cliff deal, explains Barry Habib, chief market strategist at Residential Finance Corp (RFC), a nationwide mortgage lender. How can the average American offset the loss in take-home pay? Refinancing a home mortgage is one strategy definitely worth thinking about, Habib says.
Every worker will see a two percent FICA tax increase now that the rate has reverted from 4.2 percent to 6.2 percent. The increase in the FICA tax, which is deducted from workers' paychecks, will cause take-home pay to decrease by $600 per year for workers with an annual income of $30,000. Workers with an annual income of $50,000 will bring home $1,000 less per year, while workers with an annual income of $100,000 will bring home $2,000 less per year.

"While two percent may sound like a modest increase, the toll it takes on discretionary spending is much greater," Habib adds. Consider a couple in which each partner earns $45,000 per year, earning $90,000 combined. They will likely pay $26,000 in taxes, and their living expenses may be in the range of $46,000 a year, he explains. "That leaves a couple earning $90,000 in combined income with $18,000 in discretionary spending. A two percent tax hike resulting in $1800 less per year will feel more like a 10 percent reduction, as they're losing 10 percent of their discretionary income," Habib says.

One practical solution to offset the decrease in income is to refinance a home mortgage, Habib notes. With rates at historical lows, many Americans could benefit by refinancing to a lower interest rate, he says. "Of course, not everyone is qualified to refinance, or is in a position where it makes sense. However, for many homeowners, refinancing their mortgage could more than offset the loss homeowners will feel from the increase in the FICA tax," Habib says.

Habib offers the following tips to consumers considering a refinance:

  • Know the Current Value of Your Home
    A drop in your home's value may prevent you from being able to refinance if the equity in the property isn't enough to meet lenders' criteria. "Do some research and speak to a couple of real estate agents on what similar homes in your neighborhood have been selling for to get an accurate valuation. Doing so allows you to make a well-informed decision about whether refinancing is feasible and makes sense, before you spend money on an appraisal or pay any of the other additional fees associated with refinancing," according to Habib.
  • An Assumable FHA Mortgage Will Make Your Property More Valuable and Easier to Sell
    Homeowners may want to consider refinancing to an assumable Federal Housing Authority (FHA) mortgage, Habib says. With an assumable mortgage, the home buyer has the ability to take over the existing mortgage of the seller. An assumable mortgage typically raises the value of your home, and will certainly make it more sellable should you decide to sell, he notes. "Selling a home with an assumable mortgage gives you an edge on your competition," Habib says.
  • Instead of Giving the Bank Money in Points, Pay Yourself
    Think twice about paying points on a refinance, Habib advises. "It's tempting to see how low a rate you can get by paying more points, but you need to consider the cost of the money you're spending today," he says. Instead, Habib suggests homeowners think about using the money to reduce the principal on their mortgage. For example, on a $200,000 mortgage, rather than paying three points or $6000, the homeowner could pay their mortgage down to $194,000. "While your rate will be higher, your payment is based on a smaller principal amount, so you'll spend less on your mortgage in the long run," Habib says.
  • Refinance to a 15- or 20-Year Loan
    Strongly consider refinancing to a 15- or 20-year mortgage. "With today's low interest rates, you may find that your mortgage payments are pretty darn close to what you're paying now," Habib says. "With a shorter loan term, so much more of your payment is going toward principal, that even after a couple of months, you're realizing a benefit. "Homeowners who are able to refinance to a mortgage with a shorter term build a much greater amount of equity in their homes as time goes on, he adds.


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