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Thomas Skiffington, CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
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Perkasie, PA 18944
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Tom's Blog

7 Credit Myths that Can Hurt You

November 9, 2012 2:52 pm

These days, it seems easy for credit scores to be damaged and difficult to improve your scores even when you’ve done nothing wrong.  Because scores can be so important to your buying power and even job fitness, and because every little factor counts in determining your scores, Forbes Magazine finance writer Erik Carter offers seven credit myths that could be hurting your scores and costing you money:

I’ve done nothing wrong–Some 70 percent of credit reports contain errors. So even if you think you’ve done everything right, you could be paying higher interest rates because a reporting error has not been corrected.

Checking my scores will hurt me – Checking your own scores once each year will not impact your credit rating.

Okay, I’ve checked – Remember, there are three credit reporting companies; Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. You need to check all three to be sure there are no errors.

The source doesn’t matter – Yes, it does. Some inquiry sites only give you access to one report. Others, like freecreditreport.com, ironically are not free. They charge a fee to see your  report and then charge you a monthly fee unless you cancel. Go to annualcreditreport.com, which allows free access to each of your credit reports once every 12 months.

I’ve paid it off, so I’ll close it – Closing an account when you’ve paid it off can actually hurt your credit score. If it’s a card you’ve had for a while, closing it can reduce your credit history, which is about 15 percent of your score. Also, if you have any debt, closing a card can increase your debt utilization or the ratio of debt to credit available. Instead, you can always cut up the card and not use it.

Bankruptcy is the end of the world – It’s painful and can take seven to 10 years to be removed from your credit report, but many credit scores are practically recovered in far less time. If you can’t pay your debts, think of bankruptcy as a second chance that’s better than allowing the debt to continue hurting your score.

Maintaining a balance will increase my credit score – Opening and using a credit card can increase your score, especially if you’re starting to build or rebuild your credit. But keeping a balance will only increase your interest payments. Remember that having a lot of debt can hurt your score.


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Investing In Long-Term Energy Savings

November 8, 2012 4:48 pm

In this segment, we’re going to talk about long-term energy savings and consider a few effective but higher cost efficiency initiatives. While these investments are somewhat larger than that of simply caulking a window, the potential savings are larger as well.

These investments include:

-Making sure you have good insulation in exterior walls, ceilings with cold spaces above, and floors with cold spaces below.
-Installing and closing storm windows.
-Consider new windows designed to decrease radiant heat loss without lowering visibility.
-Considering having a solar water heating component installed. This small, easily installed system is virtually maintenance free and warms the water your family uses on a daily basis, using free heat from the sun.

The Energy Communications Council (ECC) also suggests you talk with your local heating oil dealer about Bioheat, a cleaner burning, renewable product that can be blended seamlessly with the heating oil you already use. It lowers emissions and cuts down on the amount of traditional heating oil used.

According to Cape & Islands Self Reliance (reliance.org), a Massachusetts nonprofit promoting environmentally sustainable energy programs, Bioheat is petroleum based heating oil that is blended with some percentage of biodiesel (typically 2-20 percent). Biodiesel is a diesel fuel and heating oil alternative that is made from vegetable oil instead of petroleum oil.

Bioheat works in any regular heating fuel application, such as home heating oil equipment, commercial boilers and diesel generators, without any modifications. To maximize the benefits of using bioheat, our product is made from 20 percent biodiesel (80 percent regular heating oil).

And in states where ultra-low sulfur heating oil is sold, biofuels can be blended, creating a fuel suitable for burning in the world’s most efficient heating equipment.
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6 Additional Tips for Making Sure You Are Better Off Four Years from Now

November 8, 2012 4:48 pm

Are you better off now than you were four years ago?

Though the recession and the hardships that followed mean many Americans can’t answer that question with a simple “yes” or “no,” personal finance guru Eric Tyson suggests it might be more to your benefit to ask yourself a slightly different question: What can you do now to ensure you are better off in four years, no matter who gets elected?

“Does it matter who gets elected president?” asks Tyson, author of “Personal Finance For Dummies®, 7th Edition.” “Absolutely. But regardless of who is elected and no matter what your current economic situation may be, what’s most important for you and your family is knowing how to make sound financial decisions for now and the future.”

To improve your financial outlook during the next four years, read on for a few of Tyson’s tried and true personal finance tips, continued from the previous nine tips published last week.

Avoid brand names.
Be suspicious of companies that spend gobs on image-oriented advertising. Branding is often used to charge premium prices. Meanwhile, blind taste tests have demonstrated that consumers can’t readily discern quality differences between high- and low-cost brands with many products.

“Question the importance of the name and image of the products,” says Tyson. “Companies spend a lot of money creating and cultivating an image, which has no impact on how their products taste or perform. This is especially important to keep in mind when you’re grocery shopping. Most of the time the ingredients are the same in store-brand products as in the brand-name products (and may even be made by the same company). You don’t need to shell out money to pay for the name.”

Look for ways to save around the house.
Look for ways to save on energy costs. Adding insulation and weather-stripping, installing water-saving devices, and reducing use of electrical appliances can pay for themselves in short order. Many utility companies will even do a free energy review or audit of your home and suggest money-saving ideas. If it’s time to replace an appliance, investigate energy efficiency before you buy appliances or even a new home.

“Get the whole family in on the effort to make your home more energy efficient,” suggests Tyson. “Have a contest to see who can remember to turn off the lights or other electronics most often or who can reduce how much water they use daily.”

Keep an eye on car costs. By doing basic maintenance such as oil changes, you can add years to the life of your car and get better gas mileage. What’s more, if you’re accustomed to buying a new car every few years, it’s time to change that mindset.

Don’t go on vacations you can’t afford.
Going to the beach for a week or to Disney World is not an entitlement. These kinds of vacations are very expensive. If you can’t afford them, you can’t afford them. The truth is, says Tyson, there are plenty of activities you can do near home that are just as fun as going away somewhere—at a fraction of the cost.

You can take a week off and explore your own city: There may be zoos, museums, gemstone mines, historic sites, and so forth that you haven’t visited in years (or ever). You can go hiking or camping in a local wilderness spot. Or visit relatives you rarely see who have an unfamiliar lifestyle—if you’re a “city mouse” family, spend a few days on the farm with Great Aunt Bertha.

Get creative about family activities. When you focus on spending lots of quality time with friends and family, you won’t feel the need to fill the void in your life with costly distractions.

“Instead of thinking about life in terms of what things cost, start thinking about it in terms of time,” says Tyson. “Often, all those unnecessary things we buy for ourselves and our kids are simply distractions from the people we love. They send the message that it’s necessary to spend a lot of money in order to have a good time. It’s not, of course. The best things in life—friends, family, quiet evenings at home just being together—really are free. Sometimes it’s good to be reminded of that.”

Raise frugal kids. Make no mistake, kids are expensive. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates it will cost nearly a quarter of a million dollars to raise a child born in 2010 (and that’s not counting college). But whatever you do, don’t add to that price tag by spoiling kids, says Tyson.

“They don’t need the latest technology, expensive summer camps, pricey clothing, lavish parties, and so forth,” he insists. “When you keep these things to a minimum, not only will you save money but you’ll raise non-materialistic kids with good values and well-developed financial management skills of their own.”

“When it comes to your finances, steady wins the race, no matter who is president,” says Tyson. “Ultimately, you determine your financial situation based on the decisions you make for yourself. Always keep that in mind as you plan your weekly, monthly, and yearly budgets.”

Source: www.erictyson.com.
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Easy Tips to Improve the Life of Your Pet

November 8, 2012 4:48 pm

Pets bring companionship, affection and fun to the families who love them, which is why many pet owners strive to give their four-legged friends the best lives possible to help ensure they are happy and healthy. There are many ways to create a better way for your pet, including supporting local programs that enhance the lives of pets, ensuring you're feeding your cat or dog the proper nutrition, and having fun together.

Get Involved
Help make life better for all pets -- and the people who love them -- by taking action in your local community. Here are some ways you can help out:

Volunteer with your pet. Consider becoming a pet therapy or visiting animal volunteer. Rehabilitation hospitals, nursing homes, schools and day cares often bring in animals to interact with others -- benefitting both humans and the animals involved. Check with local organizations, or learn more from Pet Partners at www.deltasociety.org.

Hold a fundraiser. Nonprofit animal welfare organizations are almost always in need of help. Contact a local shelter or rescue in your community to inquire about what supplies they need most. Organize an event to help raise money by charging admission at a fun get-together for local dog owners, or by auctioning off items from shops in your community.

Share your ideas. Get involved with the Canyon Creek Ranch Better Way Project, a national program that is looking to help create a better way for pets and people who love them. You can share your idea(s) for helping pets in your community -- such as renovating animal shelters, supporting a local pet non-profit, or improving area parks -- and Canyon Creek Ranch will use the ideas as inspiration for projects they will bring to life through funding, volunteers and other support. Learn more about the Canyon Creek Ranch Better Way Project and submit your ideas at www.CanyonCreekRanch.com/BetterWayProject.

Focus on Nutrition
Make sure you are feeding your dog or cat pet food that meets their nutritional needs. Check labels to ensure they are getting the proper nutrients for their life stage and the right amount of food. High-quality ingredients can provide nutritional benefits in pets of all ages.

Have Some Fun
Just like people, pets need physical and mental exercise. Here are some easy ways to help enrich your pet's life by having fun:

Make a kitty obstacle course, either indoors or outside. Use boxes and sturdy containers to make a multi-level course for your cat. Rub the scent of some treats along the course and then hide the treat for your cat to find. It lets them use their powerful sense of smell, engages their minds and gives them a little exercise, too.

Try new outdoor activities. For dogs, set up an agility course, take them swimming (or let them splash in a backyard kiddie pool), or play treasure hunt by hiding a treat and having them find it.

Social time. Letting dogs play off their leash in a fenced area with other dogs gives them physical exercise and lets them use their canine social skills. Cats also need companionship, including at least fifteen minutes of playtime a day and lots of snuggling.
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Word of the Day

November 8, 2012 4:48 pm

Assumption of mortgage. Taking title to property that has an existing mortgage, and being personally liable for its payment as a condition of the sale.
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Q: Should I buy a vacation home?

November 8, 2012 4:48 pm

A: The second home market has more ebbs and flows than the primary home market. Sales are iffy in a bad economy except, perhaps, on the high-end. That said, there is a growing trend toward the purchase of vacation homes. They are being bought for investment purposes, enjoyment, as well as retirement. In the latter instance, some people are buying with the idea of turning a vacation home into a permanent retirement haven down the road, a move that puts them ahead of the game now.

Some of the tax benefits mirror those for a primary residence. Mortgage interest and property taxes are deductible, which helps to offset the cost of the home payment. And if you treat your second home as a rental property, you can fully depreciate it as well. But you are only allowed to occupy it for two weeks a year, or 10 percent of the total rented time, whichever is less.

Before taking the leap, ask yourself if you can afford to carry two mortgages, maintain two households, and pay the extra utilities and maintenance costs. Also, learn about financing requirements and options, which can differ slightly from those on a primary residence.
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5 Tips to Rodent-Proof Your Home

November 7, 2012 4:44 pm

While many equate the summer with being the buggy season, fall is when most insect and rodent pests seek shelter for the winter months.

As the cool temperatures start to settle in for the next few months, homeowners should begin to pest-proof their homes, garages and sheds now.

"With temperatures recently dropping into the 40s, rodents and other pests tend to move inside structures this time of year to find a warm place to overwinter and breed," says Jim Warneke, Orkin's Southeast division technical services director. "Plus, several of our coastal communities got hit with heavy rain and wind from Hurricane Sandy, and severe weather can cause rodents to become displaced and look for dry places."

A pregnant female mouse can produce an average of eight pups in a litter, and a rat, seven pups on average, and there are typically four to five litters per year. Their gestation period is about a month, so before you know it, one mouse can turn into a major problem for homeowners.

Mice can fit through an opening the size of a dime, so it is important to fix any cracks in and under siding, doors and windows. In addition to warmth, rodents enter homes looking for food and water. They prefer cereals and grains, but will eat just about anything.

As you prepare your home for winter, Orkin recommends the five following tips:

  • Make sure all holes, gaps and cracks larger than 1/4 of an inch are sealed.
  • Replace door sweeps and make sure doors and windows close tightly.
  • Clean out gutters and install gutter guards to prevent leaves and debris from accumulating.
  • Store firewood as far from the home as possible.
  • Trim branches, plants and bushes that hang over the home.
Source: www.orkin.com.
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For Your Teens: Driving Safe and Sound

November 7, 2012 4:44 pm

As we gear up for the busy holiday driving season, now is a great time for parents to focus their teens on simple auto repair and maintenance tips that can support safe driving.

According to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), teen drivers are actually making better decisions when it comes to motor vehicle safety, with more buckling up and fewer risking riding with a friend who has been drinking. But, according to an AutoMD.com survey, when it comes to actual auto repair and maintenance, teens are a bit clueless, with two-thirds of parents rating their teen's basic knowledge of car maintenance as "somewhat or completely clueless," or "average."

Below are some simple DIY tips, plucked from AutoMD.com’s Teen Driver Car Maintenance and Repair Guide, to help teens – and their parents – make good auto repair decisions to keep their cars running safely and soundly through the holidays and into winter.

"Now is the perfect time to remind teens and their parents that driving and owning a vehicle is a big responsibility, and vehicle maintenance is a critical part of that responsibility," says Brian Hafer, VP of Marketing for AutoMD.com. "Our teen driver guide is designed to provide teens with basic information to start them on the road to a lifetime of responsible vehicle ownership."

Top Tips for Teens (and Parents!) to Keep Their Cars Running Well, and Staying Safe on the Road

1. Know your car's maintenance intervals and keep up with service
Each vehicle has a maintenance schedule, outlined in your owner's manual. Be sure you read and understand the schedule. Items that require regular maintenance include the car's fluids, tires, brakes, and oil and filter changes, too. Oil and air filter changes are particularly important to keep the engine running efficiently and make great beginning DIY auto repair projects. Get an experienced adult to help the first few times.

Did You Know? These days experts say that you only need to change your oil every 5,000 miles. A good rule of thumb is this – if a vehicle is older than a 2002 model year, it should probably get an oil change every 3,000 miles. If it's newer than a 2002 model, it's fine to change the oil every 5,000 miles.

2. Take care of your tires – make sure they can get you to school, work, etc.
Tire maintenance is particularly important for safe and fuel-efficient driving, so take good care of them! Keep your tires properly inflated, and watch for tire wear. Driving on underinflated tires can shorten the life of your tires, increase tire wear and lead to significant tire damage from heat, potholes and other road hazards. Plus, keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure can improve gas mileage by up to 3.3 percent. Consult your owner's manual or tire sticker on the door jamb for manufacturer-recommended tire pressure settings. And, look at your tires for wear and tear every time you stop for gas.

Did You Know? You can check for tire wear and tear by using a penny. Hold a penny at the base between your thumb and forefinger so that you can see the top of President Lincoln's head and the words "In God We Trust." Place the top of Lincoln's head into one of the grooves in your tire tread. If any part of Lincoln's head is covered, you have a legal and safe amount of tire tread left and your tires probably don't need to be replaced. However, if there is any space above Lincoln's head, or if you can see any part of the words "In God We Trust," it's time for new tires.

3. Don't ignore dashboard warning lights

Dashboard warning lights serve as notification that something may be wrong with your car, and include the Check Engine Light, Oil Light, Temperature Light, Brake Light, and more. When warning lights come on, pay attention to them! Read the owner's manual so you know what each of the warning lights mean and how you should respond.

Did You Know? If your Check Engine light is blinking while you're driving, you should pull over immediately. The Check Engine light can signal any number of system failures, from a fuel vapor leak caused by a loose gas cap to poor acceleration caused by a faulty MAF (Mass Air Flow) sensor. If the light comes on and stays on without flashing - yet the car seems to be running smoothly - chances are your car can be examined by a mechanic after you get home, or when you can get to one. On the other hand, if the Check Engine light is blinking while you're driving, pull over or get to a mechanic right away. A blinking check engine light usually indicates a severe misfire that could damage your car's engine.

4. Don't let your car run too low, or out of gas

You know it's important to fuel your body with food for optimal performance at school and play, and it is equally important to fuel your car appropriately, which means not letting your car run too low on gas. Most of today's vehicles have fuel-injected engines that rely on in-tank electric pumps that use gas to cool and lubricate its components. Driving your fuel injected engine frequently on fumes could cause hundreds of dollars in repairs, and leave you stranded on the side of the road, which is always a dangerous place to be. A good rule of thumb – keep the fuel level above a quarter tank to keep your car running well, and to avoid running out of gas.

Did You Know?
You don't need to use the highest grade of gasoline for your car's engine to perform its best. The variation in quality between different grades of gasoline today is very small, so don't waste your money by filling up with premium gasoline unless your car "requires" it (if this exact wording is stated in your owner's manual).

5. Steer clear – take care of your windshield

The windshield is like the eye of your car. Therefore, it is critical to keep it clean and clear for safe driving. That also means paying attention to the windshield wipers. You don't want to discover that your windshield wiper blades don't work when you need them most. Wiper blades that have cracks, skip, streak or leave spots or smears should be replaced. You should also check spray nozzles for proper aim. If the nozzles are clogged, clean them with a needle. Use windshield washer fluid in the tank to prevent corrosion and remove stubborn dirt, grime and insects from your windshield. Whether it rains or not, you should try to use your spray nozzles and wiper blades every few weeks to keep them functioning properly.

Did You Know? Carrying a squeegee with a scrubber in your car or trunk is a good idea. It can help remove splattered bugs, and maximize visibility.

6. Teen life moves fast, but your car doesn't have to. Slow down – avoid speeding

Perhaps one of the best ways to keep your car well maintained, and keep you safe on the road, is to avoid speeding. It may seem fun to drive fast, or you might simply be in a hurry (late for school, maybe?), but speeding is incredibly dangerous, and bad for your car. In fact, driving slower puts less demand on your car's engine and transmission, and also helps to reduce the amount of gas you use in the process. Avoid all driving habits that put stress and strain on your vehicle, such as fast driving, hitting curbs, and off-roading. It is also a good idea to slow down and increase your following distance when driving in harsh weather, as vehicles can lose traction in rain, snow and ice.

Did You Know? Speeding is so dangerous because it reduces your reaction time to avoid a potential collision. According to one website, among serious crashes involving teen driver error, 1 in 5 crashes occurred due to speeding. Remember that speeding is reckless driving.

Sourrce: www.automd.com
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How-To: Prep for the Doctor

November 7, 2012 4:44 pm

You probably prep for a job interview or test. But do you prep before heading to the doctor’s? Probably not.

However, preparing for a doctor's appointment will help you make better decisions about your health, especially if your diagnosis requires medicines or surgery. The following tips will help you get ready for your next appointment and enable you to take a more active role in improving your health.

Write down your symptoms/questions: Be honest and accurate when describing your symptoms, especially if your symptoms vary in frequency and intensity. Write them down in detail on a piece of paper and take it with you to your next appointment. You can also write down any questions you want to ask the doctor. Writing everything down will help you avoid forgetting things.

Ask questions about your tests: Your doctor might ask you to take one or more tests before making a diagnosis. Ask about the purpose of the test to understand how the results might impact your health. Also, remember to ask about the cost of the tests, whether they are covered by your insurance, and who will explain the results and when.

Understand your diagnosis: The doctor will be ready to make a diagnosis once she fully understands your symptoms and has the results from your tests. She might prescribe medications or other types of treatments. It's important that you fully understand your diagnosis and treatment, and your doctor's recommendations, so ask questions. If more questions come up while you're at home, write them down and call your doctor or ask about them during your next doctor's appointment. This will help you make better decisions about your health.

Get a second opinion: In some cases, you may want to get a second opinion after receiving a diagnosis or certain treatment options. In fact, most doctors like the idea of second opinions, just let them know you intend to get one. Second opinions can give you peace of mind. However, you may want to check your insurance policy to see if it's covered.

Use an interpreter: Having good communication with your doctor will help avoid misunderstandings that could result in a wrong diagnosis. If English is not your first language and you're more comfortable speaking in your native language, consider using an interpreter. Call your doctor to see if interpretation services are available. If not, go with someone who can help you with the language barrier. Be mindful when using children as interpreters as you might need to discuss things that are not appropriate for them.

Source: www.USA.gov and www.GobiernoUSA.gov .
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Word of the Day

November 7, 2012 4:44 pm

Assessment. Tax or charge levied on property by a taxing authority to pay for local improvements such as sidewalks, streets, and sewers.
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