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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

Financial Tips for 2012 Graduates

May 24, 2012 7:02 pm

As students graduate from colleges and universities across the country and begin to plant the seeds for their financial future, it’s important they start off on the right financial foot. 

“Graduation is an exciting time for students who are often anxious to gain financial independence,” says Terry Jorde, Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) senior executive vice president and chief of staff. “It’s important to remember that the financial decisions you make now will affect your future for years to come, so take a moment to outline your short- and long-term financial goals and come up with a monthly budget that will work for you. Believe me, this is one simple exercise that will be well worth any recent grad’s time. You’ll thank yourself a few months and a few years down the line.” 

Jorde suggested that students who don’t already have their own individual bank accounts (not cosigned by mom and dad) open one immediately. “Look to a community banker who can work with you one-on-one to make a financial plan that suits your individual needs,” says Jorde. 

Other tips from ICBA include:
• If you don’t have strong financial literacy skills, take some time to educate yourself on money matters, such as credit and ways to save for retirement. There is an abundance of resources available from programs such as FDIC Money Smart.
• Understand credit, how to build it and what hurts it.
Set up online banking to help you manage your finances from anywhere.
• Start saving for retirement now even if it does seem like a long way away. Many employers offer investment matching plans to help you get started.
• Set up an automatic savings account that pulls from your account every month as soon as you get your paycheck. Some employers also allow you to defer savings to another account. If you don’t see it, chances are you won’t miss it so much. Having a safety net in your savings account will help you stress less.
• Stay on top of any student loans, don’t miss deadlines and consolidate if appropriate. Some companies will help you pay off your student debt; make sure to ask about this when negotiating your new job.
• Review your banking, credit card and loan statements regularly so you can be aware of any errors.
• If you move, notify your bank, card and loan issuers immediately.
• If closing a bank account, confirm that the account and appropriate lines of credit have been closed by verifying with the bank.
• Take advantage of working with financial planners at your bank who can help you create your financial roadmap and a smart monthly budget for this stage in your life. 

“This stage of a grad’s life is all about empowerment—and financial matters are no different,” says Jorde. “We congratulate this year’s college grads and wish them a prosperous financial future.” 

To learn more about ICBA, visit www.icba.org.
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Word of the Day

May 24, 2012 7:02 pm

Grace period. Specified period of time to meet a commitment after it becomes due, without penalty or default. For example, most lenders allow a two-week grace period after the due date of the mortgage payment before a late fee is imposed.
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Q: When Is the Best Time to Refinance?

May 24, 2012 7:02 pm

A: Many people flock to refinance while mortgage interest rates are low, particularly when rates are about two percentage points below their existing home loans. 

Other factors, like when to finance, will depend on how long you plan to hold on to your home and whether you have to pay considerable fees to refinance. It also will depend on how far along you are in paying off your current mortgage. 

If you expect to sell your home relatively soon, you are not likely to recoup the costs you incurred to refinance. And if you are more than halfway through paying your current mortgage, you probably will gain little by refinancing. However, if you are going to own your home for at least another five years, that is probably long enough to recoup any refinancing costs and realize real savings as a result of lowering your monthly payment. 

In fact, if it costs you nothing to refinance, you can gain even more. Many lenders will let you roll the costs of the refinancing into the new note and still reduce the amount of the monthly payment. Plus, there are no-cost refinancing deals available. 

Contact your lender, and its competitors, before you refinance.
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Bathroom Remodeling for Style and Space

May 23, 2012 6:58 pm

(ARA) - Now, more than ever, homeowners are adding to the value and comfort of their homes by renovating bathrooms into private retreats with luxurious touches that rival those of an upscale spa or resort.

Ron and Susan Bishop of Adams Township, Pa., recently completed an extensive remodel of the master bathroom in their 20-year-old home. The remake covered nearly every square inch of the space, including the installation of new cabinets, tile, floor coverings and lighting. The couple says one of the biggest highlights is the custom shower enclosure, which uses a fused-on coating to keep its showroom appearance over time.

When considering an update for your bathroom, whether you choose to do an extensive remodel or a smaller project, most kitchen and bath designers agree on these tips:

Consider the size of the bathroom. If you have a small room, look for ways to make it feel more expansive. A sleek, stylish glass shower enclosure helps your bathroom appear more spacious, and in most instances, a frameless shower enclosure will provide the cleanest, most open look. If you decide to go with a framed shower enclosure, you'll have two choices: frameless sliding doors or framed doors. For framed doors, be sure the finish of the metal framing and handles matches your bathroom fixtures.

Think outside the box. Taking a creative approach to bathroom necessities can help you make the most of your space. For instance, the majority of shower enclosures are square or rectangular, but today's designers encourage you to think about other shapes. Don't be afraid to consider a circular or oval-shaped enclosure, a triangle or even a standard shape with an artfully bowed glass door, which can redefine the space and make your bathroom more versatile.

Brighten things up. Repainting your bathroom with light colors can make it feel more spacious. If your bathroom has windows or skylights, use window treatments and accents that maximize the amount of light that comes through to give the room a more airy feel.

Find the best use for your space. Move bathroom cleaning items to a hall closet if you are stretched for storage space in your bathroom, especially if you have freestanding storage units that are taking up valuable floor space. If you need more storage space, consider adding built-in compartments if possible between your wall studs to maximize useable space.

It's been shown time and time again that remodeling a bathroom can add to a home's value. Whether you want to sell or just enjoy your home more, it's one of the most practical and dramatic ways to make your home more appealing. 

Source: www.ppgclarvista.com.
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Green Cleaning: Great Results without Breaking the Bank

May 23, 2012 6:58 pm

(ARA) - While most people want to help the environment in theory, when it comes down to buying green cleaning products for their office or small business, many put concerns about effectiveness and cost above whether a product is "green."

Close to 60 percent of office workers polled by Staples last year for Earth Day said that while they thought their company was green, they could always do more, with only 30 percent saying they buy sustainable paper and cleaning products for their break room. This spring cleaning season, Staples examines the cost and effectiveness of green cleaners to see if the facts match the public's perception.

Examining the effectiveness of green cleaners
Many green cleaners available today feature labels from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Design for the Environment (DfE) program and/or Green Seal. The U.S. EPA Design for the Environment (DfE) program uses the DfE label on chemical-based household and commercial products that meet the program's stringent human and environmental health criteria. Green Seal certification ensures that a product meets rigorous, science-based leadership standards. This gives manufacturers the assurance to back up their claims and purchasers confidence that certified products are better for human health and the environment.

What many people don't know is that for any cleaning product to earn either the DfE or Green Seal eco-labels, the product must undergo performance testing to verify that it meets or exceeds the performance of conventional cleaning products in the same category. When designed the right way and used for the right application, green cleaners work as well or better than conventional cleaning products.

Previously, it had been difficult to find a disinfecting green cleaner. Consumers and businesses that needed a disinfectant for specific applications couldn't find a greener option and had to resort to traditional cleaners. However, new cleaners are being introduced (like Seventh Generation's Multisurface Disinfecting Spray) that combine both cleaning and disinfecting agents made from natural plant-based sources and free of the harsh chemicals found in traditional disinfectants. Shifting to a green cleaning regimen can help improve indoor air quality for building occupants and janitorial staff and reduce the need for protective gear and additional safety concerns. But do green cleaners cost more?

Green cleaners - can they be less expensive than the alternative?
While some environmentally responsible cleaning products can cost more, not all do. For instance, based on a price comparison of products on Staples.com, the average ready-to-use all purpose cleaner costs 15 cents per ounce, while the green equivalents from Clorox (Clorox Greenworks All Purpose Spray) and Staples Sustainable Earth Brand (Sustainable Earth All Purpose spray) average 14 cents per ounce. The cost of the average glass cleaner is 10 cents per ounce, the same cost per ounce for Sustainable Earth's alternative.

Other factors to weigh when comparing price include the concentration of the cleaner. Sustainable Earth makes a Neutral Cleaner concentrate that will yield up to 257 gallons of cleaner when mixed with tap water for only $29.99, less than 12 cents a gallon. Compare that to the average price per gallon ($15.48) for a regular gallon of pre-mixed all-purpose cleaner on Staples.com and, as long as you're willing to buy in bulk and mix the cleaner yourself, it's really no comparison.

What about when it comes to paper products used to clean offices, like hard wound/roll paper towels? The average hardwound paper towel costs 1.2 cents per foot, while the costs of green alternatives from Envision Recycled, Scott, Kleenex and Sustainable Earth actually average 1.1 cents per foot. But it's not just the price of green and non-green paper towels that can affect the overall cost and impact on the environment. Consider too, the way paper towels are distributed. According to CleanLink.com, the most cost-effective towels are hard wound/roll towels, as they "feature controlled portion dispensing, which reduces consumption because folded systems allow users to take more towels than are required."

While there are many factors to consider when purchasing cleaning supplies, including price, labor costs, distribution method and employee safety, in most cases green cleaning supplies match the traditional offerings in value and performance.

Source: Staples.com
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Risky Drinking Can Put a Chill on Your Summer Fun

May 23, 2012 6:58 pm

Summer is a wonderful time for outdoor activities with family and friends. For many people, a day at the beach, on the boat, or at a backyard barbecue will include drinking alcoholic beverages. But excessive drinking and summer activities don't mix. Drinking impairs both physical and mental abilities, and it also decreases inhibitions—which can lead to tragic consequences on the water, on the road, and in the great outdoors. In fact, research shows that half of all water recreation deaths of teens and adults involve the use of alcohol.

Swimmers can get in over their heads
Alcohol impairs judgment and increases risk-taking, a dangerous combination for swimmers. Even experienced swimmers may venture out farther than they should and not be able to make it back to shore, or they may not notice how chilled they're getting and develop hypothermia. Surfers could become over-confident and try to ride a wave beyond their abilities. Even around a pool, too much alcohol can have deadly consequences. Inebriated divers may collide with the diving board, or dive where the water is too shallow.

Boaters can lose their bearings
According to research funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol may be involved in 60 percent of boating fatalities, including falling overboard. And a boat operator with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) over 0.1 percent is 16 times more likely to be killed in a boating accident than an operator with zero BAC. According to the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, alcohol can impair a boater's judgment, balance, vision, and reaction time. It can also increase fatigue and susceptibility to the effects of cold-water immersion. And if problems arise, intoxicated boaters are ill equipped to find solutions. For passengers, intoxication can lead to slips on deck, falls overboard, or accidents at the dock.

Drivers can go off course
The summer holidays are some of the most dangerous times of the year to be on the road. When on vacation, drivers may be traveling an unfamiliar route or hauling a boat or camper, with the distraction of pets and children in the car. Adding alcohol to the mix puts the lives of the driver and everyone in the car, as well as other people on the road, at risk.

Stay hydrated and stay healthy
Whether you're on the road or in the great outdoors, heat plus alcohol can equal trouble. Hot summer days cause fluid loss through perspiration, while alcohol causes fluid loss through increased urination. Together, they can quickly lead to dehydration or heat stroke.

But this doesn't have to happen. At parties, make at least every other drink a nonalcoholic one. If you're the host, be sure to provide plenty of cold, refreshing nonalcoholic drinks to keep your guests well hydrated. If you know you'll be driving, stay away from alcohol. And remember, there's no shame in taking a cab or sleeping on a friend's couch if you feel at all unsure if you should be driving.

Summer will end, but consequences can endure
You can have fun in the sun and still be safe. Avoiding beverages that cause mental and physical impairment while piloting a boat, driving a car, exploring the wilderness, and swimming or surfing is a good place to start. Be smart this summer—think before you drink, and make sure that you and your loved ones will be around to enjoy many summers to come.

Myths and Facts

MYTH:
If you drink just beer or wine, you'll be fine.
FACT: It doesn't matter what type of alcohol you chose to consume—a drink is a drink. Your blood alcohol content (also known as BAC, the percentage of alcohol in your blood) is what determines how drunk you are.

MYTH: Drink coffee. Caffeine will sober you up.
FACT: Caffeine may help with drowsiness, but not with the effects of alcohol on decision-making or coordination. The body needs time to metabolize (break down) alcohol and then to return to normal. There are no quick ways to sober up—only time will help.

Source: http://www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov.
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4 Basic Tips for Safer Senior Web Surfing

May 23, 2012 6:58 pm

While the number of seniors active online continues to grow, there are still many expressing reluctance to use the web due to fear of the potential dangers associated with online activity. Rather than see seniors forego the benefits that can be derived from the web, especially from social networking, the following tips can help family caregivers teach online safety.

“The web is a tool that can produce many benefits for seniors,” says Barry Birkett, Senior Care Corner co-founder. “Our tips are intended to serve as part of the instructions for using that tool safely and with respect for what can happen if a user isn’t cautious.”

There are many practices users employ to protect themselves online, so many that an exhaustive list may serve to reinforce the fears keeping many seniors from the web. Senior Care Corner’s list of senior web safety tips is intended to be short enough to be memorable and applied by those new to the Internet but still guide them to safe online practices.

Basic Tips for Online Safety
1. As said so well in the movie “The Social Network,” “the internet isn’t written in pencil, it’s written in ink.” In other words, keep in mind that anything posted on Facebook, written in an email or which otherwise makes it online just might be out there permanently—and control is lost once it’s posted. Many people have experienced negative repercussions from information they, friends or loved ones have innocently posted online. 

2. When it comes to email, don’t click on any links unless absolutely certain they’re legitimate; don’t assume that official looking emails from your bank, the government or anyone is from the party listed as the sender – confirm separately before providing any private or personal information; and, don’t believe too-good-to-be-true news of prizes, requests to help move money from other nations, or other stories.
 
3. Choose passwords and password hints – those questions websites ask for use when you forget your password – carefully. Be sure to avoid using information that someone seeking to access your accounts can find on your Facebook page or elsewhere online—because they are looking. Unfortunately, many of the hint questions used by sites request information often available in social media profiles. 

4. When accessing the web through a public WiFi hotspot, such as those found at coffee shops, fast 
food outlets and many other locations, avoid entering passwords or other private information to avoid having it stolen by someone eavesdropping on your online activity through the hotspot. For loved ones in a senior living facility, check with the staff to learn how to access the internet securely, as most now provide accommodation for residents.

While these tips don’t guarantee 100 percent safety online, when combined with a sense of caution in one’s approach to activity on the web they will go a long way in assuring users an experience that is enjoyable.

Source: SeniorCareCorner.com
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Word of the Day

May 23, 2012 6:58 pm

Gentrification. Process whereby private or government-sponsored development of certain aging neighborhoods results in the displacement of low- or moderate-income families by the more affluent and leads to an increase in property values.
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Q: How does refinancing work?

May 23, 2012 6:58 pm

A: With a refinancing, you pay off an old loan on your home and take out a new one, usually at a lower mortgage interest rate. To refinance, you will generally need to have equity in your home, a good credit rating, and steady income. You can borrow a percentage of the equity to cover remodeling costs, debt consolidate, and college tuition. 

When you refinance, you will incur all the closing costs that go along with getting a new mortgage. So unless you are doing extensive renovations and can get a mortgage interest rate at least two points below your current loan rate, you may want to select another financing option.
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New Roof to Reduce Carbon Emissions

May 22, 2012 6:48 pm

In our last segment, I began exploring the many ways new green building systems are being exposed to the mainstream as part of Epcot's VISION House, where millions have an opportunity to explore the major themes of whole-home automation, energy generation and efficiency, water conservation, indoor environmental quality and high-performance materials and durability.

We previously revealed how home sprinklers can help protect the environment, as well as save lives. Now, we will take a look at how a new roofing product from a Roswell, Ga. based company called Boral is also hard at work reducing carbon emissions that have such a negative impact on public health and air quality.

VISION House utilizes BoralPure "Smog-Eating Tile," a first of-its-kind product in sustainable concrete roofing tiles that reduces the formation of smog. The revolutionary Smog-Eating Tile can be installed on both new residential and commercial buildings, as well as re-roofing projects.

According to information available at the Epcot exhibit, in one year, 2,000 square feet of Boral Smog-Eating Tile mitigates the same amount of nitrogen oxide—a major component of smog—produced by one car driving up to 10,800 miles.

The smog eating technology works via a catalyst embedded in the upper portion of the roof tile. When exposed to sunlight it speeds up oxidization reducing nitrogen oxide, which can be generated from fossil fuel burning processes resulting from operation of motor vehicles.

Working much like a catalytic converter in a car, the Boral tile incorporates a photo catalytic agent, titanium dioxide, to break down nitrogen oxide molecules and significantly reduce their impact on the environment.

Nitrogen oxide molecules can cause respiratory diseases along with permanent damage to plants and trees.

For more information on Boral Roofing and its clay and concrete roof tile systems, visit BoralNA.com.
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