Thomas Skiffington, CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
701 W. Market Street
Perkasie, PA 18944
Office Phone: 215-453-7653
Toll Free: 800-440-remax
March 9, 2012 5:14 pm
Every year thousands of Americans fall prey to scammers, with the elderly and disabled being the most vulnerable to their schemes. Luckily, there are safeguards in place to protect you, and to provide crucial guidance for spotting scams that could be targeting your family.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), founded by Benjamin Franklin, is the oldest law enforcement agency in the country. It works every day to stop these criminals from the millions of attempts they make to scam Americans.
During National Consumer Protection Week, which ends March 12, USPIS is making an extra effort to help you protect yourself. One of the most prevalent scams around is the Foreign Lottery Fraud, from as far away as Australia and Europe.
Scam operators target U.S. consumers by phone, Internet and direct mail to buy into high-stakes foreign lotteries. This is not only illegal, it also robs millions of Americans of billions of dollars. Lottery hustlers use victims' bank account numbers to make unauthorized withdrawals or their credit card numbers to run up additional charges.
Tips and warning signs to protect yourself from foreign lottery fraud
Use these tips to ensure you and your family are protected against fraud. Remember to inform family members to look out for the following signs.
There are two main techniques used in a foreign lottery scam:
• They tell you that you've won and only need to send a few hundred dollars to claim your prize.
• They ask you to buy tickets to enter a foreign lottery, where the odds are better.
Either way you can't win.
If you are a caretaker to someone with diminished mental capacity, keep a close eye on warning signs that they have fallen prey to scammers. According to the USPIS these criminals are "deliberately targeting victims with dementia."
• Checks written or money wired internationally
• A telephone that rings constantly
• A stack of lottery or sweepstakes entries
• Calls from foreign countries, especially if they're calling your elderly family members
Scammers are constantly updating their methods:
Criminals are increasingly using new technology like VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) and Caller-ID "spoofing," making it seem like the call is coming from the U.S. or even a government agency.
For more information visit www.deliveringtrust.com and postalinspectors.uspis.gov.
March 9, 2012 5:14 pm
Buyer’s market. Describes an excess supply of homes for sale, in which there are few buyers and many sellers. In such a market, the buyer can typically negotiate more favorable prices and terms.
March 8, 2012 7:12 pm
Q: Can I contest my property taxes?
A: Many people do, mainly because determining value can often be tricky. This is especially true in a changing market when local prices either take off dramatically or plunge precipitously, like during the Texas oil bust of the 1980s.
While it is up to a professional assessor to evaluate property value for tax purposes, property owners are usually allowed to contest their assessment until a certain date after they are made public.
Once you contest, you will have to prove why you think your property is worth less – few homeowners contest hoping to pay more taxes! The two most popular ways for determining value are an appraisal and a comparative market analysis. With an appraisal, a professional estimates the property's market value based on recent sales of comparable properties. A comparative market analysis is an informal estimate of market value performed by a real estate agent based on similar sales and property attributes. Most agents will offer free analyses to win your business.
Contact your local tax assessor's office for procedures on appealing your property tax assessment.
March 8, 2012 5:12 pm
After the recent rise in tornadoes across the country, many homeowners are left stranded with costly repairs—even homeowners who thought they were covered by tornado insurance.
FindLaw senior writer Andrew Chow recently addressed this topic on FindLaw.com.
“Most homeowner, business, and auto insurance policies include tornadoes as part of standard coverage for wind damage and severe weather, according to the Insurance Information Institute. In general, homeowner's and renter's insurance covers property damage from tornadoes,” wrote Chow.
He then went on to note that what the insurance company covers is very much based on the type of insurance policy and the amount of insurance purchased.
What is more shocking is that 64 percent U.S. homes are undervalued for insurance purposes, according to a 2008 study cited in USA Today, which greatly affects their coverage.
Without adequate insurance coverage, many homeowners will find themselves unable to rebuild their homes after a tornado. “While housing values have declined in the past five years, building costs have shot up in most areas, insurance experts told USA Today,” wrote Chow, who went on to point out that renters may be especially hard-hit, since only 43 percent have renter’s insurance, according to the Insurance Research Council.
Property insurance, including tornado insurance, is on the rise, possibly due to damage from deadly tornado outbreaks in 2011, which resulted in huge losses for insurance companies. Still, protecting your home should be a top priority. Look into your policy to see exactly what is covered.
March 8, 2012 5:12 pm
Nutritionist Heather Bauer, RD, CDN, author of the newly released book "Bread is the Devil" from St. Martin's Press, offers tips for people who are trying to change their eating routines to drop the pounds in celebration of National Nutrition Month this March. Bauer notes that it's important not to skimp on the calcium when watching what you eat. Females fall short on calcium by at least 20 percent, getting only 500-700 mg per day—that's significantly less than the recommended amount—putting them at risk of osteoporosis.
To decrease your chance of osteoporosis, Heather Bauer suggests:
1. Think of your bones as living, breathing tissue. They can be built up and broken down with certain determining factors. These factors include daily intake of at least 1,000mg of calcium supplemented with Vitamin D for optimal absorption and weight-bearing exercise.
2. By the time we hit our 30s, we stop naturally building bone mass and start losing it. Counteract this with anything that forces your body to defy gravity. Activities include dancing, jogging, tennis, even stair climbing. Make sure to avoid escalators and elevators!
3. Lifting weights at the gym gives you muscle tone, right? Well, calcium acts in the same way to keep your blood vessels toned. Calcium rich foods like milk, cheese, sardines, figs, and dark leafy greens like spinach can be tough to eat a lot of, so consider a calcium supplement if you're not meeting the recommended daily value.
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, 10 million Americans are estimated to have osteoporosis and almost 34 million more are estimated to have low bone density, increasing their risk of osteoporosis and broken bones. National Nutrition Month is a nutrition education and information campaign sponsored annually by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. National Nutrition Month focuses on the importance of developing healthy eating and physical activity habits, including meeting daily calcium requirements and performing various exercises to build strong bones, which is imperative in the fight against osteoporosis.
March 8, 2012 5:12 pm
Want to redesign your kitchen but can’t afford to remodel? The following tips, offered by Whirlpool, can help you redefine your space without breaking the bank.
• Do a Deep Clean – Often times all a space needs is a bit of TLC. Gather your family and do a deep clean to the baseboards, cabinets, trim and appliances. Your kitchen will look shiny and new without ever spending a dime.
• Refresh Your Color – A new coat of paint can brighten up an entire room. Choose a light color for the kitchen that won't show all those food stains and finger prints.
• Organize Your Cabinets – According to a Harris Interactive survey conducted on behalf of Whirlpool, 27 percent of consumers will shove things in without worrying about organization. Spend a morning throwing out expired products and organizing boxes and cans by use. Your kitchen will feel more open and be much easier to navigate.
March 8, 2012 5:12 pm
With no end in sight to rising gas prices, consumers who modify their driving habits and properly maintain their vehicles will get more miles per gallon. The Car Care Council recommends the following ways to drive smart and save gas money:
• Observe the speed limit. Gas mileage decreases rapidly above 60 mph.
• Avoid excessive idling. Idling gets zero miles per gallon. Warming up the vehicle for one or two minutes is sufficient.
• Avoid quick starts and stops. Aggressive driving can lower gas mileage by 33 percent on the highway and 5 percent in the city.
• Consolidate trips. Several short trips taken from a cold start can use twice as much gas as one longer multi-purpose trip.
• Don't haul unneeded items in the trunk. An extra 100 pounds in the trunk reduces fuel economy by 1 to 2 percent.
• Check the gas cap. Damaged, loose or missing gas caps allow gas to vaporize into the air.
• Replace dirty or clogged air filters on older vehicles to improve gas mileage by as much as 14 percent.
• Replace dirty spark plugs, which can reduce mileage by two miles per gallon.
• Change oil regularly and gain another mile per gallon.
• Keep your car properly tuned to improve gas mileage by an average of 4 percent.
• Keep tires properly inflated and improve gas mileage by 3 percent.
"Some motorists think they are saving money when they put off needed vehicle maintenance. What they don't realize is that neglecting routine maintenance can end up costing a lot more," said Rich White, executive director, Car Care Council. "Keeping your car running efficiently and adjusting your driving behavior are the best ways to improve your vehicle's fuel economy and keep more money in your pocket."
March 7, 2012 7:08 pm
It’s that time of year when most taxpayers are gathering their paperwork, dusting off the calculator, and looking for new deductions. If you are among them, suggests MyBankTracker.com finance writer Marina Schifrin, you may want to look into some unusual deductions that have worked for some innovative taxpayers. (Note: the wise taxpayer will check the tax codes carefully or consult with a tax professional before deciding to make similar claims.)
• Taking a dip – A man with breathing problems was told by his doctor to start swimming daily. Deciding it was easier to install a pool in his back yard than go to a gym or public pool, he did so—and improved his breathing problems as noted by his doctor. The Tax Court allowed a deduction for the cost of the pool under the category of medical expenses.
• Babysitting – Babysitting fees are technically covered if you used a sitter to free up the time you give to charity. It applies as long as you didn’t make any money while working for the charity. (There are also allowable child care deductions of up to 35 percent of federal tax credit for those who are eligible. Information is on form 2441.)
• Pet airfare – Pet owners who had to relocate for a job and elected to move their pets with them were able to deduct the cost of airfare for moving the pet.
• Convention costs – Employers who held company business conventions in Bermuda, parts of the Caribbean, or other U.S. territories have enjoyed tax deductions as well as nice weather. Such deductions are not applicable for conventions held in many European countries.
• Greener grass – Business owners who work from home may claim certain household expenses as part of the cost of doing business. Such costs may even include landscape maintenance if the business owner regularly meets clients at home.
March 7, 2012 7:08 pm
Now is the time when college-bound students are receiving their official financial awards from the colleges and universities to which they applied. Scott Anderson, President of eduLaunchpad.com, says “In order to make sure you get the best college financial package and pay the least amount possible, you need to examine every offer with a critical eye.”
Here are three steps every college student can take to make sure they are getting their money’s worth from the college financial offers.
Don’t take the first offer you receive. You need to wait until you have all the college financial offers in hand before you make a decision on which college to attend. The financial offers are the real price tags of the colleges, not the sticker price or cost of attendance. And until you have all the financial offers in hand, you just don’t know what each school will cost.
Make sure you’re comparing apples to apples. Schools do not necessarily report all the same costs in their prices. Some schools report tuition, room, and board. Some schools report tuition, room, board, and books. Some schools report tuition, room, board, books, and supplies. You need to be using a standardized cost model to compare the costs associated with each school. The costs described at eduLaunchpad.com are all determined by adding the same factors for each school: tuition, room and board, books and supplies, and transportation. You start with this standardized price and subtract the financial offer from the college to get a true cost for you. In this way, you ensure you are comparing apples to apples.
Ask the school if they can do more. The first offer you receive from a college is not necessarily set in stone. Very often, you can get a better financial offer if you go back and ask. It is called the Appeals Process. There are all kinds of reasons that you might want to file an appeal. Perhaps a parent lost their job. Or last year’s income was much higher than this year’s income. Maybe a grandparent just moved in with you. Or the student has an illness or condition that won’t allow them to work while in school.
What parents need to keep in mind during this time is college is big business, and the student and parents are the colleges’ customers. You are the consumer and should treat college the same as any other major purchase, like home or a car. Don’t accept the first offer if it doesn’t work for you. If the college wants your student, they will often consider sweetening the deal. Smaller and private colleges often have more flexibility with their offers than the larger and state colleges.
March 7, 2012 7:08 pm
Although a majority of the United States has experienced a significantly mild winter in comparison to the past couple years, the lack of snow and cool temperatures does not mean your lawn and landscape will thrive without a commitment to take better care of it on a daily basis.
“Many homeowners try to save money and tend to lawn care themselves, but end up skipping crucial steps that are routine for us to keep a lawn lush and healthy,” says Lawn Doctor Director of Technical Services, John Buechner. Spring lawns require extra care following dormant growth.”
Here are five spring lawn care tips designed to promote a healthy yard well into the summer.
Lawn Pest Control: “We’re not the only inhabitants to enjoy a mild winter. Lawn insect populations are often reduced by harsh winters. This spring, a proactive approach toward lawn pest control will be vital towards fighting a larger population of insects that have thrived during the mild winter,” says John Buechner, Lawn Doctor’s Horticulture expert. “Fertilization, weed and lawn pest control combined with proper mowing will stop problems before they start and ensure a beautiful, healthy summer lawn.”
Fertilization: Just like you, your lawn needs a healthy, balanced diet for optimal growth and nourishment. Spring is a crucial time to fertilize because it replenishes the food reserves your yard draws from while dormant in the winter and fuels grass’ rapid growth phase. A top recommendation in lawn care is to utilize a balanced fertilizer consisting of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium is best, with 30 percent of the nitrogen slow release. Don’t over-fertilize your lawn – no more than one pound of nitrogen should be applied per 1,000 square feet. A thick, healthy lawn also helps prevent weeds.
Weed control: “After a mild winter, annual weeds that germinate in the fall, like henbit and chickweed, will be more visible and require higher levels of broadleaf weed control through herbicides,” says Buechner. There are hundreds of different types of weeds that may invade your turf this spring. Apply a pre-emergent weed killer on lawns to prevent grassy weeds from germinating. Spring broadleaf weeds like dandelions, clovers and plantains, are best prevented by maintaining a proper mowing height and fertilization.
Mowing: Contrary to popular belief, setting your mower at a very low height can actually increase weeds by exposing the soil surface to sunlight and removing stored nutrients in leaf blades. Cool weather grasses, such as bluegrass, ryegrass and fescues, should maintain a height of 2.5 to 3.5 inches. Warm season grasses, like Bermuda, Zoysia, St. Augustine and Centipede, should be kept at 1.5 to 2.5 inches tall.
Seeding: Spring is also the perfect time to plant summer annuals and vegetables, but seeding in fall is beneficial because there are fewer weeds, more moisture and cooler temperatures allow seedlings to develop.