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

Tips for Buying an Extended Vehicle Warranty for a New or Used Vehicle

February 20, 2012 6:34 pm

The Service Contract Industry Council (SCIC) works directly with state legislators nationwide to regulate the licensing of motor vehicle service contract providers, mandate significant consumer protections and to implement stringent financial safeguards. The SCIC offers the following tips for consumers thinking about purchasing an extended vehicle warranty.

Why should I buy a service contract if a car comes with a manufacturer's warranty?
• There are over 10,000 components on a vehicle; a manufacturer's warranty covers only a fraction of these parts.
• A manufacturer's warranty does not cover steering, electrical, suspension, air conditioning, heating, fuel systems, brakes, and convenience packages such as a navigation system.
• Manufacturers' warranties are based upon defects in material and workmanship and do not cover normal wear-and-tear.

What does an automobile extended warranty typically include?
• Comprehensive bumper-to-bumper coverage, including the exhaust system, electrical system, the engine, gas tank, the heater and air conditioner, normal wear and tear, the leather seats and the sunroof, etc.
• Regular maintenance
• Access to pre-qualified, professional auto technicians
• Twenty-four hour technical assistance
• Roadside assistance such as towing

Should I buy an extended warranty for a used car?
• Buyers of used motor vehicles need the protections offered by extended vehicle warranties for essentially the same reason that new cars buyers do—to cover repairs not included in a manufacturer's limited warranty and to continue protection after the warranty runs out.
• Extended warranties are not insurance. Most dealers offer minimal coverage (at least 30 days) for used vehicles to cover basic repairs but you are responsible for purchasing an extended warranty if you want to cover the cost of repairs beyond any manufacturer's warranty.
• There are only a few comprehensive warranty programs that will cover the full cost of repairs on your used vehicle. Some of those programs have a high deductible that requires you to pay for a portion of the work upfront.

How are claims handled?
• Nearly 10 million automobile extended service contracts are sold annually, and approximately 95 percent of claims submitted to SCIC member companies are resolved to the customer's satisfaction.
• A consumer may be able to choose among several service dealers or authorized repair centers. In some cases, the consumer must return the vehicle to the selling dealer for service.
• Many service contracts are backed by A+ rated insurers, who provide additional financial solvency on long-term contracts.
• As with most laws, there may be exemptions from certain requirements. It is important for consumers to research the company offering the service contract as well as any insurer backing it.

Consumer obligations:
• Read the contract provisions carefully and understand all coverage and exclusions
• Keep detailed records, including contract paperwork, receipts, and maintenance records
• Adhere to all manufacturer's recommendations for routine maintenance, such as oil and spark plug changes. Failure to do so could void the contract.
• Identify the name of the service contract provider on the contract. If a contract does not list an administrator's contact information, contact your state Department of Insurance or the Better Business Bureau to determine if the company is authorized to do business in your state.

Consumer tips:
• Most service contracts cover normal wear-and-tear and may fill in coverage gaps in the manufacturer's warranty for up to 7 years and/or 100,000 miles
• In many states, service contracts come with a "free look" period, usually 30 days. If a consumer believes they acted impetuously, the contract can be return for a full refund during this period.
• Do not buy a service contract if the provider will not supply you with a copy of the contract terms and conditions prior to purchase.
• Be alert to service contract providers who use unsolicited mass marketing techniques, such as direct mail and telemarketing (e.g. "robo-calls").

Source: www.go-scic.com
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Word of the Day

February 20, 2012 6:34 pm

Appreciation. Increase in property value or worth due to economic or related factors; the opposite of depreciation.
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Question of the Day

February 20, 2012 6:34 pm

Q: Why do homeowners have to pay property taxes?

A:
Property taxes are assessed by city and county governments to generate the bulk of their operating revenues. The taxes help pay for such public services as schools, libraries, roads, and police protection. Re-valuations of the tax are often done periodically, although the time interval varies from state to state or, in some states, from town to town, and can range from annual reassessments to periods of ten years or more.
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Lead Paint Hazards and Older Windows

February 17, 2012 6:26 pm

If your home was built before 1978 and you still have the original windows, it's time to seriously consider replacing them—especially if you have young children or a pregnant person living in the home.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the routine opening and closing of windows in homes built prior to 1978 can disturb lead-based paint around the windows, causing paint dust and chips to be released into the air. These lead particles are so potentially dangerous that the EPA now requires contractors to be trained and certified before they can perform any renovation, repair or painting projects that may have previously applied lead-based paint.

"Research indicates that the everyday activity of opening and closing windows creates friction that then allows invisible lead dust to enter the air," says Rick Nevin, a consultant to the National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH). "Young children, who crawl on the floor where the lead dust has settled, can be especially at risk. Toddlers put their hands in their mouths…and after playing on the floor near a window, they can easily transfer the lead dust into their mouths. The ingested lead travels through the bloodstream to a child's developing brain, causing many types of neurobehavioral damage."

According to Nevin, one of the most important long-term investments a homeowner can make for the overall safety of a family is to replace older windows, using the EPA-approved lead safe renovation guidelines. "Replacing older windows is one of the best ways to reduce lead risks," says Nevin. "Make sure to use only a contractor that is certified in lead-safe work practices and strongly consider the use of ENERGY STAR® qualified windows. These windows are a healthy choice for replacing older single-pane units. They're energy-efficient and a good value for the investment."

Nevin explains that, according to his research funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH), homeowners need to understand there are four key steps to completing a "lead-safe window replacement strategy" for the home. "First, they advise replacing all single-pane windows with ENERGY STAR® qualified windows," says Nevin. "Second, stabilize any significantly deteriorated paint. Third, perform specialized cleaning to remove any lead-contaminated dust. And finally, perform dust wipe tests to confirm the absence of lead dust hazards after the clean up."

Research results can be obtained at www.ricknevin.com/windows.html.

Source:  Simonton Windows

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Super Fruity: Tart Cherries Are a Nutritional Powerhouse

February 17, 2012 6:26 pm

Now more than ever, Americans are aware of health and nutrition and look to their diets as a means to get nutrients naturally. According to top trend forecasters, antioxidants remain a major indicator of health-promoting foods, with nine out of ten adults aware of antioxidants, and one-third making a strong effort to consume more, according to the study "Mintel 2009; Multi-Sponsor Surveys, 2010."

Known for their powerhouse of antioxidants, tart cherries have emerged as one of today's hottest super fruits. Today there are more than 50 scientific studies specifically on tart cherries, and with the help of leading health expert Dr. Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RD, the cherry industry recently launched "The Red Report," a new scientific look at the power of tart cherries.

 "The power of this super fruit is undeniable," says Dr. Bazilian, author of "The SuperFoodsRx Diet: Lose Weight with the Power of SuperNutrients." Dr. Bazilian explains that what is really amazing is how far tart cherries have come over the last few years. "For example, the fruit has long been anecdotally associated with pain relief benefits. Today, there's a strong and significant body of evidence backing that up."

Beyond their health benefits, tart cherries are shaping key nutrition trends. "A growing body of research suggests that the powerful antioxidants in tart cherries are linked to a broad range of benefits—anti-inflammation, heart health, pain relief, exercise recovery and more. Some of the latest reports call out the tart cherry as 'the' super fruit to watch," says Dr. Bazilian.

Source: www.choosecherries.com.

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Word of the Day

February 17, 2012 6:26 pm

Appraisal. A formal estimate of property value conducted by a professional qualified to make such an opinion.
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Question of the Day

February 17, 2012 6:26 pm

Q: Are there ways to save money when using a contractor?

A: Chances are you will have to pay the going rate for contractors in your area. Architects or designers will typically cost 12 to 20 percent more.

But remember you will want a home improvement that is done right the first time. That said, there are still ways you can save if you do decide to work with a contractor:

- Shop around for the most reasonable bid - not necessarily the cheapest.
- Ask friends and family if the contractors they refer stuck to budget.
- Root out hidden costs written into contracts.
- Insist that trade discounts on materials be passed on to you, or buy materials yourself.
- Compare payment alternatives – flat vs. hourly rates, for example – and negotiate the more reasonable of the two.
- Do part of the project yourself, such as some disassembly or prep work.
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Consumer Reports: Advice for Safe Use of Herbal Remedies

February 17, 2012 6:26 pm

Botanicas are flourishing in many U.S. urban areas, as consumers look to Botanicas as a resource for complementary medicine—mainly herbal remedies—Consumer Reports offers some advice on the safe use of these treatments which are not subject to close government oversight.

"Botanicas are important purveyors of health care and wellness in the Hispanic community because they offer traditional cultural connections that can give emotional and spiritual support when fighting a disease or treating a chronic condition," says Jose Luis Mosquera, M.D., medical adviser to Consumer Reports and a board certified physician trained in integrative-medicine.

Botanicas sell medicinal plants, religious objects and other artifacts for physical and spiritual healing. When it comes to using herbs on a longer term basis to treat more serious chronic conditions, Consumer Reports recommends proceeding with caution.

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stepped up efforts to develop "good manufacturing practices" to address concerns such as product purity and quality control, none of these recommendations are obligatory. That puts the onus on consumers to be vigilant about the safe use of herbal remedies.

Here are some tips for safe use of herbal remedies:
• Natural does not mean safe. There are natural plants, such as Belladona and some mushrooms that can be poisonous. Some herbs and supplements may cause harm if you are pregnant, nursing, preparing for surgery, or taking prescription medicines.
• When purchasing pills, look for the USP Verified label. Since there is little or no oversight on industry compliance with the FDA's "good manufacturing practices," the consumer of dietary supplements must exert constant vigilance. If you're shopping for supplements manufactured in pill form, look for the small number of herbal products tested by the United States Pharmacopeia that bear the words "USP Verified" on their label. Those have been tested for identity, purity, potency, and dangerous contaminants.
• Don't mix medications and herbs on your own. Herbal remedies can decrease the effectiveness of some prescription drugs while others can have the opposite effect, heightening the action of a prescription drug. For example, garlic can increase the blood thinning effects of anti-coagulant and anti-platelet drugs and might increase the effects of certain diabetes drugs. Before taking herbs, talk to your doctor about the implications of combining them with your prescription medications.
• Seek a trained practitioner. A trained practitioner understands the intricacies of each herb and the fact that not all forms of an herbal medicine produce the same effects. For example, tea made from saw palmetto probably has no health benefits since the active compounds don't dissolve in water. In addition, different parts of the same herb can have different effects. Dandelion leaves may act as a diuretic, but the roots act as a laxative. Remedies made from sassafras root may contain safrole, a noted carcinogen, and even those that say "safrole free" may not be.
• Be wary of private label supplements. Doctors and practitioners who sell their own branded products may have a conflict of interest. The American Medical Association and the American College of Physicians advise that if physicians decide to distribute non-prescription health related products to their patients, they should provide them free of charge or at cost. This removes the temptation of personal profit than can interfere with a physician's objective clinical judgment.
• Consider seeing an integrative physician. Integrative medicine is a holistic method, based on clinical evidence, where patients' traditions and cultural background are taken into consideration. Its practice has gained traction over the years; the report notes that 50 academic health centers belong to the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine.

This report was made possible by a grant from the Airborne Cy Pres Fund, which was established through a legal settlement of a national class-action lawsuit regarding deceptive advertising practices.

Source: www.ConsumerReports.org
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Six Questions to Ask When Shopping for Homeowners Insurance

February 17, 2012 6:26 pm

Being an informed consumer means not only reading your homeowners insurance policy closely but also asking experts what constitutes the right type, and amount, of coverage you need for your home, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

"Besides knowing the basics of what a standard homeowners insurance policy covers, consumers should ask a series of questions, and receive satisfactory answers to each of them, before buying a new policy, or renewing an existing one," says Michael Barry, vice president, Media Relations, I.I.I.
A qualified insurance agent or insurance company representative can guide you through your choices.

Here are six basic questions everyone should ask before buying or renewing a homeowners insurance policy:
How much would it cost to rebuild my home in its current location in the event of a total loss? Your homeowners insurance policy should cover the cost of building a new home from scratch. Your insurance agent or insurance company representative will have knowledge of your neighborhood, and familiarity with the construction materials used when your home was originally built and can accurately calculate this cost. In general, homeowners policies cover partial or total damages caused by fire, hurricane, hail, lightning or any other disaster listed in your policy. Flood and earthquake-related losses must be insured separately because both perils are excluded in standard homeowners insurance policies.

How much is the personal property in my home worth
in the event of a total loss? Your homeowners insurance policy should cover the cost of replacing all personal property (furniture, appliances, clothing) should it be stolen or destroyed by fire, hurricane or another insured disaster. Most companies provide personal property coverage equal to about 50 to 70 percent of the amount of insurance you have on the structure of your dwelling. So if you have $100,000 worth of dwelling protection, most insurers would recommend $50,000 to $70,000 worth of personal property coverage. The best way to determine if this recommendation is appropriate for your specific situation is to conduct a home inventory.

How much liability protection do I need? Liability covers you against lawsuits for bodily injury or property damage that you, or your family members, cause to other people. It also pays for damage caused by your pets. The liability portion of your policy pays for both the cost of defending you in court and any court awards—up to the limit of your policy. You are also covered not just in your home, but anywhere in the world. Liability limits generally start at about $100,000. Most insurance agents and company representatives recommend that you purchase at least $300,000 worth of liability protection. If you have significant assets and need more liability protection than is offered under the standard homeowners policy limits, ask your agent about umbrella liability.

What level of additional living expense coverage do I need? The Additional Living Expenses (ALE) provision is found in standard homeowners insurance policies. It pays for the costs of living away from home if you cannot reside there due to damage from an insured disaster. ALE covers hotel bills, meals and other expenses over and above your customary living expenses. ALE coverage differs from company to company. Many policies provide coverage equal to about 20 percent of your dwelling protection. For example, if the structure of your home is insured for $100,000, you would have $20,000 of ALE coverage. Some companies impose a time limitation, such as 12 to 24 months.

Should I buy a separate flood and/or earthquake insurance policy?
There were numerous flooding events and earthquakes in the U.S. in 2011, but relatively few Americans had coverage for either type of natural disaster because these perils are excluded from standard homeowners insurance policies. Check with your insurance agent or insurance company representative to see whether you might need specialized coverage beyond your standard homeowners insurance policy. Flood coverage for homeowners is available from the federal government's National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and from a few private insurers. Earthquake coverage is usually available in the form of a supplemental policy from your insurance company, or, in California, from the California Earthquake Authority. Fire and water damage due to burst gas and water pipes following an earthquake is covered under standard homeowners policies in most states.

Do I qualify for any discounts? If you have smoke detectors, burglar alarms and/or dead-bolt locks in your home, you can often get a premium rate discount. Sophisticated sprinkler systems and alarms that ring at monitoring stations often reduce your homeowners insurance premium, too. Ask your agent or company representative about discounts available to you. If you are at least 55 years old and retired, for instance, you may qualify for a discount of up to 10 percent at some companies. If you have completely modernized your plumbing or electrical system recently, a few companies may provide a price break.

Source: www.iii.org
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Is Retirement Going Extinct?

February 17, 2012 6:26 pm

Are workers really retiring anymore? A new study shows 57 percent of workers age 60 plus surveyed said they would look for a new job after retiring from their current company, showing that retirement no longer means the end of one's career. The nationwide survey was conducted by Harris Interactive© on behalf of CareerBuilder and PrimeCB.com, CareerBuilder's job site for mature workers and retirees. It included more than 800 U.S. workers age 60 and older and more than 3,000 hiring managers and human resources professionals between November 9 and December 5, 2011.

When asked how soon they think they can retire from their current job, one-in-ten (11 percent) respondents said they don't think they'll ever be able to retire. Other responses included:
• 1-2 years – 26 percent
• 3-4 years – 23 percent
• 5-6 years – 22 percent
• 7-8 years – 7 percent
• 9-10 years – 7 percent
• More than 10 years – 4 percent

While an increasing number of mature workers are putting off retirement, the good news is that more employers are looking to hire more seasoned staff. According to the survey, 43 percent of employers plan to hire workers age 50 plus this year, while 41 percent said they hired workers age 50 plus in 2011. Seventy-five percent of the employers surveyed would consider an application from an overqualified worker who is 50 plus, with 59 percent of those employers saying it's because mature candidates bring a wealth of knowledge to an organization and can mentor others.

"Whether mature workers are motivated by financial concerns or simply enjoy going to work every day, we're seeing more people move away from the traditional definition of retirement and seek 'rehirement,'" says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of Human Resources at CareerBuilder. "At the same time, employers are seeing the value these mature workers can bring to an organization, from their intellectual capital to their mentoring and training capabilities. In a highly competitive job market, mature workers can use these skills to their advantage."

Mature workers can find job-search success by emphasizing the qualities that set them apart from other workers. PrimeCB.com offers these tips:

Leverage your professional and real-world experience – When updating your resume or interviewing for a job, think about your experience in terms of both work-related and life skills. Whether it's your strong leadership skills or your wherewithal to weather a tough economy, play up the strengths that come with having more years under your belt.
Bring value to your company in other ways – If you're looking to stay with your current company beyond retirement, find new ways to contribute to the organization, outside of your day-to-day tasks. Spearhead a mentorship program or offer to train new hires.
Consider part-time or freelance work – For workers who aren't ready to completely stop working, part-time employment may be a good solution. Forty-nine percent of workers age 60 plus said they will most likely work part-time once retired. Check out job boards, talk to staffing firms and tap into your social and professional networks for part-time, freelance or temporary work.

Source: www.careerbuilder.com.
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