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Tom's Blog

Question of the Day

October 3, 2011 6:59 pm

Q: What happens at a trustee sale?

A: When a homeowner falls behind on three payments, the bank will record a notice of default against the property. When the owner fails to pay up, a trustee sale is held, and the property is sold to the highest bidder. The lender that initiated the foreclosure proceedings will usually set the bid price at the loan amount. Successful bidders receive a trustee's deed as proof of ownership.

Trustee sales are advertised in advance and require all-cash bids, which can include cashiers’ checks. Normally, a sheriff, constable, or lawyer conducts the sale and acts as the trustee. Because these sales typically attract savvy investors, inexperienced buyers should come extremely prepared.

Keep Your Home from Being a Target: 8 Ways to Help Keep Burglars at Bay

October 3, 2011 4:59 pm

Just-released statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation tell us a home is burglarized in the U.S. every 14.6 seconds—with an average loss to homeowners of more than $2,000 per theft. But, suggests Consumer’s Report, there are plenty of ways homeowners can help keep their homes from becoming a target for thieves.

Here are eight simple but effective suggestions for protecting your home and valuables:

1. Lock the garage door—leaving it open, or unlocked in your absence, is an invitation to thieves, who can simply close the outer door and gain access to your home from inside.
2. Don’t hide spare keys—Experienced burglars know where most keys are hidden; under a mat, above the door, in a planter box or under a statue. Instead of hiding one, give a spare key to one of your neighbors. 3. Don’t store ladders in an unlocked shed—Burglars can use them to gain access through an upper story window.
4. Think about a noisy alarm system—Silent alarms are fine, but most thieves know it will take at least 10 minutes for authorities to show up after an alarm is tripped. A noisy alarm will send them running.
5. Trim trees and landscaping—Trees near the house can offer a burglar easy access. Untrimmed shrubbery offers a pretty good hiding place.
6. Light up the dark—A darkened exterior gives a thief an entry advantage. Make sure your yards—front and back—are well lighted when you are away.
7. Secure sliding glass doors. Put a dowel down in the channel so the door cannot be opened wide enough to enter.
8. Don’t rely on a barking dog—Thieves may attempt to circumvent them by feeding them treats laced with tranquilizers or worse. Use timers to turn on lights, TVs, radios, etc. in random patterns.
9. Don’t ‘advertise’ at the curb—If you’ve just purchased a big-screen TV, a new appliance or other large item, cut the outer carton into small pieces that will fit inside the trash can.
10. Don’t post vacation photos on Facebook—at least not until after you are home. Wily thieves troll social media sites for such photos to learn when families are away.

Word of the Day

September 30, 2011 6:59 pm

Junior mortgage. Any mortgage, such a second or third mortgage on a property, which is subordinate to the first one in priority.

Allergy Relief for Your Child

September 30, 2011 6:59 pm

Children are magnets for colds. But when the “cold” won’t go away for weeks, the culprit may be allergies.
Long-lasting sneezing, with a stuffy or runny nose, may signal the presence of allergic rhinitis—the collection of symptoms that affect the nose when you have an allergic reaction to something you breathe in that lands on the lining inside the nose. 

Allergies may be seasonal or they can strike year-round (perennial). In most parts of the United States, plant pollens are often the cause of seasonal allergic rhinitis—more commonly called hay fever. Indoor substances, such as mold, dust mites, and pet dander, may cause the perennial kind. 

Up to 40 percent of children suffer from allergic rhinitis, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). And children are more likely to develop allergies if one or both parents have allergies. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medicines that offer allergy relief as well as allergen extracts used to diagnose and treat allergies. 

Immune System Reaction
An allergy is a reaction of the immune system to a specific substance, or allergen. The immune system responds to the invading allergen by releasing histamine and other chemicals that typically trigger symptoms in the nose, lungs, throat, sinuses, ears, eyes, skin, or stomach lining, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. 

In some children, allergies can also trigger symptoms of asthma—a disease that causes wheezing or difficulty breathing. 

If a child has allergies and asthma, “not controlling the allergies can make asthma worse,” says Anthony Durmowicz, M.D., a pediatric pulmonary doctor in FDA’s Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Rheumatology Products. 

Avoiding the Culprit
If your child has seasonal allergies, you may want to pay attention to pollen counts and try to keep your child inside when the levels are high. 

• In the late summer and early fall, during ragweed pollen season, pollen levels are highest in the morning.
• In the spring and summer, during the grass pollen season, pollen levels are highest in the evening.
• Some molds, another allergy trigger, may also be seasonal. For example, leaf mold is more common in the fall.
• Sunny, windy days can be especially troublesome for pollen allergy sufferers.
It may also help to keep windows closed in your house and car and run the air conditioner when pollen counts are high. 

Allergy Medicines
For most children, symptoms may be controlled by avoiding the allergen, if known, and using OTC medicines. However, if a child’s symptoms are persistent and not relieved by OTC medicines, it is wise to see a health care professional to assess your child’s symptoms and see if other treatments, including prescription medicines, may be appropriate. 

While some allergy medicines are approved for use in children as young as six months, Dianne Murphy, M.D., director of FDA’s Office of Pediatric Therapeutics, cautions, “Always read the label to make sure the product is appropriate for your child’s age. Just because a product’s box says that it is intended for children does not mean it is intended for children of all ages.” 

“Children are more sensitive than adults to many drugs,” adds Murphy. “For example, some antihistamines can have adverse effects at lower doses on young patients, causing excitability or excessive drowsiness.” 

Allergy Shots
Children who don't respond to either OTC or prescription medications, or who suffer from frequent complications of allergic rhinitis, may be candidates for allergen immunotherapy—commonly known as allergy shots. According to NIAID, about 80 percent of people with allergic rhinitis will see their symptoms and need for medicine drop significantly within a year of starting allergy shots. 

After allergy testing, typically by skin testing to detect what allergens your child may react to, a health care professional injects the child with “extracts”—small amounts of the allergens that trigger a reaction. The doses are gradually increased so that the body builds up immunity to these allergens. 

Allergen extracts are manufactured from natural substances, such as pollens, insect venoms, animal hair, and foods. More than 1,200 extracts are licensed by FDA. 

Some doctors are buying extracts licensed for injection and instructing the parents to administer the extracts using a dropper under the child’s tongue, says Jay E. Slater, M.D., director of FDA’s Division of Bacterial, Parasitic and Allergenic Products. “While FDA considers this the practice of medicine (and the agency does not regulate the practice of medicine), parents and patients should be aware that there are no allergenic extracts currently licensed by FDA for oral use.” 

“Allergy shots are never appropriate for food allergies,” adds Slater, who is also a pediatrician and allergist. But it’s common to use extracts to test for food allergies so the child can avoid those foods. 

Transformation in Treatment
“In the last 20 years, there has been a remarkable transformation in allergy treatments,” says Slater. “Kids used to be miserable for months out of the year, and drugs made them incredibly sleepy. But today’s products are outstanding in terms of safety and efficacy.” 

Forgoing treatment can make for an irritable, sleepless, and unhappy child, adds Slater, recalling a mother saying, after her child’s successful treatment, “I didn’t realize I had a nice kid!” 

For more information, visit

Question of the Day

September 30, 2011 6:59 pm

Q: How do lenders define bad credit?

It is all those things that appear on your credit report that are unflattering. They include: missing a credit card payment, defaulting on a previous loan, filing for bankruptcy in the past seven years, or not paying your taxes.

Other black marks include a judgment filed against you – perhaps for non-payment of spousal or child support – or any collection activity.

9 out of 10 Americans Still Believe in “American Dream

September 30, 2011 4:59 pm

Despite the ups and downs across America’s Real Estate landscape, I was buoyed by a recent New York Times/CBS News poll that affirmed home ownership is still the American dream. In fact, nearly nine in 10 Americans say an important part of their American Dream is owning their own home.

This point was brought to my attention by Scott Cooney with ERA Goodfellow Homes, a leading real estate brokerage serving western Connecticut. He recently blogged that he has never witnessed real estate market conditions quite like what the U.S. and the region is experiencing today.

So is that good or bad news for consumers who are currently in the market for a new home? Cooney seems optimistic in offering these insights:

1. Homes are More Affordable - Current housing prices are down 27% on average across the nation from peak values five years ago according to the Freddie Mac House Price Index (June 2006 to March 2011), and the national housing affordability index continues to hover at record levels.

2. Rates are Low - With interest rates hovering around 4%, 30-year fixed mortgage interest rates remain near historical lows, based on an average 30-year fixed mortgage rate with an average 0.7 point as shown in the Primary Mortgage Market Survey data according to Freddie Mac as of July 7, 2011.

3. Timing is Everything - While conforming loan limits were set to be reduced on Oct. 1, (2011) many sources said the effects would be minimal and would only affect a narrow percentage of the housing market.

4. Financing is Available - If you have stable employment of at least two years; sufficient income to cover the monthly mortgage payment and living expenses; adequate savings to make at least a 3.5% down payment; and, in general, a credit score of at least 620, Cooney says you are well on your way to the American dream.

Just remember, according to Cooney, the FHA requires a minimum 3.5% down payment; while conventional mortgages will require a down payment of 5% or more. FICO score minimums may be higher or lower depending on loan type, income history, property type and other factors.

So take stock in Cooney’s advice, and don’t let those sensational headlines about the current real estate market dissuade you from pursuing your American dream of home ownership.

Homeowners Should Act Now, Debt Relief Act of 2007 Expires 2012

September 30, 2011 4:59 pm

According to Expert Home Solutions, the difference in the loan modification payment is often not different enough from the original. Sometimes the modification is canceled because there is no grace period and the homeowner misses his due date. 

According to an article on CNN only 1% of homeowners in negative equity have received modifications. There have been 1.5 million HAMP trial modifications since the program began in March, 2009. 50% of the trial modifications have been canceled due to borrowers defaulting or banks rejecting homeowners after the trial period. Only 152,289 of the trial modifications converted to permanent status were active in 2010. 15 million homeowners are in default and only 1% have been able to get a modification that is still in force.
According to, only 4% of loan modifications get a principal reduction. With only 1% of the 15 million homeowners in default getting a loan modification that means that about 7,000 homeowners received a principal reduction by April 2010. 

While this trend continues today, some homeowners want retirement with a reverse mortgage or want to leave a legacy to their family. In a modification with no principal reduction they will not be able to do either. Equity normally increases about 3% per year. If a home loan is $500,000 and now the home is worth $300,000, it will take 18 years to reach $500,000. This homeowner breaks even in 2029. If the owner short sales now, he can buy in two years and start building equity in 2013.

For more information, visit

Medicare 2012: What You Need to Know

September 30, 2011 4:59 pm

The Medicare program can be confusing because of its many different parts, supplemental coverage options and specific Medicare enrollment periods for different products. All of these nuances can make Medicare hard to understand for new enrollees as well as for those who have been on the program for a number of years. 

If you're new to the program or even if you're a seasoned Medicare veteran, here are a few things you should know about the program heading into 2012. 

Be aware of deductibles, co-insurance, out-of-pocket limits and prescription drug costs
If you're new to Medicare it's important to know that both parts of Original Medicare (A and B) have deductibles. And, the Part A deductibles are not tied to a calendar year like they are with traditional health insurance. Instead, they're tied to a 90-day benefit period, with some exceptions. 

The Medicare Part B benefit also includes coinsurance after you meet your deductible. With coinsurance, Medicare pays a percentage of each bill (typically between 20 and 45 percent, depending on the service) and you pay the rest after applicable premiums and deductibles. 

Original Medicare also has no limits on the amount you could pay out of your own pocket for covered medical services each year. And, original Medicare does not cover the cost of most prescription drugs.
People concerned about some of the gaps in original Medicare have the option to enroll in insurance products regulated by the government but provided by private companies. These are products designed specifically to fill some of the different gaps in Medicare. They include:
• Medicare Part D stand-alone prescription drug plans, which cover the cost of most prescription drugs. New Benefit: In 2012 part D recipients get a 14 percent discount on the cost of generic drugs when they reach Medicare's coverage gap, or "donut hole," on top of the 50 percent discount they got last year on the cost of brand name drugs when they reach the donut hole.
• Medicare Supplement plans, which cover portions of the deductibles, coinsurance and out-of-pocket costs not covered by original Medicare.
• Medicare Advantage plans, which bundle together the Part D drug benefit with some additional coverage for deductibles, coinsurance and out-of-pocket costs. New Benefit: Starting in 2011, health care reform requires all Medicare Advantage plans to have a maximum limit of $6,700 on how much a customer can pay out of their own pocket for medical services, excluding the cost of prescription drugs. 

Each type of supplemental coverage has different guidelines for when you can enroll, change and cancel your coverage. 

Most beneficiaries can change a Medicare Advantage plan or stand-alone Medicare prescription drug plan once per year during Medicare's annual enrollment period (AEP). The dates for AEP changed this year, and run from October 15 to December 7 in 2011. 

Medicare Supplement plans have an initial enrollment period, which occurs in the first 6 months after you enroll in Medicare Part B and are 65 or older. During that time, you can enroll in a Medicare Supplement plan and not be declined. But, if you try to enroll after the initial enrollment period, your application could be declined based on a review of your medical history. 

But, if you want to switch from a Supplement plan to an Advantage plan, the AEP is a good time to make that switch. 

New to Medicare?
Many people who are new to Medicare may have to deal with the complexity of the program. Here are some basics:
• Medicare is comprised of four major programs: Part A, Part B, Part C, and Part D. Medicare Part A and Part B are often referred to as "Original Medicare." There are also Medicare Supplement plans, which are designed as an alternative to Part C to fill gaps in Parts A and B.
• Generally speaking, Part A covers in-patient hospitalization while Part B covers outpatient services and other medical care.
• Part C denotes the "Medicare Advantage" program where private insurance companies deliver Medicare Part A, Part B and -- in most cases—Part D benefits to plan enrollees.
• Part D is the Medicare prescription drug benefit that provides insurance coverage for medications.
• Your circumstances determine when you can enroll in or change Part D and C plans.

This and other food and lifestyle content can be found at

Fun Foods That Fuel the Family

September 30, 2011 4:59 pm

For a lot of busy moms, it seems that kids' activities dominate the family calendar. Between school, soccer practice, ballet rehearsal and everything in between, sometimes you need to have a plan of attack for keeping the family satisfied. 

Eating right goes a long way to giving everyone the energy they need to fuel all those activities, but it can be tricky coming up with new ideas for meals and snacks the kids will actually eat. 

Blogger Meagan Francis, from The Happiest Mom, shares a few of her ideas for satisfying hungry kids and keeping them going throughout the busy day. 

Quick Breakfast Bites
• Wrap up the first meal of the day in a tortilla with scrambled egg burritos. If you're in a hurry, they can be a great on-the-go breakfast.
• Make a fruit smoothie or a toasted whole grain English muffin with peanut butter and no sugar added jelly.
• Skip the sugar-bomb-in-a-bowl cereal and go for whole grain cereal with strawberry or banana slices. 

Stock Up On Easy-to-Cart Snacks
• Pretzels dipped in peanut butter (or your favorite nut butter) is a creamy, crunchy snack that gives kids a little protein to fuel their afternoon activities.
• Let the kids help make a custom blend of homemade trail mix using their favorite ingredients. Try walnuts, almonds, yogurt covered raisins, sunflower seeds, and mini chocolate chips.
• A delicious, low fat—and fun to eat—portable snack, string cheese pleases just about every kid. 

Pack Some Lunchbox Fun
Stuff it - Fill pita pockets with their favorite chicken salad, low-sodium deli meat, or peanut butter and a banana.
Dip it - Give them finger foods to dip, like apples and peanut butter; baby carrots and ranch or yogurt dip.
Build it - Let them build their lunch by packing the ingredients in separate baggies or containers. Try a stacker with crackers, cheese and deli slices.

This and other food and lifestyle content can be found at

Word of the Day

September 30, 2011 4:59 pm

Judgment. Court decree stating that one person is indebted to another. Also specifies the amount of the debt.

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