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Perkasie, PA 18944
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Tom's Blog

Question of the Day

August 26, 2011 2:59 pm

Q: What are subprime loans?

A: Subprime mortgages are made to borrowers, usually at a higher interest rate, who do not meet traditional credit criteria or who have unconventional borrowing needs.

Factors that can prevent someone from meeting the traditional criteria could be a high debt-to-income ratio, low reserves at settlement, as well as past credit woes – bankruptcies, defaults, foreclosures, or chronic late payments on debt obligations.


Tips for Staying Safe in the Aftermath of Hurricane Irene

August 25, 2011 4:59 pm

With Hurricane Irene making its way steadily toward the United States, the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) is reminding residents that danger may linger in your home even after the storm has passed. 

“As families begin to clean up following a storm or flood, it is important to be aware of potential dangers that result whenever water comes into contact with electricity,” cautions ESFI President Brett Brenner. “Before flipping a switch or plugging in an appliance, have a licensed electrician check the house wiring and appliances to make sure they are safe to use.” 

ESFI offers the following safety tips to help you weather the storm and its aftermath safely: 

Downed Power Lines
• Always assume fallen power lines are energized.
• Contact your utility company immediately to report downed power lines.
• Stay at least 10 feet away from a downed power line and anything it may be touching, such as a fence, tree limb or water.
• Never touch a person or object that is in direct or indirect contact with a downed power line. Instead, call 911 immediately.
• Never attempt to move a downed power line–leave it to the professionals. Do not try to move a downed power line with another object. Even non-conductive materials like wood or cloth that are slightly wet can conduct electricity. 

• Do not return home until instructed by the appropriate local authorities.
• Return home during daylight hours, especially if power has not been restored.
• Take care when stepping into a flooded area, and be aware that submerged outlets or electrical cords may energize the water, posing a potentially deadly trap.
• If you smell gas, notify emergency authorities immediately. Do not turn on lights, light matches or engage in any activity that could create a spark. 

Submerged Electrical Appliances
• Electrical equipment exposed to water can be extremely dangerous if reenergized without proper reconditioning or replacement.
• Do not use electrical appliances that have been wet until they have been examined by a qualified service repair dealer. Certain equipment will require replacement, while a trained professional may be able to recondition other devices.
• Electrical items, such as circuit breakers, fuses, ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs), receptacles, plugs and switches, can malfunction when water and silt get inside. Discard them if they have been submerged.
• Ocean water and salt spray can be particularly damaging to electrical equipment due to the corrosive and conductive nature of the salt water residue.
• Damage to electrical equipment can also result from exposure to flood waters contaminated with chemicals, sewage, oil and other debris. 

Portable Generators
• Portable generators can be a convenient source of temporary power during outages caused by storms, but they can also be dangerous if not used properly.
• Do not operate a portable generator in your home or in any other enclosed or even partially enclosed area. Generators can very quickly produce high levels of carbon monoxide, which can be deadly.
• Make sure that there is at least one battery-operated or battery backup carbon monoxide alarm in your home. Test it before using your generator.
• Do not connect generators directly to the household wiring unless an appropriate transfer switch has been installed by a licensed, qualified electrician.
• Always turn the generator off and let it cool down before refueling. 

For more information about ESFI and National Electrical Safety Month, visit

4 Tips to Keeping Homeowners' Insurance Costs Down

August 25, 2011 4:59 pm

Saving money has never been so trendy. Long gone are the days of irresponsible spending, so why be irresponsible with your homeowners insurance? Taking a little bit of time to research your options might just help you save a little in the wallet and put more in the bank.

Here are four tips from

1. Shop around. Some insurance companies have been raising house insurance costs to recoup losses from the financial crisis. Others are competing for new customers by offering lower rates. By shopping around, people can find better deals on homeowners insurance.

2. Re-evaluate coverage amounts. Many policies have inflation protection provisions, which automatically increase coverage amounts. This was a good item in the years leading up to the crash, but today they should be looked at more closely.

3. Check personal credit reports. Homeowners insurance companies check credit history before figuring rates, similar to how lenders do. This is done to help them assess the risk of payment and likely individual responsibility. Check your credit report and make sure it’s accurate so you can get the best possible rate.

4. Small claims can become expensive. Homeowners should have the highest deductible they can comfortably afford and repair minor items out of pocket rather than filing a claim. Filing a claim for every broken window or leaky pipe can increase premiums by 10-15%.

7 Tips to Save on Car Insurance

August 25, 2011 4:59 pm

Owning a vehicle can be enjoyable, but it also comes with a cost. On top of the purchase price, gas, maintenance, repairs, and insurance costs can quickly add up. While insurance is mandatory for most people, overpaying for coverage can be avoided. presents seven tips that may lead to lower auto insurance costs. All it takes is a little time, and big savings could just be around the corner. 

1. Look around.
Deal hunting online is widely used for electronics, vacations, and more; why shouldn’t insurance be included? With so many insurance companies on the market, it can be overwhelming to collect all the required information and make a decision. Often times, brokers only represent a handful of companies, limiting the pool of options. Online comparison sites can do the analysis based on the information entered to present quotes for over 30 companies and provide the lowest rate available through its network. There’s also no need to wait for renewal papers to arrive; sometimes the available savings may well off-set the potential penalty. 

2. Review current coverage.
Most drivers are required to have liability coverage and many people choose to add comprehensive coverage. However, collision coverage may not be necessary for everyone. Collision coverage handles costs associated with damage sustained to the policy holder’s car. If the vehicle is very old, has high mileage, or is in poor condition, then it may not be worth the extra premium costs to receive this coverage. 

3. Consider increasing the deductible.
The deductible is the amount car owners are responsible for paying when a claim is made. A higher deductible would mean the insurance company pays less in the event of a claim. This decrease in risk is then transferred to the consumer in reduced premiums. There isn’t one ideal number for this as it all depends on each consumer’s comfort zone. There may be a preference to save more now with a higher deductible, or to have increased financial security in the event of a claim with a lower deductible. 

4. Research discounts.
There is power in numbers. The following are discounts that some insurance companies might consider when pricing a policy.
• Profession – By working in certain fields or holding a professional designation, there may be discounts available depending on the insurance company. The quickest way to find out is by contacting the association or a broker.
• Group Affiliation – Associations like alumni groups or trade unions may provide discounts on insurance to its members. They may be working with a specific provider in which case the association would be a key source of information.
• Auto clubs – CAA or other specialty vehicle clubs may have specially negotiated rates with certain insurers, thus offering lower premiums. Begin by checking the membership package, or contacting the current broker directly. 

5. Combining insurance.
Purchasing home insurance from the same company that provides the auto coverage may result in a savings of 5-10% off both premiums. Furthermore, adding another vehicle in the household to the same policy could lead to further discounts. It’s definitely worth talking to an agent or broker to investigate the potential savings that can be offered by grouping policies together. 

6. Installing winter tires. 
For those living in harsh winter conditions, this is more a matter of safety. Taking precautions to decrease the likelihood of accidents during dangerous conditions should always be considered. In fact, some insurance companies will take this into account, and may offer a discount. However, keep in mind that living up to the promise is equally important. If winter tires were not in place when they should have been, it could be considered a fraudulent claim with potential consequences. 

7. Accident forgiveness or similar benefits.
Even the safest driver is susceptible to threats on the road, from uncontrollable factors like other drivers. Accident forgiveness will eliminate the effects that the first accident-related claim would have on premiums. Unlike the other tips that result in immediate savings, this will probably cost extra in the beginning.

However, it may be well worth the additional cost so that effects on insurance rates are minimized in the event that you have an at-fault accident.

For the most part, insurance remains an uncontrollable cost. However, drivers do have the power to prevent unnecessary increases in premiums. For example, always drive defensively to keep a record free of tickets and accidents. If insurance premiums have become a significant financial burden, then changes in habits may be a viable option. These include carpooling, taking public transportation, or even living closer to the workplace. 

For more information, visit

For Your College Student: Credit Card Tips

August 25, 2011 4:59 pm

A May 2011 Consumer Reports survey shows 2011 college graduates had a rate of debt that is 47 percent higher than their counterparts a decade ago and up eight percent from 2010. 

Recent changes in credit card laws prevent companies from giving students T-shirts or pizza as an enticement to apply for credit. "Despite the changes implemented by new laws, it's still pretty easy for a college student to get a credit card," says Kristy Welsh, editor of "According to a 2009 Sallie Mae study, 5 percent of students chose their first credit card from a vendor on campus; 38 percent said they chose their credit card from a mail offer; 19 percent got a referral from a parent."
Here are some things college freshmen should keep in mind when applying for credit: 

1. Know what you're getting. Yes, this means reading all the fine print on the credit card application, either printed or online. Are you offered a low introductory rate for six months and then a sky-high interest rate after that? Don't set yourself up for a nasty surprise.
2. Only apply for the amount of credit you need. Don't apply for a credit card just because you can or worse, for emergencies. Studies show that once in your possession, the temptation to use a card can be overwhelming and you'll be in debt before you know it.
3. Pay your card off every month. Sounds like common sense, doesn't it? "Part of the trick of paying off your bills every month is not overusing the card in the first place," says Welsh.
4. Be afraid of credit cards bearing your school name. Many of these aren't issued by the big banks that back most credit cards. Finding information about them online can be difficult. 

For more information, visit

Word of the Day

August 25, 2011 4:59 pm

Escrow. Money or documents held by a third party until specific conditions of an agreement or contract are fulfilled.

Question of the Day

August 25, 2011 4:59 pm

Q: What is a prepayment penalty?

A: Some mortgages have prepayment penalties written into them. This means you will have to pay the lender a percentage of the principal, or some other stated amount, if you decide to repay the loan early.

The prepayment clause is usually in effect for only one to three years and may be waived for special circumstances. Lenders impose the penalty to recover any losses related to your early payment.

Ask about prepayment penalties before signing for a home loan. If you are applying for a new loan, the penalty should be disclosed in the truth-in-lending statement.

Carving Out a Home-Office Space

August 24, 2011 2:59 pm

At a time when more and more people are telecommuting, or increasing income with a home-based business, carving out a little office space at home is more important than ever.

“Not a problem,” says Philadelphia decorator Linda Rooney. “Whether you are living in a studio apartment, a single-family home, or in your mom’s basement, it may be easier than you think to turn a small area into a functional office space.”

Rooney suggests ‘thinking small’ when choosing office furniture—like a low-profile desk chair or a two drawer file cabinet on wheels that can be rolled under the desk when not in use. She also offers the following solutions for creating a work-at-home space:
• Closet space – Repurpose a coat closet into a ‘pocket office’ by replacing the door with a bi-fold door or a curtain panel hung from a spring-tension rod. Form a storage-savvy desk by placing a cut-to-measure piece of stained or painted plywood across a pair of two-drawer file cabinets with enough knee space between them. A couple of shelves installed over the desk can hold office supplies and/or a printer, and a wheeled chair can be rolled into place to complete your new office space.
• Living room space – The key here is to arrange your ”office” so you don’t see it when not in use. A computer armoire that looks like a piece of furniture when closed up is one way to do it. Otherwise, place the sofa and chairs in one direction (such as facing the fireplace) or arrange ”conversation area” style. The office set-up may be arranged in a corner or against a window wall facing the outdoors—or position the sofa in the middle of the room and use a slim console table behind it to double as a desk when you need it.
• Double-duty guest room – Switch the double bed in your guest room to a fold-out couch or daybed to accommodate guests, leaving room to turn guest-room space into a functioning office space. Your cozy work space can still provide a comfy place for guests whenever needed.

Keep Your Flora Healthy

August 24, 2011 2:59 pm

Whether your home has a huge rolling lawn, a scrubby garden of natural brush, or just a tiny dooryard, I am always on the lookout for good advice on keeping your local flora as healthy as possible. So employing even a few of the following ideas from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can go far toward making your yard or garden healthier and more beautiful. 

For a waste-free lawn and garden, the EPA suggests:
â—Using food scraps, yard trimmings, and other organic waste to create a compost pile. Compost is a rich soil amendment that can help increase water retention, decrease erosion, and replace chemical fertilizers.
â—Don't over-fertilize. A slow-release organic fertilizer applied once in the fall is sufficient for most lawns. Consult your cooperative extension agent for other tips appropriate to your locality.
â—Many plants and insects can serve as non-toxic, natural deterrents to weeds and garden pests. Introduce ladybugs to eat aphids, plant marigolds to ward off beetles, and look for quick-sprouting plants to block weed growth.
â—Cut the bottoms off plastic milk jugs or use small paper bags to protect young seedlings from frost, wind, heavy rain, and roving animals. Remember to recycle the bags and jugs when the seedlings have grown.
â—Reduce your use of fertilizers and pesticides by planting grass and other vegetation that is native to your area.
â—Keep your lawn mower and other equipment in efficient operating condition by performing regular maintenance according to the owner's manual. And use manual tools when appropriate to save fuel and protect air quality.
â—Raise the cutting height of your lawn mower during the hot summer months to keep grass roots shaded and cooler, reducing weed growth, browning, and the need for watering. When you mow, "grasscycle" by leaving grass clippings on your lawn instead of bagging them or use a mulching mower. The clippings will return nutrients to the soil instead of taking up space in landfills.
â—Shred untreated wood and leaf wastes into chips and use them as mulch on garden beds to prevent weed growth, retain moisture, regulate soil temperature, and add nutrients back to the soil.
â—Conserve water. Use barrels to collect rain water and use it to water plants. Check hoses for leaks before watering plants, and position sprinklers so they water only plants, not the sidewalk, street, or house. Also remember to water during the cooler parts of the day (early morning is best) to avoid evaporation.


Tips to Bring the Look and Feel of Vacation Home

August 24, 2011 2:59 pm

While it's sad to see summer vacations come to an end, there's no reason you can't bring the look and feel of the hotel home with you to enjoy all year long. To create a peaceful and relaxing retreat in your own bed and bath, we asked two top hospitality designers for their tips to create hotel-inspired spaces. Here's a look at what they're doing in their hotels that you too can achieve at home: 

• Make it clean, white and bright. "Replace existing bedding with a white duvet, along with a plush down insert. Add fun, colorful toss pillows that can be changed easily with your mood or seasonally," says Interior Designer Amy Gleghorn of hospitality design firm, Design Directions International in Atlanta, GA. "In an otherwise sedate space, adding some whimsy with an over-sized wingback chair in a bold, colorful pattern can liven and brighten up a room."

• Big, tall headboards make a big statement. "This does not have to match the other furniture pieces either," says Gleghorn. "A simple tufted upholstered headboard framed out with wood or a MirrorMate frame, and accented with nail head trim gives your room a focal point and mimics what a lot of designers are specifying for boutique hotel rooms today."

• Add recessed down lights. "Lamps or dimmers or simply changing out the light bulb's color are other easy fixes," says Gleghorn. "Lighting is one of the most important and overlooked changes."

• Paint is the cheapest and best way to add a quick change. "Calm, neutral colors help create a relaxing and soothing environment for rest and relaxation," says Brenda Wulff, director of product design and innovation for Choice Hotels International.

• Frame your bathroom's plate glass mirrors. "Instead of replacing the entire mirror, a MirrorMate frame can be added to the bathroom vanity mirror in a matter of minutes to finish the look of the bathroom and save money," says Wulff.

• Add fluffy white towels for a pampered, spa-like feel in the bath.

It's no surprise hotel and spa design is often the basis for residential design, as we find inspiration in the places and spaces we love, and love to visit. With these tips your home can become as much of an oasis as your favorite hotel suite.

For more information, visit MirrorMate at or

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