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Tom's Blog

Word of the Day

June 24, 2011 4:27 pm

Brokerage. Business of a broker. Also, the amount charged for a broker’s service.
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Growth in Mobile Banking to Come from Consumers Who Plan to Buy a Smartphone or Tablet in the Next Six Months

June 24, 2011 4:27 pm

A recent study of over 1,400 U.S. consumers conducted by Chadwick Martin Bailey and iModerate Research Technologies found that 45 percent of US consumers own a smartphone or tablet. Of that group, 52 percent currently conduct some form of mobile banking. However, the real growth in the mobile banking market will come from those who don’t yet own smartphone or tablet.

The study shows 39 percent of those who plan to buy a smartphone or tablet in the next six months are highly likely to use their smartphone or tablet for mobile banking. By contrast, only 6 percent who already own a smartphone or tablet, but don’t mobile bank say they are highly likely to start in the next six months.

“I think what we’re seeing is that mobile banking among current smartphone owners has plateaued,” says Jim Garrity, vice president of Chadwick Martin Bailey’s Financial Services practice. “For all intents and purposes, those folks have already made a decision about whether or not they want to participate in mobile banking. The real opportunity is in the 14 percent of consumers who are planning to buy a smartphone or tablet in the next six months, because among that group many say they are highly likely to participate in mobile banking.”

For many it’s simply the convenience of being able to have access to account information and transfer funds from anywhere. For others, security concerns outweigh any convenience mobile banking has to offer. Qualitatively, a few consumers said:

“I always have my phone with me and prefer to take care of things when I think about them…I can check on things more frequently and move money around,” says a female surveyed, age 18-24.
“When away from my desktop it allows me to check my credit card balances. That’s mainly what I use it for…it helps me stay on track for budgeting,” says a male surveyed, age 25-29.

“If my phone gets lost or stolen I don't want that information to be easily accessible if my log-in information is saved…it seems easy to access and find out my financial information,” says a female surveyed, age 25-29.

The study also indicates that consumers are becoming more comfortable with using smartphones to make purchases. The research shows 45 percent of smartphone owners have made a purchase using their smartphone over the last year. And when it comes to paying for those purchases only 49 percent use their credit card, while over 40 percent used either a debit card or PayPal. There were also some gender differences. Men are more likely to use PayPal, while women are more likely to use a debit card.

For more information visit http://www.imoderate.com

For more information on Civility in America—2011, please visit Weber Shandwick at www.webershandwick.com.
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Incivility on the Rise in Other Aspects of American Life

June 24, 2011 4:27 pm

Over one-half of Americans (55 percent) believe that civility in America will get worse in the next few years. This is significantly higher than Americans' perceptions on incivility measured last year (39 percent). Civility in the workplace, schools and the Internet were explored in our second annual survey:

Incivility at Work

Over four in 10 Americans—43 percent—have experienced incivility at work. A nearly equal number (38 percent) believe that the workplace is becoming increasingly uncivil and disrespectful.

Workplace leadership is blamed for this decline by approximately two-thirds (65 percent) of those who perceive greater incivility in the workplace. This perception could possibly be fueled by the cynicism towards CEOs brought on by the recent recession or the belief that bosses are responsible for setting the tone at the top for acceptable behavior.

After workplace leadership, Americans who perceive greater incivility in the workplace cite employees themselves (59 percent) for workplace incivility. Other reasons include the economy (46 percent) and competitiveness in the workforce (44 percent).

As a consequence of this growing trend on the job, the majority of Americans (67 percent) agree that there is a critical need for civility training in the workplace.

Incivility Online

Asked about the civility of social networks, nearly one in two (49 percent) say that they are uncivil, an increase from 2010 (43 percent). However, Americans are much more inclined to name other sources besides social media and the Internet as uncivil—political campaigns, pop culture, media, government, the music industry and the American public.

Incivility causes Americans to change their online behavior—49 percent report that they have defriended or blocked someone online, 38 percent stopped visiting an online site because they were uncomfortable and 27 percent dropped out of a fan club or online community or forum.

Chris Perry, President of Weber Shandwick Digital Communications, says, "Digital conversations are meant to engage and foster multi-dimensional dialogue. They are not meant to demean others or be hurtful. Although this research shows online incivility slightly on the rise, the connectivity and opportunity for dialogue ultimately outweighs the risk."

Cyber bullying or online harassment of children or teens is of great concern to Americans today. Nearly 7 in 10 Americans—69 percent—report that cyber bullying is getting worse. An equally large number—72 percent —worry about children being cyber bullied. These high figures underscore parental concern about online incivility and youth. The majority of Americans—78 percent —believe that civility training should be offered in our nation's schools.
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1.2 Million Plan Fourth of July Travel, Reports AAA Michigan

June 24, 2011 4:27 pm

Nationally, AAA projects approximately 39 million travelers taking a trip at least 50 miles from home, down 2.5 percent. The Fourth of July holiday travel period is defined as Thursday, June 30 to Monday, July 4.

AAA projects a slight decline in holiday travelers mainly due to fuel prices being about $1 more per gallon more than last year. The July 4 holiday period is typically the busiest time of year for family auto travel. In Michigan, an estimated 87 percent of travelers will go by vehicle—compared to 84 percent nationally—with five percent flying and eight percent going by bus or train.

"While gas prices are significantly more than they were last year, prices have come down in the last two weeks and we are seeing travelers taking to the roads this summer holiday to enjoy our Great Lakes and outdoor destinations," notes AAA Michigan President Steve Wagner. "Travelers are making some adjustments to pay for the increase in gas costs."
While AAA's survey of intended travelers found that 56 percent said rising gas prices would not impact their travel plans, the remaining 44 percent who said it would said they would economize in other areas, including taking a shorter trip.

The average distance traveled by Americans this Fourth of July holiday weekend is forecast to be 573 miles, seven percent less than last year's 617 miles. Median spending is estimated to be $807, up 25 percent from last year's $644. The increase includes higher hotel prices. Rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are expected to increase three percent from a year ago with travelers spending an average $147 nightly, compared to $143. Those heading to AAA Two Diamond hotels will pay $110 per night, up eight percent.

According to AAA's Leisure Travel Index, airfares over the holiday weekend are expected to increase 11 percent more than last year, with the average lowest round-trip rate of $213 for the top 40 U.S. air routes.

The complete AAA/HIS Global Insight 2011 July 4th holiday forecast can be found at www.AAA.com/news.

Americans Closing Their Wallets Due to Incivility, According to New Survey

For the second year in a row, about two-thirds—or 65 percent—of Americans say that civility is a major problem, according to the annual Civility in America poll released by Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate in partnership with KRC Research. Among the many aspects of American life impacted by incivility—such as politics, sports, schools, workplaces, among others—is American business, considered by 48 percent of respondents to be uncivil. At a dramatically increased pace from 2010, Americans are voting out incivility with their wallets by severing their patronage to companies (69 percent), redefining their perceptions of brands (69 percent), and spreading negative word-of-mouth about companies (58 percent).

The 2011 online survey was conducted in May among 1,000 American adults to assess attitudes towards civility online, in the workforce, in the classroom and in politics. An earlier release covered civility and politics.

Micho Spring, chair of Weber Shandwick's Global Corporate Practice, states: "Our second annual Civility in America poll confirms that the decline in civility is seeping into all facets of American life, including our workplace, our schools, our online lives and consumer sentiment. The risk of companies losing business because of incivility is startling and growing. The topic of civility deserves to be part of the growing national debate on how we communicate responsibly in our daily lives." Further underscoring incivility's power on the wallet, a recent survey by Consumer Reports found that 64 percent have left a store due to poor service. This data coincides with our finding that 65 percent of Americans have experienced incivility during a shopping trip.

In a related finding important for the marketplace, nearly six in 10 Americans (58 percent) report "tuning out" advertising because of perceived incivility. Companies whose businesses depend upon consumer perception should heed these findings as they try to emerge from the recession.
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Consumers Advised to Do Their Own Research When Purchasing A Home Service Contract

June 24, 2011 4:27 pm

In 2010, over three million home service contracts, often referred to as home warranties, were purchased nationwide—the greatest number in the history of the industry.
Internet-based Angie's List often publishes reports advising consumers to be smart when buying a home service contract. The National Home Service Contract Association (NHSCA) agrees and offers further guidance.

Based in Olathe, Kans., the NHSCA is a non-profit 501(c) (6) industry trade organization of member companies serving home service contract providers and consumer interests throughout the United States. While a growing number are marketed directly to consumers, the majority of contracts are purchased as part of a real estate transaction or subsequent renewal.

There is little doubt that the record number of contracts reflects the fact that consumers are seeking security and financial protection due to the current economic environment. Home service contracts provide the peace of mind that helps alleviate potential concerns of both home sellers and buyers during the resale transaction and for one year following the close of sale. In addition, renewal customers have continued protection from aging home systems, appliances and utilities.

Home service contracts vary in the details of benefits provided. The market is competitive and consumers have many choices regarding benefits, service and pricing. NHSCA member contracts are typically a few pages and outline complete terms and conditions of coverage. Consumers should compare contracts and consider the systems, appliances and utilities unique to their property to better assess their needs. If you live in a rural area, you may wish to consider adding well pump or septic tank protection. Do you have a pool or a spa? Do you wish to cover a freestanding appliance such as a refrigerator in your garage?

While the price of the product and optional coverage available is important, so are many other factors. Consumers should consider a number of questions in order to ensure they are making a wise purchase. Is the contract written in simple, easy to read and understandable language? Does the company clearly identify what services are not covered? Is the trade fee for each service call clearly disclosed? Is there an aggregate limit per system or appliance, per service call or per contract? Can a service call be placed 24/7 every day of the year? Is emergency service available when necessary? Is there a clear process that can be followed if the services rendered are not satisfactory?

It is also important for consumers to acknowledge that “everything” cannot be covered by a contract that typically costs less than $500 a year. While contracts cover many breakdowns, there must be reasonable limitations. NHSCA members paid out well over one-half billion dollars to local contractors in 2010 to service customer’s homes. Even so, NHSCA members are always working to make contracts easier to read and understand as the industry strives to close any potential gap between available benefits and customer’s expectations.

Consumers should be confident that their home service contract provider has a solid reputation for serving its customers. References from real estate professionals and friends and a rating from the Better Business Bureau can be extremely helpful in the selection process. Either the state attorney general or insurance commissioner regulates all providers. (In Texas it is the Texas Real Estate Commission.) Contact the appropriate state agency to inquire on a provider's standing.

“If a consumer doesn’t take the time to perform their own ‘due diligence,’ they may well end up as another statistic,” Gwen Gallagher, President of Old Republic Home Protection, says. “What is important to consider is that out of the three million contracts sold, and four million service calls provided by the home service contract industry last year, only a very small fraction of consumers were not satisfied with either the coverage or service they received.”

An even smaller number of those may lodge a complaint on Internet sites such as Angie’s List, where they appear to receive disproportionate attention. The fact is the overwhelming majority of consumers value their home warranty protection and remain quite happy with both coverage and service.

The NHSCA offers additional consumer-friendly information on their website, homeservicecontract.org.
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Question of the Day

June 23, 2011 4:27 pm

Q: Are shared equity and shared appreciation mortgages the same?

A: No. With a shared appreciation mortgage, or SAM, a borrower receives a below-market interest rate in return for the lender receiving a share, usually 30 to 50 percent, in the future appreciation of the property upon its sale.

Introduced in the early 1980s, when interest rates were high enough to make qualifying for a mortgage a real challenge, the SAM has never really caught on. Adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) proved more attractive.

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Word of the Day

June 23, 2011 4:27 pm

Builder’s warranty. Written statement by a builder assuring that a dwelling was completed according to a stipulated set of standards. It protects the buyer from any latent defects.
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Over One Third of Americans Plan to Work Past Retirement, According to a Recent Survey by Persuadable Research

June 23, 2011 4:27 pm

Those nearing retirement have some serious advice for younger generations willing to listen, according to a recent study conducted by Persuadable Research Corporation.

The key pearls of wisdom shared by these elders? Lead a healthy lifestyle or pay the price later. Save for the future. Love your family and treasure your friends.
Health issues are the top concern among people as they age. Issues of losing mental capacity, simply looking older and becoming physically weaker are realities seeming to sneak up on many panelists queried in the May 2011 study focusing on aging.

“Never thought much about it as I was advancing in age,” admits one panelist. “But I realize that we took our health for granted. If you didn’t live a healthy lifestyle before, you’ll be aging with a multitude of health problems.”

“I hate it,” echoes another respondent. “Your body starts to show wear and tear and get too many aches and pains. You don’t realize how good you had it when you were younger.”

Aside from regretting lifestyle choices that began 10 or 20 years prior, many panelists nearing retirement—or who are already retired—also wish they’d arrived at certain financial realizations sooner.

And they aren’t the only ones clearly identifying the long-term effects of youthful missteps. Some economic experts claim as many as 3 out of every 5 of future retirees are at risk for outliving their financial resources. Getting an early start to retirement savings is one of the prevalent bits of advice bestowed by professional money managers and retirees alike. When Persuadable Research study participants were pressed to share specific recommendations, elder consumers routinely warn their younger counterparts not to waste money on things that might qualify as a ‘passing fancy,’

“Save, save, save,” imparts a money-conscious survey panelist. “Even if you think you can’t afford it, put some money away regularly.”

Perhaps adjusting to recent economic turbulence, more people may be reshaping their retirement dreams to better match financial constraints. Retiring later is the most obvious consideration for many. While 34 percent of the Persuadable Research study panelists say they plan to retire between 61- 65 years-of-age, 20 percent are delaying that life change until the 66-70 birthday milestones. Another 17 percent plan to retire after age 71. And even after retiring from their current positions, over one-third of the respondents plan to continue working either part-time, full-time or manage a small business.

The retirement dream many consumers are saving for? A small home they can manage in a warm climate, preferably close to a pool or a beach. Generally speaking, most aspiring retirees say they would prefer to live close to friends and family members—especially grandchildren.

If the grandchildren happen to live in an exotic location nestled within the tropics? All the better. Regardless of the specific location, however, cash-strapped parents struggling to adjust to rising day care costs are increasingly encouraging retiring grandparents to fill in the young-family gaps and help facilitate moves so retirees can live closer. Retirees, after all, often have flexible schedules that can be a good match for child care needs. Meanwhile, parents may be able to reciprocate with a small financial compensation—one that’s significantly less than traditional day care expenses.

Still, the mantra of a successful outcome involves one key aspect: good planning.

Persuadable Research offers full service market research expertise all from an online market research company you can trust.
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Top 10 Safety Tips for Summer Driving Preparedness

June 23, 2011 4:27 pm

Cobra Electronics Corporation (NASDAQ: COBR), a designer and manufacturer of consumer and mobile electronics, recently offered consumers a simple checklist of its 'Top 10 Safety Tips for Summer Driving Preparedness' as people across the country gear up for their summer driving adventures:

1. Plan Ahead. Plan your trip in advance, considering weather forecasts, road construction, alternate routes, and even refueling locations in advance of long stretches of rural roadways.
2. Get Inspected. Have your car inspected before departing, with attention to fluid levels, lights, battery, belts, tire condition, air conditioning, brakes, and spare tire condition.
3. Stay Awake. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drivers falling asleep at the wheel account for 100,000 U.S. crashes annually. Develop a plan that involves frequent stops, stretching, and regular driver rotation.
4. Avoid Alcohol. Alcohol is a key factor in fatal traffic crashes, playing a role in about half of all motor vehicle deaths. That makes weekend nights even more dangerous. In fact, more fatal crashes take place on weekend nights than at any other time of the week.
5. Stock Up. One of the most dangerous summer driving situations involves becoming stranded in a hot, desolate location due to mechanical problems. Your safety kit should therefore include sunscreen, plenty of water, first aid kit, spare car keys, food supplies, flares or reflective triangles, gloves, and spare engine coolant.
6. Get a Map. Even if you know your route well, always carry maps, a GPS navigation unit, or a smartphone app with GPS mapping or navigation.
7. Stay Aware. There are many potential sources of driving mishaps, most of which can be avoided by staying alert at all times. Monitor cockpit gauges frequently, and be aware of the weather, road conditions, accidents, road signs, and stop lights. Over 450,000 injury crashes occur annually in adverse weather and road conditions according to the US Department of Transportation.
8. Slow Down. Watch your speed and obey posted speed limits. Lower speeds also mean better gas mileage.
9. Be Prepared. In the event of trouble, the right tool can be a life saver. Recommended equipment includes a tire jack, basic tool kit, jumper cables and/or jump starter, alternate power source, air compressor, and flashlight/emergency light.
10. Stay Connected. Don't forget your mobile phone and charger programmed with important numbers, including your insurance agent and AAA. Two or more phones in the car are even better.

To learn more about Cobra Electronics, please visit www.cobra.com.

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Remodeling an Older Home? Use a Lead-Safe Professional

June 23, 2011 4:27 pm

When you are ready to remodel or renovate your pre-1978 home, it's important to hire a Lead-Safe-Certified professional, recommends the National Association of Home Builders.

Before being banned in 1978, lead was a common ingredient in exterior and interior house paint, and is still present in many older homes. Lead ingestion has been shown to cause developmental delays and disabilities in young children.

In April 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency enacted the Lead: Renovation, Repair, and Painting rule that requires training in lead-safe work practices for all remodelers working in pre-1978 homes. EPA Lead-Safe Certified Renovators are equipped to use lead test kits, educate consumers about the dangers of lead and use prescribed lead-safe work practices.

"Lead-Safe Certified Renovators are trained to help keep your family safe from lead exposure during your remodeling project," says NAHB Remodelers Chairman Donna Shirey, CGR, CAPS, CGP, and remodeler from Issaquah, Wash.

"It always pays to get the job done right," says Shirey. "Remodeling professionals have expertise in design solutions, managing product choices and completing beautiful projects. Plus lead-safe certification means the remodeler will understand and apply practices to minimize dust and lead exposure and protect the safety of your family."

When planning your home remodel, read the EPA's Renovate Right pamphlet to better understand the dangers of lead exposure and how to conduct a safe home remodel. Consider hiring a certified risk assessor or lead inspector to determine if your home contains lead paint. After completing the renovation, be sure to maintain records of the work that's been done.

For sound advice on lead safety, visit www.nahb.org/leadsafe. To find an EPA Lead-Safe Certified Renovator near you, contact your local home builders' association or use the search tool at http://www.leadfreekids.org/. For more information about home remodeling, visit www.nahb.org/remodel.
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