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
July 26, 2011 4:59 pm
Q: What determines how adjustable-rate loans change?
A: They go up and down with interest rates, based on several esoteric money market indices that cause the cost of funds for lenders to vary. The most popular indices include Treasury Securities (T-Bills), Cost of Funds (COFI), Certificates of Deposit (CDs), and the Libor, which is the London inter-bank offering rate.
However, the interest rate and payment adjustments do not always coincide. There is usually a lag between the two.
A number of consumer protections have been built into these loans to keep them from fluctuating too wildly. But consumers will have to be cautious when reviewing advertising and other claims about ARMs made by lenders.
July 25, 2011 4:59 pm
The days of driving around in endless circles trying to find and see all the homes you may want to buy is quickly becoming an activity of the past, thanks to several Smartphone programs and apps that I learned about this month from REALTOR® Barry Twynam (barrytwynam.com).
In the first of two segments on the subject, we’ll look at the apps to consider if you are in the market for a home. Twynam says many of these apps are available free for all types of smartphones, just check with your app store.
If you are shopping for homes, Twynam says Google Maps and Google Earth for mobile can show you where homes are located, and give you a feel for the neighborhood, the quality of other housing, accessibility, distance from busy streets and more.
Yelp Mobile with its reviews of businesses can give you some idea about what a neighborhood has to offer (shopping, restaurants, gas stations, etc.).
Zoocasa can search for properties based on your current location and receive full descriptions of properties. This app also allows users to email listings from within the app.
Home Tracker keeps track of all the details of the homes you visit with your REALTOR®. HomeTracker helps you to document each property in detail as you visit it. Properties are grouped into a tour, which is a set of homes you visited with your real estate agent, or homes in a specific area. In addition to storing property information, HomeTracker can easily take photos, map a property, e-mail property information, and perform a Google search, according to Twynam.
In the next segment we’ll look at Twynam’s bright ideas about mortgage apps.
July 25, 2011 4:59 pm
You’re in the drug store, looking for a fever-reducing medicine for your children. They range in age from 6 months to 7 years, and you want to buy one product you can use for all of them. So you buy liquid acetaminophen in concentrated drops for infants, figuring you can use the dropper for the baby and a teaspoon for the oldest.
This could be a dangerous mistake.
This use of concentrated drops in much larger amounts—as would be given with a teaspoon—can cause fatal overdoses, says Sandra Kweder, M.D., deputy director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of New Drugs.
You can’t just give an older child more of an infant’s medicine, adds Kweder. “Improper dosing is one of the biggest problems in giving acetaminophen to children.”
Confusion about dosing is partly caused by the availability of different formulas, strengths, and dosage instructions for different ages of children.
Sold as a single active ingredient under such brand names as Tylenol, acetaminophen is commonly used to reduce fever and relieve pain. It is also used in combination with other ingredients in products to relieve multiple symptoms, such as cough and cold medicines. Acetaminophen can be found in more than 600 over-the-counter (OTC, or non-prescription) and prescription medicines.
Acetaminophen is generally safe and effective if you follow the directions on the package, but if you give a child even a little more than directed or give more than one medicine that contains acetaminophen, it can cause nausea and vomiting, says Kweder.
In some cases—in both adults and children—it can cause liver failure and death. In fact, acetaminophen poisoning is a leading cause of liver failure in the U.S.
Advice from Outside Experts
An FDA Advisory Panel of outside experts met May 17-18, 2011, to discuss how to minimize medication errors and make children’s OTC medicines that contain acetaminophen safer to use.
The panel recommended:
• That liquid, chewable, and tablet forms be made in just one strength. Currently, there are seven strengths available for these forms combined.
• That dosing instructions to reduce fever be developed for children as young as 6 months. Current instructions apply to children ages 2 to 12 years and for those under 2, only state “consult a doctor.”
• That dosing instructions be based on weight, not just age.
• Setting standards for dosing devices, such as spoons and cups, for children’s medicines. Currently, some use milliliters (mL) while others use cubic centimeters (cc) or teaspoons (tsp).
“FDA is considering these recommendations,” says Kweder, and for those that the agency adopts, “we will work with manufacturers to try to get them in place on a voluntary basis.” The process of getting a regulation finalized could take several years, she adds, so having the drug industry act voluntarily would help make acetaminophen safer sooner.
Drug makers have already agreed to phase out the concentrated infant drops to reduce confusion for parents who try to use them for older children. On May 4, 2011, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, a trade group representing the makers of OTC medicines, announced plans to convert liquid acetaminophen products for children to just one strength (160 mg/5 mL). In addition, the industry is voluntarily standardizing the unit of measurement “mL” on dosing devices for these products.
Tips for Giving Acetaminophen to Children
• Never give your child more than one medicine containing acetaminophen at a time. To find out if an OTC medicine contains acetaminophen, look for “acetaminophen” on the Drug Facts label under the section called “Active Ingredient.” For prescription pain relievers, ask the pharmacist if the medicine contains acetaminophen.
• Choose the right OTC medicine based on your child’s weight and age. The “Directions” section of the Drug Facts label tells you if the medicine is right for your child and how much to give. If a dose for your child’s weight or age is not listed on the label or you can’t tell how much to give, ask your pharmacist or doctor what to do.
• Never give more of an acetaminophen-containing medicine than directed. If the medicine doesn’t help your child feel better, talk to your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist.
• If the medicine is a liquid, use the measuring tool that comes with the medicine—not a kitchen spoon.
• Keep a daily record of the medicines you give to your child. Share this information with anyone who is helping care for your child.
• If your child swallows too much acetaminophen, get medical help right away, even if your child doesn’t feel sick. For immediate help, call the 24-hour Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222, or call 911.
This article appears on FDA's Consumer Updates page, which features the latest on all FDA-regulated products.
For more information, please visit www.fda.gov.
July 25, 2011 4:59 pm
A study released recently by Bankrate.com found that only 58% of Americans track their spending against a monthly budget. Bankrate's overall Financial Security Index fell from 97.8 in June to 95.6 in July, the lowest reading since April. Confidence in job security and savings dropped to 2011 lows.
The new study was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International and can be seen in its entirety here: LinK: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/consumer-index/july-2011-financial-security-poll.aspx
Among the findings:
• Those with college degrees (66%) and those that are parents (65%) are highly likely to track spending against a budget.
• Least likely to track spending against a budget are those with a high school diploma or less (52%) and households with less than $30,000 in annual income (53%).
• Geographically, those in the Northeast (53%) are less likely to track spending against a budget than their counterparts in other parts of the country.
• 26% of Americans reported higher net worth than one year ago, whereas 25% reported lower net worth.
"A significant portion of the U.S. population would benefit from better budgeting habits," explains Greg McBride, CFA, senior financial analyst for Bankrate.com. "For example, we recently found that only 24% of Americans have adequate emergency savings. Consumers who create a monthly budget and stick to it are much more likely to be prepared for unexpected emergencies and more routine goals. Regardless of one's income level, it's critical to manage monthly cash flow and to properly assign funds to specific buckets such as a rainy-day fund, groceries and retirement. It's not good enough to wait until the end of the month and see what happens."
For more information, please visit www.bankrate.com.
July 25, 2011 4:59 pm
Contractor. One who contracts to do something for another. For example, in construction, a specialist who enters into a formal construction contract to build a real estate structure or handle renovations, improvements, and additions to an existing structure.
July 25, 2011 4:59 pm
Q: Should I avoid an adjustable rate mortgage?
A: Because adjustable rate mortgages, or ARMs, fluctuate with the market, they offer less stability than fixed-rate loans. If an ARM is adjusted upward, monthly payments will increase, and for a lot of people that can be too big a risk to take. On the other hand, should rates drop dramatically, homeowners can reap the benefits of lower rates without refinancing, thereby saving thousands of dollars.
Lenders first introduced ARMs in the 1980s when interest rates soared into the double digits, forcing many people out of the home buying market. They tied the rate to a variable national index, such as U.S. Treasury bills.
Today, many first-time buyers who have difficulty qualifying for a home loan, still settle for adjustable rate loans because the initial, “teaser” interest rate of the mortgage is normally two or three points lower than a fixed rate loan. ARMs are particularly attractive if you plan to be in your home a short time. They tend to adjust yearly or every three years, usually within certain limits, or caps, that prohibit the interest rate from shooting up too high. Make sure terms such as these are spelled out in any ARM agreement you choose.
July 22, 2011 4:59 pm
Summer is the season of travel, and from June through August, many of us find ourselves snagging more in-flight time than usual. With extra-long security lines and overpriced airport eats, flying can be a real drag. But it doesn’t have to be. The following 5 tips will make your flight more comfortable.
1. Bag it right. If you are making a connecting flight, it’s a good idea to cough up the cash (usually around 20 dollars) and check your large luggage. Rushing between flights with a roll-on in tow is stressful, and uncomfortable. Instead carry on a large shoulder bag or tote, big enough for all your essentials. Pack snacks and a water bottle (bring it through security empty and fill at a water fountain). Staying hydrated while flying minimizes jetlag!
2. Layer it up. In a heat wave, the thought of putting on a sweater might seem absurd. But airports and planes usually have the AC pumping—wear or carry extra layers to make sure you aren’t shivering all the way to your destination.
3. Socks and shoes. Make sure your shoes are easy-on, easy-off to avoid a hold-up in security. While flip flops are ideal for summer traveling, be sure to pack socks! This way, you won’t have to walk around barefoot on the dirty airport floor. Plus, an optional extra layer for your toes will keep you comfy throughout the flight.
4. Earplugs. Between the engine humming and the noise of your neighbors—crying babies included—bringing earplugs will allow you to relax, and maybe snag some sleep, on your flight.
5. A blanket. Blankets are no longer offered on every flight, and if they are, they aren’t always laundered in between. Pack your own lightweight throw for extra comfort and warmth.
July 22, 2011 4:59 pm
It's peak home improvement season and many homeowners are itching to roll up their sleeves and tackle a home improvement project. However, before embarking on a home improvement or renovation project this summer, homeowners need to understand just what they're getting themselves into.
Cutting costs on big projects by doing-it-yourself —or "DIY"—can actually cause huge problems down the road. Homeowners should educate themselves on what is best to leave to the professionals who are knowledgeable about what to consider when embarking on a home improvement project, including materials, sizing, project pitfalls, code requirements and permitting. Power Home Remodeling Group, a home remodeling company, offers homeowners tips and resources to assist them in making the decision when not to DIY.
"As a remodeling enthusiast, I personally understand a homeowner's desire to tackle projects on their own. The feeling of pride that results from improving your own home is a wonderful sense of accomplishment, but it's also important to know your limits," says Power co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Kaliner. "Some home improvement projects can be complex and benefit from a professional's expertise, such as window and siding installation, electrical wiring and plumbing. If such projects go awry, it could end up causing the homeowner quite a headache or additional costs that could have been prevented by consulting a professional."
Power offers several key tips for homeowners considering a DIY project:
• Do you have the time? This important question can easily aid your decision to complete a home improvement project. Take an honest evaluation of the time you can allot to the project. Diving into a project on a weekend without a realistic timeline can leave your house in shambles for weeks as you complete the project in your spare time.
• Do you have the right tools? Window, siding and door installation projects require very specialized, expensive tools to produce a quality result. Cutting corners with improvised tools will produce a less than stellar final product that can negatively affect the home's resale value. Less obvious tools such as permits, licenses and insurance are required to complete several projects. Without these, homeowners could face fines or zoning issues that can affect their taxes.
• Do you have the experience? For homeowners, their home is typically their biggest investment. Projects that change a home's structural integrity, energy efficiency and even visual appeal can drastically change its value. Before investing time and money in trial and error, homeowners should consider calling a professional to guarantee a high quality result.
Simpler projects such as landscaping, painting and shelving are great do-it-yourself opportunities for homeowners looking to save money. Green projects like 'upcycling' a piece of old furniture or caulking a leaky drain can also satisfy a desire to DIY on a smaller scale. These projects can be completed with less risk of doing any major damage to the home. Botched projects can even jeopardize the homeowner's ability to sell down the road.
Kaliner added, "Homeowners should also consider starting with a smaller DIY project that won't take a lot of time, they can see to completion, gain some confidence and get a better understanding of what's involved for future home improvement projects."
For more information, please visit PowerHRG.com.
July 22, 2011 4:59 pm
With hot and humid weather predicted to continue throughout the region, FirstEnergy Corp.'s utility companies are offering tips to help customers save money, keep cool and conserve electricity.
• Consider setting air conditioners a few degrees warmer on hot days. Every degree you add to your interior temperature in the summer can reduce your energy usage by up to 3 percent.
• Close drapes or blinds on windows that receive direct sunlight. Blocking the sun's rays reduces the temperature in your home, which means your air conditioner has less work to do.
• Close air conditioning registers in unused rooms and keep the doors to those rooms closed. This will reduce the amount of energy your air conditioner will use to maintain your home's temperature.
• Don't position heat-producing appliances near wall-mounted thermostats. Doing so will make your air conditioner run longer than necessary to maintain your preferred temperature.
• Turn off electric appliances and equipment that you do not need or are not using.
• Postpone using major electric household appliances, such as stoves, dishwashers and clothes dryers until the cooler, evening hours.
• Cook with the microwave instead of the oven. Traditional ovens require far more energy than microwaves, and they produce substantial heat inside your home, making your air conditioner run longer.
For more information, please visit www.firstenergycorp.com.
July 22, 2011 4:59 pm
If the unexpected happens and a major life crisis occurs, most Americans today would be unprepared to handle the impact. These findings are detailed in the new State Farm® "Financial Plan B" survey. In the study, while 81 percent of all adults say having a back-up plan is very important, only 45 percent say they've actually planned ahead and are ready to weather a life crisis.
"People naturally think the unexpected happens to somebody else. But setbacks can hit anyone and people need to be ready. Regrettably, most are not," says Joe Monk, senior vice president and chief administrative officer, State Farm Life Insurance Company. "With the economic downturn and concerns about continued slow growth, it's critically important that people take a clear-eyed look at their financial situation and develop realistic options they can have in place should unexpected financial difficulties pop up."
The survey also shows that the pressure to have back-up plans is intensifying because whatever "rainy-day funds" people once had are now challenged in the wake of the economic downturn. In the survey, 35 percent of Americans say they have funds on hand to meet financial needs for just three months or fewer, with 15 percent lacking funds to meet commitments beyond a single month. Not surprisingly, in the event of a job loss, many respondents say they would accept a large salary reduction simply to restore household cash flow. Fifty-four percent indicate they would accept a lower paying job if they were out of work for six months or fewer.
The telephone survey, conducted for State Farm by Harris Interactive®, asked people to consider their financial readiness in the face of a major life crisis such as loss of a job, a divorce, the unexpected death of a spouse or partner, or a catastrophic illness that leaves someone unable to earn an income. The survey was conducted from May 6, 2011 to May 16, 2011 among a nationally representative sample of 2,017 U.S. adults aged 18 and older.
Not Ready, Not Realistic
The survey also found that many people may have a false sense of security when it comes to the adequacy of the plans they have embraced to prepare for the unexpected. In the survey, 69 percent say they feel well prepared or somewhat prepared in the event of a major life crisis. Yet in looking at the actual elements of people's back-up plans, many "go-to" options create just as many problems as they solve.
• Sixty-one percent indicate they would take money from a 401(k) or other employer-sponsored retirement savings vehicle as part of their Plan B. Thirty-four percent would downsize their home and 22 percent would move in with family.
• Sixty-eight percent of people 55 or older say it is likely that they would take on an additional job if necessary.
• Fifty-eight percent of adults who have a financial back-up plan say it is not written down and only exists in their heads.
"For many people, their current Plan B's don't provide the kind of safety net they ultimately need," says Monk. "Taking money from a 401(k) creates more vulnerability later in life, homes are not the piggybanks they once were, and not all people are in the position to take in extended family.
"Working multiple jobs also is not realistic for many Americans as they age," adds Monk. "Most sobering is the fact that most people don't have back-up plans that are written down and documented, which means they often come up with solutions in the midst of a crisis—seldom the best time for clear, stress-free thinking."
Plan A's Suffering Too
The survey indicates many assumptions about retirement once thought to be unshakable also are coming under pressure. When asked, just fewer than a quarter of future retirees think they will be able to retire at age 60. Nearly one-quarter doubt they'll ever be able to retire. Additionally, slightly more than six in 10 Americans say they will not be able to retire without Social Security and/or Medicare being available as they exist today.
Given these rising uncertainties, State Farm recommends people consider the following tips to ward off the damaging effects that unexpected life events can have on savings and retirement plans:
• Start the conversation with loved ones. Financial planning conversations can be difficult and uncomfortable, but it's important to start them before you're faced with a crisis. Planning ahead for the unexpected can alleviate some of the stress you would otherwise experience.
• Work with someone you trust. Talk to your insurance agent or financial advisor about your Plan A—and your Plan B. If you don't know where to turn, ask your friends or family members to recommend someone they trust.
• Put your plan in writing. By committing a step-by-step plan to paper, you can prepare in advance and make more rational choices. And if something unexpected happens to you, others will know your wishes.
For more information, please visit www.statefarm.com.