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
February 21, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, February 21, 2011--Whether en route to a better credit score or simply committed to ridding yourself of debt, paying off credit card bills can sometimes be more intimidating than one might expect. Depending on the level of debt, you may have finance charges hindering your path toward a debt-free life. Should you perform a balance transfer in order to receive a lower annual percentage rate (APR)? Ask yourself the following questions before jumping to any quick fixes:
How long will my current card take to pay off? Low introductory rates are indeed appealing, but find out how long it would take you to pay off your debt given your current scenario. Try utilizing a minimum payment calculator to help you determine the answer to this question if you only contribute the monthly minimum each pay period. By planning this out, you may find that the payment schedule is reasonable. If the end is in sight, you may want to stick with the terms you have.
Can I make a dent in my debt during the introductory period? If you choose to conduct a balance transfer, how much expendable cash will you have available in order to make a dent? Will the 0% interest rate actually help you pay down debts? Examine your monthly expenses and see if a transfer would be worth it for your wallet.
Do the balance transfer fees counteract the lower rates? Despite an attractive introductory APR offer, you must be aware of the looming balance transfer fees. Most banks will charge 3-5% of the amount you want to transfer over. If this transfer is a large chunk of change, your fees will add up quickly. Read the small print to find exactly how much the fee will be and do the math. If the fees are too great, you might want to opt out of the balance transfer option.
How does the total package look? New cards can have a plethora of fees and costs attached to it. From APRs to balance transfer fees, is the package actually worth the introductory offer? Make sure to look at the big picture to really see what the best option is for you and your debt.
If you are ready to accept a new offer, Bankrate offers a Balance Transfer calculator that you can use to determine when you will have your debt completely paid off. For more information, please visit:
February 21, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, February 21, 2011How much do you like your widescreen plasma TV, ultra-fast computer, designer clothes, high-count Egyptian cotton sheets and tweaked out ride-on lawn mower? How would it change your life if you had to downgrade everything you've earned and worked hard for?
If the unthinkable happened tomorrow and your home was severely damaged or destroyed in a fire or hurricane, you'd be understandably devastated. Once you got over the initial shock, you'd have to begin the long and difficult task of recovering or replacing everything that you lost. If you don't have a home inventory, the chances are good that you will be doing some major downgrading. To prevent this from happening and to make your life exceptionally easier in lieu of a tragedy, be sure to take a proper home inventory.
You have a lot more responsibility than you think you do. The first thing you're going to do is call the insurance company, who is going to ask for a detailed list and description of everything you lost and need to replace. All you need to do is provide the make, model and serial number of your electronics and appliances and substantial proof that your clothes were from Talbot's, your sheets were 600-count and your mower was a high-end John Deere. But most people can't even remember where they bought many of their belongings, never mind the model and serial number.
Receipts and appraisals lost in a fire? It's not unheard of to find people digging around in the soggy ashes of their once-home desperately looking for evidence to show insurance adjusters. If you are more proactive now and prepare your home and belongings for the worst, you can arrange to have all of the necessary information that the insurance company will ask for before something terrible happens.
You won't remember as much as you think. How big are your grandmother's heirloom pearls? How many are on the string? How long is the strand? What about that pocket watch your great-grandfather brought here when he emigrated from Europe? Can you describe it in detail? When is the last time you really looked at it? If they were stolen, could you describe them to the police? Do you have any pictures?
A comprehensive home inventory can help ensure that you have the right amount of insurance coverage, provide proof of ownership to your insurance company, maximize your insurance recovery payments, and improve your chances of recovering irreplaceable treasures if they're stolen.
"A complete inventory, including photos, may be one of the most valuable investments for peace of mind anyone can make for themselves and their families," says Dennis Kizziah, acting director for FEMA's Mississippi Transitional Recovery Office, on http://www.FEMA.gov. "If something happens to damage homes and property, an inventory will eliminate the need to piece that information together in the aftermath."
A home inventory can document and catalog all your possessions. Home inventory services can also be purchased and tailored to suit your needs and budget. Whether you conduct the inventory yourself or hire an outside company, having a proper inventory done will be invaluable if disaster strikes. You'll sleep better knowing you're ready to maintain your family's quality of life in a worst-case scenario.
February 21, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, February 21, 2011--As a result of the recovering economy, many Americans are dipping into their retirement funds as a means to avoid foreclosure, pay college tuition or purchase a home. During the second quarter of this year, 62,000 workers began the process of withdrawing funds from a 401(k) plan, up from 45,000 during the first quarter, according to a recent study from Fidelity Investments.
The declined real estate market and recent credit trends have limited homeowners' ability to secure home equity loans, giving consumers limited liquid assets to handle life's curve balls such as job loss, wage decrease or continued debt. Even if dipping into retirement funds seems like your only option, financial advisors still recommend that investors consider alternatives before severely raiding accounts that are supposed to sustain life after retirement. Here are five reasons why consumers should leave their 401(k) and other retirement funds intact:
The market should recover. With prices down, and continuing to drop, it simply is not a good time to pull money out of your account. Depleting your balance just hurts you even further in an unstable market. When the market eventually comes back to life, which it will, you won't reap the benefits because you have limited your returns.
Borrowing from a retirement account disturbs your money's ability to compound. By removing funds, you're essentially taking a step back from retirement. By keeping these funds out of mind, your dollars will compound into a lump sum that will be extremely helpful to you in the future.
In the unfortunate event of job loss, any outstanding 401(k) loan balance becomes due immediately. After three months, if the balance isn't paid off, the loan becomes a taxable withdrawal, adding a 10% penalty on top of your regular income tax. Given the state of the economy and level of unemployment, taking out a loan from your 401(k) is an extremely risky gamble. Would you be able to pay the loan back immediately, if necessary? If not, leave those funds alone.
Borrowing from your 401(k) simply means another payment, with interest, you must make. Borrowers must pay back the loan with post-tax dollars, which is a whole new ballgame when considering the pretax contributions. Someone in the 35% tax bracket would need to earn about $13,500 pretax to pay off a $10,000 loan, and that's before interest or loan administration fees get thrown into the mix.
Your retirement funds are your safety net. Creditors cannot seize anything from your pension, 401(k) or IRA. If your financial situation is unsteady, keeping these protected accounts intact is even more important than ever.
These are just a few of the reasons why consumers should avoid touching their retirement funds. With the proper plan and funds in place, your retirement can be a financially stress-free life.
Source: The Wall Street Journal / SmartMoney
February 18, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, February 18, 2011As part of ongoing efforts to strengthen the Federal Housing Administrations (FHA) capital reserves, FHA Commissioner David H. Stevens announced a new premium structure for FHA-insured mortgage loans increasing its annual mortgage insurance premium (MIP) by a quarter of a percentage point (.25) on all 30- and 15-year loans.The upfront MIP will remain unchanged at 1.0%. This premium change was detailed in President Obamas fiscal year 2012 budget, and will impact new loans insured by FHA on or after April 18, 2011.
After careful consideration and analysis, we determined it was necessary to increase the annual mortgage insurance premium at this time in order to bolster the FHAs capital reserves and help private capital return to the housing market, said Stevens.This quarter point increase in the annual MIP is a responsible step towards meeting the Congressionally mandated two percent reserve threshold, while allowing FHA to remain the most cost effective mortgage insurance option for borrowers with lower incomes and lower down payments.
The proposed change was announced last week as part of the Administrations report to Congress, which outlined the Administrations plan to reform the nations housing finance system. The Administrations housing finance plan also recommended that Congress allow the present increase in FHA conforming loan limits to expire as scheduled on October 1, 2011
This premium change enables FHA to increase revenues at a time that is critical to the ongoing stability of its Mutual Mortgage Insurance (MMI) fund, which had capital reserves of approximately $3.6 billion at the end of FY 2010. The change is estimated to contribute nearly $3 billion annually to the Fund, based on current volume projections. It is vital that HUD take action to ensure that FHA will continue to serve its dual mission of providing affordable homeownership options to underserved American families and first-time home buyers while helping to stabilize the housing market during these tough times.
On average, new FHA borrowers will pay approximately $30 more per month. This marginal increase is affordable for almost all home buyers who would qualify for a new loan. Existing and HECM loans insured by FHA are not impacted by the pricing change.
FHA will continue to play an important role in the nations mortgage market in 2011.President Obamas FY 2012 budget projects the FHA will insure $218 billion in mortgage borrowing in 2012. These guarantees will support new home purchases and re-financed mortgages that significantly reduce borrower payments.
For more information, visit www.hud.gov.
February 18, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, February 18, 2011--While many Americans have finally gotten wise to the importance of saving a buck, Eric Tyson, author of Personal Finance in Your 20s For Dummies, wishes it hadnt taken a crisis to make the message sink in. And hes adamant that younger Americans learn from the free-spending, debt-accumulating mistakes of folks of all ages.
For most young people, their 20s are the first time they are completely financially independent, says Tyson. Its not unusual to go a little crazy and start buyingor financing, as the case may bewhat you want.
Realizing that you and only you are in charge of paying your bills, covering other expenses, and making sure you have enough left over to save can be overwhelming, he admits. But the smartest thing to do is to quickly get over that shock and begin making sound money decisions from the get-go.
How and where you spend your money is a matter of personal choice and priorities, but those choices can affect the amount of money you have to save. Here are a few tips from Tyson on how to save more and spend less:
Rent smart. When youre in your early 20s and you dont have dependents, living in a low-cost fashion is easier than it is later in life. There are many ways to minimize costs if you are renting your living space. Two great ways to keep costs down are living with relatives or having roommates. But no matter who you are living with (and certainly if you are living alone), you should minimize your monthly rent. Just be sure to factor in all the costs of moving to and living in a new rental.
Dont be afraid to negotiate your rental increases, says Tyson. Some landlords increase their tenants rent no matter how good the tenant has been and regardless of the state of the economy. That said, a smart landlord doesnt want to lose good tenants who pay rent on time. State your case through a well-crafted and polite note or personal visit.
Slice homeowner expenses. If you own a home or are about to buy one, you can take many steps to keep your ownership costs down and under control without neglecting your property or living like a pauper. The first step is to buy a home that fits your budget. During the real estate boom of the early- to mid-2000s, many people bought houses they couldnt truly afford. When the market crashed, some of those people with severely stretched budgets lost their homes to foreclosure because they got in over their heads, fell on hard times, and couldnt afford their monthly mortgage payments.
Remember, even if you can afford the monthly mortgage payment on a house youre looking to buy, if you have too little money left over for your other needs and wantssuch as taking trips, eating out, going to concerts, enjoying hobbies, or saving for retirementyour dream home may become a financial prison, notes Tyson.
Cut your taxes. Alongside the costs of owning or renting a home, taxes are the other large personal expenditure for most folks. Everyone gets socked with taxes when earning income and when investing and spending money. Thats the bad newsthe good news is that you can reduce the amount of taxes you pay by using some relatively simple yet powerful strategies.
One strategy is to utilize a retirement savings plan, explains Tyson. To take advantage of such plans, you must spend less than you earn. Only then can you afford to contribute to these plans. Another great strategy is to reduce the amount of sales tax you pay. To do so, you must spend less and save more."
Cook up lower food costs. One way to keep your food costs low is to avoid eating at restaurants and instead learn to cook for yourself. Making your own food is often healthier, and because you put in all that hard work, you end up enjoying the food more. When you go to buy the groceries youre going to cook up, avoid name-brand products and instead go for store brands. They are usually the same quality (and sometimes the same product) as the name brand at a lower price.
Get up and go for less. Getting to and fro on a daily basis can get expensive if you dont keep an eye on your expenses. Many people rely on cars for their transportation. Cars can be a tremendous financial burden, especially if you borrow to buy or lease the car. When possible, opting for public transportation is a great way to save money. And in some cities, it allows you to avoid having a car altogether. Another great option is to opt for two wheels instead of four. Riding your bike has the double benefit of saving you money and being great exercise.
If you must have a car, look at cheaper options than financing or leasing one, says Tyson. Spending on cars is one of the leading causes of overspending and undersaving. When buying a car, you should buy one you can afford with cash, which for many people means buying a good-quality used car."
Budget your fun funds. Having fun and taking time out for recreation can be money well spent. However, if you engage in financial extravagance in the name of fun, you can quickly wreck an otherwise good budget. Many movies, theaters, museums, and restaurants offer discount prices on certain days and times. And other recreational options, such as visiting with friends, hiking, reading, and playing sports, can be good for your finances as well as your mental and physical health.
Tame your technology spending. These days it seems like there is a never-ending stream of new gadgets. Unfortunately, though, the cost of these gadgets adds up. Err on the side of keeping your life simple. Doing so costs less, reduces stress, and allows more time for the things that really do matter in life.
"After fixed expenses, such as your rent or mortgage, food, insurance, and so on, you may not have much money left for fun discretionary spending, let alone additional savings," says Tyson. When it comes to building wealth, it doesnt matter what you make; its what you spend, and, therefore, are able to save, that counts. Learn to save more and spend less now, and you will be able to lead a less financially stressed life.
February 18, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, February 18, 2010--Despite the recovering market, there are still many great neighborhoods to invest in. Due to the desirability of these neighborhoods, many agree that these neighborhoods are likely to experience rising or stabilized home prices. Rather than focusing all of your attention on price, there are many other factors to consider when searching around for the perfect neighborhood.
By looking beyond price, you can find an area that will remain attractive to buyers for years to come. Consider the following when searching for the right area for your family:
Areas outside of cities are often desirable and well-established neighborhoods to buy in, though many experts would advise against moving to an area with lots of foreclosures. Try to avoid areas with a lot of foreclosures because it may take longer for those homes to regain their value. Areas with a lot of first-time buyers were hard-hit because they did not have a lot of equity in their home and were faster to default. If you can afford it, buy into a 'move-up' area, which doesn't necessarily have to be a super-expensive neighborhood. Buyers should conduct research and find areas where many long-term residents live. Areas that have owners of 15 years or more tend to be more stable and experience fewer foreclosures.
Commute Times and Public Transportation
The distance to and from public transportation can also make or break a neighborhood in terms of market value. Some suburban neighborhoods may suffer if they are located too far away from cities or lack easy access to city-bound transportation. Compare prices of neighborhoods in the area and see which fare better.
Areas close to a train or metro line, whether you are in the suburbs or in the city, will keep its value. Also, look for communities that are convenient to major employment centers because there will always be a large amount of buyers looking in that area.
What's around the neighborhood in question? Areas that have many shops, parks and libraries typically have a stronger value than areas where you have to drive 20 minutes to get to anything. The more amenities you can find in one place, the better off you'll be purchasing near there.
Local School System
Even if you aren't planning on children, home buyers should most definitely look into neighborhoods with a good school district. Buyers always look for areas with good schools and when it comes time to sell, this factor could help you out. Although real estate agents cannot discuss whether schools are good or bad (due to Fair Housing laws), buyers can find test scores or other stats on district websites and also search for school reviews on the Web.
The Local Crime Rate
Crime rates are a large influence on values. Look at police district websites or call local police and inquire about crime stats. Obviously, you don't want to purchase in an area with rising crime. Understand the stigma involved with a high crime rate and be aware that the stigma alone can hurt property values for a long time.
Buyers should think outside the box to ask questions that are important to their potential home's value. By carefully assessing the local area and neighborhood, buyers can find a location that not only suits them personally, but also suits them financially.
February 17, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, February 17, 2011--Getting to know your new neighborhood can be an exciting and adventurous time for new home buyers. For some, the task may seem stressful or overwhelming. There are many ways to navigate around town and plenty of new activities to discover. If you find yourself in a rut or are having trouble adjusting, remember to utilize the following for help:
The Internet is the perfect resource for all of your neighborhood needs. Search for maps, directions, restaurant recommendations, entertainment options and more. With a computer or smartphone, the opportunities for discovery are seemingly endless. Don't be afraid to use the Web as a crutch for any and all of your needs during your first few months.
A GPS is a great device to take with you, even on small trips. With turn-by-turn directions, audio and a point of interest finder, a reliable GPS can be your savior on unknown roads. With redirecting capabilities enacted, there is zero chance of ever getting lost.
If a GPS isn't your thing, go old school and keep a set of maps in the car. Maps let you choose your own route or can help you out of a bind if you want to "wing it" and accidentally find yourself lost. Maps prove time and time again to still be effective and usable.
Befriending some locals can also provide you with a great resource for all of your area needs. Talk to neighbors or small business owners in the area. They can provide you with directions, recommendations and suggestions on the best ways that you can learn and explore the area. They can also provide you with helpful landmarks to watch out for and great stories about the area's past. A good face-to-face interaction is invaluable when learning the ropes of a new city or town.
Exploring around your new home will be an exciting and fun activity that your family can tackle together.
February 17, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, February 17, 2011U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan unveiled HUDs fiscal year 2012 budget proposal. Titled Creating Strong, Sustainable, Inclusive Communities and Quality Affordable Homes, the budget seeks to help lead America out of an unprecedented economic crisis and ensure our economy is competitive, growing and working for all Americans. HUD is taking responsibility for our deficit by investing in what makes America stronger and cutting what doesnt.
The budget provides a roadmap for HUD to work with our regional and local partners to win the future by investing in innovation, building neighborhoods that are connected to jobs and providing greater access to opportunity, so American businesses and communities are the best in the world, said Donovan. The President has said that we need to live within our means to invest in the future. That has meant tough choices, including to programs that, absent the fiscal situation, we would not cut. But American families are tightening their belts and we need to do the same.
The President is submitting this budget in an economic environment that is significantly improved from when the he took office. An economy that was shrinking is growing again, and instead of rapid job loss, more than a million private sector jobs were created in the last year. But theres still more work to be done to ensure that America and its workers can compete and win in the 21st century.HUDs FY 2012 budget tackles these challenges head by:
- Helping responsible families at risk of losing their homes and meeting the need for quality affordable rental housing;
- Transforming neighborhoods of poverty and ensuring that children there have access to the quality education we need to compete in the 21st century;
- Rebuilding the national resource that is our federally-assisted public housing stock and ensuring that its tenants are part of the mobile, skilled workforce our new global economy requires;
- Leveraging private sector investments in communities to create jobs and generate the economic growth we need to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.
HUDs budget also reflects the need to ensure that Americas future isnt built on a mountain of debt.As a down payment toward reducing the deficit, the President has proposed a freeze on domestic spending for the next five years, cutting the deficit by $400 billion over 10 years and bringing non-security discretionary spending to the lowest share of the economy since President Eisenhower. Every department shares a responsibility to make tough cuts so theres room for investments to speed economic growth.HUDs fiscal year 2012 budget more than meets the Presidents goal:
-The Departments $48 billion in gross budget authority is offset by $5 billion in projected FHA and Ginnie Mae receipts credited to HUDs appropriations accounts, leaving net budget authority of $43 billion, or 1% below the fiscal year 2010 enacted level of $43.5 billion.
-To maintain this commitment to fiscal discipline, HUD will protect existing residents and made the difficult choice to reduce funding for new units and projects, including cuts to the Community Development Block Grant, HOME Investment Partnerships, and new construction components of the Supportive Housing Programs for the Elderly (202) and Disabled (811).
And because meeting the Presidents State of the Union charge to Win the Future also means reforming government so its leaner, more transparent and ready for the 21st century, HUD proposes reforming the administrative infrastructure that oversees its programs.
-Through the Section 8 Voucher Reform Act legislative proposal that is part of this budget, HUD will simplify and rationalize the rent setting provisions of our largest program, yieldingif enactedover $150 million in savings in the first year and over $1 billion in savings over the next half decade.
-Finally, the Transformation Initiativeimportant funding and programmatic flexibility Congress provided in 2010is enabling HUD to conduct the kinds of research and demonstrations that will ensure that we are funding what works and identifying what doesnt and what we need to do better.
This budget reflects the Obama Administration's recognition of the critical role the housing sector must play for the nation to experience a robust, long-term economic recovery, Donovan said. Equally important, it expresses the confidence of the President in the capacity of HUD to meet a high standard of performance.In short, while it requires hard choices to reduce the deficit, this blueprint for fiscal year 2012 is one that will deliver results for the vulnerable people and often-distressed places that HUD helps.
For more information, visit www.hud.gov.
February 17, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, February 17, 2011Most home buyers who claimed the federal tax credit of up to $7,500 for buying their first home in 2008 are required to start repaying the credit in 15 annual installments, beginning with their 2010 tax returns.
The creditsome form of which was offered for qualified home purchases in 2008, 2009 and 2010has different repayment rules depending on when and under what circumstances the home was purchased. As tax season approaches, this may cause confusion among home buyers who received the tax credit.
"It is important that home buyers consult a qualified tax professional to make sure they are receiving all the tax benefits as well as fulfilling the obligations of their home purchase," said Bob Nielsen, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). "Homeownership tax incentives such as the home buyer tax credit and the mortgage interest deduction have helped millions of American families achieve their dream of homeownership."
The Internal Revenue Service is sending a letter to taxpayers who claimed the credit that explains if, when and how they have to repay it. There are different IRS letters for different situations, including a purchase of a home in 2008, 2009 or 2010; a sale of a main home; or a change in the use of the main home.
For example, a taxpayer who claimed the full $7,500 first-time home buyer credit on their 2008 tax return will repay $500 as an additional tax on their returns each year from 2010 to 2025, or until the home is sold or is no longer used as the owner's principal residence.
The credit for homes purchased in 2009 and 2010 does not have a repayment requirement unless the home ceases to be used as the taxpayer's principal residence within three years of the purchase.
The home buyer tax credit program expired for the majority of Americans in 2010. However, the eligibility period was extended to April 30, 2011, for qualified service members who served official extended duty outside the United States between December 31, 2008, and May 1, 2010.
The IRS website (www.irs.gov) contains detailed information about repayment requirements for the federal home buyer tax credit. For information about the tax benefits of homeownership, visit www.SaveMyMortgageInterestDeduction.com.
For more information, visit www.nahb.org.
February 16, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, February 16, 2011--If the cooking process is rather problematic for you, you may benefit from a kitchen reorganization. By restructuring your kitchen's setup, you can save yourself time while cooking and make a world of difference. With the right organizational features, cooking can be fun and relaxing.
According to Paul Radoy, manager of design services for Merillat, the best way to approach kitchen organization and storage is to look at the room in sections. "All kitchens have a cooking zone and a cleanup zone," he says. "And some kitchens may have an island or pantry. Each of these areas lends themselves to various storage opportunities."
The Cooking Zone
Keeping cooking items organized and within easy reach is key when preparing and cooking food. The National Association of Professional Organizers recommends observing the flow of activity in your kitchen and organizing around it. By designing your kitchen to meet the ways that you live, you can optimize your space and alleviate your processes.
Start by grouping objects by purpose and dedicate specific storage areas for them. Keep all bakeware together, keep pots and pans together, etc. In addition, keep those pots and pans as close to the oven as possible, and keep handy utensils where you'll need them the most. A hanging system or pull-down knife rack are both ideal for easy use. Save the Lazy Susan for awkward items or anything that falls under the miscellaneous category.
The Pantry Zone
Tired of scouring the pantry looking for canned goods? Do you often rebuy items that you already have? If you answer "Yes" to either of these questions, you could also probably benefit from rearranging your pantry. Group similar items together starting with canned goods, breakfast items, baking ingredients, etc. Pullout shelves and baskets can help you utilize cupboard space and keep like items together in one spot. Using stackable platforms for taller spaces can help eliminated waste space and increase your storage space.
The Cleanup Zone
Tidy up your cleanup zone to minimize clutter and make after-cooking cleanup easier. Tilt-out sink trays are great for soap and sponges, while an under sink tote can keep all of your cleanup supplies organized and handy. Having a cutting board near or next to the sink also offers a "clean-as-you-go" option.
Lastly, get rid of things that you don't use often. Foreman grills, waffle makers or panini presses that don't get used a lot just take up space and should be donated to someone who will use them more often.
When you're working in a kitchen that is nicely organized, the whole cooking experience will be easier, more fun and more productive.
For more information, visit www.merillat.com.