Date Archives: October 2014

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October
30

A recent Federal Trade Commission study showed that approximately 26 percent of consumers have credit report mistakes that could lead to higher loan and insurance payments. More than a quarter of participants in the study found at least one error on their credit reports, and five percent had errors serious enough to affect loan terms.   Search for credit   "Credit reports play a crucial role in determining consumers' financial discipline and responsibility," said Howard Dvorkin, CPA and Chairman of Debt.com. "Detecting credit report errors allows consumers to correct inaccurate information that could potentially lead to denied loans and high interest rates."   Dvorkin advises that consumers review their credit report and take steps to correct any issues. He recommends:   Correcting errors on credit report - Consumers should check their credit score at least three months before making a purchase. If they identify mistakes, consumers should write a letter to the credit bureau and organization responsible for reporting the inaccurate information. In the letter they should explain why the information is incorrect and what should be changed on the credit report.   Asking for a credit-line increase - The credit utilization ratio is one of the major factors that contribute to the overall credit score. Using too much of the available credit can have a negative impact on a credit score. While it's possible to fix this issue by paying down debt, sometimes consumers may not be able to afford it. To avoid having a low score, consumers should call their card provider and ask for a reduction of their interest rate. This could help consumers to pay off their balance quicker.   Consolidating your debt – Another quick way for consumers to improve their credit score is to consider consolidating their credit card debt. This can make it easier to pay down debt and also increase the average age of revolving credit lines, which can help the credit utilization ratio.   Consumers shouldn't add an installment loan to their credit portfolio "just because," but if they are in need of a student or personal loan, they may be able to quickly improve their credit score. Creditors want to see that consumers can handle a wide array of debt, so having this type of loan can be beneficial. If consumers are in dire need of improving their score, taking out a small personal loan that they can pay back over time could help.   Using an old card – If consumers have a card that they haven't used in a while, they can start making purchases with it again. Not using a card for an extended period of time could lead to credit card providers no longer reporting it to the three major bureaus. By simply using an old card, consumers can increase their credit utilization ratio and extend their history.   Source: Debt.com Published with permission from RISMedia.
October
30

Halloween is a night filled with candy, costumes, a bit of fear and a lot of fun, but it can also be a dangerous night if you don't take the proper safety precautions. With ghosts, goblins, vampires and zombies roaming the streets, it's important that parents and children review safety protocols before trick-or-treating.   halloween   "Halloween is a magical evening where kids get to transform into anything they want to be," said Allstate's Executive Vice President of Product Operations Steve Sorenson. "But it's most important for them to be safe. By following a few basic safety tips, everyone can do their part to make the holiday a memorable occasion for all the right reasons."   Parents should take the following steps to ensure safety.  
1. Review all appropriate pedestrian and traffic safety rules with children. 2. Make sure costumes, wigs and accessories are fire-resistant. 3. Fasten reflective tape to costumes and bags to make sure they are visible if children are out after dusk. 4. Make certain that masks have large eye holes and nose and mouth openings. Parents should encourage children to remove their masks before crossing the street. 5. Provide well-fitting costumes and shoes to avoid trips and falls. 6. Make certain that swords and other accessories are made from cardboard or flexible materials. Children should not carry sharp objects. 7. Travel only in familiar, well-lit areas and avoid trick-or-treating alone. 8. Carry flashlights with fresh batteries to help children and motorists see more clearly. 9. Look both ways before crossing the street and use established crosswalks whenever possible. 10. Walk on sidewalks and not in the street. If there are no sidewalks, walk on the far edge of the road facing traffic.  
Source: The Allstate Corporation Published with permission from RISMedia.
October
23

With the rollout of FICO's updated scoring system slated for the near future, it's important for consumers to continue to practice good credit habits. The Better Business Bureau advises that FICO 9 will result in these three changes, which may impact your credit score.   credit score concept   1. Lack of credit history will be a non-factor. FICO 9's new algorithm assesses loan risk instead of history, eliminating challenges for young adults or those with little to no credit.   2. Medical debts will hold less weight. Incurring debt from a medical circumstance is often unavoidable. Once FICO 9 goes into effect, experts estimate that those with medical debt and an otherwise good credit history will see a 25-point increase in their score.   3. Collected debt will not be heavily evaluated. Debts paid to a collections agency will have much less of an impact thanks to a forgiveness policy that could result in the addition of 100 points or more to your score.   Source: BBB Published with permission from RISMedia.
October
22

(BPT) - How much do you spend on utilities? Are you looking for ways to save? According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a typical American household spends about $2,100 on energy bills each year. Most of that expense comes from a home's energy use during the winter heating season. A quick home checkup can help you can reduce these costs, prepare for winter and enjoy energy savings.   WINDOW   Properly installed and maintained windows and doors can help keep your home more comfortable year-round. Save on heating costs by preparing your windows and doors for winter with these tips:  
  • Clear sills and moving parts of dirt and debris. Debris like sand, dirt or leaves can get caught in windowsills and moving parts of windows or doors. Clean these areas with a dry paintbrush to create a tighter seal and enhance window and door performance.
  • Check weather stripping. Re-attach or replace missing or worn weather stripping around windows and doors. Loose weather stripping can let cold air in during the winter and out in the summer, reducing energy efficiency.
  • Reapply caulk or sealant around windows and doors. Reseal areas around windows and doors that may have been exposed to heavy weather or extreme sunlight - creating breaks in caulk or sealant - to help reduce potential drafts and leaks.
  • Installing snap-in blinds or shades. Install snap-in blinds or shades to help insulate your home from cold outdoor temperatures.
  • Repair or replace damaged exterior surfaces. Cracked or deteriorated wood associated with water penetration may allow moisture or cold air to leak into your home. Look closely for signs of moisture leakage and replace damaged wood. Consult a professional to help correct any roof or drainage problems around your home.
  • Install storm doors. Storm doors add an extra layer of protection and help reduce air and moisture leakage.
  • Replace old windows and doors with energy-efficient ones. If you have single-pane glass, clear glass, or older windows or doors, you may be paying more to heat your home in the winter and cool it in the summer. Replace old windows with energy-efficient, double or triple-pane glass versions made with insulating argon, or install new durable fiberglass doors to help save money and energy year-round.
  Published with permission from RISMedia.
October
16

  Freddie Mac (OTCQB: FMCC) recently released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing average fixed mortgage rates falling back near their lows for 2014.     mortgage rate decline     "Fixed mortgage rates were down on a week filled with bleak forward projections from the Federal Reserve and concern over growth in Europe," says Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist, Freddie Mac. "Despite gloomy vernacular from the Fed, mortgage purchase applications were up 2 percent on the week and the labor market added 248,000 jobs, beating expectations and lowering headline unemployment to 5.9 percent."   Fixed mortgage rates average as follows:  
  • 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 4.12 percent with an average 0.5 point for the week ending October 9, 2014, down from last week when it averaged 4.19 percent. A year ago at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.23 percent.
  • 15-year FRM this week averaged 3.30 percent with an average 0.5 point, down from last week when it averaged 3.36 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.31 percent.
  • 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 3.05 percent this week with an average 0.5 point, down from last week when it averaged 3.06 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.05 percent.
  • 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.42 percent this week with an average 0.4 point, unchanged from last week. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 2.64 percent.
    Source: Freddie Mac Published with permission from RISMedia.
October
13

(BPT) - The leaves and the weather don't need to be the only things to change this season. As the cooler temperatures send you indoors, start adding home improvement projects to your to-do list.   Why now? According to a recent survey by Houzz.com, 78 percent of homeowners are looking to improve the look and feel of their space; while 54 percent are looking to add functionality. Here are a few project ideas to get your home feeling and looking fabulous.   fall     From boring to bold baths The bathroom topped the 2014 Houzz & Home Survey renovation project list - likely since its one room in the house that's used every day. If your bathroom is boring, basic or just outdated, it's time to make a change - even on a budget.   Faucets are a simple and affordable way to instantly renew the look and functionality your bath. Moen's Darcy bathroom collection, available at The Home Depot, includes transitionally styled faucets with a soft-modern look and water-saving benefits to offer the best of form and function and give you a beautiful bath in no time. The collection is also available in Moen's Spot Resist Brushed Nickel finish, so you'll save time cleaning, too, as it helps resist water spots and fingerprints.   Weather the winter wisely No one wants to spend money on high energy bills, but according to the National Resources Defense Council, approximately one-third of a home's total heat loss usually occurs through windows and doors that aren't insulated properly. Don't throw money out your windows; updates such as weather stripping can keep out cool air while keeping the needed warm air in.   And don't stop there; simple tasks, such as replacing worn-out caulk, insulating your outlets, and prepping your windows with plastic cling for the winter months can significantly reduce your heating and cooling bills.   Quick and convenient kitchen upgrade Cool weather means less barbecuing and more indoor cooking. As the entertaining hub and family gathering place, it's no wonder the kitchen is the second top renovation project on the Houzz list. What are homeowners looking to update? Twenty-one percent want a new kitchen faucet.   From prep to clean-up, the kitchen faucet is a major workhorse - and a focal point - in the kitchen. So, if you're living with a builder basic, it's time for an upgrade. Pulldown faucets are a popular choice, such as the new Hensley kitchen faucet from Moen. Not only will it add a heightened aesthetic and functionality with its Spot Resist Stainless finish, but it also features Moen's innovative Reflex system, that self-retracts and securely docks to provide smooth operation and easy movement, offering a more convenient kitchen experience. In addition, the faucet features Microban antimicrobial protection - built-in to the faucet finish - to help inhibit the growth of stain- and odor-causing bacteria, mold and mildew. For more information, visit moen.com.   Get fired up Nothing feels better on a cold night than getting cozy by a fire, but be sure your fireplace is prepped for the season. For a wood-burning fireplace, inspect the chimney for nests or cracks. Next, be sure to clean it thoroughly to remove creosote, which is unburned fuel, to prevent unwanted fires. For gas-burning fireplaces, be sure the airways of the pilot and main burners are working properly and the blower is clean. Finally, be sure you have working carbon monoxide and smoke detectors, as well as an operational fire extinguisher nearby. Soon you'll (safely) enjoy the warm glow during cold winter days.   Focus on fixtures and fans As the days get shorter and there's less natural light, you may notice your fixtures a lot more. For added illumination and energy savings, update incandescent bulbs with brighter, ENERGY STAR-rated bulbs which use about 75 percent less energy and last 10 to 25 times longer. Next, focus on your ceiling fans. Start by cleaning the blades with a gentle detergent and switch the blades to rotate clockwise. Changing this setting pushes warm air down into the room, making it feel warmer while saving up to 15 percent on heating costs.   Check off your home improvement to-do list with these simple changes. Your home will look and feel fabulous, and be more efficient, as the cooler weather approaches.  
October
9

The U.S. economy is showing renewed vigor and is poised for a pickup in growth, according to a recent report by TD Economics, an affiliate of TD Bank.   Housing Market   "Job growth is gaining speed and confidence is rising," says TD Chief Economist, Craig Alexander. "The strength in job growth will support consumer spending and energize housing demand, shifting the economy into third gear."   After averaging 2.2 percent in 2014, the economy is forecasted to grow by 3 percent in 2015. With faster growth, the unemployment rate will continue to fall, reaching 5.5 percent by the end of next year.   Stronger job and income growth will support the housing market. "The dearth of new household formations is strongly related to the lack of job opportunities among young people," says Alexander. "As employment rises, the housing recovery should also pick up speed as these first-time buyers come back into the market."   Between January and August, the economy generated over 1.7 million jobs, nearly 300,000 more than the average over the previous three years. The acceleration in job growth has been accompanied by broader signs of labor market improvement. Businesses are reporting high levels of job openings and increasing confidence in the durability of the economic recovery.   With the expected improvement in growth over the next year, the economy is likely to have shown sufficient progress for the Federal Reserve to begin raising short-term rates.   "After almost seven years of zero interest rates, the recovery in 2015 will have finally moved to a stage where rates can begin to move higher," says Alexander. "But, this will occur gradually."   TD Economics expects the Federal Reserve to begin its rate hiking cycle mid next year and bring the fed funds rate up to 0.75 percent by the end of the year. By the end of 2016, the fed funds rate will likely only be at 1.75 percent – still high enough to stimulate the economy.     Source: TD Economics Published with permission from RISMedia.
October
4

(BPT) - Prioritizing a home-improvement wish list is never easy. Do you put design and aesthetics ahead of functionality? Or do you choose comfort and convenience over energy efficiency and cost savings?   appliance   If you've found yourself trying to figure out which home improvement project to tackle next, take another look at your list and see if some of your projects could actually double up on the benefits and give you style, comfort and energy efficiency all at once. The following projects are designed to do just that by giving you the most bang for your buck:   1. Appliance update - Does your dishwasher make so much noise you have to move to another room to have a conversation? Have you replaced the inner plumbing of your toilets at least once? These are indicators that you have older appliances in your home, and it may be that they are guzzling water, draining electricity and even disrupting your life. Installing new, Energy-Star appliances can save you money on electric and water bills, and also give your home a new, fresh look. Today's appliances are styled to give your bathroom or kitchen a beautiful new look, matching any color or style theme.   2. Redecorating - To some homeowners, redecorating equals added and unnecessary expense. But some quick and simple updates can dramatically change how you feel in your space. Fresh paint and rearranging can do wonders. Add window treatments to bring a look of luxury into your home and motorize them with Somfy technology to ensure a larger return on your investment. Motorization not only offers comfort and privacy at the touch of a button, but also makes your home smarter by reducing energy costs with sun sensors that automatically adjust your window treatments. Did you know the U.S. Department of Energy claims that closing draperies can help reduce heat gains in the summer by 33 percent and that opening drapes in the winter can reduce heat loss in a warm room by 10 percent? Motorize your shades or draperies to prevent the money figuratively going out the window. Plus you don't have to worry about kids or pets getting tangled in those dangling cords.   3. Back splashes - Installing a back splash around your kitchen will provide something more than just a nice-looking space. Back splashes are also good for protecting your walls from food stains, water damage and scratches caused by active cooks in the kitchen. They're easy to clean, too, saving you the expense of having to repaint the walls frequently. And they can increase your home's value just by giving your kitchen an updated look. If you notice good success with back splashes in your kitchen, consider carrying the project through to your bathrooms as well.   4. Ceiling fans - Give your furnace or air conditioner a break by circulating the already warm or cooled air with ceiling fans. They're designed to spin in one direction in the winter months, drawing down the warm air that hovers by the ceiling; conversely, they spin in the other direction in the summer to spread cool air throughout the room. Plus, ceiling fans come in so many styles and colors; you can easily find one to blend in with the theme of your rooms and decor.   5. Reusable plants - Home improvement projects aren't just for the inside of your house - your landscaping might be on the list, too. To make the most of your landscaping, choose perennial plants you can propagate over the years, saving you the expense of needing to buy new or replacement plants. Plus, by using plants like hostas, irises, lilacs and even roses, you can grow your gardens over the years to look exactly the way you want in shape, color, size and height.   With these five home improvement projects that give you more, it will be easier for you to prioritize your to-do list and really make it count.
October
3

Open houses can be a great sales tool-but hosting one also exposes you to numerous unfamiliar people for the first time. Take these steps to stay safe:   Real Estate Safety  
  1. If possible, always try to have at least one other person working with you at the open house.
  2. Check your cell phone's strength and signal prior to the open house. Have emergency numbers programmed on speed dial.
  3. Upon entering a house for the first time, check all rooms and determine several "escape" routes. Make sure all deadbolt locks are unlocked to facilitate a faster escape.
  4. Make sure that if you were to escape by the back door, you could escape from the backyard. Frequently, high fences surround yards that contain swimming pools or hot tubs.
  5. Have all open house visitors sign in. Ask for full name, address, phone number and email.
  6. When showing the house, always walk behind the prospect. Direct them; don't lead them. Say, for example, "The kitchen is on your left," and gesture for them to go ahead of you.
  7. Avoid attics, basements, and getting trapped in small rooms.
  8. Notify someone in your office, your answering service, a friend or a relative that you will be calling in every hour on the hour. And if you don't call, they are to call you.
  9. Inform a neighbor that you will be showing the house and ask if he or she would keep an eye and ear open for anything out of the ordinary.
  10. Don't assume that everyone has left the premises at the end of an open house. Check all of the rooms and the backyard prior to locking the doors. Be prepared to defend yourself, if necessary.
  (Sources: Washington Real Estate Safety Council; City of Mesa, Arizona; Nevada County Board of REALTORS®; Georgia Real Estate Commission)   Visit NAR's REALTOR® Safety website at www.REALTOR.org/Safety This article is part of the National Association of REALTORS®' REALTOR® Safety Resources Kit.  
October
2

According to a recent survey by BMO Harris Bank, the majority of Americans (80 percent) across all ages say they are knowledgeable about how to achieve a good credit rating. Half check their score once a year, while 30 percent check it every few years or less. One fifth do not know their score.   credit score   On average, Americans believe a good credit score is 660. Among millennials, that number drops to 625, and those aged 35-54 and 55 and older believe a good score is 675.   Overall findings indicate that while most Americans believe they have a solid understanding of what a good credit score is, there is confusion around attaining it. Harris offers a number of basic tips to manage and improve a credit score, including:   Check your credit report. This should be done at least 60-90 days before applying for a loan in order to make sure that the report is correct. If it is incorrect, notify a credit agency before you apply for a loan. Checking your score will not change the number. Pay your bills on time. When a bill is paid late, or is even 30 days past due, it can show up on your credit report for up to seven years. Use credit when needed. If you never use credit of any kind, it doesn't mean that you'll have a great credit history. Lenders generally prefer to see some type of satisfactory payment history.   Use your cards lightly. Racking up big balances can hurt your scores, regardless of whether you pay your bills in full each month. You often can increase your score by paying the balance off and keeping it low.   Consider that credit needs to be built up. A credit score is something that can take time to improve, so don't expect immediate changes and plan ahead. Your credit behavior can take months to be reflected in your score.   "The good news here is most Americans are not far off in what they believe is considered a good score, which we generally tell customers is in the 680-720 range. However, there's some room for improvement," notes Alex Dousmanis-Curtis, Head of Retail Banking, BMO Harris Bank. "Encouraging education around credit scores is a major focus for us. A credit score stays with you as you go through your financial life, and can impact major decisions."   Survey results cited in this report are from interviews with an online sample of 1,004 Americans conducted between July 2nd and July 4th, 2014. The margin of error for a probability sample of this size is ± 3.1%, 19 times out of 20.   Source: BMO Harris Bank   Published with permission from RISMedia.

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