July 18, 2012 5:42 pm
Your monthly mortgage loan payment may be fixed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to lower it, notes consumer finance advocate Sarah Tann.
Tann, a frequent contributor to consumer finance publications, suggests the top five ways you may be able to lower your monthly payment:
• Improve your credit score – The better your credit score, the better mortgage rate you can get. Don’t be sloppy about paying your bills. Pay them all on time every month. Pay credit card bills off in full each month. If you are carrying balances, work diligently to pay them off in full – or at least lower your debt by 50 percent. Once you improve your overall score, you may be ready to apply for – and get – a lower rate of interest on your mortgage.
• Get rid of PMI – If you did not put at least 20 percent down when you bought your home, you probably took on private mortgage insurance (PMI), which protects the lender in the event you default on the loan. Mortgages signed after July 29, 1999 are automatically cancelled once you reach 22 percent equity in the home. If you signed on for PMI before that date, you can cancel it when you have 20 percent equity. The catch is you have to request that it be dropped. If the shoe fits, call your lender.
• Take advantage of refi rates – Interest rates today are at historic lows. If you currently have a rate of five to six percent or higher, and plan to stay in your home for a while, now may be the best time to lower your monthly payment by refinancing your loan at low- or even no-cost.
• Shop around – A mortgage is a product. Shopping, comparing and negotiating with lenders to get the best terms possible can save you many thousands of dollars. Get referrals from people you trust and shop around for the best available deal.
• Take a shorter term – A fifteen-year mortgage will carry a lower rate than a 30-year mortgage – often as much as half a percent lower. Of course, you will be paying a higher monthly amount on the short-term loan. But if you can afford to pay the higher monthly amount, you will pay your loan off sooner and may save hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest over time.
July 18, 2012 5:42 pm
Warm weather creates an inviting atmosphere for yard work. Whether you work hard to make your yard the envy of your neighbors or are just trying to trim the hedges, you should take precautions to protect your back? No matter which type of homeowner you are one thing holds true - gardening and yard work can be a real pain!
One of the most common complaints following a few hours of yard work is lower back pain. Weeding, mowing, digging, raking, planting and mulching can wreck havoc on your back muscles, and if you’re not careful it’s easy to strain or pull the muscles in your back.
“The biggest mistake people make when working in the yard is not warming up their bodies prior to starting,” says Dr. Brian Morrison, President & Clinical Director of Morrison Chiropractic and Adjunct Faculty Member at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “It’s important to warm up your muscles to prepare for the repetitive movements and heavy lifting required for gardening tasks. And, contrary to popular belief, old fashioned stretching exercises may not be effective or helpful,” he added.
Below are 10 tips for gardening to help you keep your back in good shape all summer long.
1. Warm Up – Before beginning; take a few minutes to warm up your muscles by doing some dynamic warm up exercises. These include going for a brisk 5 – 10 minute walk around the yard, jumping jacks, walking lunges and arm circles.
2. Hydrate – Muscles need water to function optimally. When you maintain your body's water levels during use, you allow your muscles to coordinate with each other properly and support your physical activity. Adequate water levels in your body can help prevent the onset of muscle cramps or spasms and help prevent dehydration.
3. Mix It Up - Vary your gardening tasks each time. Do a little pruning work, raking, bending work, digging, etc. Don't continuously perform any particular activity for a long period.
4. Mowing – Leaning forward as you push the lawn mower can strain your back. Be sure to maintain proper posture and push with your arms and legs instead of your back.
5. Weeding – Bending over at the waist for prolonged periods is a sure way to cause your back muscles to start complaining. Kneel on a rubber gardening mat, sit on a wheeled gardening stool, or sit directly on the ground instead. Make sure you have all your tools close at hand.
6. Lifting – When lifting bags of dirt, mulch or potted plants, keep your back straight and bend with your knees and hips (not your back) when reaching down. The power for your lift comes from your buttocks and legs. If you are picking up piles of grass, leaves or other yard waste, make the piles small to decrease the weight.
7. Raking – Most people use the rake with their dominant hand only. This causes one side of your body to be overused. Try switching sides every few minutes, even though it will feel awkward. Your back, neck and arms will thank you.
8. Wear Supportive Shoes – Yard work can put a lot of strain on your feet and legs. Good foot and arch support can stop some of that strain from reaching your back. Ditch the sandals and flip-flops and opt for a supportive pair of shoes instead.
9. Take Breaks – Taking your time will make it less likely for injuries to occur. Pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion can cause you to get sloppy with good posture and lifting techniques, setting you up for injury.
10. Outsource - Consider hiring a local student to do the heavy work that strains your back. Lots of young people can't find summer jobs and one may be more than willing to spend a few hours a week working for you. As an added bonus, you might just turn them into a gardener for life!
July 18, 2012 5:42 pm
(ARA) - Run a marathon. Visit the rainforest. Backpack through Europe. You might have a to-do list for chores around the house, work tasks or errands, and while those are all intended to keep you on track for the more mundane, but necessary, tasks in life, have you thought about compiling a more exciting kind of to-do list - filled with the places you want to see and things you want to do before you die?
While you've trained yourself well in accomplishing the day-to-day tasks that keep your life moving, you can use that same mindset to accomplish your life goals when it comes to travel and adventure. Compiling a to-do list and then formulating a plan for crossing the top items off is one of the best ways to ensure that you'll get to live your dreams.
If you're dreaming of that big adventure, but haven't quite made it a reality, here are a few tips for making that dream come true:
* Start by compiling and prioritizing your to-do list. Your adventures could range from running a marathon in a city you've always wanted to visit to zip-lining through a tropical rainforest.
* Set up a savings fund for your adventure. This can be a long-term venture, but set an automated withdrawal your paycheck each month into a special account, or develop a similar plan to build your savings. Find easy ways to save, such as cutting out your morning latte a couple days a week.
* Research your destination to keep you thinking about your trip and to make sure you get everything out of it when you go. Look through issues of National Geographic Traveler and travel books to learn more about your destination.
* Sign up for deal alerts for your dream location on travel websites. If you find the right deal, you might be able to afford your trip sooner than you had thought. It also pays to follow hotel chains with locations in many destinations on Facebook and Twitter, as you never know when a promotion might pop up that can help you save even more. If you have an activity planned, be on the lookout for deals in the months leading up to your trip.
* Find unique ways to make your vacation happen. Traveling as part of a volunteer group is also a great way to see the world and do some good at the same time. If you simply love to travel and enjoy helping others, do some research in your community to see if there's an upcoming trip you might want to join, or research volunteer tourism organizations on the web.
Source: Hilton Garden Inn
July 18, 2012 5:42 pm
Multiple listing. Agreement that allows real estate brokers to distribute information on the properties they have listed for sale to other members of a local real estate organization. Allows the widest possible marketing of those properties. Commissions are split by mutual agreement between the listing broker and the selling broker.
July 18, 2012 5:42 pm
Q: How Do I Find the Right Agent for Me?
A: To begin with, think local. Select someone who is very familiar with your neighborhood and the properties for sale in it. Then, if you are selling, say, a condominium, choose an agent with expertise selling apartments to potential homeowners.
Because you will want the widest possible exposure for your home, you also will want a real estate firm that works with other agencies to get your property sold. The Multiple Listing Service (MLS) used by Realtors, licensed members of the National Association of Realtors, is still the most common and effective form of cooperation used today.
Beyond these parameters, select an agent who is competent, efficient, and ethical. Perhaps the agent who first sold you your home would be a perfect candidate. If not, ask family, friends, and neighbors for recommendations, or choose a firm headed by an individual who is known in your community.
July 17, 2012 5:42 pm
From backyard barbeques to picnic cookouts, Americans celebrate summer by eating outdoors. As Americans turn to grilling alfresco, keep the following five food safety tips in mind, to ensure safe and memorable summer grilling experiences.
"In professional kitchens, trained staff and multiple safeguards ensure that food safety protocol is followed, but at home it's easy to let food safety practices be as casual as the food you are cooking on the grill," says Greg Beachey, senior academic relations and program manager with the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation.
"Food safety is as important in the home as it is in restaurants to ensure safe and enjoyable meals for you and your family and friends. To underscore that importance, we collected tips from our professional food safety training experts and applied them to outdoor grilling at home or picnics."
The food safety tips recommended by the NRA for grilling at home are:
1. Wash your hands. Hand-washing is the first defense against cross-contamination - i.e. not spreading germs from one place to another. Wash hands before handling any food, and always after handling raw meats. To wash your hands properly, wet hands/arms with water as hot as you can comfortably stand; add soap; scrub hands/arms for 10 to 15 seconds (the time it takes to slowly recite aloud the "Pledge of Allegiance"); rinse with warm water; and dry hands with a single-use paper towel or hand-dryer, if available.
2. Pack your cooler correctly. Always keep cold foods cold; use a thermometer to make sure you are maintaining a temperature of 41°F or lower. Pack raw food that you intend to cook (like raw hamburgers) in a separate cooler from food that is already cooked and ready to eat, including beverages and produce. If you use ice in your raw foods cooler, don't use that ice for anything else.
3. Prep raw and ready-to-eat foods separately. Use separate cutting boards and other prep surfaces for raw and cooked food to minimize cross-contamination risk. A good way to remember which is which is to use different colored boards, for example red for meats and green for vegetables.
4. Use separate plates and utensils for raw and cooked foods. After putting raw burgers, chicken breasts or other meats on the grill, switch to clean spatulas, tongs and plates. Using the same utensils and surfaces for uncooked and cooked meats could lead to cross-contamination.
5. Cook food to safe temperatures. Raw meat and poultry could contain bacteria that can lead to food borne illness if not properly cooked. Because heat kills bacteria, be sure to cook hamburgers to an internal temperature of 155°F for at least 15 seconds. Chicken and turkey are safe at 165°F, and steaks and chops at 145°F. Always use a meat thermometer and measure the middle of the thickest part of the food.
July 17, 2012 5:42 pm
With the kids home from school for the summer and many families planning stay-cations this year, it’s a fair bet a lot of clutter will find its way into your home. But, says housekeeping service manager Jean Pennyman, you can use the extra daylight hours to organize the family’s daily routines and keep the clutter from mounting this summer and throughout the year.
Pennyman suggests six starting points as a roadmap for clearing the decks:
• Look for the hot spots – Where is the clutter piling up? Are games, books, magazines and craft supplies being left out in the open? Are dishes and cereal boxes piling up in the kitchen? Who needs a reminder to clean up after themselves?
• Dump the duplicates – Do you really need two non-stick spatulas? Six hairbrushes or 15 unmatched coffee mugs? Tossing the duplicates is one of the easiest way to de-clutter – and remember to toss out the old whenever you bring in the new.
• Add clutter control solutions – Add additional shelving to bedrooms, family rooms, and laundry areas to get books, hobby materials and other supplies off desktops and floors. Buy a few stackable clear plastic storage boxes. Strategically placed, they can hold bill-paying and stationery supplies, hobby materials, toys and games and more. In the kitchen, bathroom and linen closet, use drawer dividers, baskets and pantry turntables to organize kitchen gadgets and spices, hold incoming mail and brochures, and get soaps and shampoos and hair décor off the counter.
• Schedule cleanups – Assign each family member a living area (besides their own bedrooms!) and a day of the week to de-clutter it: get scattered supplies into bins and baskets, update the mail and bills, and clear magazines, games and newspapers off the tables.
• Go through closets – Getting rid of clothes and other things you no longer use will give you much-needed closet space. Be ruthless. Stop holding onto out-of-style or ill-fitting clothes that “you may want to wear again someday.”
• Beware nostalgia – It’s not easy for doting parents to toss out a child’s creation –whether it’s a drawing or a collage. Try taking pictures of the child with the item and let the photo be your remembrance. The same is true for 10-year old trophies and other outdated memorabilia taking up space around the house.
July 17, 2012 5:42 pm
When it comes to our bodies, we all strive to take the best care of ourselves. As hard as we try, however, it’s easy to get caught up in a hectic lifestyle and let all your good intentions fall by the wayside. For a long-term healthy lifestyle, you'll need to find a balance between good eating habits and physical activity.
That's the message from the "Let's move!" campaign, a nationwide initiative designed to fight the growing rate of childhood obesity, and promote a healthy lifestyle for people of all ages.
Here are a few simple tips to help you and your children live a healthier life:
• Eat five fruits and vegetables every day. Fruits and vegetables are important sources of essential vitamins, regardless of your age. Plus, they also help you manage your weight. Serve fruits and vegetables to children by mixing them with other foods —such as adding broccoli to rice, or vegetables to a sandwich. You can also blend them and make a nutritious, flavorful and 100% natural fruit and vegetable juice.
• Prepare dishes that are low in fat and sugars. For a healthier diet, buy low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese, as well as cereals low in sugar. Also, try baking or grilling dishes like fish and poultry instead of frying them. If you do plan to fry food, use vegetable or olive oil instead of lard or butter.
• Serve healthy snacks. It's always a good idea to have healthy snacks around, especially if you have children. You can serve something simple, healthy, and delicious by cutting up some carrots, strawberries or apples. Tell your children to ask you for permission before eating a snack that has too much sugar. That way it will be easier for you to decide how many sugary treats they get to eat.
• Keep an eye on portion sizes. Portion sizes can have an impact on how much you eat, even after you are full. You can avoid overeating at your kitchen table by serving smaller portions, particularly to children. If they want more, they can ask for a second portion. Also, avoid making them eat everything on the plate if they say they are full.
• Turn the TV off and go outside. Televisions are not the only devices that promote sedentary lifestyles. These days, computers, tablets and smart phones offer round-the-clock entertainment. Put these devices away for a moment and go to the park, ride a bike, run or walk. Children should engage in moderate physical activities for 60 minutes a day.
• Get enough sleep. Sleep is essential for a healthy lifestyle, particularly when it comes to children. A recent study found that a child is 9 percent less likely to be overweight or obese for every additional hour of sleep he or she gets each night. Children who are five years or younger need 11 hours of sleep per day; children between 5 and 10 need 10 hours per day; and children older than 10 need nine hours of sleep.
July 17, 2012 5:42 pm
In this hot and humid midsummer weather, it’s important to keep your cool. Taking precautions can go a long way, keeping you safe and comfortable. The following safety tips can give you a head start.
• Air-conditioning is the number one protective factor against heat-related illness and death. During conditions of extreme heat and high humidity, spend time in locations with air-conditioning such as shopping malls, movie theaters, public libraries, or public health sponsored heat-relief shelters in your area.
• Stay hydrated. The minimum daily water intake (on an average day) is 1/2 your body weight in ounces. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you should have at least 75 ounces of water per day. When temperatures rise, drink cool, nonalcoholic beverages and increase your water and total fluid intake, regardless of your activity level. Rapid weight loss may be a sign of dehydration. Don't drink liquids that contain caffeine, alcohol, or large amounts of sugar — these actually can cause you to lose more body fluid.
• Pay special attention. Pregnant women, children, the elderly (65 years and older) and people with acute or chronic health conditions are more prone to heat stress. Make frequent checks on the status of friends, relatives and neighbors in these categories. If necessary, move them to an air-conditioned environment during the hottest part of the day.
• Do not leave anyone — children, disabled individuals, pets — in cars for even brief periods. Temperatures can rise to life-threatening levels in a matter of minutes.
• Use fans to increase ventilation. If the temperatures exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit, instead of having a fan blow hot air in from a window, have the fan blow the hot air to the outside. At extreme high temperatures, a fan loses its ability to effectively reduce heat-related illness.
• Reduce body temperature. Cool showers, baths, and sponge baths can be used to reduce body temperatures. In addition, wet clothing has a cooling effect.
Source: The Minnesota Chiropractic Association
July 17, 2012 5:42 pm
Mortgagee. Party or institution that lends money; the creditor.