February 24, 2012 7:34 pm
Q: Is a reverse mortgage good for elderly homeowners?
A: A reverse mortgage is an increasingly popular option for older Americans to convert home equity into cash. Money can then be used to cover home repairs, everyday living expenses, and medical bills.
Instead of making monthly payments to a lender, the lender makes payments to the homeowner, who continues to own the home and hold title to it.
According to the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association, the money given by the lender is tax-free and does not affect Social Security or Medicare benefits, although it may affect the homeowners’ eligibility for certain kinds of government assistance, including Medicaid.
Homeowners must be at least 62 and own their own homes to get a reverse mortgage. No income or medical requirements are necessary to qualify, and they may be eligible even if they still owe money on a first or second mortgage. In fact, many seniors get reverse mortgages to pay off the original loan.
A reverse mortgage is repaid when the property is sold or the owner moves. Should the owner die before the property is sold, the estate repays the loan, plus any interest that has accrued.
February 24, 2012 7:34 pm
Preserving expensive appliances is common household concern. With that in mind, it’s alarming that so many Americans do not realize the damage their water is doing. Most Americans have hard water flowing through their plumbing, and it's taking a silent, but pricey toll on their water-using appliances and pipes.
"If you think you're not affected, think again: 85 percent of Americans have hard water," says Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List. "Water with a high mineral count is really hard on your appliances and can take years off their useful lives."
Signs your hard water is becoming a problem:
• Reduction in supply of hot water from a traditional tank water heater
• Clothes are dingy or unclean after going through the washer
• Calcium rings or deposits in tubs, sinks and dishwasher
• Shower head and faucet clogs
• Spotty or unclean dishes, glasses and flatware after the dishwasher has run
• Water pipe leakage
The good news, Hicks says, is that it's fairly simple to determine if you have hard water and relatively inexpensive to address it. "When you consider the benefit to your appliances, it's a smart investment," she says.
Step one is to have your water analyzed, Hicks says. Some utilities and health departments offer this service, but companies that specialize in water conditioning also offer it, often free-of-charge. Because those companies have a vested interest in the outcome of such tests, consumers should consider getting at least one outside opinion.
Consumers have a few options when it comes to removing calcium and magnesium, the troublesome minerals that make water hard. Traditional water softeners use salt to remove those minerals. Devices that do not use salt to accomplish the same thing are often called "water conditioners" or "descalers."
"A licensed plumber or water conditioning expert will give you alternatives to consider," Hicks says. "If you feel pressured to go with one option or another, get another opinion from a company that will give you information without aggressively pushing for one method over another."
Tips for buying a water softener:
• Water softeners can cost range from a few hundred dollars to more than $1,000 depending on size and type. Some companies offer rental equipment for a nominal monthly charge. Installation typically runs $150 to $300.
• Before you buy a water softener or conditioner, research available products and service companies. Insist on a money-back guarantee.
• In most states, installation does not require a licensed plumber. At a minimum, use a company with technicians certified by the Water Quality Association.
• Understand and follow the maintenance required to keep the unit operating properly.
February 24, 2012 7:34 pm
Having a small backyard can make landscaping a challenge. While you want your space to be detail oriented, too much packed in to a small area can make it seem crowded or overwhelming.
Below are three basic design techniques that all designers and homeowners can follow to maximize small yard landscapes.
Plan for multiple focal points. This idea centers around creating a space that is visually engaging to guests, allowing them to find new focal points throughout the space.
Design for square inches rather than square feet. Because these spaces are so small and require a precise layout, designers must be sure that all desired amenities fit accordingly. A few inches lost because of design errors may mean leaving out a desired fire pit or water feature.
Splurge on higher-end materials and décor that can greatly enhance the space. Designing for a small front or backyard may allow for opportunities to indulge in higher quality products that still fit well within the set budget.
February 24, 2012 7:34 pm
A surprise snow hit some parts of New England last week, reminding us that icy road conditions and unsafe driving practices lead to thousands of crashes each year. In fact, according to the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning, nearly 80,000 crashes in Michigan last year were the result of wet, icy and snowy road conditions.
"Winter driving in Michigan provides every kind of driving condition, wet to slick to snow-covered roads and downpours to white outs creating scary conditions for people of all ages, skill levels and driving experience," says Kurt Dettmer, vice president and chief marketing officer for Fremont Insurance. "While many driving tips are things Michigan drivers have heard before, it's always a good idea to stop and think about them again before heading out on the road."
Fremont Insurance offers these 10 Safety Tips for Winter Driving to help drivers arrive safely and avoid costly accidents.
1. Start Clean – Be sure to completely clear snow and ice from all windows, lights, hood and roof for maximum visibility and to avoid having ice and snow fly off your vehicle. Law enforcement officials are on the lookout for "peephole drivers."
2. Light it Up – Before starting out, turn on your lights to increase your visibility to other motorists.
3. Slow it Down – Remember, posted speed limits are for dry pavement. Decrease speed on icy, snow-covered roads and allow extra distance between you and other vehicles.
4. Look Ahead – Watch the traffic well ahead for extra reaction time. Always drive defensively and give yourself a cushion of time to deal with wintery conditions.
5. Stay Away – Stay well back of maintenance vehicles and snowplows – at least 200 feet (it's the law) – and don't pass on the right. Use extreme caution when passing in a passing lane.
6. Pick a Lane – Avoid abrupt lane changes. There may be a snow ridge between lanes. Also, the passing lane may be in worse shape than the driving lane.
7. Take a Brake – Brake early and gently to avoid skidding. It takes more time and distance to stop in adverse conditions. If your wheels start to lock up, ease off the brake. Do not pump anti-lock brakes. The right way is to stomp and steer.
8. Watch for Signs – Watch for signs alerting you to slippery bridge decks and other areas prone to becoming slick, even when the rest of the pavement is in good condition.
9. Stay in Control – Don't use cruise control or overdrive in wintery conditions. Even a slight depression of your brakes to deactivate can cause loss of control on hidden slippery patches
10. Avoid Assumptions – Do not assume your vehicle can handle all conditions. Even four-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles encounter trouble on winter roads. The false sense of security these vehicles offer can leave you less prepared to deal with emergency situations.
"Sometimes the best idea is to just stay home and avoid adverse conditions completely," advises Dettmer. "However, if that's not an option, the best advice would be to simply slow down. It seems like everyone is in a hurry to get somewhere these days, but always remember that it's better to arrive a few minutes late and be safe than to drive too fast for conditions and not arrive at all."
February 24, 2012 7:34 pm
Making healthy food choices is one important thing you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease—the leading cause of death of men and women in the United States.
According to the American Heart Association, about 80 million adults in the U.S. have at least one form of heart disease—disorders that prevent the heart from functioning normally—including coronary artery disease, heart rhythm problems, heart defects, infections, and cardiomyopathy (thickening or enlargement of the heart muscle).
Experts say you can reduce the risk of developing these problems with lifestyle changes that include eating a healthy diet. But with racks full of books and magazines about food and recipes, what is the best diet for a healthy heart?
Food and Drug Administration nutrition expert (FDA's) Barbara Schneeman says to follow these simple guidelines when preparing meals:
• Balance calories to manage body weight
• Eat at least 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables a day, including a variety of dark-green, red, and orange vegetables, beans, and peas.
• Eat seafood (including oily fish) in place of some meat and poultry
• Eat whole grains—the equivalent of at least three 1-ounce servings a day
• Use oils to replace solid fats.
• Use fat-free or low-fat versions of dairy products.
The government’s newly released “Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010” also says Americans should reduce their sodium intake. The general recommendation is to eat less than 2,300 mg. of sodium a day. But Americans 51 or older, African-Americans of any age, and people with high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease should restrict their intake to 1,500 mg. The government estimates that about half the U.S. population is in one of those three categories.
Packaged and Restaurant Food
Schneeman, who heads FDA's Office of Nutrition, Labeling, and Dietary Supplements, says one way to make sure you’re adhering to healthy guidelines is by using the nutrition labels on the packaged foods you buy.
“Product labels give consumers the power to compare foods quickly and easily so they can judge which products best fit into a heart healthy diet or meet other dietary needs,” Schneeman says. “Remember, when you see a percent DV (daily value of key nutrients) on the label, 5 percent or less is low and 20 percent or more is high.”
Follow these guidelines when using processed foods or eating in restaurants:
• Choose lean meats and poultry. Bake it, broil it, or grill it.
• In a restaurant, opt for steamed, grilled, or broiled dishes instead of those that are fried or sautéed.
• Look on product labels for foods low in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol. Most of the fats you eat should come from polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, such as those found in some types of fish, nuts, and vegetable oils.
• Check product labels for foods high in potassium (unless you’ve been advised to restrict the amount of potassium you eat). Potassium counteracts some of the effects of salt on blood pressure.
• Choose foods and beverages low in added sugars. Read the ingredient list to make sure that added sugars are not among the first ingredients. Ingredients in the largest amounts are listed first. Some names for added sugars include sucrose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, maple syrup, and fructose. The nutrition facts on the product label give the total sugar content.
• Pick foods that provide dietary fiber, like fruits, beans, vegetables, and whole grains.
February 24, 2012 7:34 pm
Assessment. Tax or charge levied on property by a taxing authority to pay for local improvements such as sidewalks, streets, and sewers.
February 24, 2012 7:34 pm
Q: What is a wraparound loan?
A: Also called an all-inclusive mortgage, it is where a new home loan is placed in a subordinate or secondary position to the original mortgage and the new loan includes the unpaid balance of the first.
The wraparound allows the buyer to purchase a home without having to qualify for a loan or pay closing costs. The contract is made between the buyer and seller with the seller remaining on the original mortgage and title. The buyer pays the seller a fixed monthly amount and the seller uses part of this money towards the existing loan.
The seller benefits by offering the buyer a loan at a higher interest rate than the existing mortgage, and the lender profits from the difference in interest in the two loans.
Wraparounds are not for novices and cannot be used when there is a legally enforceable "due on sale" clause in the first mortgage.
Consult an attorney if you are considering this type of financing.
February 22, 2012 4:28 pm
Most people can manage to save a little money by cutting out some of the long-term expenses they enjoy, such as favorite magazine subscriptions, daily coffee stops, and optional cable channels. But, noted Kimberly Palmer, author of a book for young professionals called, Generation Earn, there are plenty of short-term savings tips that may seem extreme but can actually improve your quality of life even as the savings mount up.
Based on tips from the young professionals she interviewed, Palmer offers six ways to get started:
• Buy cheaper clothing – Except for major purchases, such as a suit or a winter coat, try not to pay over $30 for any article of clothing. Check out cheap-chic retailers like Old Navy or Forever 21 for a range of stylish bargains. Habitual shoppers can save up to $200 a month and still be up-to-the-minute.
• Party at home – Game Nights and Girl’s or Boy’s Nights In have been gaining in popularity, taking the place of costlier nights on the town. Get your gang on the bandwagon with Potlucks, Poker Nights, Old Movie Nights and more— and save on cab fare, cover charges, restaurant meals, and expensive first-run movie tickets.
• Give love coupons instead of gifts – Handmade coupons good for a back rub, a home perm, babysitting or a home-cooked meal can make a friend or relative’s birthday more special than a store-bought gift. If you have a special talent, like sewing or calligraphy, your gift can be extra special.
• Plan cheap date nights – Forego expensive dinner dates once or twice a month in favor of a picnic, a home-cooked dinner, or a sandwich stop followed by a lecture, a bookstore browse, a museum exhibit or a local college performance.
• Eat before you go – Snack on a peanut butter and banana or other favorite sandwich before meeting friends for dinner. Then order an appetizer or a small plate instead of a meal, and pocket the extra dough.
• Turn your freezer into a fast-food bistro – Cook a couple of favorite one-pot dishes over the weekend and freeze in single portion containers. When you come home from work tired and hungry, skip the fast-food stop and microwave a healthier dinner.
February 22, 2012 4:28 pm
To help homeowners enjoy their travels away from home with greater peace of mind, FrontPoint Security, offers its list of Top 7 Home Burglary Tricks—featuring tips to help consumers identify and take simple steps that can keep their homes safer from burglars.
Burglars look for newspapers piling up on a front door, yard or porch. Make your newspaper vanish by having delivery stopped or a neighbor collect it daily if you plan to be away.
If burglars see mail accumulating in a mailbox, it tells them the homeowners are out of town and this is likely a good pick. Make your mail disappear by having it held by the post office or picked up by a neighbor.
Hiring someone to keep your lawn mowed while you are gone will keep it from levitating higher than your neighbors’, and can be a good investment in home protection.
Burglars watch neighborhoods to see if any houses are consistently without lights. The best way to ensure your lights don’t go dark for an extended period of time is to remotely control your lights—giving off the natural appearance that someone is home.
If you have pets that are normally seen or heard around the home, a burglar casing a neighborhood may take note when these pets are suddenly absent. For homeowners with dogs, getting a dog-sitter to check in regularly may cost no more than boarding and keeps a presence in your home.
Social media is the latest trick for burglars. Avoid posting your travel plans or posting comments that say you are away from home. It is better to post those vacation photos after you return home.
When a burglar suspects that a home is unoccupied, he may still listen for the sound of activity once he gets close the house itself. Consider leaving a radio playing while you are away or, like lights, controlling your television remotely through home automation.
For more information, please visit http://www.FrontPointSecurity.com
February 22, 2012 4:28 pm
As winter begins to wane, the maple sugaring season begins in the Northeast and the Midwest. The centuries-old tradition of tapping maple trees for sap to make syrup is threatened by the spread of the Asian longhorned beetle (ALB), which kills maple trees and travels on infested firewood. Because these beetles are not native to this continent, they have no effective natural predators, and native trees have no resistance to their tunneling and chewing.
ALB infestations have occurred in several maple syrup-producing states. The most recent infestation, which threatens the Midwest, was found in June 2011 near Cincinnati, Ohio. Eradication efforts are underway, including the tragic but necessary removal of many mature maple trees. The infestation of ALB discovered in the Worcester, Mass. area in August 2008 poses a particularly serious threat to New England's maples, because of the large area the beetles had infested before being discovered. Earlier infestations of the beetle were found in both New York and New Jersey, but the beetle is believed to be under control in those two states. Throughout the region, state officials are vigilant for new infestations.
"Because some people don't realize that moving firewood can spread this tree-killing beetle, more infestations may be discovered in other cities and towns in maple-producing areas," says Leigh Greenwood, Don't Move Firewood campaign manager, The Nature Conservancy. "Once an infestation occurs, the only way to stop the Asian longhorned beetle's spread is to cut down all the infested and host trees – impacting property owners and local communities and posing a huge threat to the maple syrup industry."
While these pests cannot move far on their own, when people move firewood that harbors them, they unwittingly enable these pests to start an infestation far from their current range. A visual inspection cannot easily detect these pests since they can be hidden in the layers of wood beneath the bark.
"It might seem like a good idea to obtain some firewood from another area, or to take along firewood when going camping, but just one log can start a new infestation of the Asian longhorned beetle or other tree-killing pests," says Greenwood. "By buying locally harvested wood, people can help protect their trees by not risking the accidental movement of insects and diseases that can affect entire forests."
Following are tips from the Don't Move Firewood campaign:
• Obtain firewood near the location where you will burn it – that means the wood was cut in a nearby forest, in the same county, or a maximum of 50 miles from where you'll have your fire.
• Don't be tempted to bring firewood home just because the wood looks clean and healthy. It could still harbor tiny insect eggs or microscopic fungal spores that could start a new and deadly infestation of forest pests.
• Aged or seasoned wood is not considered safe to move, but commercially kiln-dried wood is a good option if you must transport firewood.
• If you have already moved firewood, and you need to dispose of it safely, burn it soon and completely. Make sure to rake the storage area carefully and also burn the debris. In the future, buy from a local source.
• Take care to respect all state and local regulations on firewood movement – some areas are subject to serious fines for violations. For more information, visit your state agricultural department's web site: http://www.rma.usda.gov/other/stateag.html.
• Tell your friends and others about the risks of moving firewood – no one wants to be responsible for starting a new pest infestation.
For more information, visit www.dontmovefirewood.org and www.nature.org.