March 23, 2012 3:22 pm
Q: How does refinancing work?
A: With a refinancing, you pay off an old loan on your home and take out a new one, usually at a lower mortgage interest rate. To refinance, you will generally need to have equity in your home, a good credit rating, and steady income. You can borrow a percentage of the equity to cover remodeling costs, debt consolidate, and college tuition.
When you refinance, you will incur all the closing costs that go along with getting a new mortgage. So unless you're doing extensive renovations and can get a mortgage interest rate at least two points below your current loan rate, you may want to select another financing option.
March 22, 2012 6:22 pm
I often find myself staring at the wall and thinking 'what if...?' So it was with great joy that I discovered a trove of tips and new posts about whipping one's walls into great shape at Ballard Designs this month.
According to the folks at Ballard, changing your wall decor can be the simplest, most affordable way to reinvent a room while making a statement about your personality. But before you get started, check out the following tips and tricks:
• As a general rule, hang any artwork so that the center point of the piece or grouping is at approximately eye level. You may want to consider hanging art slightly lower in a dining room, since guests will likely be sitting when looking at it.
• Test your imagined arrangement before putting hammer to nail by laying everything out on a table or on the floor. Move the pieces around until you have an arrangement that you like. Or lay the pieces on a large piece of kraft or wrapping paper, trace around each piece and mark the hanging points. Then, tape the paper to the wall and hammer in the nails. Remove the paper, and hang away.
• Art hung over a piece of furniture should not be wider than the width of the furniture. Generally art should be about 75 percent the width of the furniture.
• When hanging art over the fireplace, create a grouping about the same size as the fireplace opening. One large piece, or several small pieces that appear as one unit create a more memorable effect.
• When you are grouping four or more pieces, one above the other, consider a vertical line— the art should be visually balanced on both sides of an imaginary vertical line.
• When creating a cluster of items on a wall, make sure the pieces are similar either in color scheme, frame style, or subject matter.
For more ideas that will make you look like a decorating genius, click here
March 22, 2012 6:22 pm
Bad checks can be a huge hassle for small businesses, and not just because of lost revenue.
FindLaw.com’s Andrew Chow recently wrote on how to handle bad checks, as well as tips for accepting checks in general.
“Bad checks generally fall into one of several categories: Insufficient funds, a closed account, stopped payment, or forgery,” wrote Chow, who explained that your options to pursue payback may include a civil lawsuit, or even a criminal complaint.
Below are Chow’s top three tips to help kick-start your bad-check restitution case:
1. Follow an established policy for check acceptance.
Experts recommend jotting down the customer's driver license number and phone number on the check. This gives investigators an additional way to track down the check writer, in case the check turns out to be a fraud.
Other good policies to follow include:
• Only accept checks with a complete address on the front—no P.O. Boxes.
• Only accept checks signed in your presence.
• Don't accept out-of-state checks.
2. Notify the customer in writing.
Many states require a business owner to provide written notice to a customer who passed a bad check due to insufficient funds; written notice may also be required for other types of bad checks as well. This gives a customer time to correct an honest mistake.
Check with your state's laws, or contact an attorney, to see what's required in a written notice where you live.
3. Contact local prosecutors or an attorney.
If a customer fails to respond to a written notice—usually within 10 to 30 days—that generally opens the door to civil lawsuits, and perhaps criminal charges like theft or fraud.
Some local jurisdictions have "bad check restitution programs" specifically to help small businesses collect on bad checks. Check with your local prosecutor's office, or consult a collections lawyer about which options apply in your bad-check restitution case.
March 22, 2012 6:22 pm
Properly managing financial paperwork can be a headache, but can prevent identity theft and provide proof of important transactions. However, seeing the benefits of document management is often easier than understanding what should be saved, how long it should be saved for, and what can be tossed.
The following tips will help you weed through your money clutter:
• Keep your documentation organized for easy reference in the event you need to access the paperwork. Consider creating files for pay stubs, tax filing information, warrantees, important receipts, and account statements.
• Take important documents—including home and car titles, social security cards and wills—to a bank safety deposit box for safe keeping. Be sure to keep a list of those documents at home, and note where the safety deposit box resides, in case of an emergency.
• Determine what documents should be kept over the long term, what should be saved over the short term, and what can be tossed. For instance, paperwork verifying tax deductions should be saved for seven years. In most instances, bank statements can be discarded after one year, as can pay stubs after verifying W-2 information is correct.
• Save space by scanning key documents and storing them on your computer, or on a portable storage device which could be kept in your safety deposit box.
• Finally, shred any documents with identifying or personal information prior to disposal. This will reduce your risk of identity theft and help keep your accounts secure.
"Too many people learn too late that it's vital to save certain financial documentation, and M&I wants to prevent that," says Kara Kaiser, Regional President of M&I, a part of BMO Financial Group. "We want people to be financially savvy and prepared. Whether you need to prove contributions to an IRA or provide tax-related documentation to the IRS, organizing and managing your financial paperwork can reap dividends over the long term."
March 22, 2012 6:22 pm
Closing statement. Written account of all expenses, adjustments, and disbursements received by the buyer and seller when completing a real estate transaction.
March 22, 2012 6:22 pm
Q: Are impound accounts required for all mortgage loans?
A: They can typically be waived on a conventional loan if the loan amount is 80 percent or less of the purchase price. But the lender might charge you an additional 1/4 point for this option to waive the escrow.
One way to avoid an impound account on an owner-occupied mortgage is to raise your down payment amount slightly. The exact amount necessary to avoid the escrow will vary with the lender.
In some states, lenders let buyers set up separate accounts in which they place specific funds and then pay the insurance and property taxes themselves. These are called pledge accounts, and they must be set up before you close on the home.
An impound account can usually be dropped on an owner-occupied loan once the loan-to-value ratio equals 80 percent or less. But restrictions apply: payments will have to be current and your record of making on-time payments pretty solid. Contact your lender if you meet these requirements and want to drop your impound account.
March 21, 2012 6:18 pm
Spring is here and with it comes a natural urge to freshen up the lair where you've spent the past few dark winter months curled up eyeballing DIY cable shows, catalogs and color swatches. Yes, I know that nothing inspires decorating like turning that calendar page to April.
With this in mind, we'll spend some of our time this month looking at ways to spruce up your home and property, and maybe save a few dollars—or some major-league stress—in the process. So without further adieu, let’s turn to Decor & You Decorator Lynda Getz of Connecticut (decorandyou.com).
Getz says that people need to take a breath before they plunge into the choppy waters of a decorating project without an experienced guide. So Getz developed her top five decorating risks and potential blunders—which she shares freely.
Getz says many people are overwhelmed with the challenge of creating a great room. She suggests people consider the following list of risks and tips before they spend countless hours, money and time on a decorating project:
1. Color - Getz says colors can set a mood, energize and create an ambiance of warmth and tranquility in a room. But, there is a science behind creating the right tone, both in color and aura. There are important Color Theories to understand when developing a color plan for a home.
2. Lack of Time - The lack of time causes many to settle for less than an ideal outcome to their decorating projects. Getz warns you not to rush through decision-making when you want the results to last for many years.
3. Furniture Selection and Value Decisions - Safety and value are important considerations when purchasing furniture and accessories. It's hard to identify lesser quality or "curbside furniture" that will only last a few years, according to Getz.
4. Safety and Environmental Impact - Non-eco-friendly materials are being used in furniture today. Getz says formaldehyde and VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are commonly used in imported furniture and will affect the air quality of any room and cause short-term and long-term health problems.
5. Missing Master Plan - Get it right the first time by developing a master plan that will compliment your own personal style, and save you both time and money. Getz' final word? Create the plan and then buy to the plan.
To learn more, check out Getz' website, www.decorandyou.com.
March 21, 2012 6:18 pm
Continuing uncertainty in the real estate market has homeowners asking a major question as the market warms this spring—is it smarter to move or to improve? Cost is the driving factor behind home improvement projects again this year, and it's important to choose projects that will provide the biggest return on investment.
"Giving your home some added curb appeal with an exterior makeover will automatically boost the resale value of your property," says Jeff Kaliner, Power Home Remodeling Group’s Founding Partner. "If you plan to stay put, focus on cost effective renovations that make your home more comfortable, functional and low maintenance for your family. Either way, enhancing your home this spring will help protect your greatest investment."
Power shares the following tips to stay on trend with home improvements this spring:
• Energize your exterior – Exterior home improvements are king when it comes to return on investment again this year. Projects like updating siding, window replacement and refreshing entry doors can have a dramatic effect on your home's curb appeal for a relatively low cost. In fact, seven of the top 10 home improvement projects for 2012 are exterior projects garnering anywhere from 69 to 78 percent return on investment—the highest of any other projects this year.
• Choose bold and bright finishes – Fiberglass entry and garage doors are a popular alternative to their pricey wooden counterparts in 2012. A fiberglass door is weather resistant, durable and, above all, maintenance free. This material allows you to achieve the stylish look of an elegant craftsman or rustic design with decorative glass at the fraction of the price. Bright, bold exterior colors are also popular this year. Make your curb appeal pop by choosing a shade of tangerine, yellow or deep purple for your entry door to give your home a cheery look heading into spring.
• Energy efficiency is still supreme – The top green home trend for 2012 is renovating to reduce your home's heating and cooling costs. Making the most of an empty attic space by adding a bedroom, or at least finishing it with insulation, is a great way to keep conditioned air from escaping through the roof. Updating the attic also happens to be this year's third most cost effective home improvement, garnering a whopping 72 percent return on investment, and adding living space without increasing the home's footprint is an eco-friendly way to gain more square footage.
March 21, 2012 6:18 pm
This week brought us the official first day of Spring, meaning that homeowners across the country will start thinking about dusting, vacuuming and all the other tasks that come with cleaning for the season. Here are a few sneaky cleaning tips to ensure you’re getting the best clean possible:
• For a soiled bathtub, make a paste of Comet with water and rub vigorously to get the job done.
• For mirrors or windows, try a combination of 1 gallon of water to 1/2 cup of vinegar, 1/2 cup of rubbing alcohol and 2 squirts of dish soap. Pour into a spray bottle and it cleans windows like magic.
• For toilet stains, try a Polident dissolving tablet dropped into the bowl. Upon flushing, rust stains will disappear.
• To remove stinky odors from a car, place a few briquettes of charcoal underneath the seats. The charcoals absorb the stench and keep your car smelling fresh—just make sure to use charcoal without starting fluid on it.
• To clean your coffee maker, take some powdered dishwasher detergent, shake it into the bottom of a cool coffee pot and fill with hot water. Let it sit for an hour and it should be good as new— no scrubbing, no boiling, no replacement needed.
• If you have a handful of ugly carpet impressions from old furniture, they are easy to erase. Grab one or two ice cubs per impression and simply set the cubes in each one. As they melt, the carpet fibers will loosen and stand. Let it dry overnight, vacuum and they're gone.
March 21, 2012 6:18 pm
A recent spring cleaning survey from the Soap and Detergent Association reveals that 60 percent of Americans believe spring is the best time to rid the house of dirt and clutter. This is especially true for pet parents who may need to put some extra “oomph” into their annual ritual to eliminate allergy causing pet dander. Luckily, pet lifestyle expert Sandy Robins has put together her tips for a successful and pet-safe cleaning season.
Grooming is the most essential method in helping to control pet dander and allergies. Dander is the cause of most pet-related allergies for people, and, depending on breed and coat type, some dogs will have more than others. The frequency of grooming depends greatly on these factors so it’s always best to speak with a professional groomer before starting any at-home grooming routine. In most cases, the average dog should be groomed every four to eight weeks.
Bathing pets will also help to eliminate dirt, debris and dander from a pet’s coat. Choose a fragrance-free, exfoliating shampoo to remove dead skin from the coat and allow more moisture to stay locked in. In addition, she suggests using a water bottle to mist down a pet’s coat, especially in the dryer months. “This will help keep the skin hydrated and cut down on dander.”
In between baths, use a shed control conditioning spray to keep dogs smelling good and tangle free. This will moisturize sooth and leave a dog’s coat and skin soft, shiny, healthy and shed-free.
Another key component to fighting pet dander and ultimately reducing allergies is nutrition. What a dog or cat is fed is reflected in the condition of its skin and coat.
“Premium or natural dog food is ideal for a healthy coat and many food brands offer a sensitive skin or allergy line,” advises Robins. Also, there are many supplements available, such as Omega 3’s, which can help control dry skin. “Shed X makes supplements for both dog and cats that work with your pet’s own bio-mechanisms to reduce shedding within two weeks,” says Robins. She also recommends asking an expert to help find the right solution.
Refresh Old Products
Hair and dander can live on pet throws and beds no matter how clean a pet is. Robins says, “As part of a spring cleaning routine, it is especially important to change out these products and refresh them with a newer counterpart.” Pets need fresh beds and blankets because sleeping in a pet parent’s bed or bedroom is a not recommended for those with allergies. “We all like to curl up in bed with our pets, but people who are allergic may not be doing themselves any favors,” says Robins. “Your airways are more susceptible to irritants at night, partly because when you’re lying down, you’re closer to the ground where particles settle. Instead teach pets to sleep in a separate room nearby with their nice, new, comfy bed.”
Keep a Clean House
It’s very important to clean up any excess hair or dander left by furry friends. Vacuum floors, dust counters and wash carpets in order to reduce the amount of allergens. “I despise pet hair all over my house when guests come over so I especially love the new Roomba Vacuum Cleaner Pet Series 564,” says Robins. “The Roomba gets rid of dirt, pet hair, allergens and cat litter from carpets and hardwood floors and cuts down on the time you spend cleaning since it easily maneuvers around the house on its own.” For those who prefer something less futuristic, Bissell makes a handheld pet hair vacuum that is specifically designed for pet hair pick-up with a rubber nozzle that attracts pet hair.
When spring-cleaning, it’s important to use a pet-safe cleaner. Much like children, dogs will put their mouth on things or even lick the floor so using a cleaning product that is safe and effective is extra important. In addition, cats walk on these surfaces and then lick their paws. “I recommend Pawganics, a line of cleaning and grooming products that are pet safe, baby safe and earth safe,” says Robins. “For those who are extra cautious, leave Fluffy or Fido tucked away in a separate room with an enticing toy while you clean to keep them super safe from toxins.”