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Mary Mastroeni

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Debt Help USA: Debt Relief Options That Should Help Consumers in 2012

January 30, 2012 6:42 pm

Recent news is reporting lower unemployment and a slow growth in the economy, but forecasters warn of a steady rise to consumer debt. The average household in America is still burdened with just over $15,000 in overall credit card debt. While credit card debt is still the main culprit of debt advice seekers, student loans are on the rise, reporting the second most frequent form of debt. Regardless of what kind of debt is strapping consumers, many feel they are without options in this current debt-ridden climate.

Make Sure You Have a Plan
It was Harry Truman who spoke about a plan, "make no small plans, instead, make 1 big plan and spend the rest of your life carrying it out." You are going to get out of debt, but you most certainly need a plan. If you are going to take on your debts, you must be honest with yourself and know your weaknesses. If you are eating out too much, acknowledge it and cut back. If shopping spending sprees are impulsive and out of control, either cut yourself off cold turkey or set a monthly budget as a precaution and do not exceed it. Simple lifestyle acknowledgements will allow you to tackle your debts more effectively.

Look Into Debt Relief Options
Debt negotiation is an alternative to bankruptcy that can help eliminate one's debts. In short, an agent from one of these companies will intercede with the various creditors of the debtor, making the payment schedule easier for the consumer. Laws and regulations surrounding debt negotiation have recently changed making it more reliable than before.

Debt consolidation is another option you may want to consider. By consolidating your debt, make one low monthly payment instead of several. Unlike credit cards, the interest rate for debt consolidation is tax deductible and can even improve your credit rating because you are essentially paying off higher interest debt faster.

Credit counseling and debt management are further options for those in debt and focus on the interest rate. By working with a non-profit consumer credit counselor, creditors often lower the overall interest rate, waive late fees, and attempt to bring your debts current.

Source: www.debthelp-usa.com

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Word of the Day

January 30, 2012 6:42 pm

Usury. Charging a higher rate of interest on a loan than is legally allowed.

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Question of the Day

January 30, 2012 6:42 pm

Q: What are closing costs?

A: Closing, or settlement, costs are expenses over and above the price of the property. Both the buyer and seller incur some of these expenses when transferring ownership of a property. Who actually pays, however, often depends on local custom and what the buyer or seller negotiates. Closing costs normally include title insurance, loan points, escrow or closing day charges, property taxes, and document fees. The lender provides an estimate of closing costs for prospective homebuyers.

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Hot Home Trends: Wood Fired Ovens

January 27, 2012 6:36 pm

Outdoor kitchens have been a growing trend over the past few years, and one of the top accessories gracing these outdoor eating arenas has been wood-fried ovens. Now, the trend is coming indoors.

A wood burning oven—which can be used for all sorts of cooking and baking, from pizza to pie to bread—can amp up kitchen creativity, draw in family and friends and allow you to try a variety of new food.
There are two types of wood-fired ovens: "black ovens," also known as “Roman ovens,” are heated by burning wood in the same chamber as your food

In contrast, “White ovens” are heated by heat transfer from a separate combustion chamber so your oven (and your food) stays ash-free.

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The More You Know: 4 Great Tips for Home Sellers

January 27, 2012 6:36 pm

Tip 1: Identify three experienced agents who are familiar with your neighborhood. Look for agents who have “for sale” signs placed in your neighborhood. Ask each to prepare a market analysis (how much is it worth?) and a marketing plan (how do you plan to market my home?). Ask lots of questions about both. Include the main points of your marketing plan in your listing agreement so that all parties will know what is to be expected (i.e. frequency of ads and the publications/websites where they’ll appear, frequency of open houses, etc.). Limit the length of the listing—two months or less is good, but no more than three months. If the agent is doing his/her job as set out in the listing agreement you can always renew the listing when it expires. If they’re not producing results you’ll be able to document the reasons if you decide to cancel the listing early or be able to show them why you aren’t renewing the listing with them.

Tip 2: Price your property realistically, especially in slow markets. When markets are slow buyers are psychologically unprepared to overpay—and they apply stringent standards of value. They will heavily discount many expensive and unusual improvements unless they appeal very strongly to their own personal tastes.

Tip 3: Consider providing owner financing if you can, but be cautious. If you can provide some financing, even if it’s a small second trust, you may be offering ‘the’ deal maker. At the same time you can often earn a considerably higher interest rate than you would have earned with the same money otherwise. Caution: Fluctuating real estate markets can wipe out your security in the event of foreclosure. Foreclosures cost money and a second trust only gets paid after the first mortgage is satisfied, and then only if there's money remaining from the sale. Make sure to run a credit check on the buyer and make sure that they put up a substantial down payment if you’re providing owner financing.

Tip 4: Make sure you don’t prematurely give away any bargaining leverage. All home purchase agreements must be in writing to be binding. If someone asks if you would take a specific lower figure and you agree, that’s not an enforceable contract. All you have done is to lower your asking price. The correct response should be “I’ll consider all written offers.”

Courtesy of the American Homeowners Foundation and the American Homeowners Grassroots Alliance, www.AmericanHomeowners

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Use Tax Season to Organize for the Future

January 27, 2012 6:36 pm

Jane was not looking forward to going through her parents’ belongings to get their house ready to sell. Their health had been failing for some time and they finally agreed to move to a retirement community. Now that they were both comfortably moved into their new apartment, it was up to Jane to get rid of the things they no longer needed.

Her parents had lived in the same house for more than 50 years, so Jane expected to find things that should have been tossed out years ago. But she was amazed to discover 50 years of tax returns and bank statements carefully stored in boxes in the attic. Her parents had saved all their financial records!

Many people are confused about what records they need to keep and for how long. They hold onto tax returns, bank records, brokerage statements and other financial information simply because they don’t know if they’ll need it again. Like Jane’s parents, the documents get packed in boxes that eventually take over valuable living or storage space.

Financial planner Rick Rodgers, author of The New Three-Legged Stool: A Tax Efficient Approach To Retirement Planning (www.TheNewThreeLeggedStool.com), says tax time is a great time to get organized.

“Most people are going through their records to get ready to file their return,” he says. “This is the time to get smart about what you need to keep and then set up a system to store it efficiently going forward.”

Rodgers suggests these five steps to help you effectively organize your finances for 2012 and beyond:
1. Out with the old – Discard the records you no longer need: Tax returns older than seven years; bank records and credit card statements that are not related to the tax returns you’re keeping; brokerage statements that aren’t related to purchases of current holdings. Be sure to shred all your old documents before throwing them out.
2. Go digital – Convert the documents you plan to save into digital images that are stored on your hard drive. Invest in a good scanner and scan as you go through your paperwork, shredding and tossing the hard copies as you go. On your computer, file by tax year, so your 2011 folder will contain your tax return for 2011 and all pertinent bank records and receipts. Organize the previous six years the same way. Next year you can delete the oldest folder when you add the 2012 folder.
3. Save a forest – All of the financial institutions you deal with would prefer to send your statements electronically. Stop receiving paper statements. Instead, download your statements electronically and store them in your new filing system. Most banks and credit card companies keep at least a year’s worth of statements available. You need to download these files only once a year to complete the year’s file.
4. Save backups in case of emergency – Make backup copies of your files on a CD. Choose a CD-R (recordable) as opposed to a CD-RW (rewriteable), because CD-R cannot accidentally be overwritten. Depending on your computer operating system, you may be able to continue adding data to a CD-R each year, until the CD is full. However, some operating systems won’t allow that, so you’ll need a new CD for each year.
5. Go paperless – Your new electronic filing system can be expanded to include all your financial records, from car maintenance receipts to pay stubs. Wills and insurance policies can also be scanned and stored but, of course, keep the originals of those in a safe deposit box or fireproof safe.
Gone are the days of saving your financial documents in box and shoving it into the attic. Technology advances have made organizing your personal finances easier with minimal cost. Make 2012 the year you get organized by moving your finances into a 21st century filing system.

For more information, visit www.rodgersspeaks.com.

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Word of the Day

January 27, 2012 6:36 pm

Urban renewal. The acquisition of run-down city areas for purposes of redevelopment.

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Question of the Day

January 27, 2012 6:36 pm

Q: What is a hybrid loan?
A: Also called a fixed-period ARM, these crossbreed loans combine features of fixed-rate and adjustable-rate mortgages.

They start out with a fixed interest rate for a number of years—usually 3, 5, 7 or 10 years—and then convert to an ARM.

Initially, the interest rate for the fixed period of the loan is much lower than the rate on a fixed-rate, 30-year mortgage by about 1.5 percentage points. As a result, the hybrid allows borrowers to buy a lot more home than they can afford—but at greater risk.

The terms and fees for these loans vary widely and when the fixed-rate period expires, homeowners could end up paying considerably more than the current rate of interest.

Before considering a hybrid, pay close attention to the terms, fees, and prepayment penalties.

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Top 8 Things to Know about a Mortgage

January 27, 2012 6:36 pm

Deciding what kind of home loan is best for your needs is an integral part of the home buying process. But it’s not always easy, according to California mortgage broker Ken Go.

Go notes the eight most important factors to compare when shopping for a mortgage:
• Principal – The principal is the amount you are borrowing—or the price of the home you are buying minus the down payment. Lenders will tell you how much they are prepared to lend you based on your income and credit score. That will help you determine how much house you can afford.
• Mortgage type – Mortgages fall into two categories; fixed rate or adjustable. With a fixed rate mortgage, you pay the same amount each month for as long as you have the loan. The interest rate is slightly higher than some adjustable rate mortgages, but adjustable rates change with the market and will likely rise over time.
• Interest rate – A loan with the lowest posted rate may have higher closing costs. Consider the Annual Percentage Rate (APR), which takes into account the interest rate and the loan’s other costs.
• Monthly payment – A mortgage loan should help you build equity in your home. The best one may or may not be the one that carries the lowest monthly payment. Consult a mortgage broker for details.
• Term – The term is the number of years your loan will remain active. Mortgages with shorter terms generally carry a higher monthly payment but they can save you a lot of interest over the years.
• Discount points - A point is equal to one percent of the principal. Lenders may offer you the chance to pay points in order to lower the interest rate of your mortgage. If you plan to stay in the home a long time, it may make sense to pay points.
• Lock-ins – When you apply for a loan, the lender will quote you the rates. But rates can go up while you shopping for a home, so it’s a good idea to lock in the quoted rates. There may or may not be a fee to do so.
• Closing costs – Origination fees, appraisal fees, and other costs will be added to your loan. Ask your lender for a good faith estimate of the costs, and an explanation of any charges you don’t understand.

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Saving Toward a Down Payment: 8 Great Ideas

January 27, 2012 3:36 pm

Like many consumers today, you may be thinking this is a great time to buy your first home—and you are right. Rock bottom prices, historically low mortgage rates, and a great selection of properties in all price ranges make this an excellent time to buy.

“The problem for many,” noted consumer finance consultant Elizabeth Ray, “is the lack of a down payment. But favorable price and mortgage conditions will likely last for a while. The smart and hopeful first-time buyer will take advantage of the opportunity to save now for that needed down payment.”

For those willing to make a few sacrifices in the short-term, Ray suggests eight possible ways to help consumers watch their savings pile up more quickly:

• Bank the extras – Anytime you get a refund, bonus, commission or birthday check, bank it in a separate savings account.
• Live on one income – Working couples should try to live on one income and bank the other—or half of it.
• Get a roommate – If single and living on your own, think about halving your monthly costs by taking in a roommate.
• Ditch the second car – If possible, use public transportation and bank the sale funds or payments.
• Do without extras – Can you do without cable? Eating out every night? That Starbucks stop every morning?
• Pay off debt – As you pay off high interest debt to better your credit rating, you will also be saving that high interest spend. Try to bank the payments you no longer need to make.
• Ask about a piggyback mortgage – Consult with a mortgage broker. If you can’t quite get the required percentage together for your down payment, but have a high enough monthly income, you may be able to get a piggybank loan to cover what your first mortgage won’t.
• Check out loan assistance programs – Government organizations like Veterans Affairs and FHA offer special programs designed to help people who don’t have large down payments obtain mortgage financing. Also check with state and local housing authorities to find out what assistance they may offer.

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