731 W Skippack Pike
March 29, 2012 6:34 pm
Q: Why buy a condo?
A: They are an appealing way to enter the housing market if the cost of a single-family home is out of your reach. Condos are especially popular among single homebuyers, empty nesters, and first-time buyers in high-priced housing markets.
Unlike a house, condos offer a lifestyle that is free of yard work and exterior maintenance and repairs. Many condominium communities also offer amenities such as exercise rooms, tennis courts, and swimming pools that you might otherwise be unable to afford if you purchased a single-family home.
March 27, 2012 6:30 pm
Whether you’ve inherited a large sum, sold an asset for cash, or won a lottery prize, coming into money is exhilarating. But the thrill of the windfall may not last long unless you plan ahead to make the most of it.
Before you go on a spending spree, say financial consultants at Consumer Reports, take a deep breath and consider these eight steps to maximize your sudden wealth:
1. Park the cash – Do nothing immediately but put it into an FDIC-insured money market account. (If over $250,000, divide into two accounts.) Or put it in a three-month CD with a penalty for early withdrawal. 2. Consult a financial advisor – Find a fee-only financial planner who makes no commission from your investments. A certified planner can help you devise a plan to help you meet your financial goals and pay you an allowance if that is what you want.
3. Cut debt – High interest loans like credit card debt should be paid off first. Then build a safety net of cash, enough to cover six to 12 months of living expenses. Then consider paying off some or all of your mortgage, depending upon the return you might expect to get by putting the money elsewhere.
4. Boost your savings – If you are not already contributing the maximum to your retirement account, start doing so now.
5. Keep your job – A windfall will propel you into a different standard of living only if it's a vast sum of money, say several million dollars. In most cases, you shouldn't quit or retire early or you may blow through your bequest.
6. Learn to say no – Think twice before giving money to friends or family members—and especially to the salespeople who will almost certainly find you.
7. Allow for fees and taxes - If you inherit assets other than cash, the amount you receive may be less than you expect. For example, if you inherit a house or stocks, you'll likely pay a real-estate or brokerage commission when you sell.
8. Indulge yourself a bit – Once you’ve accomplished the first seven steps, use no more than 10 percent of the windfall to take a vacation or buy yourself something nice.
March 27, 2012 6:30 pm
When it comes to getting a good night's sleep, peace of mind plays an important role. Knowing the people that you love are resting comfortably and—more importantly, resting safely—is the key to achieving a great night's sleep for everyone in the family.
"As parents, we go to great lengths making sure our family is protected; but sometimes, it's what you don't see that can cause problems," says Ben Thorud, senior vice president of Ashley Sleep. "Creating a cozy, safe sleeping environment for your family allows everyone to rest easier and wake up ready to experience their best day ever."
Here are four sleeping tips for a healthier, safer night's rest:
1. Know what's in your mattress. While mattresses may look the similar on the outside, not all are created equally. Be sure to find out how your mattress was manufactured and which chemicals are used inside. Look for a latex mattress that uses state-of-the-art sleep technology like SynTex. Infused with natural seed oil, this process minimizes the use of petrol-based chemical oils—allowing them to meet or exceed the most rigorous flame-retardancy test. They're also a more eco-friendly option.
2. Find out if the foam is CertiPUR-US® approved. When you choose a mattress containing polyurethane foam, be sure that it's sealed with comfort and confidence. When the foam inside is CertiPUR-US approved, you know that it has been tested by an independent laboratory to meet environmental, health and safety guidelines. Consider it a health check-up for your foam mattress. CertiPUR-US certified foams are made without PBDEs, ozone-depleters, prohibited phthalates, lead, mercury and heavy metals and formaldehyde. They are also certified low-emissions for indoor air quality.
3. Make sure allergy sufferers are comfortable. Latex mattresses are an excellent choice for family members who have allergies. Latex is a naturally hypoallergenic, renewable and eco-friendly material made from the sap of plantation-grown rubber trees, that's bacteria, mold, mildew and dust-mite resistant. (Some people are allergic to latex and believe they cannot purchase a latex mattress for this reason. But true allergic reactions to latex are from direct contact. You will never be in direct contact with the latex in the mattress.) Don't forget about an allergy-friendly box spring.
4. Replace pillows often. No matter what kind of pillows you choose, it's important to replace them about every year or so. Older pillows may contain skin cells, mold, dust mites, mildew and fungus. And no matter how perfect those pillows were when you first purchased them, over time, they will begin to lose their shape and supportive qualities.
March 27, 2012 6:30 pm
There is nothing that makes your wallet squeal louder today than pulling into the gas station and dropping $50. Gasoline prices have risen more than 12 percent over the past 12 months, and some experts are predicting they’ll reach $5 per gallon in the next six months.
The average household now spends $50 per month more on gasoline than last year, notes financial planner Rick Rodgers, author of The New Three-Legged Stool: A Tax Efficient Approach To Retirement Planning
“But that’s not the whole picture,” Rodgers says. “Higher fuel prices affect a lot of other expenses in the family budget, from heating to food. The government estimates the average household is spending $150 per month more this year because of higher oil prices.”
You can try to ease the pain at the pump by using your car less, but you should also look for other places to offset that extra $150. Car insurance is a good place to start.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, the national average auto insurance premium is $850 per year. Can you reduce that? Rodgers says you probably can. He offers six ways:
• Shop around regularly.
Your insurance agent doesn’t have a lot of incentive to reduce your premiums. I recently met a consumer who told me he had been with the same agent for 15 years. After he shopped his insurance with another agent, he saved $1,600 on his premiums for all his coverage. The internet makes it easy compare costs for the same coverage, or you can get an independent insurance agent to shop for you. Contact the Independent Agents Association at (800) 221-7917. (Be sure the company you go with has a good credit rating and claims-paying history.)
• Bundle your coverage.
Bundling is combining different types of policies (auto, homeowners, liability, etc.) with the same company. The theory is that the company will discount the premiums if they have all of your business. The most common combination is packaging your auto insurance and homeowner’s policies together. Or, find companies that will bundle auto insurance with renter’s or tenant’s insurance. Bundled packages usually result in a 10 to 15 percent savings.
• Ask for discounts.
You may qualify for discounts, but you won’t know until you ask. They’re commonly offered for good driving records, anti-theft devices, vehicle safety features (anti-lock brakes, air bags, automatic seatbelts), low annual mileage and insuring more than one car. The spunky Flo from Progressive claims discounts are also available for buying your policy online, paying in full up front, and being a loyal customer.
• Take a defensive driving class.
Even if you’ve been driving for years, you can learn a lot from driver education and most insurance companies recognize the value of a refresher course, which can help you avoid accidents. The amount of discount varies by insurance company and from state to state, although most insurers offer a 10 percent discount on your premium for three years. AARP offers a driver safety program for those over age 50, and it’s available online.
• Increase your deductible.
Do your auto and homeowners policies have low deductibles? If so, you may be able to reduce your premiums 15 to 30 percent by raising the deductible on your collision and comprehensive coverage. Make sure you have an emergency fund set aside to cover the cost of repairs before you make the change. But your homeowners policy may be the first place to consider raising the deductible, since statistics show the average homeowner files a claim only once every nine years. Be sure to check with your mortgage holder first; some specify maximums.
• Change Cars.
This is probably the most difficult savings tip to implement but may have the largest impact on your premium. Used cars are cheaper to insure than new ones (excluding antiques); sports cars are more expensive to insure than minivans. Insurance companies like cars with safety features and low repair costs. Insure.com surveyed 900 vehicles in the 2012 model year and lists the rankings from the most expensive to least expensive on their website. Six of the 10 cheapest were minivans.
Certified Financial Planner Rick Rodgers is president of Rodgers & Associates, “The Retirement Specialists,” in Lancaster, Pa. He’s a Certified Retirement Counselor and member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisers.
March 27, 2012 6:30 pm
Are you constantly stepping in between your children and acting like a referee? Whether your kids are four or 14, and their fights are mild squabbles or intense brawls, raising children who don’t get along is stressful. Plus, growing up with a positive relationship with your siblings is a beautiful thing. Katie Laminski, LCSW, a licensed child and family therapist and parenting coach, recently wrote on this topic for SWParents.com.
“While sibling squabbles can be normal, there are definitely things that parents can do to make them happen less frequently, empower the kids to resolve them, and help siblings grow into having great relationships with each other,” Laminsky wrote. Below are her tips for creating and keeping peace in your family.
• Teach your kids how TO play together. Your older child especially will benefit from your instruction on how to play with the younger. For example, “Hold this blanket over your face and then drop it down quickly and say Peekaboo and smile.” The baby will love that and will giggle!” When you find yourself repeating a list of “Don’t,” try to switch over to a happy encouragement of “Do.” In addition to being more effective, it’s being more enjoyable for everybody, too.
• Teach both kids to notice, understand, and respect other’s non-verbal signals. A simple one is to watch the other person’s smile—big smile: things are probably going well. No smile? Maybe take a break. Another example: a one year old, who when she gets too worked up, will grab her sister’s hair—ouch! Teach the big sister to recognize the signs of an over-stimulated baby so she can take a break and save her hair.
• Pay attention to the messages that your children are getting from TV, books, and friends. The bulk of kids’ media portray siblings as annoying, or bothersome, or mean, or worse. It is rare to see loving sibling relationships—but kids need to see this way of relating to their sibling if they are going to actually do it, and they need your help identifying and rejecting the negative images of sibling relationships.
So point out crummy behavior when you see it on TV or in books… talk about your family values on how brothers and sisters treat each other… show your kids how to play with each other well and how to understand other’s signals, and most importantly: give your kids some extra love and support when they are loving to each other. These things will really help!
March 27, 2012 6:30 pm
Commission. Payment, or brokerage fees, given by the seller of a property to a real estate agent for services rendered, usually paid at the closing.
March 27, 2012 6:30 pm
Q: What should I know about zoning issues and approvals?
A: Zoning regulations establish how the land can be used, either for residential, industrial, commercial, or recreational purposes, or sometimes a combination thereof. Designed to protect property owners and communities from undesirable, or inappropriate, land uses and/or construction, zoning laws can be very rigid and inflexible.
On the other hand, they can protect your property value and ensure against the stationing of a mega-store right next to your home. Before you begin any remodeling job, determine how your local zoning laws might affect your project. You can visit your local zoning office, city hall, or some other local planning board to get a copy of your local ordinance and determine how you will need to seek approval for your project. Take nothing for granted; some communities even require approval to erect fences.
March 26, 2012 6:28 pm
If you are carrying credit card debt, you are paying too much in monthly interest and robbing yourself of the extra cash that could be enhancing your lifestyle.
That’s the position of Yahoo contributor Brenda Barnes, who managed to pay off more than $3,000 in debt in 71 days without undue sacrifice or penny-pinching.
Here are the five steps Barnes recommends to get yourself out of debt fast:
1. Go through the closets – Take all outgrown or unwanted clothing in good condition to a consignment store, which may pay you up to 75 percent of the sales price. It could net you hundreds in cash you can use to pay against debt.
2. Collect the collectibles – and other dust-catchers taking up space in your home, basement, or garage. A variety of items can be sold on eBay or Craigslist, and could be worth hundreds more dollars you can use toward your debt payoff.
3. Shave personal splurges – If lunch is costing $5 to $10 a day or more, cut your cost in half by packing your lunch and save the difference. But be sure to set aside the difference each day in cash, and use it to pay against debt. ($25 in savings every week for three months equals $300!)
4. Try the barter system – If you do artwork or photography, knitting, sewing, or woodwork, take samples to display at local beauty shops or coffee stores. Pay the proprietor a percentage of the sales and use the rest of the income for debt relief.
5. Shop cheap – Barnes discovered unbelievable bargains at consignment and even thrift stores. Check them first for clothing and household goods and stow all the estimated savings for you-know-what. Also, use coupons at the grocery store and put away the cents-off amount you saved on each item.
March 26, 2012 6:28 pm
I was recently perusing the new federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website. The site—consumerfinance.gov
—should not only be a resource, but a place for consumers to "tell their story," in the hope of seeing consumer issues addressed more effectively.
The central mission of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is to make markets for consumer financial products and services work for Americans—whether they are applying for a mortgage, choosing among credit cards, or using any number of other consumer financial products.
The consumer bureau is working to give consumers the information they need to understand the terms of their agreements with financial companies. And working to make regulations and guidance as clear and streamlined as possible so providers of consumer financial products and services can follow the rules on their own.
Congress established the CFPB to protect consumers by carrying out Federal consumer financial laws. Among other things, the agency:
• Conducts rule-making, supervision, and enforcement for Federal consumer financial protection laws
• Restricts unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices
• Takes consumer complaints
• Promotes financial education
• Researches consumer behavior
• Monitors financial markets for new risks to consumers
• Enforces laws that outlaw discrimination and other unfair treatment in consumer finance
Anyone in the market for a home should be aware that the CFPB's Know Before You Owe, program is well on the way to combining two federally required mortgage disclosures into a single, simpler form that makes the costs and risks of the loan clear and allows consumers to comparison shop.
The CFPB also published a report on the Variation in credit scores sold by certain consumer reporting agencies, which also may be helpful if you are about to begin the process of buying a home.
We'll be covering a lot more from this agency in the coming months, so stay tuned.
March 26, 2012 6:28 pm
Spring is in! That means it’s time for a little deep cleaning; time to clear away clutter, organize closets, and tackle the pantry (again!) If you are ready to tackle clutter in your apartment, now is a great time. There’s still enough of a hint of winter that you won’t succumb to Spring fever and ditch it all for a day at the park, but there’s enough warmth and daylight that you won’t mind a few trips out to the dumpster.
Marcia Bollinger, president of Apartment Finder, offers the following tips from Apartment Finder’s blog, The APT, to help usher in a nice clean Spring:
1. Make a Plan
. Decide which projects take priority. Does your closet need a massive redo? Are your kitchen drawers so filled with clutter they won’t open? Are you buried under an avalanche of assorted storage containers every time you open your kitchen cabinet? Once you decide what you want to tackle, put it on your calendar. Setting a date will keep you from finding excuses to put it off, and it will give you time to plan.
2. Be Creative.
You have a target date and a list of projects—now what? Before you begin, think about what storage features you are lacking. Get imaginative. For example, try using bins to create easy weeknight meals in a basket. A bin labeled “spaghetti night” would contain pasta, a jar of sauce, and a loaf of Italian bread—an ideal solution to the “what-am-I-gonna-make-for-dinner” blues.
3. Make Some Room
. If your closet is also in serious need of attention, perhaps you’ll want to focus on this space, as well. Shoe organizers are handy in the closet, and so are storage bins. Take everything out of the closet until you have an empty space. Sort everything you haven’t worn or used in the past year into two piles: toss and give away. Place items back into your closet by type (pants, skirts, suit jackets, etc.). If you have empty wall space in your closet, add hooks (the removable type is perfect). The more hooks, the better—use these for belts, ties, and scarves.
For more great tips on apartment living, visit Apartment Finder’s blog, The APT
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