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Mary Mastroeni

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Question of the Day

December 2, 2011 4:36 pm

Q: What kind of home insurance should I get?

A: A standard policy will do in most instances. It protects against several natural disasters and catastrophic events. However, it will not guard against earthquakes, floods, war, and nuclear accidents. The policy can be expanded to include these disasters as well as coverage for such things as workers' compensation. In fact, the lender may require that you purchase flood or earthquake insurance if the house is in a flood zone or a region susceptible to earthquakes.

You also can increase coverage beyond the depreciated value of personal property such as televisions and furniture by purchasing a replacement-cost endorsement. Home-based business-coverage, once overlooked, is an ever-increasing popular rider. It does not cover liability associated with the business but rather contents such as home office equipment and general liability to cover injuries to clients and employees.

Other considerations: an inflation rider, which increases coverage as the home’s value rises, and getting insurance that is equal to the full replacement value of the home.

Insurance companies usually require an amount equal to at least 80 percent of the full replacement value. Otherwise, only a portion of the loss would be covered.

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Changes in Harp Requirements; How They Will Affect Individual Homeowners

December 1, 2011 7:36 pm

Money resource Bills.com recently released a consumer-focused evaluation and primer on the recently updated Home Affordability Refinance Program guidelines. Dubbed HARP 2.0, the program aims to make refinancing easier and more widely available to the nation's underwater homeowners. 

"This program could serve as a lifeline for many of the 11 million homeowners in the US estimated to owe more than the value of their property," says Ethan Ewing, president of Bills.com. "Of course, there are certain qualifications that borrowers must understand as they begin the process." 

The Bills.com HARP 2.0 Report provides a detailed look at the changes to the program guidelines and how each will affect individual borrowers. Highlights include: 

• Bills.com predicts that most lenders will not close on refinancings until March 2012 when lenders' automated underwriting systems are updated. Any early closings will be manually underwritten and are not protected against buybacks. This means many borrowers will not see immediate relief from HARP 2.0.
• The provisions most likely to help this program be successful:
o Removing the maximum loan-to-value (LTV) ration for HARP refinances
o Limit on lenders' liability if the borrower later defaults
o Elimination of credit & income guidelines for some borrowers
o Allowance of one late mortgage payment in the last 12 months
o Relaxed standards for bankruptcy or foreclosure
• One of the unheralded changes in HARP 2.0 is the new, less stringent requirement for condo refinancing. By removing the requirement that 80% of condo owners in a complex be current on their HOA dues, HARP 2.0 allows owners to refinance regardless of their neighbors' financial situation.
• In some states, refinancing can remove the consumer protections, called anti-deficiency laws, that insulate an underwater homeowner involved in a foreclosure. Bills.com recommends homeowners learn the anti-deficiency laws in their states, and whether a mortgage refinance changes their recourse loan into a non-recourse loan. 

In addition, the report examines the context and motivation behind these changes, provides an at-a-glance review of the overall changes, and breakdowns HARP 2.0 eligibility guidelines.

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Jobless Execs: To Find Work, You Must Go Digital

December 1, 2011 7:36 pm

The nation’s unemployment rate may be inching downward, but the out-of-work figures have remained in the 9.0 to 9.2 percent range since April 2011, according to Bureau of Labor statistics.

An estimated 32,000 job seekers found work in October, but that still leaves 13.9 million reported unemployed, which means a lot of people are competing for the same job.

So how do you stand out in that crowd?

“It used to be that executives could network their way onto the CEO’s schedule, maybe on the golf course or a chance meeting at lunch or a ball game,” says Colleen Aylward, a recruitment strategy expert and author of, From Bedlam to Boardroom: How to Get a Derailed Executive Career Back on Track! (www.devonjames.net/the-book). ”It’s now up to you to gather your data, polish it up and position it where people will find you—and that’s one of the biggest shocks in the executive job seeker’s world right now.”

It’s a message that unemployed execs in their later years may not want to hear, but it’s one they need to get their collective arms around as the economy tries to rebound. The old-school train has left the station—permanently—and if 40- and 50-something prospects want to compete for top-flight executive positions it’ll mean breaking old habits and exiting their comfort zones.

Two words: digital brand.

Aylward says it’s time to become an authority on-line and to create a virtual network of business connections so that you can easily be found.

“Just when they thought their golden years entitled them to being ‘served’ by recruiters, members of that older generation now have to do homework and market themselves,” says Aylward, who interviewed thousands of jobless executives over 20 years.“ They don’t want to hear it, or believe it, but it’s reality.”

According to surveys, 89 percent of employers use a form of social media to identify job candidates, with LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter the most popular. LinkedIn, with its more than 135 million members, dominates the competition, with 86 percent usage compared to just 50 percent for Facebook and 45 percent for Twitter.

Sounds like a good place to start.

After embracing social media (even building a personal website), Aylward has these tips:
• Streamline your strengths with specific examples. It’s not the interviewer’s job to figure out what your strengths might be; it’s the candidate’s job. The days of clever cover letters opening doors are gone. Those resumes and on-line profiles better be stronger than ever and packed with data and specific accomplishments.
• Don’t waste time with external executive recruiters. They don’t find jobs for people. You need to get in front of the internal corporate recruiters who are searching for you online. So help them do their job by researching companies online yourself, as well as locating jobs yourself, introducing yourself to a prospective employer and conversing directly with hiring managers – online.
• It’s all about them, not you. Get out of the mindset that matching yourself for a job or interviewing for a job is about you. It’s all about what you can do for them. That means defining your strengths and determining specific areas where you can solve their business problems. And be prepared to demonstrate that you have kept up with technology, industry changes and how the economy has affected them. 

“Embrace change,” Aylward says. “You are still very valuable and worth money for a long time, but you need to make yourself visible—and viable—to those who need your expertise.”

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Six Savvy Ways to Avoid Overspending this Holiday Season

December 1, 2011 7:36 pm

Every holiday season, millions of Americans spend above their means. So the temporary feel-good high of giving big to the ones we love ends up hurting more than helping. "It's self-defeatist to overspend to make loved ones feel good when the result makes you feel worse in the long run," says Meredith Simonds of CreditInfoCenter.com. "I'm talking about worst-case scenarios that all-too-often come true, from debt settlement to bankruptcy." 

To avoid overspending, try to:
1) Pay with cash.
This means leaving credit cards and debit cards at home. Know your budget for the day's spending and take no more cash than that on your shopping trip.
2) Stick to your list. Take your time with it, carefully choosing the right item (at the right price) for everyone you want to buy for this year.
3) Shop with a friend. To be more specific, shop with a friend who has your best financial interest at heart. When you're tempted to go over budget or make an impulse buy, they can help keep you on track.
4) Don't buy something just because it's on sale. If it's not on your list, that sale item isn't saving you anything. Unless you buy the sale item to replace something else you planned to buy.
5) Look for items that cost less than the allotted amounts. For example, if you planned on spending twenty dollars on something but find it for fifteen, stop there. As long as you got the item you were looking for, don't feel you need to spend the full twenty dollars.
6) When shopping online, take advantage of promo codes. You've know the prompt at checkout asking you to enter a promo code? Rather than skipping over this option, simply do an online search for one, such as, "[name of store] promotional code." 

For more info, visit www.creditinfocenter.com.

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Toy-Buying Tips to Keep Children's Eyes Safe This Holiday Season

December 1, 2011 7:36 pm

As the holiday season approaches, parents across the United States are making their lists for Santa in hopes of making a happy occasion for their youngsters. And while the little ones may know what toys are the most popular, they are ill-equipped to determine which ones can potentially be dangerous. 

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were more than 250,000 toy-related injuries treated in U.S. emergency rooms in 2010; nearly three quarters of those injured were children under age 15. A serious eye injury from a toy can ruin a family's holiday and, more seriously leave a child with permanent vision loss. During this holiday season, the American Academy of Ophthalmology is reminding parents about the dangers that toys may pose to children's eyes and offers its top five tips on how to choose safe toys for gift giving.

1. Avoid purchasing toys with sharp, protruding or projectile parts. 

2. Make sure children have appropriate supervision when playing with potentially hazardous toys or games that could cause injury.

3. If you plan to give sports equipment, provide appropriate protective eyewear with polycarbonate lenses. Check with your local Eye M.D. to learn about protective gear recommended for your child's sport.

4. Check labels for age recommendations and be sure to select gifts that are appropriate for a child's age and maturity. 

5. Keep toys that are made for older children away from younger children.

"With so many toys being recalled or having the potential to cause injuries, many of my patients' parents are wondering what toys are safe," said David Wheeler, MD, pediatric ophthalmologist and clinical correspondent for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. "A good rule of thumb that I often share with parents is to choose a toy that is appropriate for their child's age, abilities, and their willingness to supervise their child's use of the toy. Being aware and thoughtful about what you are putting in your children's hands is the best preventative medicine." 

For more information, visit www.geteyesmart.org.


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Word of the Day

December 1, 2011 7:36 pm

REALTOR®. A real estate broker or agent who is a member of the National Association of REALTORS®, a professional real estate group that subscribes to a Code of Ethics. Not every broker or agent is a REALTOR®, a word that is a registered trademark and always capitalized.

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Question of the Day

December 1, 2011 7:36 pm

Q: What does homeowners’ insurance cover?

A: It protects against disasters – whether natural, manmade or mechanical. A standard policy insures the home, as well as your possessions. Because this insurance is packaged, it covers liability for any harm, loss, and property damage that you or your family members cause others. And it includes additional living expenses in case you are temporarily displaced because of damage from a fire or other insured disaster.

While you are not legally required to have homeowners’ insurance, mortgage lenders stipulate that you do. It protects their investment in the home in case of a natural disaster or catastrophic event.

If your mortgage is paid up – or you never had one – it is still a good idea to have homeowners’ insurance to protect your home and your belongings.

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Tips for Preventing Decorating Disasters This Holiday Season

November 30, 2011 7:36 pm

As spirits brighten during the holiday season, many families rely on holiday lights and festive décor to brighten up their homes as well. The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) is urging families across the country to keep safety in mind as they decorate their homes this holiday season to ensure that their celebrations do not end in tragedy. 

While holiday lights and other decorations add to the splendor of the season, they also contribute to the rise in incidents of home fires and preventable injuries that occur during the winter months. An average of 260 home fires begin with Christmas trees each year, with another 150 home fires beginning with holiday lights and other decorative lighting. 

With its annual holiday safety awareness campaign, ESFI encourages families and communities across the country to Make Safety a Tradition of the holiday season. ESFI, in partnership with The Home Depot, is educating consumers about the unique safety concerns of the winter holiday season. 

“The joy that festive decorations provide can cause people to overlook the inherent dangers that are also associated with them,” said ESFI President Brett Brenner. “It is critical that families follow simple instructions and inspect their holiday decorations to minimize the risk of fire and electric shock.” 

Follow these basic safety guidelines to help prevent serious electrical and fire hazards as you decorate your home and yard this season:
• Avoid using candles when possible. Consider using battery-operated candles in place of traditional candles.
• Never leave an open flame unattended. Keep burning candles within sight.
• When purchasing a live tree, check for freshness. A fresh tree will stay green longer and be less of a fire hazard than a dry tree.
• When purchasing an artificial tree, look for the label “fire resistant.”
• Choose holiday decorations made with flame-resistant or non-combustible materials.
• Use only electrical decorations and lights that have been approved for safe use by a nationally recognized testing laboratory.
• Carefully inspect each electrical decoration before use. Cracked or frayed sockets, loose or bare wires, and loose connections may cause a serious shock or start a fire.
• Follow the use and care instructions that accompany electrical decorations, and always unplug electrical decorations before replacing bulbs or fuses.
• Keep young children away from holiday lights, electrical decorations, and extension cords to prevent electrical shock and burn injuries.
• Avoid plugging too many holiday lights and decorations into a single outlet. Overloaded outlets can overheat and cause a fire.
• Do not mount or support light strings in a way that might damage the cord’s insulation.
• Never connect more than three strands of incandescent lights together.
• Make sure any electrical decorations used outdoors are marked for outdoor use.
• Keep all outdoor extension cords and light strings clear of snow and standing water.
• Use caution when decorating near power lines. Contact with a high-voltage line could lead to electrocution.
• Turn off all indoor and outdoor electrical decorations before leaving home or going to bed. 

Visit ESFI’s holiday safety website, http://www.holidaysafety.org,

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How to Be a Good Dad in a Tough Economy

November 30, 2011 7:36 pm

With a masters in human leisure development and a business specializing in recreation services and facilities management, Tom Watson, author of "Man Shoes: The Journey to Becoming a Better Man, Husband & Father," knows the importance of fathers spending quality down time with their children. 

But with so many families financially stressed, it's the first "job" many dads are abandoning. 

"These days, many fathers are either unemployed and working hard to find work or they're working two jobs or more just to make ends meet," Watson says. "Either they don't have much time for family, or they just aren't in the mood." 

Watson offers these tips for dads trying to stay connected in a tough economy:
Share Time - It's important for your kids to know that you aren't paying attention to them out of obligation, but rather, because you need to be with them as much as they need to be with you.
A Little Time is Better Than None - Even if you can only block out a couple of hours every week, that can be enough. As long as you keep to the schedule and don't let your kids down, that time will be as valuable as if you spent the entire weekend with them.
Don't Plan Big - The pitfall is that the bigger the plan, the bigger the expectation. The truth is, kids don't care. You don't have to spend a lot of money or make big plans all the time. It could be as simple as going to the park to fly kites and eating a brown bag lunch together, and most kids would be happy with that.
Watson adds, "While it may seem to some that working hard to provide for their families is their primary responsibility as a father, that's just not so." 

For more information visit www.manshoes.net.

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Seasonal Stress Busters

November 30, 2011 7:36 pm

The holiday season is a time for family, friends, and fun. However, with all of the excitement also comes a whopping dose of stress—there are events to plan, gifts to buy, meals to cook and guests to pamper. Mind the following helpful hints to ease stress this season.

Exercise- Fitness is important year round, but the winter especially. With cold weather, darker days and busier schedules, it’s hard to maintain a work-out routine. However, studies have shown that regularly physical activity not only lowers stress, but bolsters your immune system, warding off wintertime sniffles.

Eat right- Between decadent meals, holiday parties, and comfort foods, nutrition often gets neglected between Thanksgiving and the New Year. Indulge in moderation and load up on leafy greens, whole grains and filling protein to keep your body happy and your mind sharp.

Laughter- Don’t let work stress or that looming visit from your in-laws dampen your holiday cheer. Spending just 10 minutes a day laughing can brighten your spirits. Watch a funny YouTube video, call a friend or play with your kids to put a smile on your face and keep stress at bay.

Down-time – Between pressing work schedules and shuttling the kids from one event to another, you can lose sight of your “you” time. Make sure to schedule at least thirty minutes in your day to relax. Spend that time doing something that puts you at ease, whether it’s taking a bath, reading a book, playing with your pets or working on a hobby.

Power off – Studies have shown using electronics—from TVs to laptops and Smartphones—before bed can disrupt your sleeping pattern. The less restful your sleep schedule, the easier it is for you to become stressed and agitated. Power off all electronics at least thirty minutes prior to slipping in the sheets for sounder zzz’s.

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