RE/MAX 440
Mary Mastroeni
mmastroeni@remax.net
Mary Mastroeni
731 W Skippack Pike
Blue Bell  PA 19422
PH: 610-277-2900
O: 215-643-3200
C: 610-213-4878
F: 267-354-6212 
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Mary's Blog

Word of the Day

January 11, 2012 5:58 pm

Tax sale. A court-ordered sale of real property to raise money to cover delinquent taxes.

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Question of the Day

January 11, 2012 5:58 pm

Q: Are there such things as no-cost and no-fee loans?

A: You see promotions for them all the time. But banking regulators have gone after lenders who misrepresent these loans. The reality is that no-cost and no-fee loans may actually cost the borrower more over the long term because costs are often hidden by rolling them into the new loan through higher principal or interest.

The rates on no-cost loans are usually about 1/2 or 5/8 of a percentage point higher than the "full cost" rate.

A typical no-fee loan includes points and all fees in the loan principal, so the borrower does not pay or “see” these expenses at the closing. Instead, the borrower pays them over the life of the loan.

If you are looking to refinance, it may be possible to get a no-cost program that will lower your rate at no expense to you. Today, lenders are paying all closing costs, such as title fees, appraisal fees, and credit report fees. There are no loan fees or points, and nothing is added to your loan balance.

However, many lenders may charge a loan application fee and some restrictions may apply depending on the size of the loan.

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Extended Warranties: Are They Worth It?

January 10, 2012 5:54 pm

It’s the time of year when many Americans are out there hunting for bargains, especially in big screen TVs and other electronics still on store shelves in the days and weeks after Christmas. There are bargains to be had, for sure, and you may be glad to fork over the money for what you deem a really good deal. But as anyone who has ever bought anything electronic knows, the first question out of every salesman’s mouth is, ‘Would you like the extended warranty?’

“For many, the answer is a flat no,” says big box store salesman John Guerrera, who has been selling big screen television sets since they first began to flood the market. “But a lot of people will hesitate a minute, and then begin to ask questions.”

That’s a good thing, Guerrera observed, because the truth is that in many cases, given the life expectancy of today’s products, an extended warranty is not much more than a money-maker for the store. “The first question should be, ‘what kind of warranty comes with the purchase?’

Guerrera suggests considering these factors before deciding whether an extended warranty is for you:

• What do you get for free? Almost every piece of electronics you can buy has a manufacturer's warranty for a particular time period. In addition, every item sold has an implied warranty, assuring the item will work as reasonably expected over the long haul. In many cases, the implied warranty may be all you will need.
• What does the extended warranty provide? How much longer will product protection last under the terms of this warranty? If it’s only an added year or two, consider that most electronics perform trouble-free for a lot longer than that—and that some parts, like computer hard drives, already come with a five-year warranty. Be sure you are not paying for coverage you will likely never need.
• What about service? The warranty you get free will usually protect you only against defects in manufacture. If an accident happens, or if you misuse the product, you're probably out of luck. In some cases, an extended warranty may be more like a service contract, covering product failure for any reason during the contracted period. If this added protection gives you peace of mind, a reasonably priced extended warranty may not be a bad idea.

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Tips for Controlling Kids’ Money

January 10, 2012 5:54 pm

The following tips come from Trevor Bolin, author of Take Charge and Change Your Life Today. Bolin went from a drug-addicted teenager to a clean, confident and savvy young adult who made his first million dollars by 28.

While many parents teach their children the basics of fiscal responsibility by giving them an allowance, Bolin says his experience offers less obvious but equally important lessons. Children need to have a healthy attitude toward money, not only to avoid making choices that make them unhappy, but to allow them a life path that they control.

“I learned my lessons the hard way,” he says. “You can start now to make sure your children never reach the bottom that I hit.”

These are some places to start:
• Avoid making negative comments about money: Sayings like “money is the root of all evil” and “a fool and his money are soon parted” are negative and therefore not helpful. Make a commitment, starting today, not to use those phrases. Imagine what a child believes about money if that’s what they hear all the time?

Money is a great thing—when you know what to do with it and when you control it rather than allowing it to control you.

• Help children recognize the financial lessons they learn from experience: Say you warned your child he should set aside some of Grandma’s birthday money, but he spent it all on impulse. When he’s disappointed later because he can’t buy something he wants, remind him why he can’t. Tell him that feeling disappointed is a small price to pay for a valuable lesson. And won’t it be much easier if he learns the lesson after just one sad experience?
• Pay yourself first: If your child receives a weekly allowance, he or she should immediately put 10 to 15 percent into a savings account that won’t be touched. Or set a milestone for when money from the account can be used, such as the child’s 18th birthday. By then, she’ll be so accustomed to saving, she probably won’t tap the account even when she can.
• Help your child set goals: Setting financial goals, noting progress toward achieving them, and enjoying the satisfaction of crossing them off the list are fiscally sound lessons and a good way to nurture healthy attitudes in general. Your child might set goals for the month ($10 to go to the movies), goals for the year (save $200 for a Wii system) and goals for the future ($375 a year for the next eight years for a car when I’m 16).

“Goals are the first step in achieving what you desire in this world,” Bolin says.

“You can create success in any aspect of life—not just money—as long as you’re putting a plan in motion.”

Trevor Bolin owns three realty companies in British Columbia. He is also chairman of Bolin & Co. International Training, which offers coaching and seminars for business people.

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5 Home Remodeling Tips

January 10, 2012 5:54 pm

Remodeling your home can be stressful and complicated. The following tips, provided by the American Homeowners Foundation and the American Homeowners Grassroots Alliance, can help put your mind at ease while renovating.

• Request A Comprehensive Bid.
It should detail as many of the specifications as possible. Get bids from three remodelers. If one of the bids is unusually low, make sure that they have included everything.

• Consider Doing Some Work Yourself. If the bids are higher than expected and too much for you to afford, you might be surprised how much money you can save. But make sure you're not getting into something you don't have time to do. Things that come up near the end of the job, such as painting, finish carpentry, etc. are good bets since the other parts aren't dependent on their completion. Some can even be done after the issuance of the final occupancy permit.

• Get a Comprehensive Written Contract. It will greatly reduce the likelihood of disputes with your remodeler. Most disputes arise over issues that were not resolved in advance. Make sure it covers the description of the project, timetable, payment schedule, etc., with general provisions defining the responsibility of the contractor and the subcontractors, defects and correction, change order procedures, warranties, right to termination, and alternative dispute settlement mechanisms (since more than half of the costs of lawsuits represent legal fees, homeowners and contractors will almost always be better off with mediation, conciliation, and/or binding arbitration clauses should a disagreement arise).

• Consider Buying Certain Building Materials in Advance. Styles for appliances and other building materials and suppliers are subject to change and are often heavily discounted when they go out of production. If there's a style you like very much, it may not be available next year, so consider buying and storing them when you see a really good deal. With the advent of the larger super discount home improvement stores, prices are down to the point that remodelers often can't get much better prices from other sources, even with their business discounts.

• Be Careful about Financing. If you're financing the project, you want the lowest rate possible and you want the interest to be tax deductible. Only certain types of loans will give you an interest deduction so check with an expert. In some cases, refinancing your mortgage can be the best bet.

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

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6 Strategies to Help Avoid Credit Card Fees

January 10, 2012 5:54 pm

In order to avoid credit card fees, personal money resource Bills.com shares the following strategies consumers can employ to better avoid additional charges that have arisen because of changes outlined in the Credit CARD Act.

1. Monitor your communications from your credit card issuer. One of the best ways to stay abreast of changes specific to your cards or situation is to closely monitor information sent from your issuer. New regulations require much greater disclosure on all changes, so any update will be sent to your attention. Be alert for all mailings and read them carefully before throwing away or destroying.

2. Maintain prompt payment status with your credit card company. Despite all these changes, the simplest way to avoid fees is to pay your credit card bills on time. By missing or being late on a payment you will incur fees, potentially increase your interest rate and lower your overall credit score.

3. Pay down high balances to improve credit card utilization.
This will show that you can responsibly manage your credit limit, minimizing the chance of higher tiers of interest rates or reductions in credit limit. Additionally, better credit utilization will help boost your credit score.

4. Maintain activity on your credit card accounts. By using the revolving credit lines that you need or want to keep and promptly paying on them, you can help avoid cancellation of those credit card accounts. This will also help avoid faux inactivity fees and help boost your credit score, while having a long existing credit line closed could lower your score.

5. Avoid over-limit fees through responsible spending habits. Credit card issuers have begun to charge fees for opt-in over-limit coverage. By remaining aware of credit limits and balances, consumers can avoid a need for this service and these fees altogether.

6. New regulations do not apply to corporate or small business cards. This means some small business owners might consider using personal cards for business expenses because of fee and rate limitations. However, these owners should remain cautious because their personal credit scores could suffer in the event of missed payments or defaults. Conversely, be aware of companies that are increasing solicitations for corporate card members to avoid new regulations.

For more information, visit www.bills.com.

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Word of the Day

January 10, 2012 5:54 pm

Tax rate. The rate at which real property is taxed in a tax district or county. For example, in a certain county, real property may be taxed at a rate of 55 mills (or 0.055) per dollar of assessed valuation.

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Question of the Day

January 10, 2012 5:54 pm

Q: What kind of return can I expect from home improvements?

A: Some improvements offer a greater return than others do. This will vary greatly depending on the type of work you have done. Remodeling magazine publishes an annual "Cost vs. Value Report'' that can answer this question in more detail, based on the top 15 home improvements. A recent study it conducted says the highest remodeling paybacks have come from siding and window replacements, major kitchen remodeling, bathroom and family room additions, and mid-range master bedroom suites.

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2012 Energy Innovation: Bioheat Lowers Emissions

January 9, 2012 5:52 pm

Energy costs are expected to rise in the New Year, so I went looking for some trendy heat saving tips. The Energy Communications Council is talking a lot about Bioheat, a cleaner burning, renewable product that can be blended seamlessly with the heating oil you already use. It lowers emissions.

The Cape & Islands Self-Reliance Corporation (reliance.org) reports that bioheat works in any regular heating fuel application, like home heating oil equipment, commercial boilers, and diesel generators, without any modifications.

Bioheat burns cleaner than regular heating oil, reducing many air emissions by 15-20%; it reduces the demand for oil; and the environmental impacts associated with drilling, transporting, and refining.

Also, the biodiesel component of bioheat is biodegradable, and bioheat breaks down more quickly than pure heating oil if there is a spill. And according to the Massachusetts nonprofit, burning heating oil produces toxic air emissions like carbon monoxide, particulates, and smog forming compounds.

Bioheat reduces all of these emissions, making the air around your home healthier. That's why organizations like the American Lung Association and the Environmental Protection Agency are strong promoters of biodiesel, so perhaps it is a practical and environmentally-conscious alternative to explore in 2012.

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New Survey: Saving Takes Priority for Young Adults This Year

January 9, 2012 5:52 pm

Young adults have made saving a priority this year—ahead of losing weight, living healthier and other typical New Year's resolutions—as financial concerns take a toll on their friendships and personal lives, according to a new survey by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Ad Council.
The organizations released the results today to coincide with the launch of a new series of public service advertisements on behalf of their national Feed the Pig financial literacy campaign, which helps 25- to 34-year-olds take control of their finances and add saving to their daily lives.

According to the survey, nearly three in four young adults in the Feed the Pig demographic are worried more about personal finances because of today's economy. Asked how those concerns are affecting them, almost half, or 48 percent, said they are socializing less with friends; 38 percent said they are losing sleep; 34 percent said they are distracted at work; and 31 percent said they are short-tempered with family and friends.

The majority want to get on stronger financial footing this year, with 94 percent of 25- to 34- year olds saying they are at least somewhat likely to make saving a priority, more than those who said the same about living healthier, 90 percent, or losing weight, 78 percent. Even so, almost four in 10, or 38 percent, said they have a hard time socking away even $25 a week.

"Young adults, debt laden and savings starved, are literally losing sleep as they struggle to put in place financial foundations to support their ambitions," says Jordan Amin, CPA, chairman of the AICPA's National CPA Financial Literacy Commission, which oversees the profession's financial literacy programs.

"Given the state of the economy over the past couple of years and its impact on young adults today, these tools are an important resource to help them navigate their financial lives. We know that young adults have a hard time saving for their future and that they are living beyond their means," says Peggy Conlon, president and CEO of the Ad Council. "I am confident the new work in this successful campaign will help ensure they are including regular savings as an essential part of how they manage their money."

Sources: www.feedthepig.org, www.aicpa.org , www.adcouncil.org

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