December 6, 2011 7:54 pm
Q: What is title insurance?
A: Title insurance protects the lender against unclear title to the property you are buying. It is almost always a requirement for closing on a home. If you desire coverage as well, buy an owner’s policy, which will protect you against any title-search errors and losses that arise from disputes over property ownership. The cost of title insurance is usually a set value per thousand of dollars of the total loan amount.
December 5, 2011 7:50 pm
Identity theft is a major problem, and the risk may be highest when you are traveling. That, according to finance writer Amy Fontinelle, is because most of us travel with personal information at hand while in strange or distracting environments.
She suggests five easy and sensible ways to reduce the risk of identity theft when traveling:
1. Restrict use of public Wi-fi – Public Wi-fi networks are not secure, whether you pay for access or not. Criminals can use a technique called Wi-Fi sniffing to intercept data transmitted insecurely over a wireless network, so resist the urge to log-in at airports or hotels just to kill some time. Smartphone users can protect themselves by using their carrier's secure 3G or 4G service. Otherwise, try to handle sensitive online business on your secure home network before you leave town.
2. Use a separate computer for travel - Laptops and netbooks are so cheap these days that you might be able to afford more than one. If you travel enough to make such a purchase worthwhile, get a new computer that you will use exclusively for travel. That way, you can limit the amount of sensitive data that goes onto it.
3. Clean out your wallet – Take along your driver’s license, two credit cards, and some cash. Remove any other credit cards or health information or personal cards you will not be using on your trip—and never carry your Social Security card with you.
4. Use a money belt – Carry the bulk of your cash and valuables in a money belt or in a pouch worn around the neck. Try not to get into it in public.
5. Put deliveries on hold – Nothing advertises a vacant house more than a stack of daily newspapers or mail spilling from the mailbox. Have mail held by the post office while you are away, and stop newspaper delivery.
6. Be cautious around strangers – No need to be looking over your shoulder all the time, but be wary of strangers asking for something while a partner picks your pocket. Don’t ask a stranger to watch your bag while you run to the restroom. Make sure no one is looking over your shoulder if you are using a laptop or Smartphone—and be careful what you reveal in cell phone conversations.
December 5, 2011 7:50 pm
I previously reported that according to State Farm, the number of frozen pipe claims nearly tripled nationally, from 9,000 claims to more than 26,000 claims, between 2008 and 2009. And we dug into some advice from the Professional Insurance Agents of Connecticut Inc. on the subject.
According to the PIACT report, anytime the temperature reaches 32 degrees or below, if pipes are not properly winterized, it could spell disaster. But with a little attention and simple maintenance, you can help prevent pipes from freezing.
The PIACT says pipes that freeze most often are those exposed to the severe cold such as those located in unheated interior areas like basements or attics, crawl spaces, garages and kitchen cabinets.
Some measures the report suggests for safeguarding pipes and property include insulating the pipes in these areas. Additionally, make sure to seal leaks that allow cold air inside near the pipes.
Look for air leaks and use caulk or insulation to keep the cold out and the heat in. Water supply pipes to outside valves (hose bibs) usually have a shut off valve inside the house.
The home owner should shut the inside valve and open the outside valve. If water continues to drip outside, there may be a leak at the inside valve, and a plumber may need to get involved to fix this.
For pipes in crawlspaces and garages it may be necessary to wrap the pipe with an electrical insulator. These wraps act like heating pads for the pipe to keep the fluid from freezing.
If pipes do freeze, do take immediate steps to prevent further damage. But the PIACT warns don’t take any chances. If you turn on your faucets and no water comes out, leave the faucet on, turn off the main shut-off valve for your water supply and call a plumber.
And James R. Berliner, CPCU, president of PIACT says if damage has occurred; contact your professional, independent insurance agent to guide you through the claims process.
December 5, 2011 7:50 pm
There's nothing that brings a little sparkle to your holiday get together with friends and family more than champagne. In fact, Americans will consume more than one billion glasses of champagne this year, over 40 percent during the holiday season, according to Impact Databank. While champagne will add the sparkle, what you don't want to add are injuries to your holiday festivities.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the careless handling of champagne is one of the most common causes for holiday-related eye injuries.
These injuries are often caused by improperly opening the bottle, as a champagne cork is just under 90 pounds of pressure—three times the pressure inside a car tire. So, before you break open a high-pressured bottle of bubbly, it's important to know the proper technique. By following these simple tips, offered by Korbel Champagne Cellars, you can open the champagne bottle like a pro—without injury or spillage.
While the popping of a cork may sound festive and exciting, it tends to waste champagne and can be dangerous. The recommended way to properly open a bottle is to ease the cork out slowly, with the sound of a gentle sigh. In order to celebrate this holiday season without injury (or wasting champagne) follow these five easy steps:
1. Make sure your champagne is chilled and unshaken. Chill the bottle for at least four hours in the refrigerator (a warm bottle is more likely to pop unexpectedly).
2. Remove the foil cap covering the top of the bottle, exposing a wire hood.
3. Undo the wire hood with six half-turns of the knob.
4. Hold the bottle at a 45 degree angle while holding the cork firmly with one hand and the base of the bottle with the other. Be sure to point the bottle away from your guests.
5. Do not twist the cork. Rather, turn the bottle slowly while letting the cork glide out gently, emitting a gentle sigh.
Note: Never use a corkscrew. A champagne cork is highly compressed. If a corkscrew is inserted at an angle, you may have an exploding bottle in your hand.
"Whether you're toasting a good year or serving Mimosas at brunch, the holidays always call for champagne," says Gary Heck, owner and president of Korbel Champagne Cellars. "Opening a champagne bottle can be tricky, but don't be intimidated. Follow these tips and you're sure to get your fine bubbly in the glass, rather than all over your guests."
Other Champagne tips:
• Expect six generous glasses from one standard size (750ml) bottle.
• The most popular champagne is Brut—it's medium-dry, light and crisp.
• There are more than 50 million bubbles in a standard bottle of champagne.
• It's best to serve champagne in tapered champagne flutes, as they highlight the fine stream of bubbles. While short, wide goblets can be used in a pinch, they tend to cause the bubbles to dissipate quickly.
• When transporting champagne, keep the bottles upright. The shaking bottles receive in the car can cause champagne to quickly lose its sparkle after opening. Upright bottles keep wine movement to a minimum and the bubbles in the wine.
• Celebrate responsibly. Don't drink and drive; take a taxi or have a designated driver do the honors. The best celebrations are those from which everyone gets home safely.
Source: Korbel Champagne Cellars
December 5, 2011 7:50 pm
Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in both men and women in the United States. By making healthy dietary choices, you can reduce your risk of heart disease, as well as score a slew of other health boons, from weight loss to improved energy.
The American Heart Association has reported that about 80 million adults in the U.S. have at least one form of heart disease—disorders that prevent the heart from functioning normally—including coronary artery disease, heart rhythm problems, heart defects, infections, and more.
The following tips, brought to you by Food and Drug Administration nutrition expert (FDA's) Barbara Schneeman, will help you decide what heart healthy lifestyle choices you can easily incorporate into your daily routine.
• Balance calories to manage body weight
• Eat at least 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables a day, including a variety of dark-green, red, and orange vegetables, beans, and peas.
• Eat seafood (including oily fish) in place of some meat and poultry
• Eat whole grains—the equivalent of at least three 1-ounce servings a day
• Use oils to replace solid fats.
The government’s newly released “Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010” also says Americans should reduce their sodium intake. The general recommendation is to eat less than 2,300 mg. of sodium a day. But Americans 51 or older, African-Americans of any age, and people with high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease should restrict their intake to 1,500 mg. The government estimates that about half the U.S. population is in one of those three categories.
Packaged and Restaurant Food
Schneeman, who heads FDA's Office of Nutrition, Labeling, and Dietary Supplements, says one way to make sure you’re adhering to healthy guidelines is by using the nutrition labels on the packaged foods you buy.
“Product labels give consumers the power to compare foods quickly and easily so they can judge which products best fit into a heart healthy diet or meet other dietary needs,” Schneeman says. “Remember, when you see a percent DV (daily value of key nutrients) on the label, 5 percent or less is low and 20 percent or more is high.”
Follow these guidelines when using processed foods or eating in restaurants:
• Choose lean meats and poultry. Bake it, broil it, or grill it.
• In a restaurant, opt for steamed, grilled, or broiled dishes instead of those that are fried or sautéed.
• Look on product labels for foods low in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol. Most of the fats you eat should come from polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, such as those found in some types of fish, nuts, and vegetable oils.
• Check product labels for foods high in potassium (unless you’ve been advised to restrict the amount of potassium you eat). Potassium counteracts some of the effects of salt on blood pressure.
• Choose foods and beverages low in added sugars. Read the ingredient list to make sure that added sugars are not among the first ingredients. Ingredients in the largest amounts are listed first. Some names for added sugars include sucrose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, maple syrup, and fructose. The nutrition facts on the product label give the total sugar content.
• Pick foods that provide dietary fiber, like fruits, beans, vegetables, and whole grains.
December 5, 2011 7:50 pm
Refinance. To pay off one loan by taking out another on the same property.
December 5, 2011 7:50 pm
Q: What are the specific responsibilities of the contractor vs. the architect?
A: Beyond having the architect create the design and the contractor implement it, both professionals have additional responsibilities. The contractor is responsible for pricing the project and ensuring that it is completed in a timely fashion. The architect is responsible for getting the construction drawing completed with proper specifications and architectural detail. Since many jurisdictions require architectural drawings to be reviewed to ensure the plans sufficiently meet local codes, the architect may also be responsible for applying for and securing the permits. Make sure that everyone, you included, understand who is responsible for what before work begins in your home.
December 2, 2011 7:36 pm
Winter is almost here, but there is still time to protect homes and wallets from its harsh blow. The makers of GE silicone weatherization caulk offer guidance on how to help avoid a season full of bloated energy bills. Homeowners can use the time that remains in late fall to complete a critical weatherizing project: filling gaps and cracks with silicone caulk. It's an easy, quick, and affordable DIY project that can seal in valuable energy, trim heating bills, and save money for the long term.
According to ENERGYSTAR, properly sealing and insulating can save more than $200 a year in heating and cooling costs, or up to 10 percent on total energy bills – a significant annual savings that many American families can appreciate during challenging economic times. Following are a few tips on how to master the caulk gun, an often under-rated ally in the yearly tug of war to keep the thermostat low and the energy and cost savings high.
1. Find the Leaks – A critical first step is to find the hidden leaks that allow cold air to sneak inside.
• Leaks usually occur around the outside of a home and in non-regulated temperature areas like attics and basements that are exposed to harsh elements throughout the year.
• Obvious areas include the frames around windows and doors. Be sure to pay close attention to where the floor frame rests on the foundation on the inside of a house and where siding meets the corner boards on the exterior.
2. Choose the Right Caulk – Go beyond the advice to simply "caulk gaps and cracks." Not all caulks are created equal; and not all caulks provide long-lasting energy savings.
• Acrylic caulk is vulnerable to the very elements it is supposed to seal against, meaning it can break down over time allowing energy to escape. A silicone caulk, on the other hand, protects for the long haul.
• Leaks frequently occur in and around homes in places prone to extreme temperature fluctuations, and heavy rain, snow, ice or wind. Impervious to these damaging conditions, silicone has excellent flexibility and is 100 percent waterproof.
3. Get to Work – Master the caulk gun to reap measurable energy savings. Work with caulk in above freezing temperatures and clear off snow or ice.
• Clean the Surface – Remove old caulk, dirt, and loose particles with a caulk-removing tool or wire brush. Make sure the surface is dry. Apply painter's tape to either side of the joint to create a straight edge.
• Prep the Tube and Seal – Cut nozzle to desired bead size. Pierce the inner seal with a stiff wire or other similar object. Insert cartridge into caulking gun. Hold the caulking gun at a 45-degree angle and seal around unsightly cracks or spaces inside and outside the home. Keep a steady, constant grip and try to get as long of a bead as possible; then repeat.
• Smooth the Caulk Seal – Use a finger or a wet caulk-smoothing tool within two to five minutes of application. Remove painter's tape immediately after smoothing caulk. Wipe hands with a dry cloth before washing with soap and water. Use mineral spirits to clean up.
For more information, visit www.momentive.com.
December 2, 2011 7:36 pm
Last season brought renewed enthusiasm for ski travel thanks to a long season of natural snow after record snowfalls created a winter sports bonus. The onset of the 2011 year-end holiday season, combined with unusual pre-Thanksgiving storms in the Northeast, has inspired many winter sports fans to make plans soon to pick up their downhill momentum where they left off after last spring's final runs. Travel Insured International®, a travel insurance leader in providing coverage for skiers since 1994, urges skiers to think safety first this winter season and to learn the terms and conditions of what may or may not be covered on their ski trips when they hit the slopes.
Think Ski Safety First to Prevent Injury, Save Money
• Wear a helmet to reduce chance of injury: The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) says 57 percent of skiers and snowboarders wore helmets in the 2009-2010 season compared to 25 percent in 2002-2003. NSAA estimates helmets reduce minor head injuries by 30 to 50 percent, but will not prevent major injuries often due to reckless ski behavior. You still need to ski sensibly when wearing a helmet!
• Check state laws mandating child and teen ski helmets. New Jersey has a new mandatory child and youth helmet law, effective Nov. 1, 2011, requiring children and teens age 17 and under to wear ski helmets. California has introduced, but not yet passed, a similar measure. Check the state where you ski to learn any child and teen ski safety regulations.
• Ski off trail or back country at your own risk. Most travel insurance plans do not include coverage if you are injured or worse during extreme skiing. Remember that many ski area Search and Rescue (SAR) organizations require off-trail skiers to reimburse costs when they must be rescued due to extreme skiing, an uninsured service that can cost in the thousands of dollars.
• Ski with a buddy. Have a meeting point and carry a mobile phone in case you are separated or lost.
• Ski goggles are highly advisable for maintaining visibility, especially in white fog conditions.
• Basic travel insurance may not cover you when you join a ski race or other winter sports speed event. Travel Insured International® offers its Sports Coverage option to cover these activities.
• When you check your ski gear to fly and the airline misdirects the bag, you may be forced to rent skis in order to ski before it belatedly arrives. Travel Insured's Sports Coverage option can reimburse this rental.
• If your own arrival at the ski area is delayed due to a common carrier, including for weather, for a minimum number of hours specified in your coverage plan you can be reimbursed for prepaid, unused ski accommodations. With the Sports Coverage option you can also be reimbursed for prepaid, unused ski passes when they are non-refundable.
For more information, visit http://www.travelinsured.com
December 2, 2011 7:36 pm
Read these holiday saving tips, offered by Leslie Greenman, a financial advisor and author of the new book Dating Our Money: A Women’s Guide to Confidence with Money & Men.
Remember, it’s the thought that counts. You might find the perfect gift for someone but then reject it because you don’t think the price is significant enough to be an adequate gift.
“The reality is that a gift with a lot of thought behind it or shared meaning for you and the person you’re buying for can have a lot more significance than a more expensive gift,” says Greenman. “For example, a special photo of you and a friend in a frame with a special note about how much you enjoyed the time you spent together is a great gift. Or have your kids write down the 10 things they love about their grandparents and include the list in a photo album of the kids. These are all gifts that involve more thought and meaning than just going to the store and buying a gift. And the people receiving them will truly appreciate it.”
Make a list, check it twice, and bring cash! How many times have you walked into a store and immediately found the perfect gift for a friend? Sure, you hadn’t planned on spending that much, but she would love it, so why not? You can just put it on your credit card, right? “Wrong!” says Greenman. “If you use your credit card, you’ll probably end up buying that gift for your friend two or three times over in interest payments. Do not stray from your list. If you do stray, the cost of the non-list item needs to be the same as the one you had already budgeted. Bring only cash with you when you’re shopping so you can stay within your budget.”
Save merrily by trading in your rewards points for gifts or gift cards. You should always, always use your credit cards wisely. Never make purchases on your credit card unless you can pay them off at the end of the month. And during the holidays avoid whipping them out to pay for gifts. But one positive role credit cards can have during the holidays is rewards points.
“A few years ago, I bought my sister a chair she wanted from Pottery Barn using rewards points,” says Greenman. “I redeemed some of my points for a Pottery Barn gift card and then used it to buy her the chair. In fact, I save up all my rewards points throughout the year and use them in December for gifts. Another example: teacher gifts. I always get my kids’ teachers Barnes & Noble gift cards using redeemed points.”
Point, click, and save. The benefits of online shopping are obvious. You don’t have to battle holiday traffic, it is practically hassle-free, and it’s easier to compare prices. “The prices are also almost always better online,” says Greenman. “You have a greater selection, and usually free shipping is offered around the holidays. And when you use specific search terms, you can avoid being distracted by all of the other items you might want to look at or be tempted to buy if you were shopping in the store.”
Don’t shop for yourself. According to Lab42, last year the average holiday shopper spent $107.50 on themselves. When you’re making it okay for yourself to do a lot of spending, it can be difficult not to stray off your list and buy a couple of things for yourself.
“We have all done it,” says Greenman. “You see something you like and think, Wow, that is so cute. I will buy one for so and so and one for me. You can resist this urge by implementing some of the tips we’ve already covered, but also by keeping in mind that you’ll be receiving gifts at Christmas. They’ll be all the more special if you haven’t been buying yourself new things all along. Also, keep in mind that you’ll be finding the best deals after Christmas. So wait until you can get more bang for your buck.”
Don’t shop with a holiday budget saboteur. If you prefer doing your shopping with someone else in tow, be sure to choose someone who won’t encourage you to go off budget.
“I can whiz in and out of a mall in 30 minutes if I’m with my son who hates shopping,” says Greenman. “Or bring a girlfriend and be there half a day. Carefully consider who you’re shopping with. Will the person encourage unexpected buying or splurging? If so, you might want to politely decline their invitation. You might also consider who’s going to keep you on track. You might bring along one of your kids because you know you want to show them how to be fiscally responsible and use the opportunity to show them how to stick to a budget.”
Have a Secret Santa-style gift exchange. Depending on the size of your family, buying a gift for each family member can be daunting, especially when you see some of them only once a year!
“There are exceptions, but I think by and large once you reach a certain age—specifically the age where you feel obligated to buy gifts for everyone—the reality of gift giving and receiving sets in,” says Greenman. “My point is that most of the adults in your family will probably be grateful not to have to buy a gift for everyone. Instead, suggest that your family do a gift exchange. At Thanksgiving, have everyone pick a name out of a hat. Then, you buy only for that person. It is a great way to help everyone cut down on unneeded spending. And if you’re just shopping for one, it gives you a lot more time to think about what would make the best gift.”
Don’t be afraid to regift. Take an inventory of regifting possibilities. Are there any gift cards you’ve never used? Any clothes hanging in your closet with the tags still on them? Any gifts you’ve received in years past that you’ve never taken out of the box? If so you might want to consider regifting them.
“Many people avoid regifting because they think it violates some rule of etiquette,” says Greenman. “But when done properly, it can help you find a home for items that you’re never going to use. Sure, there is a line that has to be drawn. If your grandmother got you a sweater that you hate, but she expects to see you wearing, then that’s probably not an item that you should regift. But let’s say a former colleague got you a scarf as part of a Secret Santa exchange at work last year. It’s a perfectly nice scarf, but it’s a color that just doesn’t look good on you. That’s a great item to regift. You’ll get it out of your house, and someone else will love having it.”
Make like Santa’s elves and DIY. Getting crafty during the holidays is fun and can save you a lot of money on gifts. There are any number of options depending on your level of craftiness. “Costco has cute jars filled with cookie dough ingredients,” says Greenman. “We could all do that at home! Bake cookies and place them in a holiday tin for your kids’ teachers. Frame your kids’ artwork for their grandparents. The possibilities are truly endless and truly cost-effective!”
If you’re super savvy, plan (way) ahead. As we’ve touched on above, there are always great deals after Christmas. That means if you can get over your holiday hangover fast enough, you can get a jump-start on buying gifts for next year while also saving a bundle. “My bargain shopper friend buys many of her gifts for the next year’s Christmas during the current year’s after-holiday sales,” says Greenman. “She is always finished shopping by October. If immediately after Christmas is too soon for you to think about the next year, take advantage of other sales throughout the year. For example, there are almost always great sales at Easter, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day.”
“We naturally want to give during the holidays,” says Greenman. “But what’s important to remember is that you can give a lot without spending a lot. Don’t put a price tag on your holidays. Stick to your budget and then be generous with your time and spirit. Once the holidays are over, you’ll be happy you didn’t blow your savings, and you and your family and friends will be fulfilled by the time you all spent together.”
Greenman is currently a financial advisor, author, and public speaker. Through her book, Dating Our Money, Leslie’s goal is to make financial planning fun and relatable for all women.