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Mary Mastroeni

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Question of the Day

August 17, 2011 8:03 pm

Q: What is APR?

A: The annual percentage rate, or APR, is an interest rate that differs from the loan rate. It is the actual yearly interest rate paid by the borrower, including the points charged to initiate the loan and other costs.

The APR discloses the real cost of borrowing by adding on the points and by factoring in the assumption that they will be paid off incrementally over the life of the loan. The APR is usually about 0.5 percent higher than the loan rate and is commonly used to compare mortgage programs from different lenders.

The Federal Truth in Lending law requires mortgage companies to disclose the APR when they advertise a rate. The APR is usually found next to the mortgage rate in newspaper ads.

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Your Rights as a Renter

August 16, 2011 5:03 pm

With the trend in foreclosures showing no signs of letting up, I am taking an opportunity to review the rights renters have when their landlords fail to pay their mortgage.

According to the national Office Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), as the number of foreclosures increase across the country, some renters in good standing have received a nasty surprise—immediate eviction—when the houses, apartments or condos they rented went into foreclosure.

Fortunately, federal law helps protect the rights of tenants in properties facing foreclosure. The Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act of 2009 established national standards to provide renters sufficient notice when foreclosure happens. This national standard ensures uniform protection to renters who are vulnerable to sudden eviction.

The law states:
• In all cases, renters will get at least a 90-day notice prior to eviction.
• Renters can stay until their lease runs out except when the new owner will occupy the home as a primary residence, when renters have no lease or when renters have only a month-to­month lease. Even for these three exceptions, the 90-day notice still applies.
• The new law applies only to a “bona fide” lease or tenancy. Bona fide means:
o The tenant is not the landlord or a child, spouse or parent of the former owner.
o The rent is not substantially less than the fair market price.
o The rent is sharply reduced because of a government subsidy (tenants in Section 8 subsidized housing have separate protections under this law).

OCC experts advise renters to always be aware of their rights, and protect these rights by making sure they stay in good standing with regard to their rental property. Some tips on how to prove you are in good standing include:
• Sign a written lease.
• Pay your rent on time and in full.
• Use checks rather than cash to provide a record of payment.
• Pay your rent at the market rate. Paying a lower rent to a friend or family member will cut your costs, but may weaken your legal standing during a foreclo­sure or legal dispute.
• With all legal matters, the OCC encourages you to consult a lawyer. 

And remember, the OCC says paying a below-market rent can weaken a renter’s legal standing during a foreclosure. To learn more about foreclo­sures and banks in general, go to www.HelpWithMyBank.gov.

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10 Penny Pinching Tips That Add Up

August 16, 2011 5:03 pm

Saving a few cents on the cost of paper napkins by using and re-using cloth napkins may seem questionable, says the Frugal Dad, whose website is devoted to proving that economizing is cool.

“But cloth napkins don’t increase waste,” he notes, “and will decrease your non-food spend.”

Here are 10 more tips from the frugal dad for adding dollars to your bottom line:

• Don’t pay bank fees – Too many banks offer free services to stay with your old bank out of habit. If you can’t find one in your town offering free checks and more, go online to ING.com
• Hang up the land line – If your cell phone service covers all your calls at a set price, get rid of the land line and save big dollars every month.
Designate a no-spend weekend – Get the family’s buy-in on one weekend a month with no movies, no shopping and no eating out. Play board games, watch movies at home, eat what’s in the cupboard and fridge. Compete to find new ideas for home-made fun.
• Change your driving habits – You will save on gas by cutting out ‘jackrabbit’ starts and heavy braking.
Find how to do things on your own – There are plenty of how-to books and websites to help you learn how to fix as leaky faucet or unclog a drain without calling a plumber. Don’t call a serviceman for any minor repair unless you just can’t figure out how to fix it.
• Bank ‘found money’ – Got a check you didn’t expect? Put birthday money, refunds, rebates and other unexpected small windfalls into a separate account. Use it to pay down debt or for special treats.
Look high and low for groceries – Many supermarkets place the highest priced items at eye level. Check the upper and lower shelves for best bargains on canned and packaged goods.
• Shop a farmer’s market – It’s worth the trip, because in season produce is almost always cheaper than what you will find at the grocery store.
• Get a to-go box – Restaurant portions are almost always too big. Pack a to-go box with tomorrow’s lunch before you dig into your dinner.
• Keep a coin jar – You won’t miss it, and you may be amazed at how the total adds up when you empty pocket change into the jar even just once or twice a week.

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Tips for Home Cleaning in a Crunch

August 16, 2011 5:03 pm

Can you hear the sound of the school bell ringing? Its toll will soon resound throughout neighborhoods everywhere and your daily routine will find itself longing for that first vacation break. If this summer's activities did not derail your housekeeping efforts, the coming months are sure to cause some time constraints. In between darting from football practice to gymnastics, make the grade using these quick cleaning tips from The Maids, a residential cleaning service.

Thirty seconds is longer than you think. In the amount of time it takes to prep a bowl of cereal for the kids, you can easily maintain trouble spots or reduce pesky clutter:
• Prevent soap scum buildup in your shower with a few quick squirts of daily shower spray.
• Swipe the bathroom counter with a disinfectant wipe, clearing it of hairspray, toothpaste and soap scum.
• Shake out entryway rugs to rid them of excess dirt and minimize traipsing it throughout your home.

While the kids are using their two minutes to brush their teeth, you can:
• Gather stray clutter into a laundry basket. Just be sure to put everything in its proper place at a later time.
• Sweep high-traffic areas, like the entryway or bathroom floor.
• Spritz the bathroom mirror with glass cleaner and wipe dry with a microfiber cloth.
• And at the expense of sounding like your mother, make your bed.

Are you lucky enough to have won a time windfall? Use your five minutes wisely:
• Start a load of laundry.
• Wash the bathroom floor. Clean-up is simple if you have already swept it during your two-minute hiatus.
• Wipe down kitchen countertops. You don't want harmful germs finding their way into your food preparations.
• Sort through your pile of mail and toss the junk. Remember to shred and recycle!

Busy lifestyles necessitate taking small, time-efficient steps when it comes to maintaining an orderly and clean house.

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Embracing Color on Your Home

August 16, 2011 5:03 pm

The growing trend of homeowners staying in their existing houses longer due to economic challenges has had a colorful effect on homes. People are taking the opportunity to personalize their homes more with colorful exterior accents and they're not stopping with just a splash of paint.

According to national color expert Kate Smith, homeowners are taking steps to express their personalities by adding color to everything from their roofs to their entry doors to their window frames.

"Today's homeowners are looking beyond variations of whites and beiges to set off the key accent points of their homes, such as louvers, trim and window frames," says Smith, president of Sensational Color. "With the realization that they're going to be staying in their current houses longer comes the commitment by people to truly personalize their homes. This has resulted in eye-catching neighborhoods.

"As homeowners replace major components of their homes they place greater value on finding products with a long life span, lower maintenance and style. They are seeking out both a noticeable change and an improvement from existing products on the home. The ability to add a creative element, personal touch or signature color tends to 'bond' homeowners even more closely with their living spaces."

According to Smith, one of the hottest trends for exterior enhancements is to select vinyl windows with exterior color frames that complement the overall look of the home.

"With their minds on sustainability and their eye on good design, many homeowners are investing in color as a way to express themselves and reinvent their current homes," says Smith.

"A window is like a two-sided canvas," says Smith. "The colors on the frame exteriors enhance the home's overall appearance from the street. And, then when you get inside and select stylish woodgrain frame interiors and premium hardware finishes, you're adding beauty to the room settings. That's a 'win-win' experience for any homeowner."

For more information, visit http://www.simonton.com.

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Word of the Day

August 16, 2011 5:03 pm

Earnest money deposit. Money that accompanies an offer to purchase as evidence of good faith. It is almost always a personal check, certified check, or money order rather than cash.

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Question of the Day

August 16, 2011 5:03 pm

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

A: This will vary depending on the type of work that is 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.

An important point to remember is that remodeling not only improves a home’s livability, it also enhances its curb appeal with future buyers.

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The 'Teeth' of FDA's Food Safety Law

August 11, 2011 8:03 pm

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), signed into law by President Obama in January, has been called “historic” because it puts the focus of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on prevention—working to ensure that unsafe foods are not distributed in the first place. 

FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg says the law directs the agency to oversee food safety in a way that applies “the best available science and good common sense to prevent the problems that can make people sick.” 

What lends the new law additional importance is that it provides FDA with new enforcement and inspection authorities. 

“These new authorities are critical for the law’s success,” says Michael R. Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods. “They give the food companies strong additional incentives for keeping their products safe, and that helps us achieve the new law’s goal, which is to protect consumers from unsafe food.” 

Foodborne outbreaks are a significant public health burden that increases the cost of the nation’s health care and, as Taylor has emphasized, many of them can be prevented. And keeping foodborne outbreaks from happening in the first place is what FDA intends to do by implementing the following key provisions:
 
Preventive Measures
• Expanded administrative detention:
The law gives FDA more authority to prevent the release into the marketplace of adulterated or misbranded food, including potentially harmful food.

Food adulteration can be caused by many factors, including bacterial or chemical contamination, filth or decomposition, the presence of an unsafe food additive, being prepared, packed or held under insanitary conditions, and leaving valuable materials out of the product or substituting other, inferior materials.

Misbranding food can be caused by ways that include not declaring certain ingredients or major food allergens, and not complying with nutrition information content on labeling.

This tool allows FDA to effectively remove the food from distribution channels while the agency pursues legal or other enforcement actions. 

• Records inspection: The law expands FDA’s authority to gain access to records about potentially hazardous foods. In addition to examining the records tied to a particular food that could pose a health hazard, the agency can now inspect records related to any other food it believes is likely to be affected in a similar manner. 

• Authority to deny entry: Under FSMA, if a food producer in another country does not permit FDA to inspect its facility, FDA can refuse to allow food from that facility into the United States. 

Enforcement Measures 

The new law also strengthens FDA’s enforcement tools in the event that potentially unsafe food has already entered the marketplace. 

• Suspension of registration: The law authorizes FDA to suspend the registration of a facility under certain circumstances if the food it manufactured, processed, packed, received or held presents a serious health hazard. A facility with a suspended registration will not be able to legally offer food for sale in the United States until FDA lifts the suspension. 

• Mandatory recall: Before FSMA, FDA had to rely on a firm’s voluntary decision to remove food from the marketplace that could be hazardous to humans or animals. Under the new law, the agency can order a recall if the company does not cease distribution itself and recall its product. If there is reason to believe that the food is adulterated or misbranded and that use of the product could result in serious illness or death, FDA can order that distribution be halted and all implicated products recalled. Additionally, FDA has launched a new search engine where consumers can quickly and easily check on new and recent recalls.
FDA is also directed by the law to upgrade its ability to track both domestic and imported foods. To do this, FDA will establish pilot projects to test how to rapidly identify recipients of food—this is critical information FDA needs to rapidly find the source of a foodborne outbreak and to understand its scope. 

“Product tracing doesn't prevent an outbreak, as it’s more about response,” says Bill Correll at FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “However, it can prevent further illnesses during an outbreak when FDA can determine the source, contain further exposure and get the product recalled and out of distribution and consumer households.” 

For more information visit www.fda.gov.

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8 Plumbing Tips to Prepare Your Home for the Dog Days of Summer

August 11, 2011 8:03 pm

You probably noticed an increase in your water bill this month. During peak water use, usually in late July or early August, the average American uses about four times as much water than they do the rest of the year. From taking more frequent showers to watering the lawn to even washing additional loads of laundry—it all adds up. "Aside from watering your lawn later in the day, there are many other summer water-saving tips that many people don't think about," Minneapolis Roto-Rooter general manager John Senescall says. 

Fortunately, the plumbing experts at Roto-Rooter recommend a list of plumbing precautions to save your wallet from the summer heat, while saving energy and staying within the family budget. 

1. Check the temperature setting on your water heater. It should be set no higher than 120 degrees to prevent scalding and reduce energy use. Summer is a good time to turn the temperature down, especially when away on vacation.
2. Replacing an old shower head can save up to 7.5 gallons of water per minute without sacrificing water pressure. To clean mineral deposits from the showerhead, unscrew it, soak it in vinegar overnight and then gently scrub with a toothbrush to remove deposits.
3. Check washing machine hoses for rupture. Turn valves on and off to check for leaks.
4. Make sure that yard drains, gutters and downspouts are cleaned out, open and free of debris.
5. Check outdoor faucets and hose bibs to make sure water flows freely.
6. Beware of standing water. Excess water can result from leaky or broken pipes or a damaged sewer line. Standing water is not healthy for children or pets, and is a breeding ground for insects and germs. Inspect the yard for areas that are too wet and with unusual plant or grass growth.
7. Conserve water. Water your lawn before sun up or after sun down to reduce usage.
8. In humid weather, ductwork may sweat and cause condensation. This can cause a backup if the drains are not clear. If you have an attic installation, be sure to check for water in the drain pan, which could potentially ruin your ceiling.

For more information visit www.rotorooter.com.

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Word of the Day

August 11, 2011 8:03 pm

Downpayment. Initial cash investment made as evidence of good faith when purchasing real estate. It is usually a percentage of the sale price.

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