Mary Mastroeni
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Mary Mastroeni

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Warning: Real Cost of Sleeping

July 28, 2011 5:01 pm

Travelers often spend considerable time comparison shopping before booking their hotel rooms. But are they taking into consideration all of the additional costs that come with their chosen room? 

Recently, CreditDonkey revealed the real cost of sleeping in hotels with its newest infographic. The visual guide walks travelers through the hotel stay, uncovering fees and costs that are often overlooked until they receive their credit card statement.
View the infographic here. 

Here are some of the standard hotel costs outlined by the CreditDonkey infographic:
• Bottled Water and Snacks – once complimentary, oftentimes these refreshments come with a price tag of $5 a pop
• In-Room Safe – some hotels now charge a $3 nightly fee for using the safe
• Towels – extra towels can cost an additional $2
• Parking – some hotels have mandatory valet parking that runs at $45 per day, plus tip
• Resort Fee – this fee typically covers services like the business center, pool, gym and housekeeping; even if you don’t plan on utilizing some of these amenities it will run you about $10 to $25 per day
• Packages – if you plan on having a package delivered to the hotel or mail a package from the hotel, you may incur a charge running anywhere from $1 to $25 

And these are additional services with costs that may be passed on to hotel guests; prices can vary so guests will want to get the low-down on these services before booking their room:
• Internet
• Telephone (sometimes even local calls)
• Airport Shuttle
• Energy Surcharge
• Taxes and other local charges, like tourism marketing efforts
• Bellhop/Housekeeper Gratuities
• Cancellation Fees
• Late Check-In or Check-Out
• Grounds Keeping Fee
• Luggage Holding

“If consumers overlook these extra costs, they are going to be in for a real surprise when they get their bill,” says Charles Tran, founder of the credit card comparison website, CreditDonkey. “When budgeting for upcoming travels, consumers should consider these additional costs when creating their lodging budget. This will help them avoid sticker shock when they open their credit card statement.” 

Tran also advises that consumers can help decrease their out-of-pocket costs by taking advantage of a hotel credit card. CreditDonkey has shared the following tips to help cardholders make the most out of their hotel rewards: 

• Be choosey with your rewards credit card; choose a credit card that offers the hotel rewards that suit your individual needs
• Be loyal; many cards will offer more points when you stay in specific hotel chains
• Be mindful of the currency of the rewards and accrue points in a currency that works for you
• Watch for cards with blackout policies, as they may limit the dates that you can utilize your rewards
• Take advantage of the new mobility that is offered by these rewards cards
• Don’t stockpile your rewards waiting for your major vacation that’s taking place in three years; instead, use them when you need them most 

With many cards offering bonus introductory points, consumers who open a hotel rewards card early may be able to cash in on points to help cover hotel expenses for their travels. But many consumers become overwhelmed when researching hotel reward cards, giving up before they find the right card for their family. 

For more information, go to http://www.creditdonkey.com.

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Tips for Pet-Friendly Travel

July 28, 2011 5:01 pm

Traveling with pets is becoming more and more popular, as recent surveys indicate. According to a 2011 survey by PetRelocation.com, 60% of pet owners traveled at least one time with their pet in 2010, and 93% of pet owners expect to take at least one trip with their pet in 2011. Many of these pets have traveled more than once, with 22% expected to travel monthly. 

Recognizing that pet travel was becoming more popular, Cabin Creekwood positioned itself 16 years ago as a place where pets were welcome. Since that time, they’ve hosted birds, cats, ferrets, iguanas and dogs, with the dogs easily leading the pack as the most popular travel companion. 

Despite some trepidation about permitting pets, the staff at Cabin Creekwood has found that the vast majority of pets who come to their pet friendly cabins are very well behaved and used to living indoors. Of course, there are exceptions, but those are few and far between. 

For those wanting to travel with pets, Cabin Creekwood offers these tips:

To find pet-friendly accommodations, websites such as petfriendlytravel.com, dogfriendly.com, petswelcome.com, or packthepets.com provide listings based on location. Many individual businesses will post on their website if they are pet friendly, but just because a website doesn't specifically say it doesn't mean that Fido isn’t welcome. A quick phone call or email will clarify. 

It is important while communicating with a lodging choice to make sure to find out what is expected. There may be fees, limitations on pet size, specific pet policies, etc. Companies that charge a fee should not be viewed negatively. Many times, they are just weeding out the pets that don’t really belong, as people who are willing to pay the extra fees typically have pets that are better behaved. 

When traveling with a pet, it is a good idea to take along the pet license and rabies certificate, as well as toys, bedding, and other familiar items that will help him to feel at home. Of course, making sure that flea and tick medicines are up-to-date will help to make sure that unwanted hitchhikers don't make it back home. 

And most of all, respect of others will go a long way toward making sure that pets are always welcome. That means the pet should be kept under control at all times and be crated when left alone so they don’t damage anything. It goes without saying that picking up behind a pet is a basic common courtesy that should be extended no matter what the location. 

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

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Word of the Day

July 28, 2011 5:01 pm

Conveyance. Document used to transfer title. A deed is a conveyance.

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Question of the Day

July 28, 2011 5:01 pm

Q: Are 40-year mortgages a good idea?

A: The main reason buyers sign on for these type of loans, which add 10 years to the traditional 30-year mortgage, is to take advantage of smaller monthly payments.

According to real estate experts, the shorter-term loan is usually more advantageous for the homebuyer. The drawback becomes apparent simply by calculating the cost of additional interest payments, which can total thousands for the privilege of just saving the difference of a few dollars in monthly mortgage payments.

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Protect Your Pets—Remember to Include Them in Your Evacuation and Disaster Planning

July 28, 2011 5:01 pm

All too often when a disaster strikes pets are left to fend for themselves and end up lost, injured or killed. The best way to avoid this tragic scenario is to have a well thought out disaster plan that includes your pet, so that you know where to go and what to take, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

"Many public shelters that are set up for disaster victims don't accept pets, so you need to find out in advance which shelters or hotels along your evacuation route will accept pets," says Jeanne M. Salvatore, senior vice president and consumer spokesperson for the I.I.I. "It is tragic, but people have actually died because they were ordered to evacuate and did not want to leave their pets behind."

Disasters do happen—and advance planning is best way for everyone to survive the catastrophe and get their lives back to normal as soon as possible.
The I.I.I. offers the following tips to protect you, your loved ones and your pets in the event of a disaster:

1. Have a Disaster Plan
• Plan in advance where you will go and how you plan to get there.
• Map out your primary route and a backup route in case roads are blocked or impassable. Make sure you have a map of the area available.
• Put together a list of boarding facilities and veterinarians along the evacuation route and outside your area that might be able to shelter your pets in an emergency. Include emergency phone numbers.
• Talk to your vet, the humane society or the local emergency management agency for information regarding community evacuation plans that include pets.
• Make advance arrangements to have a friend or neighbor pick up your pets in the event you are not at home when a disaster strikes. And, plan where you will meet or how you will reach each other.
• Review the I.I.I.'s five step evacuation plan and consider downloading the I.I.I. podcast on evacuation so you have it for easy reference on your PDA.
• Take the Ten Minute Challenge to seeing how long it would take to get you, your family, your pets and all of your important items out of the house.

Make a Grab-and-Go Disaster Kit for Your Pets
• Medication and medical records (including proof of rabies vaccination) in a waterproof container.
• Pet first aid kit
• Leashes, harnesses, crates and carriers for transporting pets
• A muzzle, if your pet requires one
• Food and water for at least three days; a manual can opener
• Cat litter and litter box
• Comfort toys
• Recent photo of you and your pet in case you become separated
• Name and phone number of your veterinarian
• If you have pet insurance, the insurance company contact information and policy number

3. If You Must Evacuate, Take Your Pets
• Be prepared to leave early; do not wait for an official evacuation as you might be ordered to leave your pets behind.
• Keep pets on leashes or in carriers at all times.
• Make sure your pet is wearing up-to-date identification. Include the phone number of a friend or relative outside your area in case your pet gets lost and you cannot be reached. And mark the crate or carrier with similar information.
• Birds should be transported in a secure travel cage or carrier. During warm weather, carry a plant mister to mist the bird's feathers periodically. Do not put water inside the carrier during transport; instead provide a few slices of fresh fruit or vegetables with high water content.
• Review the I.I.I.'s article on pet evacuation which includes more detailed information as well as evacuation tips for reptiles and pocket pets such as hamsters and gerbils.

4. After the Disaster
• Once you return to your home, do not allow your pets to roam loose right away. While you assess the damage, keep dogs on a leash and other animals in their carriers.
• Familiar landmarks and smells might be gone, and your pet may become disoriented. Pets can easily get lost in such situations, so give them some time to get used to their "new" surroundings.
• Be patient. Try to get your pets back into their normal routines as soon as possible, and be on the lookout for stress-related behavioral problems; if these persist, talk to your veterinarian.

For more information, please visit www.iii.org.


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Managing Your Mortgage with an App

July 28, 2011 5:01 pm

In our last segment, we looked at smartphone technology and apps for prospective home buyers as suggested by REALTOR® Barry Twynam (barrytwynam.com), who blogged on the subject recently.

In this segment we’ll look at an app to consider if you are in the market for a mortgage.

Barry says there are plenty of good mortgage calculator apps out there including RECalc - a Real Estate Mortgage Loan Calculator that is also a traditional Mathematical Calculator. You can use RECalc to calculate the monthly payment, term, interest rate or loan amount for a mortgage, as well as standard mathematical calculations as you would in any other calculator.

Once you modify any of the calculation variables you can re-calculate any of the other values. You can also figure in annual property tax, homeowner’s insurance and mortgage insurance, as well as a down payment amount/percentage. RECalc supports semi-annual compounding in addition to normal monthly compounding.

Maggie Falvey at Texas-based austinhome.com also penned a recent post promoting Mortgage Calc Pro. She says this app will even show possible US tax deductions. One of the top 10 finance apps in 2010, you can calculate mortgages and other fixed rate loans and it allows you to email calculations to yourself. And it comes with an impressive feature list.

She also suggested Karls Mortgage Calculator—an Android app which will help you calculate and understand mortgage payments with charts and graphs. It calculates mortgage payments given principal, interest, and term and can reverse calculate mortgage using inputs for those three.

One of the miscellaneous apps Barry likes is Awesome Note (+ToDo)—a versatile and customizable app that allows you to create regular notes, notes with photo attachments, To Do notes, Post-It style Quick Memo for quick jotting, daily diary, travel diary checklists, shopping lists, schedules, and more. You can send notes as email and even synchronize your notes with Google Docs and Evernote.

The free Evernote for all smartphones and computers allows you to create and save all kinds of documents: text notes, web pages, video clips, your digital photo scrapbook, and much more. Text-recognition software makes for easy searching.

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Parents Fighting ‘Chore Wars:’ Survey Shows Half of U.S. Kids Will Do ‘Anything’ to Avoid Cleaning

July 28, 2011 5:01 pm

Do you feel like the only person in the house that tackles the housework? According to the CLR Chore Wars Survey, nearly half of kids admit they'll do anything to get out of doing chores, despite parents' best efforts to encourage the entire family to help around the house. Plus, half of parents admit they spend just as much time arguing with their children about chores as they spend doing them. 

To help parents avoid these battles, CLR is partnering with parenting expert Dr. Michele Borba to turn some of the conventional wisdom about chores on its head and provide families with practical, solution-based strategies to strengthen communication and cooperation when tackling household chores.

Chores Are Not Punishments
More than forty percent of kids reported that parents have "taken away a valued possession" as a strategy to getting them to help with chores. Kids were also three times as likely as parents to say that parents have used chores as a form of punishment (37 percent verses 13 percent). Contrary to how most parents present chores, Borba says to make cleaning less of a "chore" or punishment and more of a family activity.

"Assign a room, hand out cleaning supplies, set a buzzer for five minutes and then dash to your designated area to clean things 'spick and span' before the timer goes off," said child psychologist Dr. Michele Borba. "Kids love to try and 'beat the clock' and you'll have the house back in order in minutes!"

No one knows this better than Alison Gutterman, president of Jelmar, LLC, the company that created the CLR brand of cleaners. As the third generation to run the family business, Gutterman has seen firsthand the struggles that parents encounter. Gutterman, a firm believer in listening to consumers through extensive research, created CLR Chore Wars as a way to make a parent's life just a little easier.

"As a mom and woman business owner, I understand how maintaining a home can be a strain on a family," says Alison Gutterman, president of Jelmar, LLC. "That's why we teamed up with Dr. Borba to shed national spotlight on the issues surrounding chores and offer simple solutions to keep parents and children happy and their homes spick and span!"

"Part of a 60-year-old family business dedicated to clean, CLR Cleaners help families with their toughest cleaning needs—from making kitchens sparkle to convincing children to help with chores," adds Gutterman.

Start Early
Dr. Borba also tells parents that the earlier you expect your kids to take an active role in helping around the house, the easier you'll find it is to get them to lend a hand. Borba states, "Even kids as young as three can help out! Though it's never too late for basic training, it's sure easier to begin earlier."

Assign Responsibilities
Kids admit that they aren't as helpful as they could be around the house, with six in 10 kids admitting they don't typically help with chores unless their parents ask them to.
"It's important to regulate chore requirements for younger kids so they're not overwhelmed," says Borba. "Distribute chores so little kids and bigger family members are assigned responsibilities aimed at their ability and everyone is contributing their fair share."

One study found if kids weren't taught how to do the chore by a parent they usually gave up in frustration. Introducing each task by using three steps is simple but important. Teach: Go through the task as you explain each step so your child knows what to do; Supervise: Now watch him to ensure he can handle the job. Inspect: Your child does the chore independently, but knows to anticipate a surprise inspection from you to ensure he's succeeding at the level you expect. 

Additional survey highlights include:
• No matter who you are, everyone agrees that cleaning bathrooms is the worst!
• Cleaning the bathroom tops the list of chores both parents (49 percent) and kids (28 percent) dislike doing the most. Although, kids are twice as likely as parents to say that washing dishes is the chore that they dislike the most (27 percent vs. 12 percent).
• And the MVP Cleaning Award goes to…Mom!
• On average, parents report spending 8.6 hours each week doing household chores while children report spending only 4.9 hours on chores weekly. Not surprisingly, mothers report spending significantly more time than fathers on household chores each week (9.9 hours vs. 7.0 hours).

For more information, visit www.clrchorewars.com.

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Two-Thirds of Consumers Are Confused by Online Sales-Tax Compliance

July 28, 2011 5:01 pm

Sixty-four percent of U.S. consumers in states that require their residents to pay a sales tax on purchases either do not know or do not believe they are required to pay sales tax on Internet purchases if not collected by the vendor, according to a new survey by the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC). The survey was conducted by Opinion Research Corporation among 1,000 consumers polled nationally to gain insight into consumer beliefs about online and traditional retail spending.

"The results of this study point out that there are widespread consumer misperceptions about the requirement to pay sales tax on Internet purchases," says Michael Kercheval, president and CEO of ICSC. "The data shows people are confused as to whether or not they are—or should be—paying tax on online purchases."

The ICSC study identified a number of key findings, including:
• 93% of consumers would continue to shop online if taxes were collected at the point of purchase.
• More than 50% of respondents cited "price" as the most important factor when making a purchase - both online and at a local store.
• Nearly 75% of consumers believe that brick-and-mortar stores have an important role to play in the 21st century marketplace.

The study also found that:
Collecting online sales tax would not deter shoppers
. The data reveals that if there was 100 percent compliance with vendor collection of sales taxes on online purchases, consumer shopping behavior on the Internet would not be materially or substantively impacted.

Consumer choice, convenience and price are key decision criteria in the purchase decision. Whether buying online or in stores, "convenience" and "choice" are important factors in addition to price.

Americans want local retail. Most Americans place continued importance on traditional brick-and-mortar retail. However, local businesses have been at risk from pure online retailers, which do not collect sales tax because they do not have any physical presence in the state in which merchandise is shipped and hope that the consumer will comply with the states' sales and use taxes.

However, consumer compliance with the use tax payment on online purchases is generally low. A key reason for this, as the ICSC study found, is that consumers expect the vendor to collect sales taxes if they owe them. This consumer misperception has led to an unfair tax loophole that gives pure online vendors a tremendous advantage over local businesses and harms local communities that depend on sales taxes as a key revenue source to fund services for its residents. 

The creation of a sales tax collection system that is vibrant, viable and equitable for all retailers is critical to ensuring that local retail can flourish.

"Exacting sales tax on goods and services sold over the Internet is not creating a new tax," said Dr. William F. Fox, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee. "Rather, it is a means for states to collect revenue already due at the point of purchase to fund essential public services. Without a simple and fair system to collect taxes on remote sales, cities and states looking for alternatives to close budget gaps must evaluate higher business, income and property taxes."

The Main Street Fairness Act is the first step toward establishing a marketplace for the 21st century – one that accommodates both traditional and online retail. Closing the online sales tax loophole would give Main Street stores a chance to compete on level ground with e-retailers around the country.

For more information, please visit www.icsc.org.

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Word of the Day

July 28, 2011 5:01 pm

Cooperative. Land and building owned or leased by a corporation which in turn leases space to its shareholders, who are also part owners of the building and have a proprietary lease. In lieu of rent, they each pay a proportionate monthly or quarterly fixed rate to cover operating costs, mortgage payments, taxes, etc.

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Question of the Day

July 28, 2011 5:01 pm

Q: Should I lock in the mortgage rate?

A: Because the interest rate market fluctuates constantly and is subject to quick movements without notice, locking in a mortgage rate with a lender certainly protects you from the time your lock is confirmed to the day it expires.

Lock-ins make sense in a rapidly-rising rate environment or when borrowers expect rates to climb during the next 30 to 60 days, which is typically the amount of time a lock-in remains in effect.

A lock-in given at the time of application is useful because it may take the lender several weeks to prepare a loan application. These days, however, automated loan practices have cut the time quite a bit.

Lock-ins are not necessarily free. Some lenders require you to pay a lock-in fee to guarantee both the rate and the terms.

If your lock-in expires before you close on the loan, most lenders will base the loan rate on current market interest rates and points.

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