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 
Welcome Home from RE/MAX 440!

Mary's Blog

Why Americans Have Trouble Keeping Dollars in Their Pockets

August 31, 2011 8:03 pm

The ongoing economic crisis may cause Americans to fret over their household budgets, but that doesn't stop them from throwing money away every day. From unnecessary bank fees to wasted gift cards, we are guilty of several messy money mistakes. 

Some of the biggest culprits of wasted money are:
Late credit card fees: On an annual basis, Americans are racking up over $22 billion dollars in charges from late credit card fees and penalties.
Oversized cell plans: Most of us overestimate our cell phone usage and buy oversized plans. In fact, we waste more than $330 a year for unused text, minutes and data, according to BillShrink.com, a cost-savings Web site.
Staggering ATM Fees: ATM fees are tracking higher, with customers now paying an average $2.33 each time they withdraw cash from an ATM that doesn't belong to their bank. Banks, themselves, also charge an average $1.41 for using an ATM outside their network. In total: $3.74 each time you hit an ATM. Do this twice a week and you're looking at close to $400 a year wasted on silly ATM fees.
Gift cards and daily-deal coupons: Americans let $8 billion go to waste with unused gift cards and unused Internet offers from sites like Groupon or LivingSocial. Reports say 20 to 30 percent of discounted vouchers purchased from daily deal Web sites like Groupon, Living Social and BuyWithMe go unused.
Public transportation: In metro areas, commuters are throwing away dollars on commuter passes they don't use. New York City residents alone have wasted $52 Million on lost or unused Metrocards. 

"Most Americans are struggling to stretch the few dollars they have in hand, while at the same time they are letting billions of dollars just fly out of their wallets and pocketbooks," says Farnoosh Torabi, personal finance expert and newly-named financial editor for Manilla.com. "While this situation is troubling, this trend can be easily capped through a combination of common sense and building a workable household budget."
 
Torabi offers five easy tips to stem the tide of leaking revenue: 

Pay your bills on time and online: Late fees are avoidable and what's worse, paying late can wreak havoc on your credit score. If you have to make a choice about which bills to pay, start with your credit card with the highest interest rate first. Pay far more than the minimum. For the other cards, pay partially or at least the minimum. Additionally, if you automate and schedule your payments online, you will be less likely to fall into late payment traps.
Watch expiration dates: Use your stored value cards and coupons as soon as possible and only buy what you need and create reminders for the coupons and value cards so you don't lose out on the value. Keep coupons and deal vouchers in your wallet or purse at all times, too, so you don't miss out on redeeming them when the opportunity arises. Store coupons on your phone when available, too. Sites like GroceryIQ and Redplum have mobile apps that let you store your coupons in your phone.
Tweak your cell plan: With your cell phone, consider joining a "Friends and Family" plan, which can often include anyone you know—a roommate, partner or neighbor—and the savings are significant. Also, remember to take advantage of in-network or mobile-to-mobile minutes. Identify the people you call the most. If you share the same carrier with these folks, your calls could be free by signing up for an "in-network" minutes plan with your provider.
Never Pay an ATM fee again: There are several ways you can avoid those pesky ATM fees. First, use your bank's ATMs. You can just download your bank's free mobile application to help you locate a free, affiliated ATM in your neighborhood when you're out on the go. Next, use apps like My Mobile Allpoint App to find surcharge-free ATMs. Your bank may still charge you for using an out-of-network ATM, but you can at least pocket a dollar or two by downloading a free mobile phone application that'll help locate a surcharge-free ATM nearest you. Finally, opt for cash back wherever possible. A number of retailers offer a free cash-back service any time you pay with your debit/ATM card, including many drug stores and supermarkets in the City like Walgreens and Whole Foods. One caveat: The withdrawal limits are usually lower than at ATM machines, capped at $40 or $60.
Cash-In or Swap Unwanted Gift Cards/Deal Vouchers: Bought a Groupon deal that you regret? Received a gift card for a store you don't really love? There are many web sites that can help you either sell or swap your gift cards or vouchers. For example, if you want to swap an unused gift card for another one that's more your taste, check out sites SwapAGift.com and PlasticJungle.com. Also, there are secondary online markets where people are selling their unused vouchers. Sites like Lifesta, DealsGoRound and CoupRecoup are connecting sellers with buyers. The faster you put the deal on the site the better. 

For more information, visit www.manilla.com.

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Word of the Day

August 31, 2011 8:03 pm

Fee simple. Ownership of real property that is to be used and/or sold at the owner’s discretion.

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Question of the Day

August 31, 2011 8:03 pm

Q: Does the federal government offer home improvement programs?

A: Yes. Among the most popular:
• Title 1 Home Improvement Loan. HUD insures the loan up to $25,000 for a single-family home and lenders make loans for basic livability improvements – such as additions and new roofs – to eligible borrowers.
• Section 203(k) Program. HUD helps finance the major rehabilitation and repair of one- to four-family residential properties, excluding condos. Owner-occupants may use a combination loan to purchase a fixer-upper "as is" and rehabilitate it, or refinance a property plus include in the loan the cost of making the improvements. They also may use the loan solely to finance the rehabilitation.
• VA loans. Veterans can get loans from the Department of Veterans Affairs to buy, build, or improve a home, as well as refinance an existing loan at interest rates that are usually lower than that on conventional loans.
• Rural Housing Repair and Rehabilitation Loans. Funded by the Agriculture Department, these low-rate loans are available to low-income rural residents who own and occupy a home in need of repairs. Funds are available to improve or modernize a home or to remove health and safety hazards.

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Question of the Day

August 30, 2011 8:03 pm

Q: What is a second mortgage?

A: It is a loan against the equity in your home. Financial institutions will generally let you borrow up to 80 percent of the appraised value of your home, minus the balance of your original mortgage.

You may incur all the fees normally associated with a mortgage, including closing costs, title insurance, and processing fees.

Home improvement loans are often written as second mortgages. And sometimes you can get a college tuition loan by using a second mortgage.

In case of default, the loan is paid off from the proceeds of the sale of the property, after the first mortgage has been paid off first.

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7 Tips for Making School Sports Safer

August 30, 2011 5:03 pm

By Barbara Pronin, RISMedia Columnist

Playing sports at school can provide much more than physical exercise. It is a great way for kids to build coordination, discipline, and self-confidence. But, reminds the U.S. National Institutes for Health (NIH), children between the ages of five and 14 sustained more than 2 million sports and recreational injuries over the past 10 years.

While most sports injuries are minor, taking reasonable precautions can do a lot to keep kids safer during sports practices and games. The NIH offers seven ways to help parents (and coaches) keep young athletes happy and healthy:

• Group children appropriately – Insofar as possible, form teams according to the weight, size and skill of the players rather than by chronological age—especially for contact sports. Smaller kids trying too hard to keep up with bigger peers may be injuries waiting to happen.
• Get medical clearance – every child should be screened by a medical professional before taking part in a sport.
• Check the grounds – Be sure all playing fields—and sports equipment – are safe and properly maintained. Defective equipment can increase the risk of harm.
• Check the coaching staff – Ideally, a certified athletic trainer will be on site—or someone who has experience in preventing and recognizing sports injuries.
• Check protective gear – Be sure your child is using properly-sized, safety-tested, and well-fitted protective gear—and that he/she understands how to use it correctly.
• Don’t push – Never push a child to play if he/she feels uncomfortable or incapable of participating—and don’t ask an injured kid to “play through” the pain. No child should be required to play if he/she feels tired, cranky or ill.
• Seek needed medical care – If a child sustains an injury, or exhibits persistent pain or symptoms that interfere with play, medical care may be indicated even though the child claims to be fine.


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9 Things to Do in Last Weeks of Summer

August 30, 2011 5:03 pm

There are few things finer than relaxing in the garden with a glass of something cool while the sun is shining down. But this is the ideal time to take stock of what’s going on both in the garden and indoors.
Here, aspect.co.uk suggests some things to look out for during the end of summer months. 

1. Wooden garden furniture needs looking after year round, but especially so after long dry spells or sever sun exposure which will make varnish peel and bleach the wood. Treat your furniture with teak or linseed oil on a regular basis and it will look good all year long.
2. Decking, while durable and good-looking, also needs its beauty treatment. Scrub it down with a specialist cleaning product and rinse well. Then, just as with furniture, apply a light coat of suitable oil. This will help your decking resist wear and tear and looking like new.
3. Weeds proliferate in summer months. Clear paths and graveled areas.
4. With energy prices rocketing, check the hot water settings on your boiler. You will probably find that you can cut down the hours the boiler runs by at least 50 percent.
5. It’s at this time of year that you may notice your external paintwork is looking a bit tired. Get a reputable decorator round to give you a quote—and get the job done before winter!
6. Is your roof going to stand up to the winter? Call in an expert and get some advice.
7. If your house isn’t already properly insulated, now’s the time to contact your local authority and see what grants are available for this vital home improvement.
8. Go through every place where your clothes are stored and check for moths. If you find any evidence at all, remove every piece of clothing from that location and either wash or have them dry-cleaned.
9. Clear out the attic! If you haven’t used things in there since this time last year, it’s time for them to go.

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Foundation Watering Tips

August 30, 2011 5:03 pm

This summer’s record breaking heat is sucking soils dry and cracking building foundations. Advanced Foundation Repair, a Texas foundation repair and maintenance company, is seeing growing numbers of homeowners across the state experiencing telltale signs: cracking foundations, cracking brick work, cracking sheet rock, doors sticking or doors not closing. The biggest question asked is “Does foundation watering work and if so how do you water your house foundation?” 

Advanced Foundation Repair CEO, Fred Marshall says “Absolutely! Foundation watering works and is one of cheapest, easiest and most effective ways home owners can maintain their foundations. It is a do-it-yourself prevention plan that anyone can do.” Fred Marshall goes on to share answers to the most common questions on why foundation watering works, how to set it up a soak hose foundation watering system and how to maintain and use the system throughout the year. 

Problem Signs
How do you know if you should water your foundation? It is time to water your foundation if you have any of these foundation problems:
• Cracking foundation
• Doors or windows sticking or not closing
• Exterior walls cracking such as zigzagging cracks in bricks
• Interior walls cracking such as cracks in sheetrock and cracking tiles
• Sloping counters or floors 

Watering System
You’ve found the telltale foundation problem signs so how do you set up a foundation watering system? There are several ways to go. The most common is a soaker hose system.
• Measure the area around your house where you can lay a soaker hose.
• Purchase enough hose to run the length measured for. You can purchase soaker hoses at any hardware / home repair store.
Tip: We’ve also found that many home owners like to get a three way spigot splitter so that they can run soaker hoses in both directions around the house, leaving an extra connection for garden hoses.
Tip: Another option is a spigot timer so that you can set how long and often you would like to water the foundation.
Tip: If you use the timer with a splitter, make sure to close any openings not connected to the soaker hoses so no excess water is flowing.
• Create a shallow trench around your house that is 3 inches deep and 6 inches from the foundation.
Tip: Don’t place the soaker hoses any closer to the house. If the soaker hose is too close to the home, when the dry soil cracks, the water can follow the cracks under your home and create additional problems.
• Connect your soaker hoses to the spigot and then lay the soaker hose down in the trench.
• Loosely cover the soaker hose using the soil loosened from creating the trench.

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How to Protect Your College Student from Identity Theft

August 30, 2011 5:03 pm

As millions of teenagers start their educational journeys in college this fall, thousands risk identity theft. During their early adult years, they are building one of the most important financial aspects of their life--their credit scores. But with their naive approach to finances and their inattentiveness to protecting their most personal information, many college students fall victim to identity theft because of their lack of knowledge and follow-through in identity theft protection. Identity Theft Labs, an evaluation and review websites for identity theft protection companies, helps college students reduce their risk of identity theft with a few simple tips for parents: 

Educate your child on phishing scams
With schools offering student emails, many students will become a victim of phishing scams. This is where a bogus email is sent to the student, which looks official and appears to come from a financial institution. This email will ask for personal information, such as "verifying your account," in which sends your student to a false website for them to enter in this data. As soon as this information is obtained by the third party, their personal data is at risk, as are their financial accounts. Remind your student never to send personal information through the internet, and to contact their financial company through their customer service number if being requested to send this data. 

Warn of credit applications
Many college students are bombarded with credit card applications in the mail and on campus. Each time they apply, they give out their Social Security numbers, income, and personal data. Remind your student not to apply for credit cards, and to bring home any credit card offers that they receive so you can look them over and help them make a good choice for their first credit card. Or add them as an additional cardholder on one of your own credit cards to assist them in starting to build their credit without putting them at risk for identity theft. Also, send them to college with a shredder to shred any credit card applications they receive on campus that they don't plan on applying for. Identity thieves can use these tossed applications to create a credit card under a student's name and start racking up fraudulent purchases and ruining their new credit scores. 

Enroll in a monitoring service
Enrolling your student in a credit monitoring service can help you and your student keep track of what is going on with their credit score and financial happenings. Each time they come home (for school break--or laundry!), sit down with them and view their credit reports through the service. Talking about finances with your child will not only help them understand the importance of building their financial future at a young age, but can give you the opportunity to talk to them about saving money, spending wisely, and donating to their local community. 

Teaching your child financial responsibility is one thing, but letting them know the ways to protect themselves from identity theft is another. Talk with your child about the dangers of identity theft on their financial future. 

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

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Word of the Day

August 30, 2011 5:03 pm

Fannie Mae. Common name for the Federal National Mortgage Association, which buys and sells loans in the secondary mortgage market.

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What to Do after the Disaster

August 29, 2011 5:03 pm

The Restoration Industry Association (RIA) has these tips for individuals impacted by Hurricane Irene and now cleaning up in the aftermath:
• Notify your insurance company of any losses.
• Keep a notebook to track dates and times of conversations with individuals pertaining to your claim.
• Save receipts for meals, hotels, toiletries, replacement clothing, prescriptions, etc.
• Take photos of each room for future reference and insurance claims. This will provide a digital inventory of some visible contents.
• If electrical appliances—including televisions and computers—are damaged by water, do not turn them back on when power is restored. This can result in electric shock and/or do further damage to the appliance. Electronics can often be cleaned & restored by contractors who know what they're doing.
• Drywall, insulation and carpeting/padding impacted by the muddy water will probably need to be removed and replaced.
• Beware of scammers offering restoration services.
• Wear heavy rubber gloves or work gloves and thick-soled shoes, preferably not tennis shoes.
• Wash your hands frequently—especially before touching your face or eating.
• Be careful of muddy water —there can be sharp items such as broken glass, nails, etc.
• Avoid cross contamination—don't wear dirty clothes or shoes to the clean part of the house.
• Drink lots of water to stay hydrated.
• Don't use bleach to disinfect since it is corrosive and can react with other substances. Use household disinfectants.
• Open windows to ventilate the area. Open drawers and cabinets for interior drying, but don't force them open.
• Remove standing water from flat surfaces by sponging and blotting.
• Hard surfaces can be disinfected as well as some soft goods, depending on washability.
• Transport computers and musical instruments to a dry environment.
• Remove lamps and other items from wet furniture tops.
• Dry out as much as you can to prevent further damage. 

More information is available on the RIA website: www.restorationindustry.org.

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