June 29, 2011 5:27 pm
The Better Hearing Institute (BHI) is urging people to pack earplugs when heading out to this year’s 4th of July celebrations and is urging them to exercise safety whenever around fireworks. The single bang of a firecracker at close range can permanently damage hearing in an instant. But by following some simple precautions, people can enjoy the 4th of July festivities and still protect their hearing.
"The best advice I can offer is to leave the fireworks to the professionals and sit at a comfortable distance from the display, where you can enjoy the colors and lights, but not expose yourself and your family to loud noises," says Sergei Kochkin, PhD, BHI’s executive director. "To protect your hearing, make sure you’re wearing ear plugs and that they’re securely in place before the show begins. And be sure to keep them in for the entire show."
Disposable ear plugs, made of foam or silicone, are typically available at local pharmacies. They’re practical because you still can hear music and the conversation of those around you when you have them in your ears. But when they fit snuggly, they’re effective in adequately blocking out dangerously loud sounds.
Noise is one of the most common causes of hearing loss. Ten million Americans have already suffered irreversible hearing damage from noise; and 30 million are exposed to dangerous noise levels each day.
According to the American Pyrotechnics Association, consumption of fireworks in the United States has risen dramatically over the past decade, from 152.2 million pounds in 2000 to 213.9 million pounds in 2009. As more and more Americans come into contact with fireworks, it becomes increasingly important that people follow sound safety measures, including the use of ear protection.
The Dangers and Signs of Loud Noise
Loudness is measured in decibels, with silence measuring at 0 dB. Any noise above 85 dB is considered unsafe. Most firecrackers produce sounds starting at 125 dB–presenting the risk of irreversible ear damage. Repeated exposure to loud noise, over an extended period of time, presents serious risks to hearing health as well. If you have to shout over the noise to be heard by someone within arm's length, the noise is probably in the dangerous range. Here are other warning signs:
• You have pain in your ears after leaving a noisy area.
• You hear ringing or buzzing (tinnitus) in your ears immediately after exposure to noise.
• You suddenly have difficulty understanding speech after exposure to noise; you can hear people talking but can't understand them.
Anyone can take the first step to addressing hearing loss by taking a simple, interactive screening test in the privacy of their own home by going to http://www.hearingcheck.org.
"Prevention is so critical to preserving our hearing, especially for children who are at highest risk for noise-induced hearing loss," adds Kochkin. "So make sure your family and friends fully enjoy the holiday festivities and celebrate smart. Leave the fireworks to the professionals. Stay a safe distance away. And pack the earplugs. Remember: close to 40 percent of hearing loss is preventable with proper protection."
Founded in 1973, the BHI conducts research and engages in hearing health education with the goal of helping people with hearing loss benefit from proper treatment. For more information on hearing loss, visit http://www.betterhearing.org.
June 29, 2011 5:27 pm
While celebrating our nation's birthday this weekend, Plastics Make it Possible® encourages Americans to take advantage of newly expanded opportunities to recycle plastics. According to a recent study, 94 percent of the American population now has access to plastic bottle recycling, and 40 percent can recycle other types of plastic containers such as yogurt cups, dairy containers and lids.
"Recycling plastics is an important way to protect our environment and help bottles, bags and containers from our summer celebrations live a second life as carpeting, decking, T-shirts, packaging and other products," says Steve Russell, vice president of plastics for the American Chemistry Council, which funded the study. The recycling study was conducted by Moore Recycling Associates Inc. for the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, a nonprofit group that works to increase recycling.
To celebrate wider access to plastics recycling—and to encourage consumers to go red, white, blue and green—Plastics Make it Possible® offers the following reuse and recycling tips for Independence Day and other celebrations:
• Make a Place for Plastics—Be sure to set out a clearly marked recycling bin during your festivities. Check out Earth911 if you're unsure which plastic products can be recycled in your community—it's easy to search by zip code.
• Take Recycling Outdoors—Plastic bottles and containers are handy for outdoor gatherings since they're lightweight and shatter-resistant—make sure you bring a bag or bin for recycling them. Remember, caps can be recycled, too. The Association of Postconsumer Plastics Recyclers recommends putting the cap back on the bottle and tossing the whole thing in the bin.
• Protect and Preserve—Insulated plastic foam coolers, re-freezable ice packs and reusable plastic containers can help you transport and preserve your party food and drinks—they also come in handy for fresh veggies and fruit from your farmer's market.
• Wave a Recycled Banner—You'll have another reason to proudly wave the American flag this July 4—some flag makers are using yarn made from recycled plastic beverage bottles.
• Save and Reuse—After the party is over, protect your decorations and other provisions from the elements in sealable plastic storage bins or bags —until it's time to celebrate again.
For more recycling and celebration tips, visit www.plasticsmakeitpossible.com.
June 29, 2011 5:27 pm
With the summer travel season in full swing, Visa is offering consumers tips on how to protect themselves from card fraud during their vacations. The website www.VisaSecuritySense.com provides helpful information for cardholders on how to protect their account information and resolve unauthorized card use.
"By spending a few moments building card security into their travel plans, summer vacationers can enjoy even greater peace of mind," says Eduardo Perez, Global Head of Payment System Risk.
The site includes summer travel tips consumers should keep in mind:
• If traveling outside the United States, inform the bank that issued your card which countries you will be visiting, and for how long.
• Keep a copy of your bank's name, its customer service phone numbers, and your Visa account number in a convenient place—separate from your card.
• Report lost or stolen cards and/or unauthorized transactions to your financial institution issuer immediately.
• Limit the number of payment cards and other personal information that you carry in your wallet or purse.
• Be aware of your surroundings when entering your Personal Identification Number (PIN) at an ATM or at the checkout.
• Don't leave your cards in your car's glove compartment. An alarming number of payment-card thefts are from car glove compartments.
• Save and check all receipts against your statement.
Cardholders can also turn to www.VisaSecuritySense.com for news about fraud scams, access helpful resources or find help to resolve problems.
June 28, 2011 5:27 pm
Q: Are up-front fees and closing costs deductible?
A: Many of the costs paid at closing are not immediately deductible.
The exception is points you pay to purchase your home loan. They are deductible for that year. Points paid when you refinance an existing mortgage must be deducted over the life of the new loan.
Some fees—including loan application, appraisal, document preparation and recording fees—that are assessed when purchasing a home can be recouped by adding them to the adjusted cost basis, the starting point for figuring a gain or less when selling the home.
Significant home improvements also can be calculated into your cost basis.
June 28, 2011 5:27 pm
Buy-down. Cash payment to a lender to reduce the interest rate a borrower must pay on a new mortgage loan. Commonly used by builders to sell new homes.
June 28, 2011 5:27 pm
The majority of Americans say they want and need income replacement projections but most have neither access to that data nor an understanding of how to translate their 401(k) savings into a stream of retirement income, according to a new research from J.P. Morgan.
A recently released white paper titled "Searching for Certainty" details the findings of an online survey conducted with over 1,000 individuals with 401(k) plans nationwide. J.P. Morgan found that participants wrestling with how to make their savings last through retirement were often completely in the dark.
Eighty six percent of respondents said that they will need to know how much of their pre-retirement salary they can replace, yet almost one quarter (22 percent) aren't even sure what they are on track to receive after they stop working. Overall, only 40 percent of respondents even feel comfortable that they will be able to reach their financial goals in retirement.
Americans are also dangerously underestimating how much money they will need in retirement. Among respondents who had a target retirement income replacement level in mind, nearly half (45 percent) thought they would need less than 75 percent of their pre-retirement salary level. However, extensive J.P. Morgan research shows that a minimum guideline for successful retirement income is a replacement ratio of at least 70 percent or more.
"On the positive side, some 91 percent of participants agreed that they were personally responsible for their own financial futures," says Diane Gallagher, vice president, product development, J.P. Morgan Retirement Plan Services. "However, there's still a significant gap between acknowledging responsibility and acting upon it."
Related findings about the retirement income challenges facing Americans are eye opening:
• Two thirds of respondents admitted that they don't even know how much they should be saving for retirement
• Nearly half of respondents are scared that they will outlive their retirement savings
• Of the participants who said they would need 75%-100% of their pre-retirement salary after they stop working, less than a third even had enough savings to provide this income
Driven by the overhang of the recession, most Americans have pushed aside retirement savings priorities, which rank a distant second to paying monthly bills. This is despite the fact that 401(k)s are the only or the primary source of retirement savings for two thirds of Americans.
"Paying monthly bills, credit cards and mortgages accounts for 71 percent of individuals' top priorities," says Donn Hess, managing director, product development, J.P. Morgan Retirement Plan Services. "It is extremely difficult to convince participants that retirement should be more important than any of these financial concerns. That's why we have to make it hard for people to fail as savers and why the right 401(k) plan design is so essential to the mix. Automatic programs can make the difference between someone who can afford to retirement and someone who cannot."
Emerging Risks of the High-Income Employee
Interestingly, higher income employees are facing the most challenging shortfalls in closing the retirement income gap, which highlights the significant need for supplemental savings channels for this demographic.
Employees earning $165,000 annually cannot replace their salary on their 401(k) contributions alone, even with making catch-up contributions. As a result, the availability of a non-qualified plan is increasingly important with the full complement of savings plans working together. According to J.P. Morgan's research, however, 46 percent of non-qualified plan participants do not currently contribute to their primary defined contribution plan. "We have to work with sponsors and participants on optimizing their plan design and usage of those benefits," says Mr. Hess
Information about JPMorgan Chase & Co. is available at www.jpmorganchase.com.
June 28, 2011 5:27 pm
Summer brings out barbecue grills—and bacteria, which multiply in food faster in warm weather and can cause foodborne illness (also known as food poisoning). Following a few simple guidelines can prevent an unpleasant experience.
Wash your hands
Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food. If you're eating where there’s no source of clean water, bring water, soap, and paper towels or have disposable wipes/hand sanitizer available.
Marinate food in the refrigerator
Don’t marinate on the counter—marinate in the refrigerator. If you want to use marinade as a sauce on cooked food, save a separate portion in the refrigerator. Do not reuse marinade that contacted raw meat, poultry, or seafood on cooked food unless you bring it to a boil first.
Keep raw food separate
Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood in a separate cooler or securely wrapped at the bottom of a cooler so their juices won’t contaminate already prepared foods or raw produce. Don't use a plate or utensils that previously held raw meat, poultry, or seafood for anything else unless you wash them first in hot, soapy water. Have a clean platter and utensils ready at grill-side for serving.
Cook food thoroughly
Use a food thermometer to make sure food is cooked thoroughly to destroy harmful bacteria. Refer to the Safe Minimum Temperatures chart for safe internal temperatures for foods. Partial precooking in the microwave oven or on the stove is a good way to reduce grilling time—just make sure the food goes immediately on the preheated grill to finish cooking.
Keep hot food hot and cold food cold
Keep hot food at 140°F or above until served. Keep cooked meats hot by setting them to the side of the grill, or wrap well and place in an insulated container.
Keep cold food at 40°F or below until served. Keep cold perishable food in a cooler until serving time. Keep coolers out of direct sun and avoid opening the lid often.
Cold foods can be placed directly on ice or in a shallow container set in a pan of ice. Drain off water as ice melts and replace ice frequently.
Don’t let hot or cold perishables sit out for longer than two hours, or one hour if the outdoor temperature is above 90°F. When reheating fully cooked meats, grill to 165°F or until steaming hot.
Transport food in the passenger compartment of the car where it’s cooler—not in the trunk.
These non-food items are indispensable for a safe barbecue.
• food thermometer
• several coolers: one for beverages (which will be opened frequently), one for raw meats, poultry, and seafood, and another for cooked foods and raw produce
• ice or frozen gel packs for coolers
• jug of water, soap, and paper towels for washing hands
• enough plates and utensils to keep raw and cooked foods separate
• foil or other wrap for leftovers
This article appears on FDA's Consumer Updates page5, which features the latest on all FDA-regulated products.
For more information, please visit ww.fda.gov.
June 28, 2011 5:27 pm
A new survey shows significant majorities of frequent business and leisure travelers would pay up to $150 to enroll in a trusted traveler program. The U.S. Travel Association recently recommended that a trusted traveler program be put in place for domestic air travelers, and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is currently considering options for such a program.
The survey, commissioned by the U.S. Travel Association, asked more than 1,000 adults how likely they were to enroll in a trusted traveler program that offered expedited, risk-based screening at major U.S. airports for U.S. citizens who pay an annual enrollment fee of between $100-150 and undergo a background check. Forty-five percent of all travelers were very/somewhat likely to enroll, 61 percent of frequent leisure travelers were very/somewhat likely to enroll, and 75 percent of frequent business travelers were very/somewhat likely to enroll.
"Travelers deserve a trusted traveler program that provides predictable wait times at airports and a screening process that recognizes their low-risk nature," said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. "We now know that frequent travelers are willing to pay for a better security experience. TSA Administrator Pistole is right to pursue a new approach and we look forward to working with him to develop the details."
A December 2010 study showed respondents would take two to three more trips per year if the hassle involved in flying could be reduced without compromising security. Those additional trips would add $84.6 billion in travel spending and support 888,000 additional jobs, according to research from U.S. Travel.
U.S. Travel recommends a risk-based trusted traveler program where travelers can opt-in and voluntarily provide background information to qualify for expedited screening, similar to trusted traveler programs operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The idea of a trusted traveler program is gaining momentum in Congress, and TSA has publicly stated it is considering concepts for such a program.
For more information, visit www.ustravel.org/betterway.
June 28, 2011 5:27 pm
Teachers and college students who find themselves with an extra helping of time over the summer months can maximize the down time and pick up some extra cash without punching a time clock or giving up their own recreational pursuits.
From financial editor Reshma Vyas, here are five strategies you may not have thought about for making the most of your time and resources:
• Sell your veggies – Home gardeners with a maxi-crop of fruits and veggies can command top prices for their home-grown produce from local restaurants and caterers. Check online for likely buyers among those who specialize in fresh, organic menus and/or ethnic cookery.
• Sell your skills – Sell your handmade jewelry, crafts, jams and jellies, and baked goods at local flea markets and craft fairs. Sell your math and reading skills, accounting know-how or musical expertise as a part time tutor or consultant. An ad in the local paper or online, or a notice at the local library or rec. center can help you find interested clients.
• Teach classes – Check with local libraries, summer schools, and recreation departments for opportunities to teach a class or two for young people in areas that tap your expertise in the arts, basic science, or money matters for teens, including banking, budgeting, basic investing, owning credit cards, and paying taxes.
• Hold a garage sale – Check the garage, the linen closet and the kitchen cabinets for items you no longer use. You may be surprised at how much cash you can collect in a single weekend yard or garage sale.
• Swap for bargains – Organize a neighborhood swap of gently used children’s toys and clothing. It’s a great way to get the kids ready for school and swap the toys they’re tired of with new ones you won’t have to purchase.
June 27, 2011 5:27 pm
Q: How do growing equity mortgages work?
A: Also called GEMs, these fixed-rate mortgages have monthly payments that increase in increments of 3 percent or more to reduce the principal loan amount. They are often written by the lender at a below market interest rate and have shorter terms.
A GEM lets you pay off the mortgage earlier, save tens of thousands of dollars in interest payments, and build equity quickly. A 30-year GEM, depending on the interest rate, can normally be paid off in 15 to 20 years.