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Mary Mastroeni

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Most Americans Ill Equipped to Turn Retirement Savings into Income, J.P. Morgan Research Shows

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.

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Barbecue Bliss: Keeping Bacteria at Bay

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.

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Survey: Travelers Will Pay for Better Airport Security Experience

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.

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5 Ways to Earn Extra Money This Summer

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.

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Question of the Day

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.

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Word of the Day

June 27, 2011 5:27 pm

Building codes. Minimum construction standards set by state or local laws for public safety and health. Includes the design, construction, repair, and quality of building materials, as well as the use and occupancy of structures.

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Top 4 Architectural Lighting Brands for the Modern Home

June 27, 2011 5:27 pm

Architectural lighting has become the latest trend in home design. Modern décor calls for illumination that is energy efficient (LED, fluorescent, low voltage fixtures) and effective (Dark Sky and Energy Star® rated lights). But contemporary lighting also requires a sense of play, adventure, and comfort.

Leading brands represented at the Dallas lighting show will include CSL, Bruck, Tech Lighting, LBL, and Liton Lighting. All of these manufacturers are well educated when it comes to the latest technology in green homes and employ industrious artisans to develop the next brilliant masterpiece.

Bruck Lighting is known for their variety of track lighting style monorail lighting with unique color, glass, and finish options. Recognized internationally for their energy efficient mono and dual rail systems, this brand is dedicated to creating energy-saving halogen and LED fixtures. German engineering and creativity knows no bounds when it comes to Bruck’s pendants, spot fixtures, display track light fixtures, and self-contained monorail kits. They incorporate their unique art glass into every design and the colors are breathtaking. Bruck is often the first choice for artistic professionals, because they merge unusual (sometimes even bizarre) structures with easy-to-assemble systems in a fluid composition.

Tech Lighting is an industry leader when it comes to low voltage home lighting systems. This brand is the winner of the 2011 Lightfair Innovation Awards, specifically for their “Element Envision LED Head” whose lighting module, efficient power supply, and versatile optic options make it an excellent choice for home architectural lighting. Precision engineering and innovative designs are channeled into Tech’s collection. Known for monorail and cable light systems, Tech caters to both home and commercial decorators as their fixtures have a futuristic and industrial feel.

From their beginnings as a family business in 1971, Ronald Stone’s LBL Lighting has morphed into a recognized architectural manufacturer. Prolific in their creations, LBL has published 47 catalogs to date. LBL’s new Mini Rock Candy pendant series illustrates the brand’s creative use of glass and texture. The Mini Rock Candy low-voltage pendants are mouth-blown, transparent glass rolled in clear crystal frit and flash heated for an unusual pebbled texture. LBL has embraced a more playful and elementary quality compared to the more sterile and minimalist styles of CSL and Tech. A leading designer of LED lights, LBL is committed to innovation in commercial illumination, proving that businesses can develop a style unique to their brand without sacrificing a commitment to energy efficiency.

The recipient of the 2010 Best Interior Product Award in Las Vegas, Liton Lighting is the company to consult when deciding to “go green.” Liton was given the award for their new LRLD6 Adjustable Gimbal 6” Trim Downlight, for its versatility as a retrofit and its exceptional color value. Focused on the needs of environmental architectural designers, Liton has produced a huge collection of recessed light fixtures. Specializing in high tech minimalist recessed lights, Liton is known for their miniature low voltage lights, under cabinet lights, and LED task lights.

Architectural lighting has finally found its niche in the interior design field. These brands' unique styles and ceaselessly creative artisans, combined with the ever-evolving world of energy efficient technology, are sure to keep inspiring new trends in home lighting industries.

For more information, please visit www.AffordableLamps.com

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Moving Blankets are the Main Carrier of Bedbugs

June 27, 2011 5:27 pm

Summer is upon us, which means that it is officially "moving season.” As residents begin thinking about this major undertaking, they should be sure to take precautions against bedbugs. iMoveGREEN, an agent for Bekins Van Lines and a premier green moving company in the United States, has recently discovered the main carrier of bedbugs: moving blankets. While bedbugs continue to be a pandemic across the United States, most moving companies still do not take preventative measures to aid against bedbug infestation. Moving blankets especially, are often neglected and left un-cleaned between moves, leaving your belongings susceptible.

After a routine inspection one year ago, iMoveGREEN discovered that moving blankets are the main carriers of bedbugs. Jeffrey E. Sitt, President and CEO, was notified that, while his facility and fleet of trucks were clean, a few of the company's moving blankets contained bedbugs. This shocking discovery, which could easily have been over-looked, caused iMoveGREEN to spring into action.

"We immediately quarantined the blankets, sprayed them with anti-Bed Bug spray, and heated them in the trucks," says Mr. Sitt. Now, iMoveGREEN has a new protocol, whereby after every single move, the blankets that were used are taken in large sealed bags to the company's drying department, where the blankets are sprayed down and heated in commercial dryers on high heat for 1.5 hours.

"Learning that bedbugs are primarily carried through moving blankets brings me to the terrifying realization that other moving companies may be unknowingly transporting these disgusting bugs into homes! It makes me wonder if other moving companies are aware of whether or not there are bedbugs on their blankets," cautions Mr. Sitt.

For more information, visit www.iMoveGreen.com.

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It’s Time for a Mid-Year Financial Check-Up

June 27, 2011 5:27 pm

Six Things to Look for and How to Fix Them

Most of us started the New Year with resolutions to get our financial house in order—like saving more and reducing debt. With half the year gone, says Wall Street financial consultant Sheryl Nance-Nash, it’s a good time to examine whether you are meeting your goals—and to redouble your efforts if you aren’t.

Nance-Nash provides practical ways to take your financial pulse:

• Deal with your debt – Pull out your credit card statements, see how much you owe, and take steps to reduce it—even if it’s just by paying $10 more per month on each account. Then put your credit cards in a safe place and try to do without them for as long as possible. Going even a month or two without charging can make a big financial difference.
• Get serious about saving – Savings can help you stay out of debt, and everyone needs an emergency fund. Set up an automatic transfer from checking to savings, even if it’s only $20 a month. If you have one in place, increase the transferred amount.
• Check your retirement fund – Can you sock away more into your IRA or 401k? If you need to pull in your belt to do so, do it anyway. You’ll appreciate it later!
• Tackle tax stuff early – Are you keeping receipts and records in order for your 2011 tax return? Save canceled checks, invoices and other proof of money spent on tax-deductible expenses. If planning a life-change—like a marriage, divorce or the birth of a child—check with your tax preparer now about how it may impact your tax position and what steps you should begin to take.
• Look for loopholes – Are you getting the most for your money on insurances? Flexible spending accounts? Cell phone and communication plans—even fees and commissions on investments? Take the time now to check with providers. You may be able to save a bundle while accumulating wealth.
Grapple with spending issues – Do you know where your money is going? Mid-year is a good time to figure out what you are spending and what you are spending it on—and make serious changes if that’s what’s keeping you from dealing with debt and saving more.

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Pruning Matters

June 27, 2011 5:27 pm

Your RIS Consumer Confidant has written a lot about landscaping, shrubbery and lawns, so now it is time to focus on a loftier target—trees. According to the U. S. Forest Service, trees are worth much more than their value of wood—25 times more than their country cousins in the forest—because trees enhance the value of real estate.

In some cases, the USFA says trees can raise the value of a lot compared to the same lot without trees by as much as 20 percent. On average, trees add between 5 and 7 percent to the value of a residential lot. Nationwide, that added value results in an extra $5,000 per lot.

Any property with trees invariably sells faster, too. So how do you enhance or best take care of the trees on your property? In this segment we’ll talk about pruning—an oft needed maintenance treatment that promotes good tree health and keeps trees and your yard safe—as well as looking good.

Just remember, pruning without a good reason is not good tree care practice. Pruning just because your neighbor is doing it may not be beneficial for the tree, and could result in too much live tree tissue being removed. This can cause the tree to become stressed, and perhaps decline.

In fact, industry tree pruning standards (ANSI A300) say no more than 25 percent of a tree’s foliage should be removed in a single season, and if the tree cannot tolerate a lot of pruning, even less should be removed.

A good arborist will work with a property owner to set an objective for the pruning job (i.e., what you want accomplished when the work is done). Pruning objectives usually include one or more of the following:

• reduce risk of damage to people or property
• manage tree health
• provide clearance for vehicles or roadways
• improve structure
• increase or improve aesthetics
• restore shape

Once tree pruning objectives are established, the arborist can provide specific details on how to prune your trees, without harming them, to get the desired result. In our next segment we’ll take a look at a common tree pruning practice that can actually take away from your real estate’s value.

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