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Mary Mastroeni

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Is It Really Possible to Save Money When You're Moving?

September 15, 2016 12:51 am


After making the costly investment in a new home, the last thing you want to do is spend a penny more than necessary getting all your stuff into it. So, we sought out some expert advice on the subject to help ensure your move goes as economically as possible.

Ross Sapir, founder and CEO of Roadway Moving of New York City, says proper research and planning can ensure you're not breaking the bank on your next move. He offers the following five cost-saving tips.

Start by getting rid of a few things. Sapir says bringing fewer items to your new home could make the move a little less expensive.

You might think it's easier and more cost-efficient to have your family and friends help with your next move—wrong, Sapir says. Professional movers are fast, show up on time, bring a truck and tools, and are less likely to break any of your belongings.

When picking your movers, Sapir says make sure you do your research. Companies that offer white-glove service to their customers will not only guarantee the job will be done correctly, but they will help you with setting up your cable and utilities.

Sapir says some utility companies won't prorate your bill based off your departure date, so if your billing cycle doesn't line up with your moving date, think about cutting off one of your services so you're not paying for an extra month. It's probably not smart to cut off the electricity, but you could definitely do without cable for a couple of weeks.

Choose your date wisely, as well. Sapir says the majority of moves occur between May and September, making those five months the highest demand for moving services. Since most moving companies are fully booked during the summer, they won't be as inclined to offer you a good bargain. If you can plan your move during the off-season and book your date as early as possible, you'll have more potential cost saving options available.

You can also consult the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and its 'Protect Your Move' website (fmcsa.dot.gov) for more information.
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Don't Get Pressed into Buying Protection at Checkout

September 15, 2016 12:51 am


Appliance, electronic and tool retailers are often very well-trained in the art of up-selling protection plans that extend warranties and claim to provide bonus services to help protect your purchase. Howard Schwartz of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) says when you're asked to pay extra for an extended service contract, ask yourself: Is the extra cost worth it?

The answer, according to the BBB, is not so simple.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) advises consumers to understand exactly what they'll get for their money if they buy extended coverage. The FTC says rather than extending a manufacturer's product warranty, most product protection plans are service contracts, which are not the same as the manufacturer's warranty, and they typically contain wide-ranging restrictions and exclusions.

Some consumers feel a service contract is worth the peace of mind once a manufacturer's warranty expires, the BBB states. Others don't see the point in paying extra money to buy a five year-long protection service for a moderately-priced item, such as a $65 printer.

Alternatives to service contracts include insurance policies for merchandise that is easily lost, stolen or broken, such as a smartphone. Some credit cards extend manufacturers' original warranties as a perk, according to the BBB.

Unfortunately, most cashiers do not have the information you need about the extended protection policies they sell. The BBB encourages you to take home a copy of the paperwork and understand the terms, conditions, exclusions and limitations of the extra coverage:

• Weigh the benefits. What is the expected average lifespan of the merchandise?

• How reliable is the type of product?

• Understand the terms and conditions. If you buy extra protection, make certain you know what is covered and what is not, such as labor, parts and service calls.

• Get details about customer service. How long do you have to wait for repairs? Do you have to pay for shipping? Is the repair service contracted out to a local service?

The BBB recommends researching retailers before you buy at BBB.org.
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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7 Ways to Declutter Your Kitchen

September 15, 2016 12:51 am


If you're always short of cabinet and counter space, it’s time to de-clutter the kitchen—but that’s a chore that seems to get relegated to "someday." The job may be easier if you know where to start, say consumer editors at Country Living magazine.

If you want to give yourself more kitchen space, begin by getting rid of the following:

Anything Free with Dinner – That goes for spare chopsticks, soy sauce packets, kid's meal toys, and other stuff that’s cluttering your kitchen drawers. You’re going to get more the next time you order, so there's no point in stockpiling.

One-Use Gadgets You Thought You Would Use – Garlic presses, apple corers, hot chocolate frothers…your cabinets may be full of specialty cooking gadgets that serve only one purpose. If it's taking up space and you use it less than four times a year, it's probably worth tossing—especially if there's an everyday object that can get the job done.

Plastic Grocery Bags – If you have more than 10 balled up in a cabinet or drawer, put the rest in your recycle bin or take them to the nearest store that recycles plastic bags.

Rarely Used Cookbooks – If they’ve sat on a shelf for more than a year without being used, it’s time to sell or otherwise dispose of them. Keep only family collections and one or your favorite specialty cookbooks.

Reusable Shopping Bags – Keep only two or three of those eco-friendly bags and get them out of the pantry. Store them in the trunk of your car for use when you do your shopping.

Tupperware Collection – Most of us have far too many, including those empty deli and margarine containers we’ve saved. Limit yourself to containers in two sizes, and no more than five or six of each, with lids.

Weirdly Sentimental Mugs – Too much shelf space is often given up to mugs we will never use—from vacation souvenirs to those with cutesy sayings. Harden your heart and get rid of most of them. You will never, ever miss them.
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Making Your Home's 'Most Dangerous Room' a Little Safer

September 15, 2016 12:51 am


A handy interactive checklist and guide from the Home Instead Senior Care® network takes a comprehensive look at the most unsafe areas of the home for seniors. According to Home Instead, an overwhelming majority of ER doctors (100 percent in the U.S. and 99 percent in Canada), adult children (85 percent in the U.S. and 84 percent in Canada) and seniors (94 percent in the U.S. and 97 percent in Canada) agree that falls are the most common home accidents for older adults.

What can older adults who want to stay at home do? ER doctors in the U.S. and Canada are unanimous: an annual home check is key. Those physicians say injuries are most likely to happen in the:

Bathroom – 69 percent (56 percent in Canada)
Bedroom – 13 percent (14 percent in Canada)
Kitchen – 9 percent (12 percent in Canada)
Stairs – 5 percent

This means a room-by-room check can make all the difference in keeping seniors safe and independent at home. When it comes to the bathroom, the Home Instead checklist prompts these questions:

• Are grab bars available near the tub, shower and toilet?
• Is the floor slippery?
• Is there a lack of bath mats?
• Is the bathtub too high?
• Is the toilet the correct height?
• Is there the potential for bath water to be too hot?
• Are medications stored properly—not too high or too low for the senior to reach?
• Do mobility and joint problems make it difficult to reach into cabinets, comb hair or get into a bathtub?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, fixes may be in order to help make the most dangerous room in the house a lot safer.
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Estate Planning in a Globalized World

September 13, 2016 12:51 am


Estate planning is complex, now more so for families faced with navigating the process on a multinational stage. Issues beyond U.S. borders may be especially impactful, says John O. McManus, an attorney and founding principal of New York- and New Jersey-based McManus & Associates (www.McManusLegal.com).

“We live in an increasingly globalized world—today, many people travel regularly for work and pleasure, and have loved ones and investments abroad,” McManus says. “Whether you are a U.S. citizen with assets abroad, a U.S. resident living overseas with ties back home, or have loved ones overseas from whom you could receive gifts or inheritances, it is important to keep up-to-date on multinational estate and tax planning issues.”

According to McManus, one of the primary issues is Brexit. European Union (EU) membership permits free movement to live and work throughout the EU, so those moving into and out of Britain should prepare for potential residency and passport complications.

Another consideration is assets, McManus says. Those with assets abroad are subject to U.S. estate and income tax on those assets. This applies to U.S. citizens and resident aliens—a non-resident alien is taxed only on U.S. source income, including capital gains from the sale of a U.S. real property. Non-resident aliens planning to immigrate to the U.S. should consider purchasing U.S. real estate through a foreign corporation and making unlimited non-U.S. gifts to U.S. persons (directly, or in a foreign) trust prior to immigrating, so as to avoid estate and gift taxes, McManus advises.

There is “financial fine print” that can present challenges, as well. U.S. citizens working overseas have FBAR reporting obligations if the value of their foreign financial accounts exceeds $10,000 at any time during the year, McManus explains. For unmarried citizens living abroad, Specified Foreign Financial Assets (Form 8938) must be filed with their U.S. income tax return for foreign financial assets worth more than $200,000 on the last day of the taxable year, or $300,000 at any time during the year; for unmarried citizens living in the U.S., they must be filed with their income tax return if worth more than $50,000 on the last day of the taxable year, or $75,000 at any time during the year.

Likewise, U.S. citizens receiving $100,000 or more in bequests/gifts from a foreign individual are required to file Form 3520 by April 15 of the year following the gift, lest a 25 percent penalty.

One other consideration is portability, McManus adds. Portability permits a surviving spouse to use the Deceased Spouse’s Unused federal estate tax Exemption (DSUE) of their most recent deceased spouse, in order to increase the estate tax exemption amount. Portability is generally only available to U.S. citizens and residents—non-U.S. citizens or residents should establish a Qualified Domestic Trust (QDoT) to have the DSUE amount of the decedent included in the surviving spouse’s applicable exclusion amount, McManus advises.

In addition, having more than one will can be beneficial—the advantage, McManus explains, is that they can be tailored to different jurisdictions; the disadvantage, however, is the expense needed to prepare them, as well as the additional complexity in the overall estate plan. Multiple wills may be prudent if there is substantial real property or investments in privately-owned companies abroad, McManus says.

Source: McManus & Associates
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Mortgage Rates Sink, Prompting Refis

September 13, 2016 12:51 am


Mortgage rates on average have moved lower, with the 30-year fixed-rate recently sinking to 3.44 percent, Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®) reports.

“The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage fell two basis points to 3.44 percent [last] week,” Freddie Mac Chief Economist Sean Becketti says. “As mortgage rates continue to range between 3.41 and 3.48 percent, many are taking advantage of the historically low rates by refinancing. Since the Brexit vote, the refinance share of mortgage activity has remained above 60 percent.”

The 15-year fixed-rate (FRM), conversely, averages 2.76 percent with an average 0.5 point, according to the survey. The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate averages 2.81 percent with an average 0.4 point. The 30-year FRM has an average 0.6 point.

Source: Freddie Mac
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Home Improvements for Fall: A Checklist

September 13, 2016 12:51 am


Fall is one of the best times of year to knock out some home improvement projects, especially ones you may have been putting off. Vicki Payne, host of the television program “For Your Home with Vicki Payne,” says fall is also ideal for maintenance before colder temperatures set in.

“With cooler fall weather comes the realization that your home will soon experience [colder] weather,” Payne says. “To get your house ready, start by giving your exterior a thorough review. Everything should be checked, cleaned up and made ready to handle Mother Nature when she comes blowing in within the next few months.”

Payne’s checklist:

Assess the roof. Look for loose or missing shingles, as well as algae, deterioration, mold or splitting. If the roof is in poor shape, consider upgrading to a synthetic roof—the composite product resists elements like fire, high winds and impact. (Hot Product: DaVinci Roofscapes)

Check the doors. The weather stripping should be intact—this helps keep drafty cold air out.

Check the siding and trim. Make sure there are no insect infestations or rotting boards (if wood). Should these items need replacement, consider a low-maintenance alternative like fiber cement siding or PVC trim. (Hot Products: James Hardie, Ply Gem)

Clean the gutters. Remove leaves and debris to avoid back-ups or clogs come winter. Ensure, too, that gutters are securely attached to the home and sloped for proper drainage.

Evaluate the deck. If the deck looks worse for wear, consider replacing it with Western Red Cedar or composite decking—both stand up to the elements. (Hot Product: TAMKO)

Inspect the garage door(s). Make sure it is operating properly and has strong air filtration seals. A replacement may be in order if the door is not functioning or aesthetically outdated. (Hot Product: Haas Door)

Seal the windows. At the very least, ensure the windows have strong weather stripping. Consider installing energy-efficient panes (with the ENERGY STAR® label) to keep heating costs down.

Secure railings. Loose or unstable railings can be dangerous. Check all balusters and handrails for signs of damage. If it is time for a replacement, consider adding cable rails or glass balustrades for a contemporary finish. (Hot Product: Fortress Railing)

Spend time on landscaping. Rake leaves as they fall—remove them and any other underbrush from the property before frost or snow arrive. Re-mulch in areas that need it, and trim back bushes and trees.

“Homeownership means continually maintaining the exterior elements of a house,” says Payne. “With its cooler weather, autumn is the ideal time to evaluate, upgrade and improve those key exterior elements to ensure your home is ready for the winter months ahead.”

Source: For Your Home with Vicki Payne
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Car-Buying: 5 Smart Tips

September 13, 2016 12:51 am


Considering buying a new car? Now may ideal—with new vehicles hitting the showroom floor, dealers are eager to unload outdated models. The smartest way to buy, according to the experts at non-profit GreenPath Financial Wellness, is to have a plan. Their tips:

1. Research – Many people buy cars based on what they look like or what they’re familiar with. Instead of buying the same type of car you've always driven, it may be wiser to list the features you’re looking for, and then do some research.  Know your credit history ahead of time, as well. Pull your credit report(s) from www.annualcreditreport.com to see if there are any red flags that might prevent you from getting an ideal interest rate.

2. Consider Financing – Once you know what you’re looking for, considering your buying options: leased, new or used. What financing options are realistic for you based on your income and credit? Don't borrow more money than you are comfortably able to repay.

3. Take Your Time – Start shopping around for dealer and selection incentives for your particular car choices. Do not rush—it's better to exercise patience when making your decision. Shop online as well as in person to compare prices for similar models.

4. Determine Payments – A lower monthly payment isn't always best—sometimes a dealer will simply increase the number of months on your loan in order to lower your monthly payment, but that often means you'll pay much more in interest over the life of the loan. Be careful about ending up in car loans that last six, seven or eight years—that's a long time to have a car payment (and a lot of interest to pay)!

5. Consider Other Costs – Your total transportation expense will include the vehicle payment, as well as everything else: insurance, gasoline, oil changes, ongoing maintenance, license plate fees, etc. Make sure you’ve added all potential costs into your budget.

Source: GreenPath Financial Wellness
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Take a Turn on a Zero-Turn Mower

September 13, 2016 12:51 am


When is being referred to as a “zero” a good thing? If you were among thousands of attendees at the 2015 Green Industry and Equipment Expo (GIE+EXPO), you know it’s when it's zero-turn!

GIE+EXPO, the largest trade show for garden, lawn and outdoor power equipment, is held annually in Louisville, Ky—and the belles of last year's ball were zero-turn mowers.

Altoz, manufacturer of high-performance zero-turn radius (ZTR) mowers, unveiled the XR series of products at the event. Steve Noe, a blogger at OutdoorPowerEquipment.com, notes Altoz equipment is now available with Briggs & Stratton, Honda, Kawasaki and Kohler engines.

Manufacturer Wright introduced a 72-inch model to its growing line of Stander ZK mowers at the event, as well. The machine’s left/right hydro systems, mowing speed and push-button deck lift all contribute to improved efficiency and productivity, Noe says.

The Poulan Pro p54zx was another top contender at the event, with ToolsAroundTheHouse.com ranking it the sole five-star performer on its list of best zero-turn mowers on the market. The machine features an electric clutch, a high-back seat and a hydro-gear EZT transmission, among other features.

Whichever zero-turn mower you opt for, safety is paramount—like other large mowers, they pose rollover and tip-over dangers, especially on uneven surfaces. Because only the rear wheels are powered (the front wheels are for pivoting), zero-turn mowers are much more difficult to stop, especially when riding down a steep slope. Ride safe!
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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New Homes: Manufactured, Modular or Site-Built?

September 13, 2016 12:51 am


(BPT)—Building or purchasing a new home has several advantages: for one, control over design and location, as well as the ability to own sooner (and often for less money) in markets with short supply.

New homes can be built or purchased in one of three types of construction: manufactured, modular and site-built. Each has its pros and cons.

“A newly constructed home may be any of the following three types: manufactured, modular or traditional site-built,” says Kevin Clayton, CEO of Clayton Home Building Group. “Whichever type selected will be built to strict state and federal code and can vary by style, custom features available, energy-efficiency, speed of construction and affordability.”

Manufactured

Manufactured homes are built in a controlled factory environment using many of the same building materials used in site-built homes. The entire house is assembled in the factory in sections, and then transported by truck to the home site for final installation.

Manufactured homes are subject to internal inspections and must meet building standards defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to receive final certification. Because the house is built indoors, the construction schedule is not subject to weather delays, so a manufactured home can be completed and set up on-site in a matter of weeks, rather than months.

Manufactured homebuilders purchase construction materials and appliances in volume, which helps keep the cost of manufactured homes lower than what you would pay for a site-built home. (In 2015, the average cost of a manufactured home was just $47.55 per square foot, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Construction [SOC] data.)

Modular

Modular homebuilding combines elements of site-built and manufactured home construction. In modular home construction, the home may be either 100-percent factory-built or a mix of both factory-built and on-site built. Modular homes can ship to the home site fully complete or with work left to be done—this allows for full customization.

Modular homes are often shipped in sections that are assembled at the site by use of a crane. The home is typically placed onto a permanent foundation, and can be multiple stories high. Modular homes can also have basements, garages and unique roof profiles that make them indistinguishable from traditional site-built homes.

All the building codes that apply to site-built homes also govern modular homes. Because much of the construction takes place inside a factory setting with materials in stock, modular homes can also be completed faster than site-built homes. They also benefit from similar bulk cost-savings as manufactured homes.

Site-Built

As the name implies, site-built construction assembles the house on the site where it will permanently stand when finished. All the materials that go into the house—from wood for the frame to pipes for the plumbing and shingles for the roof—are transported to the site for assembly of the house, which could take several months. Transporting and buying exact measurements of building materials that will be used (versus buying bulk) contributes to the final cost of the house.

During construction, materials may be stored onsite and exposed to weather until construction crews are ready to use them. Similarly, the interior of the home is exposed until the roof, walls and windows are all in place.  They are subject to various state and local building codes to ensure safety before the home is ready to be sold.

Site-building is a time-tested, traditional way of building homes, and is the most common method of construction. Construction times vary, but can range from less than three months to a year, according to data from the SOC. The average price per square foot of a single-family site-built home was just over $100 in 2015.

The type of construction you choose will depend on your budget, needs and preferences. Advances in manufactured and modular homebuilding mean it's now possible to build one of these homes with the same high-end features you would find in a quality site-built home.

Source: Clayton Home Building Group
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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