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Sticking with Your Financial Resolutions

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Everyone wants to have a better financial year. This article below has some good basic tips for how make that happen. The best first step would be to visit with a financial planner who can advise you on your financial health and how to meet your goals for this year and moving forward. If you need a good financial planner please contact me at CManteria@ChrisMRealty.com and I will be happy to connect you with the great team I work with.

(Family Features) With the new year underway, there is a heavy focus around resolutions. Whether you are making a resolution to celebrate a fresh start or looking to make a change no matter the time of year, maintaining resolutions can be difficult. In fact, a recent survey from Bank of America found that 49 percent of respondents don’t make New Year’s resolutions because they prefer to set goals throughout the year.

Goals tied to the new year, and those set at various points in the year, are all aimed at making significant life changes. According to the survey, 81 percent of resolutions involve health and fitness, 45 percent involve personal finances and 30 percent are targeted toward making changes in social life and relationships. With the large number of people planning to make changes in their finances, it is helpful to determine how to best ensure you achieve your goal.

Research shows that consumers who understand their behaviors and motivations are more likely to build and keep positive habits for the long term. That’s why it’s so important to have strategies to keep those financial resolutions throughout the year. A few pointers to stick with your financial resolutions include:

Prepare before your resolution begins
Putting thought into your resolutions before you spring into action can put you on the path to change. Starting early with a few small changes can also improve your odds of staying the course to achieve your goals.

Develop an action plan
It’s fine to make a resolution, but the odds of sticking with it improve dramatically if you create an action plan of smaller steps to support your goals. Creating a budget? Start by tracking your spending to see where the money is going. Then create a budget that’s tight but workable, to give you more flexibility to pay down debt, increase savings or invest for retirement. If you have to carry a balance, but want to responsibly manage your credit card, consider a card that helps build positive habits.

Write it down
Forty percent of survey respondents say they use written reminders to help stay on track with their resolutions. Try writing your resolutions on Post-it notes, in Evernote, in calendar reminders or on notes stuck to the refrigerator — whatever you’ll look at regularly — to keep yourself committed and on track.

Get a little help from your friends
Sometimes a gentle reminder from a family member or friend can work wonders. Share your resolutions with a trusted person and ask for occasional reminders.

Partner up
Find a friend or loved one with the same resolution and agree to motivate and support one another to stick to your goals. It’s easier to manage a diet, exercise plan or budget if you have support. Twenty percent of respondents plan to partner up to keep to their resolutions.

Start your New Year’s resolutions thinking today, and keep the big goals in mind every day, whether they aim for better health, sounder finances or better relationships. With the right attitude and commitment, 2014 could be a very good year.

Source: Bank of America

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2014. All rights reserved.

Tips for Protecting a Home from the Ravages of Winter

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As temperatures across the nation reaching dangerous levels, now is the time to make sure that your home is prepared to deal with the icy conditions. Fremont Insurance, a Michigan-exclusive property and casualty insurance carrier, offers a few tips to help homeowners protect their homes against two of the most significant winter risks: ice dams and frozen pipes.

“Certain areas of the country are notorious for their severe winters and the extensive damage that they can do,” said Kevin Kaastra, Chief Marketing Officer for Fremont Insurance. “There are some simple things that you can do to prepare your home, and also some steps to take throughout the winter to help minimize your risk.”

Ice Dams occur when heavy snow buildup melts during the day then refreezes as temperatures drop overnight. After several days of this cycle, the melted water and ice work up under the shingles entering the attic and damaging ceilings, walls and contents.  To help prevent dams from forming:

  • Keep gutters and down spouts clear of debris, snow and ice, so melting roof snow can flow
  • Keep snow on your roof to a minimum. Roof rakes let you stand on the ground to safely pull the snow off the roof
  • Evaluate attic insulation and ventilation.  Good airflow is essential to a cool, dry attic

Frozen Water Pipes cause extensive damage to many homes and businesses every winter. If you think turning the heat down while you’re away or on vacation will save you money, think again. If your water pipes freeze and burst, it could cause thousands of dollars in damage. Homeowners can take some simple preventive measures:

  • Locate and insulate pipes susceptible to freezing – typically near outer walls, in crawl spaces, or in the attic
  • Wrap pipes with UL-approved heat tape and seal air leaks
  • Disconnect garden hoses and shut off and drain water from pipes leading to outside faucets
  • Drain and shut off the water supply (except indoor sprinkler systems) if you expect to be away for several days
  • Have someone check regularly to ensure the heat is still on and things are okay
  • Make sure you and your family knows how to shut off the water to your home

If you do discover frozen pipes:

  • Never try to thaw a pipe with an open flame or torch
  • If pipes burst, stop the flow of water as soon as possible to minimize damage
  • Be mindful of the risk of electric shock in and around standing water
  • Call a plumber and contact your insurance agent right away

Source: www.fmic.com

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2014. All rights reserved.

What Should I Know about Low Down Payment Loans?

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Such loans are offered by government agencies and private lenders, including nonprofit groups and employers. In fact, there are government programs at both the federal and state level to help cash-strapped buyers. Under many state housing agency guidelines, borrowers must usually be first-time homebuyers or have a limited family income to qualify for low down payment loans.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers several programs through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) that require down payments of 3 to 5 percent.

Several times over the past few years, the government has proposed a “zero down mortgage” insurance program for first-time homebuyers with good credit. First proposed for his 2005 budget, it was promoted as a tool that would qualify about 150,000 FHA-insured borrowers in the first year alone. The 2006 budget indicated 200,000 potential borrowers would be helped. The plans, which required congressional approval, never got off the ground.

Fannie Mae, the nation’s largest supplier of home mortgage funds, has a popular program for low- and moderate-income homebuyers called Community Home Buyers. Under the program, borrowers may buy with just 3 percent down—with a 2 percent gift from family members, a government program, or nonprofit group—and obtain private mortgage insurance to protect the lender against default. The program is available through participating mortgage lenders and requires that borrowers take a home-buyer education course.

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2013. All rights reserved.

Kitchen Fires Spike during Holidays: Keep Your Family Safe

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(BPT)—During the holidays, more Americans spend time in the kitchen preparing meals for family and friends. That additional kitchen time also means added risk of home fires. In fact, according to claims data from Liberty Mutual Insurance, three times more fires occur on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day than on any other days of the year, yet many Americans aren’t practicing basic kitchen safety.

More than half of Americans plan to cook for family and friends during the holidays, with 42 percent of those cooking for groups of 11 or more, based on findings from a new survey from Liberty Mutual Insurance. However, the majority of people admit to engaging in dangerous cooking behaviors which increase the likelihood of kitchen fires, including leaving cooking food unattended to watch television, talk or text on the phone, or do laundry. Even more concerning is that nearly one-third admit to disabling a smoke alarm while cooking.

These dangerous cooking behaviors not only risk the safety of your loved ones, but can result in significant economic repercussions. In 2011, cooking was involved in an estimated 156,300 home structure fires, and caused 470 deaths, 5,390 injuries and $1 billion in direct property damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

“The hectic nature of entertaining during the holidays makes it easy to overlook even the most basic cooking safety rules,” says Tom Harned, fire safety expert with Liberty Mutual Insurance and Chief Fire Officer in Gilbertsville, Pa.

Harned encourages all home chefs to follow these simple fire-safety tips:

1. Stay in the kitchen. Don’t leave the kitchen when you are frying, broiling or grilling. If you leave the kitchen even for a brief time, be sure to turn off all the burners on the stovetop. Don’t use the stovetop or oven if you are tired or have consumed alcohol or drugs.

2. Set a timer as a reminder that the range or stove is on. Ranges were involved in three of every five home cooking fires in 2011, with ovens accounting for 16 percent of home fires, according to the NFPA. Check your food frequently, and use a timer to remind yourself that the range, stove or oven is on. If you tend to do a lot of cooking, invest in a second or third timer. They’re an inexpensive way to stay safe while ensuring that your holiday dishes do not overcook.

3. Keep anything that can catch on fire away from the stovetop. Pot holders, oven mitts, wooden utensils, paper or plastic bags, food packaging, towels and other flammable objects should be kept a safe distance from the stovetop.

4. Keep a lid or cookie sheet, baking soda and oven mitt nearby when you’re cooking to use in case of a grease fire. Fire extinguisher use without training can cause a grease fire to spread and increase the chances of serious injury.

5. Ensure your smoke alarm is fully functional before the holiday cooking season begins. Install a photoelectric smoke alarm (or one having a hush button feature) that is at least 10 feet away from your kitchen and use the test button to check it each month. Replace the battery at least once per year and never disable a smoke alarm.

“If you’re considering disabling a smoke alarm, think about this: almost two-thirds of home fire deaths occur in homes without working smoke alarms,” says Harned. “In addition to following basic safety rules in the kitchen this holiday season, everyone should have a home fire escape plan with at least two ways out of every room. Practice at least twice a year to ensure the safety of everyone in your home all year long.”

Source: www.LibertyMutual.com/holidaycooking.

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2013. All rights reserved.

The Most Effective Home Upgrades

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Do you know which rooms to upgrade to give you the most bang for your buck? Check out this video and see what works best.

5 Ways to Lighten Holidays for American Servicemen

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Until recently, it was possible to send care packages to U.S. service men and women by addressing the package “To Any Service Member” and sending it via the U.S, Postal Service. Increased mailing restrictions now make that impossible.

But if the holiday spirit moves you to remember service members or their families at holiday time this year, there are many non-profit (501c3) organizations dedicated to helping you do just that – and the donations you make are tax-deductible.

Here are a few suggestions to help get you started:

Operation USO – A visit to the uso.org website will enable you to donate $25 or more, which the USO will use to send care packages of needed and requested items to currently deployed service men and women.

Books for Soldiers – If you sign up at booksforsoldiers.com, you can send requested books, magazines DVDs and more directly to the soldiers who have asked for them.

Operation Wounded Warrior – The organization, which has mailed over 600,000 care packages to deployed service members, now provides Wounded Warrior Care Packages to service members recovering in military hospitals and transition units located on bases throughout the United States. You can start by going to operationgratitude.com.

Operation Shoebox – Donations to this organization pay for the supplies and postage of care packages sent to American troops worldwide. Learn more and get started at operationshoebox.com.

Camp Desert Kids – Through the website at campdesertkids.org, you can make a donation that will be used to pay for a camp experience for the children of service men and women. The camps use games, crafts, and regional food and drink to help teach kids about the place their parents are serving, helping military children to better understand the deployments that shape their lives.

Article written by Barbara Pronin

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2013. All rights reserved.

Four Quick Steps to a Guest-Friendly Home

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By Barbara Pronin

Having extra bodies in your home overnight can be stressful at any time, but house guests for the holidays – when you are already deep into shopping and preparing – can seem like more than you want to take on.

The home and style editors from Better Homes and Gardens offer four do-ahead suggestions that should help to make your guests feel welcomed and comfortable and calm your last-minute jitters about hosting:

Clear the clutter – Keep an eye out for any knick-knacks or furniture you can store in the garage or closet in order to provide extra space for your guests’ luggage and belongings.

Prep the sleeping space – Whether it is a guest bedroom or a pull-out sofa in the den, place a basket nearby with extra linens, a few magazines or books, and a small alarm clock. If your guests will be spending some time on their own, include a map and/or guidebook for the local area. Try to make sure there is adequate reading light, and – somewhere on a small table or dresser top, place a small plant or a vase of fresh flowers with a welcome note propped up against it.

Prep the bathroom – Clean the guest bathroom, or a shared one, thoroughly, and consider replacing a tired-looking shower curtain or towels. Find a spot for a basket containing spare towels and personal items, such as lotion, shampoo, and toothbrush, or other items that might have been forgotten. Plug in a nightlight to help light the way from the sleeping area.

Prep the kitchen – Before your guests arrive, ask them about any food or snack preferences or other items they would like to have on hand. On a tray near the coffeepot, or on a counter, place a selection of coffee, tea and cocoa along with sugar and creamer so your guests don’t need to rummage through the cupboards. You may want to include some cookies or fruit for impromptu snacking anytime the mood strikes.

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2013. All rights reserved.

Foreclosure Rates Down in US

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Another sign that the economy is picking up. Foreclosure rates in July show they are down from the previous year. If you have been on the fence about buying this is a good indicator that prices and interest rates will continue to rise. Now is a great time to buy before that happens.

Simple Tips to Prevent Home Fires

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Deaths from fires and burns are the third-leading cause of fatal home injuries, and Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Michael Consedine has offered five simple ways to prevent home fires.

“Often victims in house fires die from smoke or toxic gases, rather than burns,” Consedine said. “We can all take certain precautions to help prevent these types of tragedies, particularly now as we prepare for colder weather.”

Tip 1 – Give heaters their space

In colder months, heating can be a concern. Portable, electric space heaters need three feet of clear space in all directions. Keep heaters away from draperies, furniture, bedspreads, people and pets. Also, homeowners should have their central heating equipment professionally inspected and serviced each heating season. And if you regularly have logs burning in your fireplace, have your chimney inspected and cleaned annually.

Tip 2 – Stand by your pan

Cooking, particularly stove-top cooking, is the leading cause of home fires. Many such fires happen after residents put something on the stove, but become distracted and forget about it. If you have to leave the kitchen while cooking, turn the heat off the burner.

Tip 3 – Don’t smoke in bed

House fires can occur as smokers lose track of their still-smoldering butts, which then come in contact with flammable surfaces such as couch cushions. Also cigarettes should be doused with water before they are thrown away to make sure they are completely extinguished.

Tip 4 – Check electrical cords and don’t overload your fuse box

Faulty or worn electrical cords are another top cause of home fires. Cords that become frayed or cracked can send sparks to flammable surfaces and start a fire. Check all of your electrical cords to see they are in good shape, and replace those that have deteriorated.

Also, do not overload your circuits. Stick with one plug per receptacle/outlet. Another potential hazard occurs when numerous outlets are wired to a single circuit. You may find that all of the outlets in an entire room are connected to a single circuit. This means that you don’t necessarily have to overload a single outlet to cause a fire.

Tip 5 – Check your smoke alarms

All households should have at least one smoke alarm on each floor and preferably one in every bedroom. New smoke alarms should be installed every ten years. Test the alarm and replace the battery yearly.

Source: Pennsylvania Insurance Department

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2013. All rights reserved.

5 Great Tips for Buying a Home

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With great opportunities abounding in the housing market and historically-low interest rates still intact, consumers can secure record-breaking values on a home purchase, according to New York-based real estate attorney Adam Leitman Bailey.

“Incredible deals are on the market and ready to be made, but only for those buyers who know how to seize them,” says Leitman Bailey, author of the New York Times best-selling book, “Finding The Uncommon Deal” (Jon Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2010). “You can buy your dream home at the price you want if you are just willing to take the necessary steps that will give you an uncommon advantage.”

To help buy a home at the best possible price, Bailey offers his top 5 home buying tips:

  • Do a Credit Check—On Yourself: Check your credit report long before you start shopping for a home, as it may take several months to resolve any mistakes or complications. Challenge negative remarks in your credit report, even if they are debatably true. Under federal law, if the company placing the negative remark on your report does not respond within 30 days, the remark must be removed.
  • Know Your Total Budget: Don’t Home Shop Without It: Your budget includes the total purchase price of your new home, moving costs and your total monthly and annual expenses. Don’t forget to include real estate and local taxes and the policies that affect potential changes in local taxes. Once you know your budget, call lenders to shop for a loan and also learn about the different products available to finance your home.
  • Visit the Neighborhood, Not Just the Home: Everyone and everything in town can potentially provide insight into your prospective neighborhood’s character. It’s always worth spending time and money in local coffee shops and restaurants, and participating in events and entertainment to learn more about the area. Read the community newspapers and supermarket bulletin board postings to gain further understanding of the neighborhood. Be sure to consider factors such as local community crime rates, access to medical facilities, religious venues, and any other considerations that are applicable to your personal preferences.
  • Don’t Be Afraid to Negotiate: Ask the owners of your potential new home for the minimum price they would accept to close the deal. You may be pleasantly surprised by the answer and a deal may not be far off, especially if the property has been sitting on the market. Some items are easier to negotiate than others. If both sides are stuck on the purchase price, ask the seller to include furniture or cosmetic improvements at a certain price. For newly constructed condominiums, ask the seller to pay any taxes involved in the transfer.
  • Hire—and Accompany—the Inspector: Ask for referrals from people who have experienced a satisfactory home inspection or who are intimately involved in the home-buying or -selling process. Cross out waivers and any limitation of liability when signing a contract with an inspector or engineer. Your inspector should be held responsible for missing any major repair items during the inspection. Also, be sure to accompany the inspector on the site visit. You will learn about your potential new home and its structure, as well as important information about the lifespan of its systems and major components. Also, make sure your inspector or engineer checks the big ticket items, which can include the boiler, the roof, and the elevators, if applicable.

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