Gunning Daily News

Simple Tips Keep Clutter at Bay

January 22, 2014 10:24 pm

(Family Features)—If yours is like the average American household, you have amassed a collection of unorganized stuff, tucked away in piles or behind closed doors to deal with "later." Establishing good organization habits and creating proper storage areas can transform that chaos now and set the stage for less mess in the future.

Following are some simple tips to help make your apartment or home clutter-free, and get you started with some new habits to keep disorganization at bay.

1. Don't buy things you don't need. Living clutter-free gives you a better perspective of what you have, so you don't make unnecessary purchases, which can be costly and only add to the clutter in your home. Be wary of accumulating "aspirational clutter"—things you plan to use someday, but never quite get around to using. Though tempting, also avoid freebies and gifts with purchase that you don't really need. Remember, clutter creates more clutter.

2. Create zones. In other words, make a space for everything. Your entryway can become a repository, so sort mail immediately (recycle what you don't need), hang coats rather than draping them on available furniture and use a shoe bin or tray to organize pairs you wear frequently.

In the bedroom closet, use vertical space to create additional storage with organizing units. Wood organizers offer an attractive way to de-clutter with kits and add-on pieces that let you create a customized storage system for your personal needs. A second shoe rack in the closet helps organize shoes you wear less often. In the living room, create specific storage spaces for remotes, blankets, gaming equipment and other items using storage bins and containers that complement your decor.

3. Reset yourself. Every night before you turn in, take a few moments to put things where they belong. This gives you a fresh, stress-free start in the morning and peace of mind knowing where everything you need is located.

4. Turn clutter into cash. Motivate yourself to de-clutter by making money on your unused and unwanted possessions. You can sell gently used clothing to local consignment shops, or donate to Goodwill, Salvation Army or another nonprofit organization. Remember to get a donation receipt, because you may be able to take a tax deduction.


7 Tax Moves to Make Now

January 22, 2014 10:24 pm

Even before you file your 2013 tax returns, say MarketWatch finance experts, you should be thinking about tax moves you can make right now to keep you organized and prepared for the next tax year:

  • Set up your 2014 tax file – Label an expandable file, so you have a specific place to store your 2014 records and receipts. The sooner you start filing them away, the less likely you are to be frantically searching when tax time rolls around again.
  • Set up your 2014 tax calendar – Individuals can use IRS Publication 509 to pinpoint quarterly tax and other deadlines for the year. (Businesses can refer to the IRS Small Business Calendar showing the 2014 due dates.)
  • Update your address – If you moved during 2013, update your address with everyone who may be sending you tax-related documents: Former employers, banks, lenders, brokerages, the IRS and your state tax agency, plus clients, investments, trusts, and the like. Homeowners using a P.O. Box or other address to receive mail should also do something to establish your home address as your principal residence, such as update voter registration or driver’s license address.
  • Update name changes – New brides generally remember to change their names on driver’s licenses and paychecks, but often forget to notify the Social Security Administration. You won’t be able to e-file your tax return with your new name if it doesn’t match the Social Security Record.
  • Get Social Security Numbers – Did you have a new baby in 2013? Did your spouse get a Green card? File applications for their ID numbers now. It can take months to get them issued.
  • Get a special IRS PIN – Tax identity theft was a huge problem last year. Were you a victim? Contact the IRS and have them issue you a special IP PIN (identity protection personal identification number). Notifying the IRS about an identity theft will flag your account. Once the IP PIN is issued to you, no one will be able to file a tax return under your Social Security Number and generate a phony refund.
  • File a new W-4 with your employer. – Update your withholding so you don’t find yourself short next year – or with more of a refund than necessary. Use the IRS withholding calculator to determine the correct amount to withhold.

Word of the Day

January 22, 2014 10:24 pm

Contingency. A provision in a contract that keeps it from becoming binding until a certain event happens. A satisfactory inspection report might be a contingency.

Q: What Is Seller Financing?

January 22, 2014 10:24 pm

A: Also known as a purchase money mortgage, it is when the seller agrees to “lend” money to the buyer to purchase and close on the seller’s home. Usually sellers do this when money is tight, interest rates are high or when a buyer has difficulty qualifying for a conventional loan or meeting the purchase price.

Seller financing differs from a traditional loan because the seller does not actually give the buyer cash to complete the purchase, as does the lender. Instead, it involves issuing a credit against the purchase price of the home. The buyer executes a promissory note or trust deed in the seller's favor.  

7 Tips for Protecting Your Identity & Money

January 21, 2014 6:33 pm

At least 110 million consumers were affected by a recent hack involving Target and Neiman Marcus retailers. Whether or not millions more will have their identities manipulated and finances ruined within the coming months due to more breaches of security at other stores is anyone’s guess, says identity theft recovery expert Scott A. Merritt.

“By necessity, I became an expert on identity theft. My information was stolen in 2006, and in repairing the damage, I learned some not-so-obvious ways we can all protect against identity theft in the first place,” says Merritt, CEO of Merritt & Associates ( and author of  "Identity Theft Do's and Don'ts."

Merritt’s problems began quickly. While disputing financial charges and dealing with resulting business problems, in 2007 he was stopped for a traffic violation and arrested on a false outstanding felony warrant. He immediately knew why.

“I had to enlist my U.S. congressman and convince the state police, NCIC, FBI and Secret Service that I didn’t commit the felonies. For a few years, I had to prove that the prints did not match the false record in question. After legal action, however, I was able to have this corrected.”

Unfortunately, the millions affected by the recent hacks may be dealing with similar repercussions in the years ahead, he says.

Before you become a victim of identity theft, Merritt offers seven ways to guard against it.

• Understand how and where it happens. Identity theft is like being robbed when you are away from home; most thefts occur in places where you do business every day. Either a place of business is robbed, a bad employee acts improperly or a hacker breaches the office through the computer.

• Secure your wallet’s information. Photocopy everything in your wallet: photos, credit cards (front and back), membership cards—everything. Put the copies in the order the cards are arranged in your wallet, staple the pictures and place them in a strong box or safe.

• Make sure your information is consistent. For all of your identity and financial documents, make absolutely sure, to the smallest detail, that all of your personal information is accurate and consistent! Discrepancies such as using your middle initial on some documents, and not others, or having different addresses, can wreak havoc in proving your identity, and can compromise your credit score.

• Secure your digital habits and data. Change your passwords at least twice a year on a non-scheduled basis—don’t be predictable. Have a strong firewall if you shop online, and only access sites that are protected by a strong firewall and high industry standards. Access accounts of a financial nature only from your personal computer.

• Protect your banking information. While in the bank, keep account numbers and other data out of sight, and avoid stating account numbers, Social Security numbers and similar information out loud. When planning a bank visit, have items such as deposits and withdrawal slips prepared in advance.

• Account for your interactions with vendors. Every time you speak to someone with whom you do business, write down the time, date, name and the purpose or outcome of the call. If an identity theft occurs on the vendor’s end, you will be able to reference these prior conversations effectively. Be sure to note any animosity or reluctance from the vendor.

• Don’t carry around your birth certificate or Social Security card. Unless it’s necessary, keep those vital items in a safe, or at least a firebox. If you know someone is going to need a copy of your tax returns or your driver’s license, for example, make the copies ahead of time. This avoids the need for a firm’s employee to leave the room with such information.

“Of course, you can greatly reduce being a victim of such recent hacks that occurred at the major retailers by using cash more often,” he says. “But if you’re going to use credit, use a card from a national bank or a national credit union and never a debit card, no exceptions.”

Protect Yourself from Mortgage Abuse

January 21, 2014 6:33 pm

In this report, I will pick up where I left off: reviewing details from the Connecticut Public Interest Research Group - ConnPIRG - about new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) rules that just went into effect to help protect homeowners and homebuyers from mortgage abuses.

ConnPIRG is a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization that takes on powerful interests on behalf of its members. As a founding member of the coalition Americans for Financial Reform, ConnPIRG helped lead the fight to establish the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Abe Scarr, ConnPIRG Director said in addition to the CFPB's new rules protecting homebuyers and homeowners, the agency has released a variety of self-help tools so consumers can protect themselves.

Scarr says with these new rules and tools, consumers will have a better chance to protect themselves against unfair practices in the mortgage marketplace, whether they are buying a new home or already living in it.   

The new mortgage guidelines are part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which was enacted after the mortgage market collapsed and millions of consumers lost their homes, according to the ConnPIRG release. It is the first federal financial regulator with just one job: protecting consumers.

It has jurisdiction over both banks and non-banks, so it protects consumers no matter where they shop. Among numerous other achievements, it has already ordered big credit card companies to refund nearly $800 million to consumers for unfair practices.

The CFPB’s new tools will help consumers:

  • File a mortgage complaint
  • Find a housing counselor in their area
  • Get answers to mortgage-related questions
  • Read tips for homebuyers and homeowners
  • Download a guide for housing counselors

We'll be taking a closer look at specific services and issues covered under the newly enacted CFPB mortgage rules in future reports. In the meantime, get more information and access the consumer toolkit of links, including a way to ask questions directly to the CFPB by clicking here. 

Word of the Day

January 21, 2014 6:33 pm

Comparables. Properties similar to a specific piece of property that are used to help estimate the value of that property.

Q: What Is Amortization and Negative Amortization?

January 21, 2014 6:33 pm

A: When you amortize a loan you basically pay off the principal by making regular installment payments. This typically takes place gradually over several years.

Negative amortization is when the mortgage payment is smaller than the interest that is due, which causes the loan balance to increase rather than decrease. Negative amortization only happens with adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) with certain features, including an initial payment that does not cover the interest due, a feature that is supposed to increase the affordability of the loan.

With negative amortization, a persistent rise in interest rates reduces the equity in the house unless the negative amortization is offset by house appreciation.

Negative amortization has to be repaid, which means your payment will rise in the future. The larger the negative amortization, the more you will be required to amortize the loan in full.

Get to Know New Consumer Protections on Mortgages

January 20, 2014 9:42 pm

I received some very important information issued through the Connecticut Public Interest Research Group - ConnPIRG - which is one of a network of these nonprofit consumer agencies operating across the country.

ConnPIRG issued a notice that new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) rules are now in effect that will help protect homeowners and homebuyers from the mortgage abuses they say led to the housing crisis.

In particular, ConnPIRG says consumers will get protections from lenders that make risky loans without checking a borrower’s income, assets, or ability to repay a loan. In the next two segments, we will review the highlights of these new policies, and how they can help mortgage seekers.

The new mortgage guidelines are part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which was enacted after the mortgage market collapsed and millions of consumers lost their homes, according to the ConnPIRG release.

Abe Scarr, ConnPIRG Director said the CFPB is getting results for consumers - the new rules are designed to help people safely buy affordable homes, and then to keep them.

Among the highlights of the CFPB’s new rules are the following:

  • Consumers will get more information and more protection when shopping for a loan and during home ownership.
  • Lenders will be required to make a “good faith, reasonable effort” to make sure you can repay your loan.
  • Loan officers and brokers will now have to follow rules that protect consumers from conflicts of interest.
  • Consumers will receive periodic mortgage statement that put important information about monthly payments in one place.
  • Servicers must, under certain circumstances, reach out to borrowers having trouble making mortgage payments and help them apply for the options available to them to avoid foreclosure.

Check out our next segment, where we'll examine the CFPB's new toolkit for consumers, to help them take advantage of new mortgage protections. Also, get more information about the new law here. 

5 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score

January 20, 2014 9:42 pm

Low credit scores result in higher interest charges. Borrowers with a FICO credit score of 700 save an average of $648 in interest on their credit card, $1,392 on their car loan, and $2,340 on their mortgage each year, compared with borrowers who have scores below 620, according to a study by, a credit-card comparison website.

For consumers willing to scale back on credit card usage, says the Wall St. Journal, there are five sure strategies for boosting your credit score:

Pay down credit card debt – Borrowers with the best credit scores use an average of seven percent of their total credit-card limit. Borrowers who surpass 10 percent of their credit limit will see their FICO score drop, even if they make monthly payments on time. Ideally, you should pay off your balance each month. If you carry a balance, put the card away and pay off the balance as soon as possible. A stop-gap option is to ask your creditor to increase your spending limit, which could increase your overall credit score.

Convert credit card debt to a personal loan – Credit-card debt is more damaging to credit scores than a personal loan, which is considered installment debt. That’s because the credit-utilization ratio does not take installment debt into account. Also, a personal loan will likely have a lower interest rate. So converting the debt to a personal loan, and paying it off efficiently, makes sense – but only if you stop using the credit card until the loan is paid.

Be selective about accelerating payments – For the same reason, consumers looking to improve their credit score should pay off credit card debt first, rather than student loans or other kinds of debt.

Check credit scores regularly – One in three consumers has errors in at least one of their credit reports (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.) Errors can send your score plunging. Get a copy of your credit report for free every year from If you spot errors, contact the credit bureaus, which are legally required to respond within 30 to 45 days.

Pay on time – the quickest way to harm your credit score is to miss a payment. Late payments can stay on your credit report for seven years, so the first rule in improving scores is to pay on time each month.