Gunning Daily News

Q: What factors should determine whether I decide to move or remodel?

December 27, 2013 4:36 pm

A: Your personal needs, preferences and finances are all factors. If you’ve lived in your home awhile and prefer to stay in your school district or neighborhood, improving your existing space may work best for you. If a second bathroom is what you desire, it may also be cheaper to convert existing space than to relocate to another home. According to the American Homeowner Foundation, you can expect to spend 8-10 percent of your current home’s value when you move. Ask yourself if that money could be better spent on a remodeling project instead. Chances are you’d increase your home’s value, derive more pleasure from your home than you did previously, and save yourself the time, expense and headache of a move.


A Resolution You Can Keep All Year: The One-Day Identity Checkup

December 27, 2013 3:36 pm

(BPT) - Exercise. Lose the weight. Answer every incoming email.

Those are the hard kinds of New Year's resolutions, because you have to think about them every day for the rest of the year. Many are forgotten long before Valentine's Day.

But here's one important resolution, one you can fulfill today and easily keep all year: protect your identity.

Identity theft is a fast-growing crime, but there are ways to reduce your chances of being a victim. The identity theft protection experts at LifeLock recommend doing these five quick things today to help keep your identity safer all year long:

Use safe passwords

Are you among the people who use simple passwords like "123456" or "qwerty" or "abc123" to protect your personal information? Or even the word "password" itself? Many people do, so identity thieves can often break in just by trying the most popular passwords.

To create a safer password, avoid using words that are in the dictionary. And stay away from your own personal information, like a nickname, pet's name or birthdate. One option is to come up with a memorable phrase that includes numbers and symbols, and use the first letter of each word. "My Tigers are Number One in Football!" might become "MTaN1iF!" - a good example because it uses capital letters, lower-case letters, a number and a symbol.

Use multiple passwords

Stop using the same password for every account. Several big companies and websites have recently had their users' personal information stolen by hackers. If your password for one site is compromised, and you use the same password for your bank and credit accounts, it's much easier for a thief to get into all of them.

At least have a different password for each account that has personal or financial information. And consider using a password-management program, which lets you set more cryptic passwords for each site you visit and control them with one master password.

Stash that Social Security card

Do you carry your Social Security card in your purse or wallet? Don't.

You may, on a rare occasion, need to show a Social Security card to an employer or a government agency. Aside from those days, keep it locked up in a safe place. Your Social Security number is a thief's ticket to everything from opening new accounts in your name to stealing your tax refund. Don't run the risk of losing it.

Protect your mail

Do your bank statements, credit card bills and utility invoices arrive by mail? If your mailbox is outside your house, thieves can take those bills and collect personal information that helps them steal your identity. And once those documents are in your house and no longer needed, they can be stolen from a trash can or recycling bin.

First, if your mail is delivered outside your home, install a locked mailbox. And use a shredder, or the shredding services offered by local shipping stores and some credit unions, to destroy documents once they're no longer needed.

But you can also take steps to keep that paperwork from ever arriving at your home in the first place. Have bills sent to you electronically; you'll get them by email, save paper, reduce clutter and never have to worry about stolen mail or shredding. Opt out of credit card and insurance offers by visiting www.optoutprescreen.com. And dramatically reduce the amount of unsolicited mail you receive by opting out of junk mail at www.dmachoice.org.

Be prepared for a loss

If your wallet or purse is stolen, you'll want to cancel all of your credit and debit cards before they can be misused. Keep a copy of each of your cards, or use a digital wallet program like LifeLock Wallet, which is available for your smartphone from the iOS and Android app stores. It gives you instant access to copies of your cards and also helps you track your balances, monitor transactions and cancel cards that are lost or stolen.

Do these things today and you can proudly declare that you'll keep at least one New Year's resolution all year long: Protecting your identity.

Source: www.LifeLock.com/education.


Stretching Your Ski Vacation Dollar

December 27, 2013 3:36 pm

(BPT) - With the Olympics right around the corner, skiing is on a lot of people's minds. While ski trips can get pricey quickly, there are ways to give your budget a lift.

"It's not unusual for 'ski vacation' to be synonymous with 'expensive getaway,'" says Jeanenne Tornatore, senior editor for the travel booking website Orbitz.com. "But it doesn't have to be that way. These seven simple tips and tricks can stretch your dollar and get you slopeside for a fraction of the price."

  • Borrow your ski equipment. One of the big expenses of a ski vacation - especially for new skiers - can be gearing up. Tap friends and family to borrow ski gear for your trip - from coats and ski pants to ski boots and snowboards.
  • Travel's new rule: Pack light. Most airlines let you travel with a ski bag as one of your checked bags. Just be conscious of the weight allowance and take as much as you can in a carry-on bag to avoid extra fees.
  • Choose an easily reachable resort. Flying into smaller airports can mean heftier prices and inconvenient connections. Look for ski resorts that are within close proximity of major airports where there is more airline competition. Ski destinations like Keystone and Breckenridge are both family-friendly and an easy drive or shuttle ride from Denver International Airport.
  • Stay in a vacation rental. Large ski areas have plenty of lodging options aside from hotels. From condos, cabins and private homes, vacation rentals are a great alternative, especially for large groups and families. Vacation rentals typically go for a flat daily or weekly fee, so the more people you invite, the less it will cost per person.
  • Location, location, location. While slopeside hotels let you walk out your door and hop on the lift, opting for lodging a little farther from the mountain can save you cash. And most ski resorts offer free shuttle services with stops throughout town, so getting to the lifts is not a hassle.
  • Discount lift tickets. If you're a student or a senior, be sure to bring identification to take advantage of any discounts available. And for those who enjoy sleeping in, you can opt for half-day or evening lift tickets that are discounted compared to full-day passes.
  • Timing is everything. Many travelers end up paying too much for a ski vacation simply because they choose to vacation when everyone else does. In general, lift tickets and lodging will be most expensive over Christmas and New Year's, MLK weekend, the President's Day holiday and spring break during the month of March. Prices are relatively low in the early season, which occurs November through mid-December. They will often drop again in April, after spring break. The month of January is perhaps one of the best-kept secrets to skiing on a budget. After the December holidays, you'll find plenty of snow without the crowds, typically resulting in lower lodging rates.

Small Room, Big Difference

December 27, 2013 3:36 pm

(Family Features)--Food and beverage containers, glass, newspapers and other paper items are commonly recycled in households across the nation. But outside the kitchen, living room or office, where many of these items are found, there are other areas where you can find unexpected opportunities to recycle -like the bathroom.

While 7 out of 10 Americans say they always or almost always recycle, only 1 in 5 consistently recycles bathroom items, according to a report commissioned by the Johnson & Johnson Family of Consumer Companies.

"Because many of our personal care products are used or stored in the bathroom, we wanted to understand if Americans are recycling there," says Paulette Frank, Vice President of Sustainability for the Johnson & Johnson Family of Consumer Companies.

The study further revealed that 40 percent of Americans don't recycle any bathroom items at all. Among the reasons cited, 22 percent reported they had never thought about recycling in the bathroom and 20 percent didn't even know that products in the bathroom are recyclable.

"We saw an opportunity to help reduce waste going to landfills by educating people about the recyclable items they use in the bathroom," Frank said. "We created the Care to Recycle(r) campaign to be a gentle reminder to recycle empty containers from the bathroom rather than throwing them in the trash."

Here is some helpful information about which common bathroom items can be recycled:

  • Plastic bottles marked No. 1 (PET) or No. 2 (HDPE) containing products such as shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotion, baby powder, face cleanser and body oil are recyclable in most communities.
  • Plastics marked No. 4 (LDPE) and No. 5 (PP) are recyclable but may not be accepted for recycling via curbside programs. Check with your municipality and the Care to Recycle(r) locator developed in partnership with Earth911.
  • Paperboard items such as toilet paper rolls, cardboard boxes and cartons for things like medicine, lotions, soap, bandages, etc. can all be recycled in most communities.

Source: Johnson & Johnson


Word of the Day

December 27, 2013 3:36 pm

Common elements. Parts of a condominium, cooperative, or private home association shared by all residents, so that each unit owner holds an undivided interest in, for example, the hallways, parking facilities, or swimming pool.


Q: What do zoning regulations do?

December 27, 2013 3:36 pm

A: Zoning is the government’s way of controlling the physical development of land and the kinds of uses to which each individual property may be put.

Zoning regulations establish how the land can be used, either for residential, industrial, commercial, or recreational purposes – although they also can allow for more than one use in a given jurisdiction.

Designed to protect you, your neighbors, and the community from undesirable, or inappropriate, land uses and/or construction, zoning laws in many communities can be very rigid and inflexible.

On the other hand, they can protect your property value and give you a piece of mind. This is particularly true in instances where the community debates whether to locate a prison in your neighborhood or a neighbor illegally builds a second story onto his home that blocks your view of the lake or mountains.


What Is a Postnup? Do You Need One?

December 26, 2013 12:18 pm

Prenups are pretty common nowadays, but what is a postnup? Unlike prenups, which are entered into before a marriage, postnuptial agreements are signed after the wedding has taken place.

Even if you're happily married, a postnup can be a good financial tool that can help smooth out money-related tensions in a relationship.

Since financial disagreements tend to cause heartache, postnups could be the key a happy marriage.

What Is a Postnup?

A postnup is a legal document that's signed by the couple after they're married. This legal instrument details the couple's marital property and what would happen to those assets if they divorced or separated.

According to NBC's "Today," money is often cited as one of the top reasons for unhappiness in a marriage. However, the process of putting together a postnup can actually alleviate some of that financial tension. This is because postnups can, for example:

  • Help determine which spouse owns which assets,
  • Provide some groundwork for how to negotiate probate issues, or
  • Specify that one spouse's student loan debts aren't joint marital debts.

It's recommended that each individual spouse seek out his or her own attorney when drafting a postnup. It's also ideal to have a "neutral" third lawyer look over the agreement.

Can a Postnup Help Your Marriage?

Postnups can potentially help save a marriage, and indeed many postnups are executed when couples are nearing their breaking point.

In fact, the mediation process of sitting down and analyzing your joint financial issues can be therapeutic. Case in point: CNN once reported on a couple who had been through several marriage counselors over their financial burdens with no avail. Then they learned about postnuptial agreements and each retained an attorney to hash out their concerns. In the end, they came up with a solid plan that both parties agreed to, and it saved their marriage.

Source: Findlaw.com 


Financially Fit: 5 Steps to Get a Handle on Your Credit

December 26, 2013 12:18 pm

(BPT)—After countless hours spent holiday shopping, you finally finished. Now, you're faced with the credit card payments as you roll into the new year. While it may have been difficult to keep your finances - particularly your credit cards - top of mind amid the dash from store to store, those payments aren't going anywhere.

Managing your credit can seem like a daunting task—but it doesn't have to be. Even if you've blown your budget and maxed out your cards, you can still take control of your credit and become financially fit in 2014.

Here are five things you should do right now to help get your credit back on track and sustain your financial reputation all year long:

Review your credit report. Start with taking a comprehensive look at what's there, good and bad. Make sure you thoroughly review your report for any errors or mistakes, especially after the holidays. Tools like AnnualCreditReport.com let you check your report annually for free. It's also a good idea to check your credit score to see if it's dropped and to give you a basis for comparison moving forward. Resources such as Credit.com allow you to easily pull your score.

Know what you owe. Tally up those balances and determine your debt to credit ratio - that is, the amount of money you owe on your cards versus your available credit, which accounts for approximately 30 percent of your credit score. If you're using more than half of your available credit, this will likely lower your credit score. This means that if you have three credit cards with a combined limit of $10,000, your total balance should be below $5,000.

Be sure to pay your bills on time and at more than the monthly minimum. Sure, it's intuitive, but simply paying your bills on time accounts for about 35 percent of your credit score. Start with your holiday shopping bills and make sure that at least the minimum required balance is paid - even if you can't pay them in full.- Also, pay more than the minimum payment every month to pay down your balance faster and decrease interest charges.

Pay off the card with the highest interest rate first. These are the cards that are costing you the most, so paying them off ahead of a card with a lower interest rate will save you more money in the long run.

Keep your cards open. Unless you have a compelling reason to close a card - for instance, if you're paying a large fee on it - it's best not to close credit cards, especially ones where you have a long positive payment history. When closing a card, not only can your debt to credit ratio increase, you also end up losing the history associated with the card and change the mix of your credit, which could negatively impact your score. And, in the future, do your research before signing on that dotted line. It may have been tempting to open up a retail store credit card to save 15 percent on a recent purchase, but those savings are now ultimately going to end up on your billing statement as interest. Instead, look for a card that works with your lifestyle. Review your options and find a card with a great rewards program and the lowest interest rate possible.

Source: BetterMoneyHabits.com 


Homeowners Consumer Center Updates 'Chinese Drywall' Warnings

December 23, 2013 6:54 pm

A recent visit to the Homeowners Consumer Center (homeownersconsumercenter.com) website revealed a recent reminder for homeowners about the continuing issues related to "Chinese drywall."

Before you purchase a home in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Southeast Texas, or Virginia, the Center is advising to make sure you have the home checked for toxic Chinese drywall by a qualified building inspector. The time frame of concern should be if the house was built or renovated between 2000 and early 2009.

The Center's pointed advice is: "Do Not Purchase a Home That Is Known to Have Toxic Chinese Drywall."

Homeowners who suspect they might have the toxic Chinese drywall in their home should check the copper coils on their air conditioning units. If the AC copper coils have turned black, or a grayish black they should contact the Chinese Drywall Complaint Center at 866-714-6466.

Homeowners, building owners, or occupants in the US Southeast may have noticed corroded, or black electrical wiring in their walls in properties built, or remodeled since 2000. Many homeowners who have the toxic Chinese drywall in their home might have copper ground wires in the electrical receptacles that have turned black in the US South.

Homeowners who suspect their home may have the Chinese drywall can remove electrical receptacle plates to see if the copper ground wire has turned black. If a homeowner in any state sees this, they should also call the Chinese Drywall Complaint Center immediately.

According to the Center, Toxic Chinese Drywall Symptoms also include:

  • Oven, or stove elements, or refrigerator coils may have failed in the homes, or condominiums a number of times.
  • The Homeowners Consumer Center has also discovered that computer, TV sets, radios, DVD players, smoke detectors microwave information display panels may have failed in homes, where the toxic Chinese drywall is present.
  • Light bulbs in homes with toxic Chinese drywall may burn out at a much faster rate than specified by the manufacturer.

The Homeowners Consumer Center is part of AmericasWatchdog, a national consumer advocacy group focused on consumer protection and corporate fair play. To learn more, visit: AmericasWatchdog.com 


Looking for a New You in the New Year?

December 23, 2013 6:54 pm

In January, the job search websites go crazy as people start the new year resolved to find work that’s more satisfying.

“While thousands of people are dealing with the tragedy of unemployment, many others are looking for jobs that are more fulfilling than the ones they have,” says attorney and author Pamela Samuels Young.

In January 2013, job search website Indeed.com had a record 17.3 million unique visitors—a 24-percent jump, and January 2014 will likely see a similar increase. Many of those job seekers won’t be looking for just a job, but one they’re passionate about.

“It’s great if your day job is your passion,” Young says. “But if it’s not, you don’t have to give up a position that pays the bills in order to pursue your dream. You can do both.”

Since 2006, Young has pursued her passion—writing legal thrillers—as well as her day job as Managing Counsel for Labor and Employment Law for Toyota Motors Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

“I enjoy practicing law and I didn’t want to leave Toyota, nor could I afford to. But I also had a burning desire to write mystery novels,” says Young. She recently released her sixth novel, “Anybody’s Daughter.” Described by Kirkus Reviews as a "fast-paced, well-written thriller that's grounded in social issues."

“I’ve always believed that if you have a dream, you should formulate a plan and make it happen. So that’s what I did.”

Young’s plan included rising at 4 a.m. to squeeze in some writing time before heading off to work, and turning weekends and vacation time into creation time.

“Sometimes it’s hard to believe that I’ve published six novels, while still practicing law,” she says. “The hard work and commitment have definitely paid off.”

Young offers these tips for busy professionals itching to pursue their own passions.

• Schedule time to devote to your passion. “On my calendar, you’ll find a few hours or full days blocked out as ‘Writing Time’ every week,” Young says. “You have to schedule time for your passion. If you don’t, the day-to-day demands of life will get in the way.”

• Put “passion” time ahead of “pleasure” time.  If you’re working full-time and pursuing another “job,” you won’t have a lot of free time. “You’ll have to cut back on watching television, socializing with friends and even family time,” Young says. “Explain your goals to friends and family. People who have your best interests at heart will support you. “But do take an occasional break to relax.  Otherwise, you’ll burn yourself out by working around the clock.”

• Learn from others. Surround yourself with people who share your passion. Sign up for newsletters, read books and join communities of other like-minded people, Young says. “There are tons of professional groups whose sole function is to help their members develop their creative talents and business goals.” Young is a diehard member of Sisters in Crime, an organization that promotes the advancement of women mystery writers. “Not only will you get energy and inspiration from networking with others, you’ll grow.”

• Don’t put your day job on the backburner. Young says it’s important to give your day job 100 percent. “I never want my co-workers to think I’m phoning it in because I also have a writing career.” That attitude has paid off. “I have a strong support system at work. My co-workers read my books, critique my manuscripts and come to book signings.” Many of the people Young thanks in the Acknowledgements in each of her books are co-workers. Her fourth novel is even dedicated to another Toyota attorney.

“Don’t just dream about pursuing your passion,” Young says, “make it happen!”