Gunning Daily News

Word of the Day

August 9, 2013 8:24 pm

Encroachment. A building or other improvement that extends beyond its boundary and intrudes upon the property of another.


Simple Ways to Improve Personal Finances

August 9, 2013 6:54 pm

(Family Features)--As more Americans make strides towards responsible spending and debt management, there are still ways to improve the control of family finances.

According to a survey recently conducted by Bank of America, which asked respondents about their credit card usage, balance and rewards, less than half of cardholders always pay their entire credit card balance. With more than half of individuals carrying credit card debt, Jason Gaughan, card products executive for Bank of America, said to think about personal spending before taking on a credit card.

"Credit cards provide consumers an efficient and protected way to make purchases," says Gaughan. "They are more convenient than cash and they are incredibly useful in an emergency. The key to successfully managing your credit card account is to understand your budget and stick to a plan that works for you when borrowing. You want a card with a rewards program that fits your lifestyle and how you manage your finances. If you typically carry a balance, look for a card that has low interest and reinforces good payment practices."

Along with these practices, there are other ways to promote good spending and personal finance habits, such as:

Limit Number of Credit Cards
According to the survey, three out of 10 respondents carried four or more credit cards. Limiting the number of cards you own can help limit your spending and increase the likelihood you can pay above the minimum balance. Before you start cutting up your plastic, remember having more than one credit card can have merits. If you need money for an emergency, the immediate buying power of a credit card can be a lifesaver. Try a card with no annual fee and a generous credit line to cover unexpected expenses. One idea is to have three cards: one in a safe place at home for emergencies and two with you at all times.

Reap the Rewards
With so many rewards programs available for credit card holders, it's important to do your homework so you can cash in on things your family really needs. While some credit cards will offer rewards to use at your favorite hotels and airlines, others will give you special discounts for the purchases you make on a frequent basis. The most popular of these programs is cash back for spending. Some cards let you earn more cash back where you spend the most money, like gas stations and grocery stores. 

Track Spending Habits
Now—if you've been lax about keeping track of your spending, take the first step towards tracking as soon as possible. Include info on where you spend, when you spend and how much you spend. Making note of all of those little purchases—a cup of coffee here or a gift store trinket there—will help you see how quickly they add up. Whether you're the old-fashioned, pen-and-paper type, or if you prefer a more modern, digital form of tracking, the importance is in the act itself.

Evaluate All Debts
Many carry debts beyond credit cards, including student loans, car payments and mortgages. While some may consider these types as necessary debts, it is important to keep track of the balance due for each as well as the interest rate you are paying. According to the survey, when respondents were asked what they would do with $1,000, nearly half (44 percent) revealed they would pay off debt. Evaluate your debts and decide which ones have the highest interest rates. Making it a priority to pay down these debts first will save you more money in the long run.

Create a Budget
It's never too soon to put yourself in control of your money and stop letting it control you. A budget will give you financial peace of mind and it can help you stretch the income you have. First, write down the financial goals you want to achieve in the next few years and the ones you want to accomplish for the long term. Then, gather all of the purchasing information for the household and categorize each type of spending. Divide your expenses into fixed expenses (those that stay the same from month to month, such as a mortgage payment or cable television bill) and variable ones (those that may change, such as fuel bills or entertainment). Be sure to also set aside some money for personal savings and an emergency fund. Once you've calculated your income and expenses a month ahead of time and set your budget, you can focus on the most important part -- adhering to the plan. Find ways to decrease spending. Adopt just one new way of trimming expenses each week and you'll find your overhead shrinking fast. Though you may not be on-point every month, the simple act of tracking and communicating your family's finances will be a huge step forward in your quest towards responsible spending.

Source: www.bankofamerica.com/creditcard.

 


Got Rentals? Relocation Renters May Be a Viable Option

August 8, 2013 10:48 pm

These days, I am hearing about all the great benefits of owning rental property. But it’s not just about having available rental property, it’s about having rental space in the best possible location.

Ron Johnsey, who tracks relocation trends with Axiometrics (axiometrics.com) recently blogged that when it comes to determining the best place to buy and/or own an apartment property, it is important to examine the area’s economic and demographic variables such as job growth, net domestic migration and population trends, education, income levels and apartment market fundamentals.

Johnsey refers to recent Apartment Guide research that he believes can complement U.S. Census Bureau data on net domestic migration trends by better identifying in which markets the relocations are occurring.

In its recent research, Johnsey says Apartment Guide provided a comprehensive list of top-searched sister metros - where people most often move from and where they move to - as well as the top-searched MSAs.

The top searched markets in order were Los Angeles; Washington D.C.; Dallas; Houston; Atlanta; New York City; Miami; Chicago; Phoenix; and Philadelphia.

Apartment Guide developed its report from internal search data from May 2013 to determine the top sister metros, while U.S. Census Bureau data was used to identify common reasons for the moves.

Reasons for relocation included:

1. Family-related reasons

  • 6.3 percent move due to change in marital status
  • 10.7 percent move to establish own household
  • 12.3 percent move due to other family reasons

2. Job-related reasons

  • 9.5 percent move due to new job or job transfer
  • 1.8 percent move to look for work or lost their job
  • 5.5 percent move to be closer to work/easier commute
  • 2.1 percent move for another job-related reason

Advice for Small Businesses Ready to Hire First Employee

August 8, 2013 10:48 pm

BPT—For small-business owners, hiring a first employee is a significant milestone—one that directly affects the company's growth, future success and culture. Hiring staff means enhancing your business' ability to grow, but it also presents unique challenges.

From affirming that the person you hire has the credentials to do the job and is the right personality fit for your organization, to ensuring you don't run afoul of payroll taxes, workers' compensation and other legal requirements, making that first hire requires a lot of preparation. When you're getting ready to make that first all-important hire, keep some guidelines in mind:

Understand costs

You hire a first employee to help your business grow, but the costs associated with that growth can be significant. It's important to weigh carefully the benefits of hiring against the related costs. According to the Small Business Association, these can include:

  • Wages and taxes, including unemployment, Medicare and Social Security taxes
  • Workers compensation insurance
  • Recruiting and training expenses
  • Benefits
  • Payroll management
  • Equipment, including software licenses and data plans, to help an employee do his or her job

Seeking candidates

Finding the right employee for your small business can also be a challenge. While professional hiring services can do the legwork for you, most small-business owners manage the hiring process themselves. You'll need to consider where to advertise for candidates, what professional requirements you'll want them to meet, what wage you'll offer and how you'll handle the interview process.

Another critical component to consider is fit. A comprehensive pre-employment screening can help you make better hiring decisions. In addition to reviewing candidates' resumes and references, your screening may include a background check, drug screening, behavioral assessments and skills testing.

Prepare for payroll

No one works for love alone. Your new employee will expect to be paid on time each pay period with the appropriate amount of withholdings taken out of his or her check. Managing payroll, however, can be costly and time-consuming; a small business with 10 or fewer employees may spend up to $2,600 per year on direct labor for payroll, according to SurePayroll. What's more, if you don't know or understand tax laws and requirements, you could find your company facing IRS penalties.

In the past, outsourcing payroll wasn't always a practical option for small businesses with just one or two employees. Today, you can find online services that can help small business owners manage their own payroll affordably, accurately and efficiently by paying employees and paying and filing payroll taxes. These services handle all the calculations for paying employees; calculating, paying and filing federal, state and local payroll taxes anywhere in the country; and notifying tax authorities of new hires. Mobile payroll apps also allow owners to run payroll on the go anytime, anywhere.

Next steps after hiring

In addition to completing necessary payroll tax forms, benefit enrollment forms and employee information files, you'll need to complete a New Hire Reporting form that helps state and federal agencies track down parents in regard to child support payments.

You'll also need to set up a storage system; the IRS requires all companies keep employment tax records for at least four years. Additional post-hiring tasks will include:

  • Verifying an employee's eligibility to work. Federal law requires employers to verify that an employee can legally work in the U.S. You'll need to complete and submit an Employment Eligibility Verification Form within three days of making a hire.
  • Fulfill your obligations under your state's new hire reporting program. Federal law requires all employers to report all new hires to the state within 20 days of hiring.
  • Secure workers' compensation insurance.
  • Establish a bookkeeping system.

Hiring that first employee can be exciting and challenging. Fortunately, with some planning and the help of online tools, you can ensure the hiring process goes smoothly, and each worker who joins your team contributes to your business' continued growth.

Source: www.SurePayroll.com


Six Surprising Home Hazards

August 8, 2013 10:48 pm

You might think home fires are due to someone leaving the oven running or the coffee pot on. However, an alarming number of appliance fires are caused by the units themselves as opposed to human error. The September 2013 issue of ShopSmart magazine, from Consumer Reports, indentifies six appliances that cause the most fires and tips on how to minimize the risk.

"It was shocking to learn that appliances can turn themselves on or suddenly short-circuit and go up in flames," says Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart. "So it's important to learn the signs of trouble and know what to do if you have to deal with an appliance fire."

ShopSmart analyzed data from the National Fire Incident Reporting System from 2002 through 2009 and found appliances were the main cause of 69,000 fires – with about half of the incidents linked to a mechanical, electrical, or design flaw. Below are the appliances that accounted for most of these fires and ways which consumers can minimize their risk:

1. Ranges. Burners that turn on by themselves and delayed ignition on a gas oven's bake and broil functions are the leading contributors to a range fire.
Number of fires: 16,824
Play it safe: Look for any unusual error messages on the range's digital display. Stay in the kitchen when frying, grilling, or broiling food and be sure to keep flammable items, including oven mitts, away from the cooktop. Kids should be kept at least 3 feet from the cooking area.

2. Clothes Dryers: Lint buildup and blockages and gas leaks on dryers that run on gas can cause fires.
Number of fires: 8,717
Play it safe: Don't run dryers when asleep or when no one is home.  Clean out the lint filter before each load and check vents annually for clogs. If using a gas dryer, install a carbon monoxide alarm near the laundry room to warn of leaks, which are poisonous.

3. Microwaves. Units that turn on by themselves and glass doors that shatter unexpectedly can lead to a potential fire.  Some microwave fire victims said that the panel flashed the code "PAN" or "F2" as self-starting began.
Number of fires: 1,705
Play it safe: Don't store food or other items in the microwave.  Look for unusual error messages on digital display panels and if the unit goes on by itself, try to turn it off. Know where it's plugged in and which circuit breaker controls it in case it won't turn off using the microwave's controls.

4. Refrigerators: Fires can be caused by electronic components that short-circuit, control boards that overheat, or by lightbulbs that stay on when the door is shut.
Number of fires: 1,514
Play it safe: Be aware of unusual error messages on fridges with digital displays. Check that the lightbulb goes off when the fridge is closed by pressing the switch, which is usually inside where the door closes.

5. Dishwashers: Fires can be caused by circuit boards and heating elements catching fire, and liquid rinse aids that can leak into circuitry, creating a fire hazard.
Number of fires: 1,015
Play it safe: Don't run a dishwasher when asleep or when no one is home. If the rinse-aid dispenser needs constant refilling, call for a repair.  Know which circuit breaker cuts power to the unit in case it starts smoking or goes up in flames.

6. Toasters and toaster ovens: Two potential fire hazards are units that turn themselves on and mechanism jams while toasting.
Number of fires: 902
Play it safe: Unplug toasters when not in use and inspect them for any frayed power cords. Don't toast anything that doesn't easily fit into the slot.

The good news is that these incidents are rare given the millions of appliances sold, and there are ways consumers can protect themselves from an incident.

  • Register new appliances to be notified of service problems.
  • Check for recalls at recalls.gov.  In the past six years, more than 18.6 million appliances have been recalled for flaws that could cause a fire.

Sources: Consumer Reports, ShopSmart magazine


Word of the Day

August 8, 2013 10:48 pm

Steering. The illegal practice of directing potential home buyers to or away from certain neighborhoods either to maintain or to change the character of an area, or to create a speculative situation.


Q: Are There Routine Steps I Can Take Now to Avoid Major Home Improvements Later?

August 8, 2013 10:48 pm

A: Get in the habit of taking an annual inventory of every single space in your home to check for potential problems. Examine the roof, foundation, plumbing, electrical wiring – basically everything.  Try to fix trouble spots as soon as you uncover them.  This proactive approach will help you avoid major repairs to your home later.  

 


Safe at Home Week Primer - Fall & Fire Prevention

August 7, 2013 7:40 pm

To raise awareness of the dangers lurking in homes, the last full week of August is designated as National Safe At Home Week.  

In our last report we introduced James Gindlesperger of Pittsburgh's Environmental Health & Safety (cmu.edu/ehs), who reviewed some home safety tips for children.

For adults, according to Gindlesperger, the number one cause of household fatalities is slips and falls. To combat this problem he recommends homeowners:

  • Install lights and light switches at the top and bottom of stairs, and place nightlights in bathrooms, bedrooms, and other dark areas.
  • If you have small carpets, tape them to the floor or remove them completely.
  • Clean up any spills right away.
  • Make it a family rule that nobody can wear socks or smooth soled footwear on tiled or wooden floors, especially if those floors are waxed.
  • Keep hallways and stairs clear of misplaced or miscellaneous objects.
  • If you don't have handrails on your stairs, consider installing them.  And don't forget the outside stairs.
  • In winter, remove snow and ice from all walking surfaces as soon as practical.
  • Also, Gindlesperger recommends adding exterior lighting and cutting back shrubs that may provide hiding places for potential intruders.
  • Make sure you have working smoke alarms, and change the batteries in spring and fall.  A good way to remember when to change the batteries is to do it when Daylight Saving Time begins and ends.
  • Never overload electrical circuits, and use appliances and tools only according to the manufacturer's instructions. Remove potential fire hazards, and have a fire safety plan.  

Gindlesperger says the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has some additional tips at usfa.dhs.gov.


Eight Ways to Say No to Working on Vacation

August 7, 2013 7:40 pm

Did you know 61 percent of employed Americans expect to have to do some work while on vacation? According to a recent survey by TeamViewer, it’s true. This reality is why so many of us approach vacation with mixed emotions. You’re excited about the quality time with your family and hopeful that this will be the year you’re able to truly unplug. But there’s also a dull sense of dread as you stress about how you’ll ever get everything done beforehand. You’d love to be part of the minority of people who just cut all ties with work for the week, but you know that just isn’t a reality. Or is it?

“Successful people work with great focus and intention, and they play the same way,” says Brian P. Moran, coauthor along with Michael Lennington of the New York Times best seller The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks Than Others Do in 12 Months. “When they’re working they’re really working, and when they’re vacationing they’re really vacationing. Rest and rejuvenation are the other side of the success coin.

“You must be purposeful about how you spend the time leading up to your vacation,” he adds. “The reason people end up working from their hotel room isn’t that they just have so much to do that they can never take a break. It’s that they aren’t working with intention—and thus, they aren’t executing effectively.”

Below are a few essential tips for what you can do right now to make sure your vacation is truly a time for rest and relaxation.

Picture the perfect vacation. Hours on the beach with your kids—building sand castles and riding waves. Romantic evenings out with your spouse.  A little uninterrupted reading time by the pool. These are the makings of a great vacation, and they should serve as the vision that will drive you through the hard work you’ll have to get done before you hit the beach.

Create a pre-vacation work plan. The authors’ book emphasizes the benefits of planning how you use your time via 12 week increments. Of course, as summer creeps to an end most people probably don’t have 12 weeks to work with before their vacations. That’s okay. The same principles you would use to make a 12 week plan can be used to plan out the weeks and days left before your vacation.

“Leading up to your vacation, it is a good idea to create a plan for each work week you have left,” notes Moran. “Your weekly plan encompasses your strategies and priorities, your long-term and short-term tasks, and your commitments in the context of time. For example, as part of the first week of your pre-vacation plan you might set up a meeting with your boss, colleagues, and/or clients to a) inform them of your upcoming vacation and b) let them know what projects you’re going to prioritize. Then in the last week before vacation, block out time to inform your clients that you’ll be out of the office and whom they should contact while you’re out. This helps you focus on the elements of your plan that must happen each week in order to make that perfect vacation vision possible.” 

Know what to do when you’re not doing the things you know you need to do. Of course, upping the work ante prior to going on vacation won’t be easy. There will be times when your level of execution is less than exceptional, and it’s very likely you won’t be able to ignore the nagging, guilty feeling that drop in execution brings on. But the good news is you can use that feeling—what the authors call productive tension—to get yourself back on track.  

Make the most of performance time and down time. As you work toward your vacation, it will be very important that you not respond to the demands of the day reactively. In other words, you can’t satisfy the various demands of the day as they are presented, spending whatever time is needed to respond without giving any thought to the relative value of the activity. You have to use your time wisely.

You can keep control of your day through time-blocking. Basically, you block your day into three kinds of blocks—strategic blocks, buffer blocks, and breakout blocks. A strategic block is uninterrupted time that is scheduled into each week. During this block, you accept no phone calls, no faxes, no emails, no visitors, no anything. Buffer blocks are designed to deal with all of the unplanned and low-value activities—like most email and voicemail—that arise throughout a typical day, while breakout blocks provide free time for you to use to rest and rejuvenate.

Don’t go it alone. It’s likely that out of your network of colleagues and friends you aren’t the only one who is a) hoping to have a work-free vacation and b) currently working frantically to make that goal possible. And if that’s the case, team up with them. The peer support you receive will be invaluable in your pursuit of the perfect vacation.

Isolate yourself from modern day distractions. In our modern world, technology can be a major distraction. When you’re focused on executing your pre-vacation plan, don’t let smartphones, social media, and the Internet distract you from your higher-value activities.

Make a keystone commitment when you start your vacation. As Moran and Lennington explain, many of their clients set a 12 week goal in a certain area—say, getting fit. Then they build a 12 week plan around it with a handful of tactics like “do 20 minutes of cardio three times a week,” “train with weights three times a week,” and so forth. But the other option is to again set a 12 week goal but, rather than building a tactical plan, identify a keystone or core action and commit to completing it every day for the next 12 weeks. It’s this second option that can help you make the most of your vacation.

“Your keystone commitment might be making breakfast for your family every morning—something you don’t get to do during a normal work week,” suggests Moran. “Or you might commit to taking a walk on the beach every day with your spouse. Or to going on a one-on-one adventure with each of your kids before the week is up.

“Setting a keystone commitment helps you avoid wasting your time on meaningless activities—like sleeping too late every day,” he adds. “Remember, your pre-vacation plan was all about spending your time with great intent and purpose so that you’d be able to have a great vacation. Why should you stop being more purposeful with your time once you’re actually on vacation? Think about the difference these relatively simple commitments can make to you and your family!”


Money Saving Tips to Help You Stock Up

August 7, 2013 7:40 pm

(BPT)—As summer winds down, many are heading into a busy buying season with Labor Day soirees and preparing for back-to-school. With the average family expected to spend an average of $634.78 on back-to-school shopping this year, according to the National Retail Federation, consumers are seeking cost saving strategies to ensure they are getting the most bang for the buck.

With more access to information thanks to online resources and smartphones, the power is in purchasers' hands. In fact, the National Retail Federation forecast revealed that approximately 36 percent of shoppers will do more comparative shopping online for back-to-school 2013.

Other ways people are cashing in on the savings is going back to the tried and true - bulk shopping. Expert couponer, Kelly Snyder, of Kansas City Mamas says volume buying and storing goods correctly has made a positive impact on her family's finances. However, one important thing to keep in mind is what to do with all those purchases you bring home.

"The right storage is essential when purchasing in bulk," says Snyder. "Make sure you have enough storage space and invest in products and appliances that keep you organized and help preserve the integrity of your purchases."

Snyder points to refrigerators as a key investment piece for savvy shoppers who want to store large amounts of perishables. For example, no other refrigerator on the market has more capacity than the Kenmore 33 cubic foot French door refrigerator according to the standards set by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM).

Snyder along with fellow top savings bloggers Briana Carter, of Bargain Briana, and Lauren Ortiz of Saving Addiction, offer their top tips to help shoppers best navigate through the sea of savings.

  • Don't bypass a budget. Know how much you've spent in order to see your savings. By keeping a monthly budget, you'll never pay too much.
  • Don't create a storage war. Being organized will help keep track of what you have and prevent wasting food or needless purchases. For perishables, dedicate one shelf each in your refrigerator for beverages, produce and leftovers. A large refrigerator, like the Kenmore Elite with large freezer capacity, allows you to stock up on items on sale.
  • Get rewarded for loyalty. Join loyalty programs of establishments you frequent the most. Eventually your purchasing power will return major perks. For example, Shop Your Way, a free membership and shopping community, allows Kmart and Sears customers to earn points for their purchases to redeem online or in store. In addition, members get alerts on special offerings, personalized deals, product reviews, events and sweepstakes for even more savings.
  • Tracking gets you a treat. Create a price book to record costs for items over a six-week period. Make a purchase only when prices hit their low. You'll optimize savings and often won't need a coupon.
  • Increase your buying IQ with a smartphone. Download money-saving and grocery coupon apps like SavingStar and Coupons.com, as well as apps for rewards programs like Shop Your Way.
  • Remember coupons are king. While many still enjoy clipping paper coupons, downloadable eCoupons are more popular than ever. Now, eCoupons are more sophisticated by pushing savings based on style and shopping habits like those from ShopYourWay.com. Sears is the first retailer to offer eCoupons that are redeemable in-store, online and from a mobile device. In addition, they are redeemable both in-store and online. This will not only save money, but save time too.
  • Go generic or store brands. It's always better to go with a store brand if you don't have a coupon for a name-brand item. While these versions are cheaper, they often offer similar quality.
  • Serve what's on sale. Buying sale items in bulk allow you to pre-cook meals in one day to be served over the week. A great kitchen helper to get this job done quickly would be a double oven such as the ones offered from Kenmore Double Oven Range.

Sources: ShopYourWay.com, Kenmore.com, Cookmore.com.