Gunning Daily News

How-To: Improve Your Credit Score

May 7, 2013 5:16 pm

Just like a top football, basketball or hockey player is drafted based on their stats, your credit score is used to determine your financial fitness.

Your credit score is a strong indicator of ability to handle debt. It's based on several aspects of your financial picture and can help creditors determine if you're responsible with your money.

Improving your credit score in 2013 may be an easy way to improve your overall financial scorecard. Doing so may help you get approved for loans and lower your interest rates and insurance premiums.

The following steps may improve your credit score in 2013:

Pay on time. Payment history is one of the most important factors used to calculate your credit score, so consistently paying on time may be a way to boost your score if you have missed payments in the past.

Reduce debt-to-credit ratio. Focus on paying down the amount you owe on your credit cards so each one has an available credit of at least 50 percent. Doing so improves your debt-to-credit ratio and in turn may improve your credit score.

Use more than one type of credit. Your score is built around both revolving (ex. credit card) and installment (ex. mortgage loan) credit. Having both types in your credit history shows you can responsibly handle multiple kinds of credit, and in turn may improve your score.

Stick with the accounts you have. Opening new accounts just to increase available credit means new inquiries on your credit report, which may lower your score. On the other hand, avoid closing accounts you already have, even if you don't use them that often. Doing so can negatively impact your debt-to-credit ratio and credit history -- both of which are used to calculate your score.

Source: BMO Harris Bank

Word of the Day

May 7, 2013 5:16 pm

Plat. Map or survey showing the location and boundaries of individual properties and how they have been subdivided into lots and blocks.

Q: What Should I Know about Mechanics’ Liens?

May 7, 2013 5:16 pm

A: A mechanic’s lien is a “hold” against your property that provides contractors and suppliers legal recourse to assure payment for services. The liens vary from state to state and allow for a cloud on the title of your property and foreclosure action. Also, if you paid the contractor, but he failed to pay the subcontractors and laborers – who do not have a contract with you – then the workers may file a mechanic's lien on your home. This could result in a double payment by you for the same job. You can protect yourself from unwarranted liens by selecting your contractor carefully and managing your construction project responsibly. Also, most construction lenders will specify a payment distribution process that involves the securing of lien waivers. The remodeling contract should address this as well, assuring that the general contractor is responsible for all payments as well as any costs required to remedy lien disputes that may arise.

Safety: Things to Think about before You DIY

May 6, 2013 6:00 pm

The month of May houses some great events and activities, like Cinco de Mayo, and the kickoff of gardening season. But it’s not only the month for margaritas and marigolds; May is also National Home Remodeling Month, and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Remodelers recommends that homeowners consider the safety risks, time delays and hidden costs before attempting do-it-yourself (DIY) home improvements.

According to HUD and the U.S. Census Bureau, homeowner DIY projects accounted for 37 percent of all home remodeling projects performed nationwide from 2010-2011. While many projects look manageable at first glance, there are many points to consider when determining the “real” cost generated on a project.

“Remodeling can be complex and often times full of surprises, even for experts like our members,” says NAHB Remodelers Chairman Bill Shaw, GMR, GMB, CGP, a remodeler from Houston. “DIY projects should be rewarding and fun, but if your DIY can’t be completed in the planned price range or your safety is at risk, leave the work in the hands of professional remodelers.”

Review the following considerations before sinking resources into a DIY home remodel:

Hidden Costs - Many of the products purchased for the DIY market, although designated by a name brand, are not always the same quality available to contractors. It is also important to verify the terms of the product warranty. Many warranties become void by improper installation.

Safety - Without the proper training and preparation, a DIYer can, and has, landed in the emergency room. Unfamiliarity with new tools and techniques can lead to life-threatening accidents. A good rule of thumb for any home owner is to avoid projects that require a license or structural changes to walls, roofs and floors.

Time - Troubleshooting unexpected issues often takes more time and expertise than originally planned. Hiring a professional will ensure that you have a contract with a completion date and that the remodeler will bring in whatever help is necessary to get the job finished on time.

Source: www.nahb.org

3 Tips to Lower Your Veterinary Bill

May 6, 2013 6:00 pm

Pet owners’ vet bills are growing, which may explain why fewer are taking their dogs and cats to the animal doctor although more Americans than ever have pets.

To make matters worse, a 2.3 percent tax on medical devices that kicked in Jan. 1 includes equipment that’s used for animals as well as people. Items as basic as IV pumps and scalpels are now subject to the tax, which is to help fund the Affordable Care Act.

“Even before the tax, the latest survey showed spending for dog care alone rose 18.6 percent from 2006 to 2012,” says Dr. Rod Block, a board-certified animal chiropractor and author of “Like Chiropractic for Elephants.”

“And even though cat vet visits dropped 4 percent in that time, cat owners paid 4 percent more,” Block continues, citing the 2012 U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographic Sourcebook, a survey of more than 50,000 households.

“Add to that the new excise tax and I’m sure we’re going to see even more people torn between paying the light bill and taking their pet to the vet,” says Block. But there are simple ways to keep veterinary costs down, while still providing excellent care for your pet – whether it’s a dog, cat, horse or guinea pig, Block says.

“It’s important to always get appropriate care when your animal needs it, but you can easily prevent problems, or catch them early, by simply staying in tune with your pet’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs,” he says.

He offers these tips for accomplishing that, and distress signals to watch for:

• Is your pet in pain? Before X-rays and MRIs, health practitioners relied on these physical indications of pain: heat, redness, lumps or swelling, tremors, obvious discomfort. To recognize the first four, a pat on the head is not enough. Get used to taking some quiet time to place your hands on your pet, and work on honing your perceptive abilities. Being in a rush or having your mind on what you need to do next will impede your ability to perceive changes – use the time to simply be with your animal. If a joint feels warm, it may be inflamed. Mild localized tremors can indicate a problem in the area beneath your hand. Lumps or an asymmetrical feel when you have your hands on either side of the pet may indicate growths. “Take your time and quiet your mind. Animals are keenly aware of intent, and they’ll work with you if feel your intent,” Block says.

• Watch how your pet plays: It’s important that a pet gets physical and psychological stimulation, but those needs vary with temperament, age, and even how energetic the pet owner is. “Pets tend to match their owners’ energy levels, for instance, very elderly owners will tend to have pets that like to nuzzle and curl up next to them,” Block says. Take note of how your pet plays so you’ll be aware of changes. Is he becoming more aggressive? He may be telling you something’s bothering him. Has she stopped hopping up on the couch? Is he favoring a paw (or hoof?) Beyond the physical, your pet’s play can also communicate emotional distress. For instance, if he becomes fearful or timid, consider any changes in the home, routines, etc., that may be affecting him.

• Have a thorough neuro-muscular-skeletal exam done. A veterinary chiropractor can examine a pet’s frame, muscles and nerves for areas that may be pre-disposed to injury, and suggest ways you can help protect them. In dogs, cats and horses, joint injuries are common, with muscle and tendon strains and tears. Problems with the spine can lead to compressed or herniated discs, and neck issues can lead to mobility problems and even seizures. If you know your pet’s vulnerabilities, you can take steps to prevent injuries.

“If you decide to take your pet to a chiropractor, make sure he or she is certified by the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association,” says Block, who’s been treating people for 43 years and animals for 16.

“Find one who is in tune with animals – a host of technical skills does not compensate if the practitioner is not in tune with his patients.”

Dr. Rod Block serves as a chiropractic consultant to numerous veterinary practices in Southern California and is an international lecturer on animal chiropractic.

Outdoor Entertaining Made Easy

May 6, 2013 6:00 pm

(BPT) - Patio season has arrived, and opportunities for outdoor social gatherings will abound in the coming months. Birthdays, graduations, showers, holidays and any other reasons to enjoy warm weather will call for unique outdoor party solutions that differ from indoor events. Here are a few ideas to make al fresco entertaining a snap.

Fruity refreshment

Enjoying seasonal fruits is one of summer's most delicious pleasures, so incorporate fresh fruits into every aspect of your gathering. Go beyond the traditional fruit plates and garnishes, and sweeten regular water with fresh fruits for an invigorating beverage that is perfect for the patio.

Get grilling


Many people associate summer gatherings with grilling, but that doesn't mean your menu options need to be limited to the typical hamburgers and hot dogs found at most cookouts. Explore the hundreds of recipes for more health-conscious grilled cuisine, including salmon, shrimp, veggie burgers and chicken. Don't just reserve the grill for entrees, either. For an appetizer, try grilling slices of ciabatta or pita bread and topping with chopped tomatoes, basil and olive oil to create an easy bruschetta. Season and toss sliced, cooked potatoes on the grill to make your own steak fries, and use your blender to create a number of dipping sauces and homemade condiments. Roasting vegetable skewers makes for a light but flavorful side, and you can even use rosemary sprigs as the skewers for extra zest. The grill is a versatile tool for summer entertaining, so use it to its full potential this season!

Summer settings

Outdoor dinner parties are typically less formal events, but some instances still call for place settings and arranged seating. To create a fun, light atmosphere that is still organized and thoughtful, use colorful place mats and napkins to offset a white or neutral tablecloth. There's no need to break out the fine china, either. Opt for bamboo or melamine plates and bowls instead, which are available in a wide array of colors and designs. Bamboo serving utensils can create a beach-like feel, and reusable, recyclable plastic silverware is an affordable alternative to disposable cutlery. Have fun with table decorations and fill glass bowls and vases with flowers, colorful stones and floating candles for an attractive, summery table setting in no time. Add pretty citronella candles for decoration that will also keep your table bug-free.

Night lights

Many summer soirees carry on past sunset, so lighting your patio area is important. With hundreds of options available for any outdoor area and budget, you can create whatever atmosphere you prefer. Solar lamps are a smart, energy-efficient way to light the walking and seating areas, while Chinese lanterns hanging in the trees create a fun, party feel. Garden lights lining the driveway and walkways will direct attendees to and from the gathering areas safely, and an enclosed bonfire pit or portable fireplace is a great way to gather people for post-dinner revelry. The right mood will encourage guests to stay past dark and allow everyone to enjoy a warm summer evening.

Follow these few simple tips to create the perfect outdoor gathering, and you'll be in the swing of summer entertaining in no time.

Source: Vitamix

Word of the Day

May 6, 2013 6:00 pm

Planned Unit Development (PUD). Individually owned houses with community ownership of common areas, such as swimming pools and tennis courts.

Q: How Can I Make Energy Efficient Improvements to My Home?

May 6, 2013 6:00 pm

A: Begin by focusing on those small cracks and crevices around doors and windows. According to Lowe’s, a 1/8” space between a standard exterior door and its threshold is equivalent to a two square inch hole in the wall. Close those gaps to save up to 15% in heating and cooling costs and also reduce the demand on your heating and cooling system. Other energy efficient steps: lower your water heater’s thermostat setting; blanket or insulate the water heater to reduce the amount of heat lost by the unit, particularly if it is located in an unheated area; insulate water pipes, at least the hot water pipes to prevent heat lost that can cause your water heater to work harder; change furnace filters to prevent reduced airflow through the heating/cooling system and overheating that can lead to premature compressor damage in the A/C systems; and install water-saving shower heads.

Three Home Improvement Tips to Help you Breathe Easier

May 3, 2013 4:02 pm

(BPT)—One in five Americans suffers from allergies, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). As the 2013 allergy season begins, experts warn that it may be one of the worst in recent years, with people experiencing an unusually strong reaction due to increased tree pollen.

But little attention is paid to the impact of indoor air on allergies, asthma and general health. We spend an average of approximately 90 percent or more of our time indoors, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA reports that "indoor levels of pollutants may be two to five times higher, and occasionally more than 100 times higher, than outdoor levels."

How does this impact your next home-improvement project? A survey by Angie's List revealed Americans spend more than $300 billion annually on remodeling projects. Yet these endeavors typically focus solely on a home's aesthetics while ignoring one important consideration: Is your home healthy?

Start at the bottom

We all want beautiful floors in our homes. Many people, however, don't realize that some new flooring can threaten your indoor air quality. When flooring is installed, you may notice an odor for a few days or even weeks. The odor might mean noxious gases are emitting from the materials used during installation. And these emissions, particularly those resulting from volatile organic compounds (VOCs), could potentially have serious, long-term effects on your health - as well as an immediate impact on the health of family members with asthma or allergies.

The good news is gorgeous flooring options are now available that are certified "asthma and allergy friendly" by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. In 2010, Tarkett Flooring committed resources toward developing flooring solutions that help people breathe easier. The company's FiberFloor is the industry's only residential flooring currently certified by the AAFA. To earn this certification, the flooring underwent rigorous testing by the AAFA and successfully met the following criteria:

* Installation of the flooring does not result in elevated levels of chemicals.

* The flooring has a low capacity for retaining allergens.

* The recommended cleaning of the flooring will not result in exposure to airborne allergens.

Spring for PVC-free accessories

Did you know that your shower curtain can be one of the greatest sources of noxious gas in your home? Many homeowners purchase PVC shower curtains and liners because of their functionality and ease of cleaning. However, according to "Practically Green," a website for people interested in green living, a recent study "found that 108 different volatile organic compounds, including those known to cause developmental, liver, nervous system, respiratory and reproductive damage, were released into indoor air by PVC shower curtains." Replacing current shower curtains and liners with PVC-free products are quick and inexpensive fixes that will make your bathrooms healthier for the whole family.

Manage mold and mildew


If you're noticing moisture or mold building up on your windows, have your home checked by an energy rater or a building analyst. To prevent moisture from getting in your windows, select windows made with double pane, insulated glass to create an insulating barrier and keep moisture, mildew or mold from developing. For added energy savings, you can opt for a Low Emissivity or "Lo-E" coating to keep heat from radiating beyond the side of the window where it originated. You'll save on your heating and air conditioning bills while also minding your health.

Home improvements should be a proud reminder that your home is your castle and you treat it well. This year, consider investing in simple projects that can also improve the health of the castle's residents.

A Group Vibe Can Help You Get Fit, Give Back

May 3, 2013 4:02 pm

It may come as no surprise that sharing a diet plan or an exercise routine with a friend can help you stay on track.

“Adding public commitment to personal dedication is often what keeps you from falling off the wagon,” said Crunch fitness instructor Amy Flores.

One overweight mom in Missouri lost 70 pounds in seven months by taking the strategy one step further, Flores said – posting her commitment on a Facebook Page and inviting several dozen friends to not just join her in losing weight, but to donate cash to a favorite cause for every pound they lost.

“Once she took her goal public, Flores said, she didn’t dare fall off the wagon until she reached goal – and the same strategy could work whether you want to shed pounds, stop smoking, or accomplish any other health and fitness goal.”

Flores offers three tips for those who want to put the strategy in place:

  • Give people plenty of notice – Whether you want your friends to donate money for each pound you lose, or donate to a charity of their choice as they work to hit their own goals, determine a start date and post your notice publicly several weeks before you plan to begin.
  • Make tracking easy – Create a donation page on a site like GoFundMe or Causes, which provide easy templates to help you set a goal, track your progress, and share it via email and/or Facebook.
  • Offer alternatives – Some of your friends may be glad to participate with the cause you have suggested. But give these willing pledgers an option for choosing a charity they care about, which may inspire them to donate more generously.

However you choose to proceed, Flores said, getting others involved will strengthen your commitment to achieving your goal and inspire others to do the same in a fun and positive way.