Gunning Daily News

7 Financial Moves to Make Now

January 28, 2013 5:52 pm

So you’ve started the New Year with resolutions to lose weight, get organized, and get your financial house in order. Time Magazine’s business and money mavens can’t help you much with the first two – but they do recommend seven financial moves you can make right now to improve your overall financial picture in 2013:

  • Refi your mortgage into a 15-year loan – At today’s low rates (about 3.36%), refinancing your 30-year mortgage of $250,000 into a 15-year loan will cost you less than $300 per month more and save you $220,000 over the life of the loan. Plus, you’ll pay off the loan in half the time. (Shop for a no- or low-cost refi.)
  • Open an online bank account – Online banks like ING Direct and Ally offer paper checks and/or online bill paying as well as higher interest rates than most brick and mortar banks.
  • Save early and often – Regularly putting away a percentage of every paycheck will add up faster than you imagine. If you think you can’t afford to save, start with one or two percent and work your way up as you realize it’s easier than you thought.
  • Buy top consumer brand stocks – Well-known brands tend to do well in any economy. Brands like Coca Cola, Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive and Johnson and Johnson have paid dividends every year for the last 25 years.
  • Transfer credit card balances – Some banks are offering 0% promotional rates for 12- and 15-month periods. If you are carrying a balance and paying more than that, it’s a no-brainer to shop for one of these money-saving offers.
  • Buy residential real estate – Home prices are rising, but interest rates are at historic lows. If you can, buy now to cash in later before you are priced out of the market.
  • Renovate wisely – If you are planning home improvements, invest in those that will likely raise your home’s value most when you decide to sell. Choose projects like adding a bath, installing double-pane windows, or updating the kitchen.

7 Steps to Simplify House Hunting

January 28, 2013 5:52 pm

House hunting is a complicated process. From finding the right home, to locking down a mortgage rate you can afford, it is a process that requires an attention to detail and a well-thought-out plan. Below are seven steps to take as you begin house hunting to ensure you stay focused and on budget.

1. Establish your goal. Searching for your dream house? Upgrading your current digs or looking to downsize? Whatever the goal is behind your impending home purchase, be sure you understand it clearly before beginning your house hunt. This will eliminate wasted time spent viewing homes that don’t meet your top priority.
2. Create a wish list. Once your primary objective is in place, it’s time to list all of the additional features and amenities you expect from the property you eventually buy. Do you want a swimming pool in the backyard, a balcony off of your master bedroom or crown molding throughout? Brainstorming must-haves and also-nice-to-haves helps to further narrow down your search field.
3. Hire a real estate agent. No one understands the intricacies of a local housing market like a real estate agent with years of experience helping others buy and sell property within it. Save yourself time and headache and hire a highly rated agent to see you through the process.
4. Get pre-approved. Knowing exactly how much you can afford to spend ahead of time helps the house hunting process goes much smoother, not to mention, eliminates the disappointment of learning you don’t have enough saved for the home you’ve had your eye on all this time. Getting pre-approved for a mortgage will set your budget straight off.
5. Ask questions and take notes. This is probably the biggest purchase you’ll ever make, so don’t hold back if you have questions or concerns. Ensure you have no lingering questions about the property, mortgage financing terms or anything else that could lead to regret down the line. And don’t forget to write down important notes as you view house after house — things that seem important in the moment are easily forgotten after five open houses.
6. Do some recon work. Spend time hanging around the house you have your eye on, and during different times of the day. Does it get noisy? Is the traffic a nightmare? What are the neighbors up to? The worst thing would be to lock into your mortgage, only to find that while you love your house, you hate the neighborhood around it.
7. Look out for hidden expenses. Finally, it’s important to investigate more than just the house itself to find out if there are potential money traps within. For example, find out when the home’s appliances, water heater, roof, etc. were last replaced so that you aren’t surprised with a big expense shortly after moving in.
Source: GoBankingRates.com

Q: How Do You Determine How Much a Home Is Worth?

January 28, 2013 5:52 pm

A: The short answer: A home is ultimately worth what is paid for it. Everything else is really an estimate of value. Take, for example, a hot seller’s market when demand for housing is high but the inventory of available homes for sale is low. During this time, homes can sell above and beyond the asking price as buyers bid up the price. The fair market value, or worth, is established when “a meeting of the minds” between you and the buyer takes place.

Word of the Day

January 28, 2013 5:52 pm

Escrow account. Special bank account into which escrow monies are deposited and from which they are disbursed. Lawyers and real estate brokers maintain escrow accounts to hold money in trust for others.

Building a Basement Garden

January 25, 2013 5:42 pm

This January, I am not only taking a look down those stairs and shining a light on some of the most common winter basement issues, but providing tips on turning that dark hole into wholly usable space.

This brings us to recent advice from thesimpledollar.com, on the ROI (return on investment) if you're thinking of converting part of your basement into an indoor veggie garden. The Simple Dollar recently did the math on maintaining a basement garden to grow your own fresh food.

The costs today may be slightly higher or lower, but it's a good guideline to judge whether you want to consider taking your summer gardening hobby indoors full-time, and bear the fruit (or veggies) of that decision.

First, a single industrial grow light retailing for about $300 would be required to convert a clear 80 square foot basement area into a greenhouse space. A grow light that size uses 1,000 watts of energy - so running it 12 hours a day for 3 months equates to 1,080 hours of use.

That will cost you between $120 and $150 per season.

Seeds could be as cheap as $3 per growing session, assuming that you’re not using heirlooms, in which case there would be a one-time cost of $4 or $5, according to thesimpledollar.com. All told the space, energy and supplies are estimated to run $1,640, or $164 per season for the first 10 years.

To give some perspective, that means each season if you just grow one item - say 800 pounds of tomatoes - this would yield a cost per pound of about 20 cents, compared to the retail cost of about $3 a pound.

Now comes the clincher - time. It could take as much as 100 hours per season to maintain this type of garden, or more based on the diversity of your plantings.

And if you don't have an outlet for your harvests, you may incur more time and costs for canning supplies or other types of processing. Maybe a rec. room would be more fun - we'll pick up on that in our next segment on basements.

8 Things Every Kitchen Design Needs

January 25, 2013 5:42 pm

It’s been said that the kitchen is the heart of your home – a friendly gathering point, a place for sustenance, a spot where the family can work together to create a memorable meal.

“It is important for a kitchen to provide the space, the ambience, and the necessary amenities to make all these things more enjoyable,” said kitchen designer Mick De Giulio, who has designed more than 3,000 beautiful and practical kitchens since he began his career at the age of 19.

Whether you are shopping for a home or preparing to remodel the kitchen you have, De Giulio offers his seven top tips for what every great kitchen should have:

  • Natural light – Look for more ways to maximize light, from creating bigger windows to adding a skylight to using more reflective surfaces, such as glass and stainless steel.
  • Comfort – It’s nice to have some soft seating in the ktichen, a small TV, and – if you have or can create the space – a fireplace.
  • Visual texture – Include a mix of woods, countertop materials, and finishes that create warmth, personality, and mood.
  • An island – If space allows, an island becomes the social center of the kitchen as well as an expanded work space.
  • High performance appliances – Today’s high-efficiency burners, and ovens with convection and self-cleaning features are indispensable for the dedicated cook.
  • Integrated refrigeration – Creating cabinet facades to hide refrigeration units provides a tremendous amount of design freedom. Eliminating the traditional large, boxy element makes a kitchen feel more room-like.
  • A hook – Every great kitchen needs a visual ‘hook’ – that one unique element that just pulls you in, like a distinctive range hood, a well-stocked pot rack, or a really lovely floor design or backsplash.
  • Ice cream – Without it, De Giulio said, no kitchen is complete.

The 10 'Never-Break' Rules of Good Credit

January 25, 2013 5:42 pm

(BPT) - Some rules are meant to be broken - like the one about not wearing white after Labor Day. Others should remain sacrosanct, such as the rules of good credit. Those are the kind of rules that can make life easier and happier when you follow them - and help ensure your finances stay in good order, too.

Unlike fashion rules, the rules of good credit are really not subject to interpretation or personal opinion. They derive from the formulae that credit bureaus and lenders use to calculate your credit score.

So what are the 10 unbreakable rules of good credit? Here they are in descending order, a la David Letterman:

10. Create a budget and stick to it. Your budget should cover everyday expenses and allow for the smart use of credit.
9. Use credit cards wisely. Smart use of revolving credit - not carrying a balance, paying the full balance immediately - is an important component of a healthy credit score. Unwise use, such as running up debt, can lower your score. And in that vein ...
8. Always pay more than the minimum balance on your credit cards. Ideally, you would pay off the entire balance right away, but if that's not possible, pay more than the minimum - as much as you can afford. Paying only the minimum balance means it will take years - and thousands in interest charges - to pay off your debt.
7. When applying for a loan - which includes applying for new credit cards - do so wisely. Comparison shop and make your applications (if you'll be making more than one) in a short amount of time, so that those credit inquiries will only count against your credit score once. Stretching applications over time, or making too many in a short amount of time, can negatively impact your credit score.
6. Your credit utilization ratio - the amount you owe compared to the amount of credit you have available - is a key factor in determining your credit score. Avoid maxing out your credit - including credit cards or home equity lines of credit. At any given time, try to keep three quarters to two thirds of your total available credit free for use.
5. Don't immediately close a credit card account just because it's paid off. Doing so can skew your credit utilization ratio. Before you close an account, be sure you understand what impact - if any - the action will have on your credit score.
4. Practice identity theft protection measures. From shredding sensitive paper documents before trashing them, to keeping your PC's virus protection software up to date, it's important to take steps to protect your credit from identity theft and fraud.
3. If you're in financial trouble, don't practice avoidance. If you can't pay your bills, contact your creditors to work out a payment plan, but know that not making minimum payments may negatively impact your credit score. Being proactive may not solve your financial woes but it can help minimize the negative impact on your credit.
2. Keep an eye on your credit score. Maybe you're in the habit of reviewing your credit report once a year, or only check it when you're planning to apply for a loan, but it's important to stay on top of your credit score all the time. Fortunately, the Internet has made it easy to monitor your credit report and score. Enrolling in membership of a product like freecreditscore.com can help you understand your credit. With enrollment, you get credit score alerts, identity protection alerts and fraud resolution support if you find an error on your credit report.

And, the No. 1 rule of good credit:
1. Pay your bills on time. A consistent, long-term history of timely bill paying goes a long way toward a healthy credit score. In fact, a solid payment history can pull up your score even if there are other negatives on your credit report, such as a high ratio of credit used to credit available. Not paying your bills on time - or at all - is a surefire recipe for bad credit.

Q: What Are the Disadvantages of Buying Foreclosures?

January 25, 2013 5:42 pm

A: Buying directly at a legal foreclosure sale is risky. Among the disadvantages:

There is no financing. You need cash and lots of it.
The title needs to be checked before the purchase. If not, you risk assuming a seriously deficient title.
It may not be possible to inspect the property’s interior before the sale. So you have no idea of the property’s condition.

Foreclosures are routinely purchased “as is,” which means you cannot go back to the seller for repairs.
Also, estate and foreclosure sales are the only property sales that are exempt from some state disclosure laws. In both instances, the law protects the seller – usually the heir or financial institution – who has recently acquired the property through adverse circumstances and may have little or no direct information about it.

Word of the Day

January 25, 2013 5:42 pm

Escrow. Money or documents held by a third party until specific conditions of an agreement or contract are fulfilled.

The Most Essential Pots & Pans for Any Kitchen

January 25, 2013 4:12 pm

I know all too well the clutter of hastily stored pots and pans jammed into 'the cabinet' every time the door is opened. Almost every kitchen has one.

But there has to be a better, and even more appealing way, to store the variety of pots and pans a typical homeowner needs to conduct their weekly culinary exercises with relative ease. And if one has to limit themselves because of space constraints, what are some of the most essential pots and pans.

J. Kenji López-Alt, Chief Creative Officer at seriouseats.com, recently blogged about it, and suggests the following:

  • All-Clad 12-inch Skillet with Lid
  • 10-inch cast iron skillet
  • 10-inch non-stick skillet
  • 3-quart saucier
  • 14-inch wok
  • 16-quart stockpot
  • An enameled Dutch oven

Focusing on a few of his picks, López-Alt,says:

Whether you stir-fry or not, a wok is one of the most versatile tools in the kitchen. It's perfect for indoor smoking, grilling, and steaming. It's by far the best vessel for deep-frying; its wide shape and large volume make it easy to fit plenty of food in there with minimal contact and oil-use, with virtually no danger of splattering the stove-top with hot oil - or worse, overflowing.

He says an enamel-coated cast iron Dutch oven is the ideal vessel for slow braises and soups. In the oven, thick walls and a heavy lid make for really great low-and-slow heat transfer meaning your stews and pot roasts will come out more tender and juicy with minimal evaporation during cooking.

On the stovetop, the Dutch oven's tall, wide sides make for easy and splatter-free browning of large amounts of meat and vegetables, with plenty of heat retention. And if you opt out of buying a wok, López-Alt says a Dutch oven is also great for deep-frying.

Finally, there's the large skillet, what López-Alt, calls the true workhorse of the kitchen. He says it's perfect for rapidly browning large quantities of vegetables or meat, excellent for braising and reducing sauces, and has a tight-fitting lid making it oven safe.