Gunning Daily News

Know Your Loan Modifications

September 19, 2012 5:28 pm

In our last segment we started drilling into the cache of data available in the latest federal Consumer Complaint Survey Report (consumerfed.org), compiled by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators (NACPI).

Several of the top complaint categories involved homeowner, finance and mortgage issues, so we'll continue looking at some specific concerns to help protect you, your home and finances from unscrupulous schemes.

Many consumers having trouble making ends meet have been seeking modifications of their mortgage agreements. But what should be a simple fix has often turned out to be a nightmare.

The Montana Office of Consumer Protection reported that one consumer who was approved for a loan modification made three trial payments. But when the permanent modification paperwork finally arrived, it had an accounting error.

After alerting the bank of the error, the consumer was put back in review for months. And he was told to continue trial payments, which caused him to fall farther and farther behind on his loan principal.

Then he received a denial letter, in error. After months of struggle and with the assistance of the consumer agency, he was granted the correct permanent modification, which significantly reduced his principal and payments - enabling him to stay in his home.

A complainant to the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office similarly tried for 18 months to work out a loan modification with a major national bank, repeatedly filling out documents and sending them as instructed, only to be told that more was needed.

After being notified that his loan modification had been approved, he got another call from the bank telling him that he had in fact been turned down. And, his home was placed into foreclosure, despite the fact that he had successfully completed trial payments and had a friend who was prepared to provide financing.

If you find yourself in a similar position, or need help modifying a loan or avoiding foreclosure - no charge - go to makinghomeaffordable.gov. You can also talk to a certified housing counselor at 888-995-4673.

Easy Ways to Improve Your Kitchen, Bathroom and Bedroom

September 19, 2012 5:28 pm

(ARA) - Good lighting is not something most people think much about until they don't have it. Living in a well-lit room is a much more pleasurable experience than trying to cook, read, entertain or do just about anything in a dark, shadowy space.

The American Lighting Association offers these tips for improving the lighting in your kitchen, bathroom and bedroom:
* Add to your task lighting. Many bathrooms and kitchens have plenty of overhead light, but are often lacking when it comes to task lighting, says David Martin, designer with lighting manufacturer Hubbardton Forge. “At the kitchen sink, for example, you can eliminate shadows by including two sources of light.” The result is a workstation with easier-to-see spaces that alleviate eyestrain.
* Include mood-enhancing lights and dimmers. “Places such as bathrooms and bedrooms - once mostly functional - now serve as an extension of our living spaces,” says Todd Phillips, owner and senior designer with Quoizel Lighting. The lights in those rooms should be both hardworking and mood enhancing. For example, inexpensive, easy-to-install cove lights in the kitchen can provide soft illumination after mealtime and cleanup. Additional lights placed at a bathroom vanity and aimed out toward the face can help brighten grooming tasks and offer awakening morning light. A bonus: Those controls can help accommodate varying levels of natural daylight, too.
* Increase the size of your bedside task light. One of the bigger mistakes Phillips sees in bedrooms is the size of bedside lamps - they're either too small or not adjustable. “The lamp needs to provide light where you need it, and if it's too small it can't do that,” says Phillips. Go for a larger size with increased lumen capacity.
* Install track lighting for flexibility. Stationary overhead lights are fine when you need to flood a space with light, but too often kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms lack flexible sources of light. A good solution is track lighting. “You can direct one or two of the lights on the track and point them to a wall to add accent light for artwork, and use other lights on the track to create different focal points,” Phillips says.
* Add a light fixture for drama. A side benefit of beautiful, light-providing chandeliers and pendants is that they provide focal points. “New light sources give homeowners some great options,” says Phillips. “You can drop in a chandelier over a bathtub to create drama and get mood and ambience too.”
As a bonus, those fixtures help provide the finishing touch for different colors and accents. “People sometimes put quite a lot of money and effort into their rooms and lighting can help to show them to their best effect,” says Martin.
* Add a ceiling fan with a light source. With the flip of a switch, a ceiling fan with a light kit can improve a room's livability with both comfort and light. It is just one more example of how light works wonders in the home. “Having more lighting options creates a better lifestyle and it enriches our lives in terms of the time we spend in our homes,” says Phillips.

Source: www.americanlightingassoc.com.

Disaster Planning: Are You Ready?

September 19, 2012 5:28 pm

Don’t wait until a natural disaster is upon us to prep your home—your loved ones and possessions will thank you for your forward thinking. When a disaster strikes, being prepared is important not only for those in the path of the storm, but for homeowners everywhere.

"Natural disasters come in different forms, depending on where you live," says Rick Isaacson, Executive Vice President of Servpro Industries, Inc. "For some, tornados pose a threat. For others, it's drenching rain, high winds, flash flooding, lightning strikes, snow and ice, or even out-of-control brush fires. The one thing all of these extraordinary events have in common is that they can strike with little warning and can turn your life upside down."

Isaacson says one important disaster readiness step all families can take is to build a basic emergency supply kit, stocked with necessities to keep each family member (and pet) supplied with water, food and required medications for at least three days. A basic "Readiness Kit" would include:

  • Water (one gallon/person per day)
  • Three day non-perishable food supply
  • Manual can opener
  • Battery-operated radio, preferably a NOAA weather radio
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Whistle (to signal for help)
  • Dust masks or bandanas
  • Local maps
  • Important documents, such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account information
  • Matches (in a waterproof container)

"Of course, your family members may not all be at home when disaster strikes," says Isaacson, "so another key component of your readiness planning is to set a place to meet and a plan for contacting each other. Taking the time to prepare and plan now can make all the difference in the first few stressful hours after disaster strikes."

Source: www.ready.gov, www.SERVPRO.com

Word of the Day

September 19, 2012 5:28 pm

Tax shelter. A realty investment that produces income-tax deductions for its owner.

Q: What are the advantages of owning a home?

September 19, 2012 5:28 pm

A: There are many. Among the most appealing: you own it, which gives you, instead of a landlord, control of your living space. Other benefits stem from potential tax savings and the build up of equity as your property likely appreciates in price over time. Equity can be used to help put children through college, purchase a second home, or make home improvements.

The mortgage interest paid on a home loan is tax deductible, as is the local property tax. If you get a fixed-rate home mortgage loan, you also can invest more wisely knowing your monthly mortgage payment, unlike rent, will not change substantially.

8 Things Your Bank Won’t Tell You

September 18, 2012 5:10 pm

Greeters at your bank may be friendly and personable. If you are in the branch regularly, they may even greet you by name. But make no mistake, notes financial columnist Miranda Marquit, they are in business to make a profit.

“Helping you with your financial goals is not as high on their list as making money off of you,” Marquit says, listing eight things your bank won’t tell you, but that you need to know in order to better manage your money:

When your deposit is available – Some banks limit the amount immediately available to you when you make a deposit. If you plan to deposit and spend right away, ask when your deposited funds will be available.
Post-dating doesn’t mean much - If you postdate a check and the recipient cashes it ahead of time, the bank will likely run it through. If that happens and your account is short of funds, you will be responsible for any fees.
Fees are their big moneymaker – Banks made over $38 billion last year on overdraft fees alone. Making credit card payments and other transactions on time will save you money and leave your bank wanting more.
You can get some fees waived – Many banks will waive one or two fees a year – if you ask! So don’t just fume. If your account is generally solvent, ask your bank once in a while to reverse an overdraft or late fee.
Your online account info may not be accurate – Checking transactions may not always be up to date in your online account. If you are cutting things close, calling the bank to confirm online data may save you a penalty fee.
Bankers are salespeople – The more ‘products’ they can get you to ‘buy,’ the more money they make. Be wary when they pitch you new accounts, loans and services; they may be more in their interest than in yours.
Shop around for services – If you need a home equity line or other financial service, shop around. Don’t assume your bank will offer you the best deal.
Loan decisions are rarely local – Local bank managers rarely have that authority. No matter how good a relationship you think you have with your branch, it’s the system that will approve or deny your loan application.

Smart Savings: Retirement Planning

September 18, 2012 5:10 pm

Regardless of your age, retirement planning should be on your radar. Many young professionals think planning for retirement is something they can do later, but strategizing early is the best thing you can do to ensure a solid savings plan. Whether you’ve been working for two years or twenty, there are things you can do to think ahead.

Retirement planning is constantly changing, making it necessary to have a solid retirement strategy. In the past, many could rely on pension plans and Social Security benefits, but pension plans are increasingly rare and Social Security benefits should not be used as a sole source of retirement.

Many Americans are at risk of running out of money in retirement. According to a recent Employee Benefit Research Institute study (EBRI), nearly 47 percent of early baby boomers (ages 56 to 62) are at risk of outliving their retirement savings. "To develop a sustainable strategy that meets your specific needs, some important considerations would be your age at retirement, life expectancy, living expenses and the rate of return you expect from your investments," notes Tom Thornton, vice president, and regional sales manager covering St. Louis for BMO Harris Financial Advisors, Inc.

Here are a few tips from Thornton on planning for retirement.

Withdrawal Strategy: Knowing how much money should be withdrawn from your retirement savings each year is a critical factor in building a retirement plan. Withdraw too much and you are likely to outlive your assets; take too little and you may unnecessarily sacrifice your standard of living, especially in the early years of retirement.
Asset Allocation: As individuals seek increased income upon entering retirement, they often shift their holdings more toward bonds and cash. This may or may not be a good move, as there are other key investment considerations beyond having a need for income. Confer with your financial advisor to determine the appropriate allocation for your needs, investment objective, risk profile and timeframe.
A Core of Guaranteed Income: In retirement, your focus will need to shift to using your savings to generate income to meet your ongoing expenses. One possible option is to allocate a portion of your savings to an annuity. Annuities are an investment tool that can provide guaranteed income for the rest of your life, no matter how long you live.

Said Thornton: "Whatever your specific plans, it's crucial that you enter retirement with a strategy for turning your savings into a retirement 'paycheck' that will allow you to live retirement on your own terms."

How -To: Protect Your Kids from Cyber Bullying

September 18, 2012 5:10 pm

Do you think your kids are just playing games online or innocently chatting with friends on the computer? While you are hopefully correct in your assumptions, you can never be too careful; cyber bullying can happen any time of the day.

Teenagers use cellphones and computers to harass others by sending malicious text messages, uploading embarrassing photos or videos on websites, or taking over someone's social media profile or creating a new one.

Although it takes place in cyberspace, there are several things you can do at home to protect your children from being harassed online. These tips will help you get started.

Prevent Cyber Bullying

You can prevent cyber bullying by knowing what your kids are doing online and establishing certain rules on the use of cellphones and computers. This will help minimize the chances that your teenager will harass someone online or be a victim of cyber bullying.

Stopbullying.gov has several tips to help you protect your kids:

  • Install monitoring software on your kids' devices and tell your children that it's your responsibility as a parent to check their interactions when you consider it appropriate
  • Teach your kids to abstain from sharing photos or videos that might cause them problems if other people see them, especially people who are not their friends
  • "Follow" your kids on social media or ask another adult to do it on your behalf so you can stay up-to-date on what they are doing or saying
  • Tell them it's important that they tell you if they are the victims of cyber bullying so that you can help them

Respond to Cyber Bullying
You can start to put an end to cyber bullying by doing the following:

  • Don't answer cyber bullying messages and ask your kids to share with you all of the messages they've received
  • Block the bully on social media and eliminate or block the bully's email address
  • Keep all evidence of cyber bullying, including text messages and harassing emails

Report Cyber Bullying
  • States have laws and policies against bullying, so be sure to contact your school if your child is being harassed online. Schools can take several measures to respond to specific cases.
  • Parents can also report bullies to the social media sites as bullies often violate the company's policies and terms and conditions. Parents can also contact the police. Cyber bullying is a crime when messages contain:

Threats of violence
  • Child pornography or photos with sexually explicit messages
  • Images taken from places where the person expected privacy, like a bathroom

Cyber bullying is also a crime when someone is stalking a victim or engaging in activities considered to be a hate crime.

Source: Stopbullying.gov.

Word of the Day

September 18, 2012 5:10 pm

Tax rate. The rate at which real property is taxed in a tax district or county. For example, in a certain county, real property may be taxed at a rate of 55 mills (or 0.055) per dollar of assessed valuation.

Q: Do I have to be concerned with building codes and permits?

September 18, 2012 5:10 pm

A: Depending on how your contract is written with the home improvement professional, either you or the contractor will be responsible for securing government approval to perform most remodeling jobs. Building codes set minimum public-safety standards for such things as building design and construction. Codes vary from one state, county, city, and town to the next, but specialized codes generally exist for plumbing, electricity, and fire. Each usually involves separate inspections and inspectors. In addition, permits are generally required when any structural work is planned or the basic living space of a home is altered. They generally cover new construction, repairs, alterations, demolition, and additions to a structure. Some jurisdictions require permits to be posted in a visible spot on the premises while the work is being done. Besides structural changes, permits also may be needed to cover the installation of foundations for tanks and equipment, as well as the construction or demolition of ducts, sprinkler systems, or standpipe systems.