February 21, 2012 3:28 pm
Americans are regaining confidence in their financial security. The COUNTRY Financial Security Index® increased for the third straight month. Higher savings rates and more positivity about debt repayment pushed the reading up one point to 65.8, the highest level since December 2009.
Confidence in several aspects of financial security rose to its highest level in at least two years.
• Half of Americans were able to set aside money for savings, up six points to a three-year high.
• Eighty percent are confident in their ability to pay debts, up three points since December. This is its highest reading since October 2008.
• Americans rating their overall financial security positively increased two points to 41 percent. Confidence in the ability to retire comfortably rose three points to 58 percent. Both are at their highest level since December 2009.
"It's been a while since Americans were feeling this optimistic. Steady improvements since September could signal people are breaking the recession mindset," says Keith Brannan, vice president of Financial Security Planning at COUNTRY Financial. "Now's the time to create or revisit a financial plan that addresses both short- and long-term goals, which can help maintain this optimism."
Middle Income Earners Feel More Secure
While other income groups' financial sentiments remained stable or declined, middle income earners grew more upbeat. Forty-eight percent with an annual household income of $60 - $75K and 53 percent with an income of $75 - $100K rate their overall financial security positively. These are up five and nine points from December, respectively.
30-39 Year Olds Drive Overall Optimism
Of all the age groups, 30 to 39 year olds showed the largest uptick in their confidence this month.
• Fifty-eight percent were able to set aside money for savings, a 15-point jump.
• Sixty-one percent are confident in their ability to retire comfortably, up eight points.
"Financial security is achievable no matter your age or income," adds Brannan. "The key is simply to establish financial goals and stick to them."
February 21, 2012 3:28 pm
As home values fell again at the end of 2011, more and more people are looking to renting as an affordable, flexible lifestyle option, causing apartment vacancies to fall to their lowest point in 10 years. Reis reported that the apartment vacancy rate dropped to 5.2 percent in Q4 of 2011, down from their reports of 5.6 percent in Q3 of 2011. This higher demand for apartment housing means increased renting costs across the nation. In response to this news, Apartments.com conducted a national survey of more than 3,000 of its January website visitors to find out about their 2012 moving plans, including reasons they are moving, why they are opting to rent versus own, when they plan to move and which tools they value most during their apartment search.
Supporting a growing trend, 33.6 percent of respondents looking for an apartment this year said they are previous homeowners (up from 20.5 percent in 2011). From the survey respondents who said they are homeowners looking to rent in 2012, 26.3 percent are doing so because they believe renting is a more affordable option and 21.2 percent prefer the flexibility renting offers in choosing where to live.
Apartments.com provides the five most popular responses their website visitors provided as to why they are choosing to rent versus own in 2012:
1. Renting is a more affordable option: 26.3 percent
2. Flexibility to live where I choose: 21.2 percent
3. To relocate for employment: 20.5 percent
4. Cannot afford to keep up with homeownership expenses: 10.5 percent
5. Lost home due to foreclosure and change in marital status: less than 4 percent each
"The fact that more renters are entering the market continues to create a series of challenges for the potential renter, including fewer apartments to choose from, which can drive rent rates higher," says Chris Brown, vice president of product management, Apartments.com. "It's more important than ever for apartment seekers to be informed and savvy shoppers by utilizing all the online resources available to search for apartments within their budget."
More than 35 percent of respondents indicated they are moving out on their own —whether for the first time or back into their own place—which may be a sign of an improving economy and job market, especially in the rental demographic. Reinforcing that idea is the fact that 23 percent of renters surveyed reported they are relocating for employment opportunities—making that the number one reason for moving in 2012, as it was in 2011. However, the desire to have more space, to save money and to live in a more desirable neighborhood also topped the list. Apartments.com provides the five most popular responses as to why their website visitors are moving in 2012:
1. Relocating for employment opportunities: 23 percent
2. Looking for a bigger apartment: 11.9 percent
3. Shopping for a less expensive apartment: 11.3 percent
4. Wanting to live in a more desirable neighborhood: 10.6 percent
5. Change in marital status: 8.8 percent
As part of their due diligence, this survey finds renters tapping multiple resources during their apartment search. While the majority of survey respondents rely on Apartments.com and online apartment classified listings websites, such as Craigslist to find a new place, there has also been a notable 9.2 percent uptick in the number of respondents who are using review websites this year over last. In addition to the dominant choice of Apartments.com, of which 100 percent of survey respondents were utilizing at the time of taking the survey, renters ranked their top apartment shopping tools as follows:
1. Online apartment classified listing websites (e.g. Craigslist and Oodle): 70.4 percent
2. Search engines (e.g. Google, Yahoo!, Bing): 45.3 percent
3. Review websites (e.g. ApartmentRatings.com, Yelp!): 32.6 percent
4. Word of mouth: 31.5 percent
5. Local newspapers: 26.7 percent
Apartment seekers currently in the market for an apartment are encouraged to read the following tips, from Apartments.com, to help them find the perfect place to live.
• Identify "Need to Have" Versus "Nice to Have" Amenities: Before beginning an apartment search, identify which features and amenities are must haves. Different apartment styles and locations appeal to a variety of renters, depending on the demands of their day-to-day routine. Amenities like newer kitchen appliances and marble countertops, laundry or workout facilities may result in a more expensive apartment. People who are new to a big city may be surprised to find parking hard to come by or an additional expense. The best way to go about finding a place that meets the needs of one's lifestyle is to create a list of necessities and conduct an online apartment search against that list.
• Budget Wisely: When looking for a place, experts suggest rent should not exceed 25-30 percent of one's annual wages. Take a look at income after taxes and subtract expenses. Be sure to include food, car payment, credit card, entertainment and phone bills as part of the expenses. Whatever is left is what apartment shoppers can afford for their new place. Keep in mind this budget will need to cover rent and other services like gas, cable, electricity and garbage pickup, if these are not already included in the rent. If it's not already included, ask the landlord or property manager to put what is covered and what is not into the rental agreement.
• Inspect an Apartment: Most shoppers wouldn't buy a car without taking it for a test drive. So, why would anyone rent an apartment without seeing it first? Especially when a lot of the information to help narrow down the search, including apartment photos and videos, can be found online. On Apartments.com, walk-through video tours guide viewers through the interiors of apartments to help them pinpoint the places that meet their needs before scheduling an appointment. Once interested renters have arrived at the apartment, they should ask the landlord or property manager to give a tour and double check the appropriate safety fixtures (e.g. smoke detectors, fire extinguishers and carbon monoxide detectors) are installed and working. Also, test faucets, toilets and other pipes under cabinets for leaks in plumbing. Run a hand along the outside of the window to check for drafts. If there are any items that need to be repaired or replaced, make sure these are addressed before signing the lease.
February 21, 2012 3:28 pm
Appurtenance. Whatever is annexed to land or used with it that will pass to the buyer with conveyance of title, such as a garage or fence.
February 21, 2012 3:28 pm
Q: What is a balloon mortgage?
A: It is a mortgage in which the entire unpaid principal becomes due and payable on a given date, five, 10, or any number of years in the future. The borrower must pay up, refinance, or lose the property.
Interest rates on balloon mortgages are lower than for fixed-rate mortgages. So their monthly mortgage payments will be lower than the monthly payments for conventional mortgages.
Balloon mortgages are a good way to keep monthly housing costs to a minimum if you plan to move or sell well within the period of the balloon.
February 20, 2012 5:14 pm
Well, 2012 may be the year I take the plunge and add a solar water heating or electrical generating system to the old homestead. During a preliminary search for information, I ran across residentialsolarpanels.org, a useful site.
While hosts of the website will be glad to send you specific information in exchange for your email address, they also provide some basic information for free on sizing up your home for solar power.
According to the site, there are five things you need to do in the process of preparing to 'go solar.' We'll begin covering them here, and continue in the next segment along with taking a look at how you might be able to sell surplus power back to the grid.
First, the folks at residentialsolarpanels.org
say you have to calculate the potential solar radiation power you need. For most parts of the United States, an average of 4-5 kilowatt hours per day can be achieved, though in some regions it is possible to achieve up to 8.
To find the output for your area, refer to a map on the website for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Resource Assessment Program.
Next, you need to determine your average energy use. Once you know how much energy you can expect to get from the sun, you can determine about how much energy you will need based on your current monthly energy consumption.
If you don’t have copies of your last 12 bills, you can view the state by state averages, as published by the Energy Information Administration. According to the chart, a consumer who lives in New Jersey, for instance, will use an average of about 730 kWh/month in electricity, while one in Alabama may use as much as 1,300 kWh of energy per month.
Now that you know how much solar radiation is available and how much of it can actually be utilized by a solar panel, you can calculate how many photovoltaic solar panels you will need in order to replace your current source of electricity.
Stay tuned for more on sizing up your home for solar in our next segment.
February 20, 2012 5:14 pm
Have you been wanting to change the look of your house but aren't sure what you can do to increase your curb appeal? Handyman Connection, one of the largest networks of home repair and remodeling contractors in North America, has released a few home improvement ideas to help you enhance the street view of your home.
The front door is the gateway to your home and can often be an easy and inexpensive way to add a different dimension to your home's curb appeal. You can paint your door a different color to accent the exterior paint on your house or you can get an entirely new door. Pick a color that stands out from the rest of your house but a color that also meshes well with the rest of your color scheme.
Painting or re-painting your house is a great way to drastically alter your home's curb appeal and it may be the perfect option if you want to give your house a brand new look. Give your exterior walls some flair by picking a color different than what was previously on your house and accentuate it by finding a nice color for the trim as well. Don't wait too long to paint your house because that could make the job much more difficult; you should paint before the previous coat begins to show signs of wear and tear.
Fencing around your yard is a great way to increase your home's appeal. A small white-picket fence is a simple way to give your house a nice, cozy look. Putting up a fence on the sides of your yard is a practical way to increase your privacy and your curb appeal at the same time.
Adding a deck or a wing to your deck could be perfect if you like to spend time outside and also want to increase your home's curb appeal. Adding a wing to your deck is easier than enlarging it and gives you two areas to gather instead of one. Painting or staining your deck is crucial to adding the curb appeal you seek, so dedicate a weekend or two every other year where you or a professional handyman can make your deck look good as new.
February 20, 2012 5:14 pm
The Service Contract Industry Council (SCIC) works directly with state legislators nationwide to regulate the licensing of motor vehicle service contract providers, mandate significant consumer protections and to implement stringent financial safeguards. The SCIC offers the following tips for consumers thinking about purchasing an extended vehicle warranty.
Why should I buy a service contract if a car comes with a manufacturer's warranty?
• There are over 10,000 components on a vehicle; a manufacturer's warranty covers only a fraction of these parts.
• A manufacturer's warranty does not cover steering, electrical, suspension, air conditioning, heating, fuel systems, brakes, and convenience packages such as a navigation system.
• Manufacturers' warranties are based upon defects in material and workmanship and do not cover normal wear-and-tear.
What does an automobile extended warranty typically include?
• Comprehensive bumper-to-bumper coverage, including the exhaust system, electrical system, the engine, gas tank, the heater and air conditioner, normal wear and tear, the leather seats and the sunroof, etc.
• Regular maintenance
• Access to pre-qualified, professional auto technicians
• Twenty-four hour technical assistance
• Roadside assistance such as towing
Should I buy an extended warranty for a used car?
• Buyers of used motor vehicles need the protections offered by extended vehicle warranties for essentially the same reason that new cars buyers do—to cover repairs not included in a manufacturer's limited warranty and to continue protection after the warranty runs out.
• Extended warranties are not insurance. Most dealers offer minimal coverage (at least 30 days) for used vehicles to cover basic repairs but you are responsible for purchasing an extended warranty if you want to cover the cost of repairs beyond any manufacturer's warranty.
• There are only a few comprehensive warranty programs that will cover the full cost of repairs on your used vehicle. Some of those programs have a high deductible that requires you to pay for a portion of the work upfront.
How are claims handled?
• Nearly 10 million automobile extended service contracts are sold annually, and approximately 95 percent of claims submitted to SCIC member companies are resolved to the customer's satisfaction.
• A consumer may be able to choose among several service dealers or authorized repair centers. In some cases, the consumer must return the vehicle to the selling dealer for service.
• Many service contracts are backed by A+ rated insurers, who provide additional financial solvency on long-term contracts.
• As with most laws, there may be exemptions from certain requirements. It is important for consumers to research the company offering the service contract as well as any insurer backing it.
• Read the contract provisions carefully and understand all coverage and exclusions
• Keep detailed records, including contract paperwork, receipts, and maintenance records
• Adhere to all manufacturer's recommendations for routine maintenance, such as oil and spark plug changes. Failure to do so could void the contract.
• Identify the name of the service contract provider on the contract. If a contract does not list an administrator's contact information, contact your state Department of Insurance or the Better Business Bureau to determine if the company is authorized to do business in your state.
• Most service contracts cover normal wear-and-tear and may fill in coverage gaps in the manufacturer's warranty for up to 7 years and/or 100,000 miles
• In many states, service contracts come with a "free look" period, usually 30 days. If a consumer believes they acted impetuously, the contract can be return for a full refund during this period.
• Do not buy a service contract if the provider will not supply you with a copy of the contract terms and conditions prior to purchase.
• Be alert to service contract providers who use unsolicited mass marketing techniques, such as direct mail and telemarketing (e.g. "robo-calls").
February 20, 2012 5:14 pm
Appreciation. Increase in property value or worth due to economic or related factors; the opposite of depreciation.
February 20, 2012 5:14 pm
Q: Why do homeowners have to pay property taxes?
A: Property taxes are assessed by city and county governments to generate the bulk of their operating revenues. The taxes help pay for such public services as schools, libraries, roads, and police protection. Re-valuations of the tax are often done periodically, although the time interval varies from state to state or, in some states, from town to town, and can range from annual reassessments to periods of ten years or more.
February 17, 2012 5:38 pm
Q: Are there ways to save money when using a contractor?
A: Chances are you will have to pay the going rate for contractors in your area. Architects or designers will typically cost 12 to 20 percent more.
But remember you will want a home improvement that is done right the first time. That said, there are still ways you can save if you do decide to work with a contractor:
- Shop around for the most reasonable bid - not necessarily the cheapest.
- Ask friends and family if the contractors they refer stuck to budget.
- Root out hidden costs written into contracts.
- Insist that trade discounts on materials be passed on to you, or buy materials yourself.
- Compare payment alternatives – flat vs. hourly rates, for example – and negotiate the more reasonable of the two.
- Do part of the project yourself, such as some disassembly or prep work.