Gunning Daily News

Students Manage Debt with Financial Planning

January 6, 2012 5:16 pm

In an increasingly competitive global market, education is becoming more important. But many families find the cost of education to be outside their grasp. According to a study commissioned by the US Department of Education, from the 2001-02 to the 2010-11 academic year, the cost of attending a 4-year undergraduate in-state school rose by 47.3 percent.

With ever-increasing education expenses, many families are accumulating significant debt, putting students further behind. However, with planning and financial management, students can control their finances. Here are some tips for parents of soon-to-be college students.

Start the conversation. Talk with other parents, teachers and guidance counselors about the cost of education. Make contact with the student financial aid offices of the colleges on your child's list and get an accurate estimate of the cost of each institute. Most importantly, talk with your child. It is imperative your child learns the budgeting process as they will soon be managing their finances away from home.

Set the budget and stick to it.
Once you have a set budget, add wiggle room for other unforeseeable expenses. Make sure you set this budget realistically. Calculating the cost of pens and pencils may seem ludicrous, but if you're on a tight budget, every expense counts.

Get connected.
Tracking your financial spending is easier than ever. From smart phone apps to free financial planning software, you can get an accurate financial report at any time. Research banks to determine which ones offer services to help you can stay on top of your budget. Also, consider linking your banking account with your child's, to easily transfer funds online.

Make a plan.
When taking on debt, it is important to have a plan for paying it off. Calculate the monthly payments and time it will take your child to pay off the debt. Research salary ranges for the field in which your child plans to pursue a career to understand the debt they can realistically carry. Find more information and calculators to help determine payment schedules and interest rates at www.direct.ed.gov.

Do your research. Before taking out a student loan, look to other options, such as financial aid and scholarships. While some scholarships are awarded on academic merit, others are given based upon both academic performance and community service. Foresters™, a life insurance provider committed to the well-being of families and their communities, is one organization that provides a competitive scholarship program1 open to eligible members or their dependent children, including grandchildren, worth up to $8,000.

Recipients can use the scholarship to attend accredited universities, colleges and vocational schools, as long as they are pursuing their first post-secondary degree or diploma. There are up to 350 Foresters Competitive Scholarships available, in the US and Canada including five Ken Peterson Awards for Community Service. These awards are worth up to $11,000.

Source: www.foresters.com.

This Year, Drink to Your Health

January 6, 2012 5:16 pm

Fitness goals are a common trend in New Year’s resolutions. Between gym memberships, the latest diet fads and miracle-promising supplements, billions of dollars get spent each year on achieving fitness goals.

Many people don’t realize that one of the best things you can do for your body is not found at the gym, or in a pill. Believe it or not, being properly hydrated is one of the healthiest things you can do. That means being in balance—the water your body loses from perspiration, breathing and other body processes is replaced by the water you consume.

Based on clinical trials on adults, published in the journal Nutrition Reviews in 2005, scientists have identified that dehydration has an impact on physical and mental performance. Even mild dehydration—a loss of 1 to 2 percent of body weight—can impact your mental and physical performance. In addition to being thirsty, mild dehydration can cause headaches, decrease your alertness, concentration and memory, and reduce your endurance.

So making sure you stay healthfully hydrated is an important part of taking good care of your body. And water is the key.

Easy Ways to Stay Hydrated
Good hydration is at the heart of a healthy lifestyle. Here are some tips for getting water into your daily routine:

1. Choose water instead of caloric, sweetened beverages, especially during mealtime.
2. For an easy and inexpensive thirst-quencher, carry bottled water throughout the day.
3. Give your water variety by adding slices of lemon, lime, cucumber or watermelon.
4. Choose flavored sparkling water as another zero- calorie option.
5. Drink a cup of water before and after workouts, and more if it's hot or your workout is long and strenuous. Sip water throughout the workout for steady rehydration.

Drink in the Facts
• 38 out of 50 states have obesity rates higher than 25 percent. According to "F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future 2011," a report funded by Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, twenty years ago no state had an obesity rate above 15 percent.
• The average person gets more than 20 percent of their total caloric intake each day from beverages. Research suggests this number should be closer to 10 percent. To achieve that goal, pay attention to the calories per serving in all your beverages.
• We drink about 450 calories a day. In 1965 we consumed only 225 calories from beverages.
• A 2010 study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that soda, energy and sports drinks—including sweetened water products—are the number 4 source of calories for Americans, providing an average of 114 calories/day.
• Unlike soft drinks and sweetened juices, water has no calories. In fact, making a simple switch such as replacing one 140-calorie sugared beverage a day with water can reduce 50,000 calories from your diet each year, as reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Source: www.nestle-waters.com.

Simple Tricks to Refresh Your Home

January 6, 2012 4:46 pm

When the cold weather hits, we tend to hunker down inside. While this hibernation period may be relaxing, staying indoors so much during the winter months can create clutter and mess around the house. But you don't have to wait until spring to give your house a good spring cleaning, and you don't have to do an extreme makeover. You can wake up and spruce up a tired-looking home with a few simple cleaning and organizing routines.

Here are some tips and tricks for making your home spring-clean right now, one room at a time.

Living Room
• Window blinds collect dust and dust mites all winter. To clean plastic blinds, add cleaning solution to tub water. Remove blinds and let them soak in the tub. Clean them with a well-bristled brush, then let them dry and rehang them.
• Remove fabric window coverings and clean as needed. Use a feather duster around window frames to remove cobwebs and dust.
Freshen up carpets by sprinkling baking soda on them, letting it sit for 30 minutes, then vacuuming.
• Carefully wipe the tops and bottoms of ceiling fan blades, which provide a perfect, level surface for dust to collect.

Kitchen
• Clean out the refrigerator and freezer, making sure to get rid of all expired products and old leftovers. Remove shelving and drawers and wipe them down using mild soapy water.
• Tackle your oven, inside and out. If your oven is self-cleaning, set it in the self-cleaning mode. Consult your manual for an estimated cleaning time.
• Also, make your stovetop and hood shine like new with a quick wipe from a sponge sprayed with cleaning solution. If your oven is not a self-cleaning appliance, use cleaning solution to wipe away baked on grease and grime. Remember to make sure the oven is cool before applying the solution.
• Don't forget to clean your dishwasher, too. Remove trapped food particles from the bottom and around any moving parts. Pour a cup of vinegar into the empty dishwasher and run it to clean the inside.
• Wipe down the outside of your cabinets, especially around the stove area.
Vacuum and mop the floors, and launder any area rugs.
Bedrooms
• Launder bed linens—including dust ruffles, bedspreads and pillow shams.
Move furniture around so you can vacuum underneath and get rid of any dust bunnies that might have accumulated. While you're at it, try a new furniture arrangement to freshen up the look of the room.
• Now's a great time to clean out clothes closets. Empty closets to vacuum and dust inside. Then, before putting clothes back, sort through them and get rid of those items that no longer fit or that you don't wear anymore. You can donate them to a local charity.
• Clean blinds, light fixtures and ceiling fans. Wipe smudges off of light switch covers and door frames, too.

Bathroom

• Wipe down and disinfect all fixtures. Remember lighting fixtures, too.
• Carefully remove glass fixtures and clean with warm, soapy water. Let them dry thoroughly before reattaching.
• Sort through products and discard or recycle old bottles and containers. Get rid of excess clutter in your bathroom cabinets. Remove items from the medicine cabinet and wipe down all surfaces.
• Use cleaner to remove grease, grime, mildew stains and soap scum from your bathroom surfaces, including tubs, sinks, toilets, counters and baseboards.

Source: www.glcleans.com.

Save Cash, Winterize Your Car

January 6, 2012 4:46 pm

The last thing any driver needs is a vehicle that breaks down in cold, harsh winter weather. Winterizing your vehicle should be a top priority, and can rescue you from the inconvenience of being out in the cold and with the unexpected expense of emergency repairs.

"The thought of a breakdown, an engine not starting or otherwise being stranded is stressful as it is, but those things happening in freezing winter weather are extra stressful and costly," says Rich White, executive director of the Car Care Council. "An investment of an hour or two to have your vehicle checked is all it takes to have peace of mind and help avoid the cost and hassle of a breakdown during harsh weather."

The following tips, recommended by the Car Care Council, can help assure your car remains in top shape.
• Clean, flush and put new antifreeze in the cooling system. As a general rule of thumb, this should be done every two years.
• Make sure heaters, defrosters and wipers work properly. Consider winter wiper blades and use cold weather washer fluid. As a general rule, wiper blades should be replaced every six months.
• Have the battery and charging system checked for optimum performance. Cold weather is hard on batteries.
• Check the tire tread depth and tire pressure. If snow and ice are a problem in your area, consider special tires designed to grip slick roads. During winter, tire pressure should be checked weekly.
• Be diligent about changing the oil and filter at recommended intervals. Dirty oil can spell trouble in winter. Consider changing to a "winter weight" oil if you live in a cold climate. Have your technician check the fuel, air and transmission filters at the same time.
• If you're due for a tune-up, have it done before winter sets in. Winter magnifies existing problems such as pings, hard starts, sluggish performance or rough idling.
• Have the brakes checked. The braking system is the vehicle's most important safety item.
• Get the exhaust system checked for carbon monoxide leaks, which can be especially dangerous during cold weather driving when windows are closed.
• Check to see that exterior and interior lights work and that the headlights are properly aimed.

Motorists should also keep the gas tank at least half full at all times to decrease the chances of moisture forming in the gas lines and possibly freezing. Drivers should check the tire pressure of the spare in the trunk and stock an emergency kit with an ice scraper and snowbrush, jumper cables, flashlight, flares, blanket, extra clothes, candles or matches, bottled water, dry food snacks and needed medication.

Source: www.carcare.org

Time to Switch Banks? More Fees Coming in 2012

January 6, 2012 4:46 pm

Consumer Reports recently investigated upcoming banking fees, and found that consumers who say they're furious at behemoth banks for their lending practices, fees, account requirements and various other reasons, can get ready to vent some more.

Among the findings of the consumer organization's investigation:

The investigation showed that fee hikes and tougher account requirements will probably continue, especially while the economy remains weak.

While customers with a lot of accounts at one bank might avoid some fees, they're not immune. Banks may try a spectrum of charges even for good customers, including fees for paper statements and higher safe-deposit costs.

Consumers are more likely to find lower fees and better rates at community banks, larger credit unions, and online institutions. According to research, banks are trying to make up billions in lost revenue due to the bad economy, new regulations, and in some cases perhaps even their own inefficiencies.

Should you switch banks?
Now that you know that fees may fire up, you may be wondering if you should switch banks. If your bank plans to stick you with new fees or tougher account requirements, your first thought might be to find a new one. According to Consumer Reports, that might be your best option, but switching banks can be a hassle. So it's important to weigh your options before making a decision to move. The following tips can help you decide:
• Check the terms. If you're facing a single new fee, see what it would take to avoid it. Increasing your account balance by a few hundred dollars or signing up for direct deposit might work.
• Change your habits. For example, plan a weekly visit to an ATM in your bank's network to withdraw cash instead of going out of network. And check your statements more carefully so you don't rack up overdraft fees.
• Try to negotiate. You might be able to get a fee waived if you tell your bank you're thinking about moving your accounts.
• Consider convenience. Banking is about much more than rates and fees. It's also about the day-to-day banking experience. Does the bank have adequate ATM locations and local branches with convenient hours, or give you privileges to use out-of-network ATMs?
• Do your homework. Check with competing banks and credit unions, starting with their websites. That's where you'll find complete information about rates, fees, terms, and conditions.
• Plan your getaway. If you've decided that moving your money is the best solution, make the process as smooth as possible. Check to see whether your new bank offers a "switch kit" to help you streamline the process
• Make your move. Open up the account in your new bank or credit union with a small deposit. Then you can transfer funds from your old bank to the new institution electronically. Arrange to switch over your automatic payments and deposits to the new account.
• The grand finale. Leave at least a small amount of cash in your old account and close it once you're sure all checks and transfers have cleared.

Source: http://www.ConsumerReports.org

2012: The Year of Home Rehab

January 5, 2012 4:32 pm

As 2011 turns a new leaf and a new year, I am looking back on some of the best, or most tried and true consumer advice dispensed during the past year; while looking forward to some of the top trends and issues expected to top consumers' agendas in 2012.

Whether trading down into a fixer-upper, or venturing into one's first adventure in home ownership, 2012 may very well be 'the year of the rehab.' As property owners—whether commercial, residential or multi-family—seek to conserve and improve their property values, they will be contracting, hammering, decorating and upgrading like there's no tomorrow.

In a recent piece, Taylor Johnson (taylorjohnson.com) talked to several Chicagoland experts on the subject.

Johnson says Rick Croce of Smykal Renovations told him whether buying or renting, people will have little interest in homes that are not renovated. That means if you’re a seller, you need to make the investment in not only replacing things like a roof and windows, but also giving the home a facelift to make it more modern.

He said people are looking for open floor plans, well-designed kitchens and attractive baths, so it is worth considering making such renovations to your home before putting it on the market—even if you don’t plan to sell for a few years.

The same holds true for the rental market, according to Jim McClelland of MACK Companies, which manages more than 500 single-family rentals in the Chicago area. McClelland told Johnson that while rental demand is high right now for single-family homes, quality still counts.

He says people aren’t interested in old, outdated homes. It’s important that smart renovations are made before trying to rent a property in order to find a good tenant and top dollar for your rental income.

McClelland said on average, MACK invests $50,000 into each of its redeveloped properties to bring them up to new-construction standards.

And Anthony Rossi, Sr., president of RMK Management Corp., told Johnson his company is continually renovating and improving its 26 properties—and the company has scheduled several large renovation projects at various communities in the works for 2012.

7 Ways to Beat Winter Blues

January 5, 2012 4:32 pm

The holidays are over. Darkness comes early, and inclement weather may be keeping you indoors. That’s a good recipe for the wintertime blues, notes marriage and family counselor Emily Adams. But unless you are suffering from real depression—for which you may need to seek professional help—there are many effective ways for beating the symptoms of more commonplace winter doldrums.

Adams suggests seven activities to help you blast through the winter blues:

• Exercise – if you can’t get to the gym, exercise at home for at least 30 minutes a day. Do bending and stretching exercises. Use a jump rope. Get on the treadmill or stair stepper if you have one. Physical activity is the surest way to pump you up mentally and emotionally.
• Take a break – A week in the Caribbean may do wonders. But so can a weekend in the country—or even a “mental health” sick day from the office, spent at the movies or another pursuit you enjoy.
• Take care of yourself – A hot meal—even a steaming bowl of canned soup—can be a treat after a long day. Eat properly. Get enough rest. Pamper yourself with a professional massage.
• Let the sunshine in – Try not to mope. Open the blinds and enjoy the sunlight at every opportunity.
• Do some chores – Set yourself goals. Scrub down the kitchen. Do some ironing. Clean out that overstuffed closet. Making a list of chores and crossing them off can do wonders to elevate your mood.
• Do volunteer work – Check in to see how you can help at a local church, senior center or food pantry. Check out online volunteer opportunities. Doing something to help others can make you feel better about life.
• Connect with positive people – Who’s the most cockeyed optimist you know? That’s who you want to connect with. Get together for lunch, or a chat over coffee. Stay in touch and stay connected, and the good mood may wash over you.

How-To: Avoid Injury Clearing Snow

January 5, 2012 4:32 pm

While snow can be beautiful and provide endless thrills for both children and adults, fallen snow must be cleared regularly to ensure safety both on and off the road. However, if done improperly, shoveling or snow blower use can cause serious injury to the back, shoulders, hands or feet.

In 2010, more than 148,000 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms, doctors' offices, clinics and other medical settings for injuries sustained while shoveling or otherwise removing ice and snow manually, according to the U.S Consumer Products Safety Commission. In that same year, more than 21,500 were injured using snow blowers.

"Shoveling snow involves a lot of bending, heavy lifting and repetitive motion," says Roxanne Wallace, MD, orthopaedic surgeon and spokesperson for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). "For older Americans, and individuals who do not regularly exercise, shoveling can cause pain and injury to the back, and shoulder and arm muscles, and increase the risk for a heart attack."
For individuals who feel they are physically healthy enough to shovel, Dr. Wallace suggests taking frequent rest breaks, and drinking plenty of water and fluids. If you feel pain, stop shoveling, and find a friend, family member or professional to resume the task.

Using a snow blower is not as physically taxing as shoveling; however, the rapid, powerful blades of a running snow blower have the potential to severely injure hands or feet.

"Hands or feet should be kept away from the undersurface of a running snow blower at all times," adds Dr. Wallace. "And do not ever use your hands to address a jammed snow blower. Even if the machine is powered off, the blades may rotate forcefully after the jam is cleared, potentially causing injury. Children should never be allowed to operate or touch a snow blower. Snow blowers should not be used when children are nearby."

The AAOS has recommendations to help you stay safe while clearing snow:
• Check with your doctor. Because this activity places high stress on the heart, speak with your physician first. If you have a medical condition or do not exercise regularly, consider hiring someone to remove the snow.
• Dress appropriately. Light, layered, water-repellent clothing provides both ventilation and insulation. It is also important to wear the appropriate hat, as well as mittens or gloves and thick, warm socks. Take a break if you feel yourself getting too hot or too cold.
• See what you are shoveling/snow blowing. Make sure that your hat or scarf does not block your vision. Expect icy patches and uneven surfaces. Avoid falls by wearing shoes or boots that have slip-resistant soles.
• Clear snow early and often. Begin when a light covering of snow is on the ground to avoid trying to clear packed, heavy snow. If the snow is wet, lift smaller, lighter amounts with each shovel load.

Shoveling:
• Pace yourself. Take frequent breaks and replenish fluids to prevent dehydration. If you experience chest pain, shortness of breath or other signs of a heart attack, seek emergency care, such as by calling 9-1-1.
• Use a shovel that is comfortable for your height and strength. Do not use a shovel that is too heavy or too long for you. Consider buying a shovel that is specially designed to prevent too much stooping. Space your hands on the tool grip to increase your leverage.
• Push the snow instead of lifting it, as much as you can. If you must lift, take small amounts of snow, and lift it with your legs: Squat with your legs apart, knees bent and back straight. Lift by straightening your legs, without bending at the waist. Then walk to where you want to dump the snow; holding a shovelful of snow with your arms outstretched puts too much weight on your spine.
• Do not throw the snow over your shoulder or to the side. This requires a twisting motion that stresses your back.

Snow blowing:
• Never stick your hands or feet in the snow blower! If snow becomes impacted, stop the engine and wait at least five seconds. Use a solid object to clear wet snow or debris from the chute. Beware of the recoil of the motor and blades after the machine has been turned off.
• Do not leave the snow blower unattended when it is running. Shut off the engine if you must walk away from the machine.
• Watch the snow blower cord. If you are operating an electric snow blower, be aware of where the power cord is at all times, so you do not trip and fall.
• Add fuel before starting the snow blower. Never add fuel when the engine is running or hot. Do not operate the machine in an enclosed area.
• Read the instruction manual. Prior to using a snow blower, read the instruction manual for specific safety hazards, unfamiliar features, and whenever attempting to repair or maintain the snow blower.

Source: www.orthoinfo.org

Tips for Saving on Health Insurance

January 5, 2012 4:32 pm

Health insurance is important, as you never know what life may throw at your, and shouldn’t take your well-being—or the well-being of those you love—for granted. However, health insurance plans can vary, and pricing can be steep. The following tips, offered by Health Insurance Outlet, let you in on 6 ways to save on individual health insurance.

1) Compare plans
Based on your affordability, see what plans make sense for your health history. If you are a healthier person, maybe a higher deductible plan will be the right route for you.

2) Choose an insurance plan with a smaller network
This will instantly save you money because carriers will always charge you a premium if the network is large.

3) Increase your deductible
The deductible is the money you have to pay out of your own pocket first before the insurance carrier will start paying benefits.

4) Consider your health history and how old you are
For instance, if you do not have a history of taking prescription drugs, then pick a plan with lower drug benefits and that will lower your California health insurance premium.

5) Ask your employer if they offer health insurance
For the most part, group insurance through your employer will have lower monthly premiums. This is also because employers are required to contribute towards your health coverage and that will always save you money.

6) Consider HSAs to maximize your tax benefits
Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) are great ways to spend your tax dollars wisely. These health insurance plans are meant for people who have recurring or predictable health care needs.

Source: www.healthinsuranceoutlet.com

Word of the Day

January 5, 2012 4:32 pm

Subletting. The leasing of premises by a lessee to a third party for part of the lessee’s remaining term.