Gunning Daily News

Financial New Year's Resolutions: What Every Consumer Should Know About Credit Card Balance Transfers

January 3, 2012 5:38 pm

As we enter the new year, a top resolution for 2012 is to consolidate credit card debt.

While there are many tactics to improve credit, balance transfers are becoming an increasingly popular way to reign in high interest rates. However, reducing outstanding debt is not always as easy as switching cards.

With 42.3 percent of American families in credit card debt, outstanding revolving credit card debt at $793.4 billion and the nationwide credit card APRs averaging 13.08 percent, according to the U.S. Federal Reserve, January is a hot time for card issuers to lure people from their current cards with promotional interest rates as low as zero.

"Balance transfers are a smart financial choice for many consumers, provided they read the agreement's fine print and are able to pay down their balances before the low introductory rate offers expire," says Charles Tran, founder of CreditDonkey.com, a consumer credit card comparison and education site. "In most cases, balance transfers represent an interest-free loan during the introductory period, but if consumers use that relief to simply continue uncontrolled spending, they will easily get deeper in debt."

Before making a balance transfer, consumers should follow these five tips:

1. Know the Interest Rates: Review the card's terms and conditions to learn if you will be charged a balance transfer fee. Fees typically range from 3 to 5 percent of the total balance. Check the length of introductory period and find out the post-introductory-period APR. If you cannot pay off the balance before this expires, your new card might become more costly than the old one.
2. Don't Take Teaser Rates at Face Value: Determine if the low- or no-interest rate promotion also applies to new purchases. Some companies charge their usual rates on purchases.
3. Know Your Fees: Understand the different fees—balance transfer fees, annual fees, and minimum finance changes. As a result of the new regulations from the Credit CARD Act, credit card companies have raised or added new fees.
4. Be Aware of Changes: Remember that the terms of the credit card can change over time, so consumers should stay current on the newest changes.
5. Read Reviews Before Transferring: Today it is easy, and equally important, to compare reviews and benefits of the cards so you can be sure the new card is the right fit for you.

"Until recently, many 0 percent interest credit cards were limited to short periods such as 12 months," says Tran, "but now credit card issuers are offering big incentives such as 0 percent for 21 months to try to get consumers to transfer their balance."

Balance transfers are more appropriate for consumers who can pay off the balance before the introductory period ends, control their spending, and those with a good credit score who can secure a better post-introductory interest rate. If a consumer does not meet these criteria, they should think twice before they enter the balance transfer game.

And for consumers already in the balance transfer game, CreditDonkey.com provides five strategies to help stay ahead:

• Don't be Late: Pay your bills on time to avoid late fees and penalties that can increase the interest rate.
• Pay down the Balance: Just paying the minimum payment will not resolve your debt problem.
• Separate Your Debts: If you cannot get a low interest credit card on all transactions –such as purchases, balance transfers and cash advances, use separate cards with the most favorable terms for different transactions.
• Make it a Good Ending: A month or two before the introductory period ends, make plans so you are not stuck with a high interest rate you cannot afford. Decide if you should keep this card and the new high rate or begin a new balance transfer.
• Know Your Rights: For other consumer benefits of the new Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act, visit http://www.federalreserve.gov/consumerinfo/wyntk_creditcardrules.htm

"If you 'play your cards right,' balance transfers can save you money and consolidate your debt," says Tran, "but consumers should understand that using them too often can result in a lowered credit score."

For more information, visit http://www.creditdonkey.com.

Word of the Day

January 3, 2012 5:38 pm

Steering- The illegal practice of directing potential home buyers to or away from certain neighborhoods either to maintain or to change the character of an area, or to create a speculative situation.

Question of the Day

January 3, 2012 5:38 pm

Q: Can you negotiate interest rates?

A: A few lenders will negotiate the mortgage rate and number of points on a loan. However, this is more the exception than the rule with established lenders. As always, shop around and know the market before you enter a lender’s office. Rates are often published in local newspapers and on Internet Web sites.

You may have more luck when dealing directly with a seller who has agreed to finance your loan. He is likely to be more open to negotiation, particularly when motivated to make a quick sale.

Question of the Day

December 21, 2011 5:32 pm

Q: Is private mortgage insurance necessary?
A: Lenders require private mortgage insurance (PMI) on most conventional loans with less than a 20 percent down payment. They believe there is a correlation between borrower equity and default. They have found that the less money borrowers put down, the more likely they are to default on a loan. PMI guarantees the lender will not lose money if this happens and a foreclosure is necessary.

The buyer pays this insurance, usually a small fee at the outset and a percentage of the face amount of the loan that is added to the monthly payment.

What most homeowners do not realize is that the insurance is usually no longer necessary after enough equity has built up in the property. Contact your lender if you meet this requirement and want to drop PMI.

A precaution: do not confuse PMI with mortgage life insurance. The latter pays all, or a portion, of your mortgage in the event of your death.

If Women Are from Venus and Men from Mars, What on Earth Happens When They're Buying a Home?

December 21, 2011 5:02 pm

While it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that men and women have different approaches to nearly every situation, what's interesting to see is where the differences lie, and how it affects their decisions when buying a home.

A 2007 Royal LePage survey found that 30 percent of single women already owned their own home. With the demographics of homebuyers changing, a prominent real estate company recently decided to commission a survey in 2009 to discover to what extent men and women differed when it came to buying a home. The results were sometimes fairly surprising!

Some key observations

• Women tended to decide quicker
• Location: women want to be closer to extended family; men want to be closer to workplace
• Security: both agreed this was a major factor
• Both sides claimed major financial decisions were reached mutually
• Both parties agreed on how to utilize a spare room

Quicker Decision Making

Interestingly, 70 percent of women said they had pretty much made up their minds about buying a home from the day they viewed it, whereas for men, it was only 62 percent. Furthermore, more men needed to go back for another two or three visits (32 percent as opposed to 23 percent of women) before reaching a final decision. Keep that in mind, ladies, the next time your guy complains about how long you spend looking at shoes.

Location
Men like to be practical, right? Being close to work is practical. Cut down on the morning commute, less time on the road, and so on. Women, on the other hand, prefer being closer to extended family. According to statistics, 55 percent of women felt this was an important factor when buying a home while only 37 percent of men agreed.

Security
This is one area where both sides agree closely on. Security plays such an important role in today's society that 64 percent of women said they would forgo their dream home if it didn't meet their security requirements. And guess what? 51 percent of men agreed.

Making the major financial decisions when buying a home

This one revealed a lot about the respondents! While 70 percent of those surveyed said that major financial decisions were reached mutually, there's actually a little more to this story. When questioned further, 26 percent of men thought that they, in fact, were the major decision-makers in the relationship while 20 percent of women felt the same about themselves. It's best to leave this one alone, I think…

Utilizing a spare room

This is one area where you would think there would be significant differences but there weren't. Both sides felt that an extra room (12 x 12) should be used for:
• Choice 1 (25 percent) - bedroom
• Choice 2 (15 percent) - office/study
• Choice 3 (11 percent) - family room/den

Although men and women tend to look for different things when buying a home, there is also much they have in common. And that's where the value of working with a real estate professional comes in. "A good REALTOR® will take both parties' concerns and preferences into account, and find a compromise solution that addresses everyone's wants and needs," says Andrew Brest, vice president of marketing of Sundaybell Inc., an online company specializing in matching homebuyers and sellers with their ideal agent. Lee Redwood, Sundaybell's vice president of sales agrees. "A part of an agent's job is to sometimes act as a bridge between partners, helping them to understand the other's point of view."

Which can be very important, you'll agree, if you're going to be sharing closet space!

Is Your Home Ready for the Holidays?

December 21, 2011 5:02 pm

As the holiday season approaches, many are busy getting their homes ready for visiting friends and family. Having multiple generations under one roof takes some planning, and it's helpful to plan ahead for elderly visitors to ensure your home is as safe as possible.

"Don't let a nasty accident ruin the holiday cheer in your home," said Merri Dee, AARP Illinois state president. "All it takes is just a few simple steps to help ensure your home is safe for elderly visitors."
Below are five steps that AARP recommends for making your home safe for older guests:

Be clutter-free with bins.
If you're used to leaving toys, clothes and other objects lying on the floor, now more than ever, you'll need to start picking them up. Pick a spot that's out of the way and set up a large basket to serve as a catchall for things that tend to end up on the floor.

Prevent slips and falls with anti-slip mats, grab bars and adhesive strips.
Anti-slip mats, often made of rubber or a similar material, fit under throw rugs to increase traction, and greatly decrease the chances of a fall. Removing throw rugs also solves the problem—provided that they weren't covering slick, waxed wood floors, which can also be a hazard. In the bathroom, grab bars in the tub or shower and beside the toilet are lifesavers and help prevent falls. Low-cost, no-slip adhesive strips also can decrease the risk of slippery bathroom areas and steps.

Soften edges with furniture bumpers.
Use clear plastic bumpers that fit over sharp furniture corners to prevent injury. Alternatively, remove sharp-edged furniture from the room. Unsteady chairs should be replaced as well.

Stay cool with anti-scalding devices.

These inexpensive devices (about $40) automatically turn off the water if it gets too hot. They can easily be installed on faucets in your kitchen or on showers and tubs. Alternatively, turn down the thermostat on your hot-water heater so the water never gets above 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Light the way.
It's not just the rooms in your house that need to be well-lit: Make sure walkways, hallways and entryways are illuminated, too. Lighting should be bright but not harsh or blinding.

Source: http://www.aarp.org

Looking for 2011 Tax Relief? There’s Still Time

December 21, 2011 5:02 pm

If you’re just beginning to think about your 2011 income tax return, you’ve got a late start—but it’s still not too late to cash in on some savings.

“A lot of the deductions associated with the economic stimulus package will disappear in 2012, so if you want to take advantage of them, you’ve got only until Dec. 31,” said Jessica James, CPA and author of Justice for None, an insider look at IRS tactics in a tax fraud investigation and trial.

But, she says, there’s still plenty of time for some other measures to ease your share of the tax burden. Now is also a good time to resolve to start earlier in 2012 to minimize that year’s tax bill. Here are a some tips for both 2011 and 2012 savings.

• Contribute to retirement accounts.
If you haven’t already put money into your traditional or ROTH IRA account for 2011, you’ve got until April 17 to do it. If you have a Keogh or SEP (Simplified Employee Pension Individual Retirement Arrangement for businesses), and you get a filing extension to Oct. 15, you’ve got until then to make your 2011 deposits. The maximum IRA contribution for 2011 is $5,000, or $6,000 if you’re 50 or older by the end of the year. For self-employed people, the maximum for SEPs and Keoghs for 2011 is $49,000.

• Don't fear the home office deduction. In the past, many tax filers didn’t claim a home office deduction because it was seen as an IRS red flag. But the requirements and forms have been clarified so people can do that properly—and not make mistakes that can lead to an audit. Also, the rules have been expanded so more people can claim the deduction. If you use a home office exclusively for business, even if you don’t meet your clients there, you’re eligible. For instance, a handyman who does his work other people’s houses can claim the deduction if he does his paperwork at his home office. Another change is that, in the past, if you claimed 10 percent of your home as an office, that amount would not be included in the $250,000 tax-free profit from the home’s sale that’s allowed for an individual by the IRS. Be sure to make your claim reasonable, or it will get questioned; a $25,000 home office deduction for a business with $50,000 annual gross revenue is not reasonable.

• Maximize your Flexible Spending Account. The Health Care Act will limit the maximum you can put into these pre-tax medical expense accounts in 2013. So 2012 is the last year to use an FSA to pay for orthodontics and other large medical expenses using pre-tax earnings. A medical expense flexible spending account, or FSA, allows you to use before-tax earnings to pay for medical or health care expenses not covered by your health insurance. Assuming a 25 percent tax rate, you avoid $25 in taxes for every $100 you spend from your FSA.

• Need to sell an investment? Next year may be the time. The Tax Relief Act maintains the tax rate cap on capital gains and dividends at 15 percent through 2012. In 2013, the cap for capital gains will increase to 20 percent and for dividends, 39.6 percent. The Health Care Act also created a 3.8 percent Medicare tax on investment income, effective in 2013. Given those scheduled increases, plan to take advantage of the rates next year.

Candle Safety Tips to Help Prevent Fires

December 21, 2011 5:02 pm

There's a special beauty and tranquility to candles, but a lighted candle is also an open flame, and a potential fire hazard if not carefully monitored. In fact, accidental candle fires account for approximately four percent of all U.S. residential fires. NewsWatch and the National Candle Association provide some candle safety tips this holiday season to help you enjoy candles safely.

A study by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission suggests that 85 percent of candle fires could be avoided if consumers followed three basic safety rules:
• Never leave a burning candle unattended.
• Never burn a candle on or near anything that might catch fire.
• Keep candles out of the reach of children and pets.
There are some other basic tips to help avoid fire this holiday season. These tips are broken down into before, during and extinguishing phases.

Before Lighting:
• Trim the wick to ¼ inch each time before burning.
• Always use a candleholder specifically designed for candle use.
• Burn candles in a well-ventilated room.
• Place the candleholder on a stable, heat-resistant surface.
• Keep the wax pool clear of wick trimmings, matches and debris at all times.
• Avoid drafts, vents or air currents.

During Lighting:
• Never touch or move a burning candle.
• Don't burn a candle all the way down.
• Extinguish a candle if the flame becomes too high or flickers repeatedly.
• Always keep the candle within your sight.

When Extinguishing:

• Use a candle snuffer to extinguish a candle.
• Never use water to extinguish a candle.
• Make sure the candle is completely out and the wick ember is no longer glowing before leaving the room.
• Don't touch or move the candle until it has completely cooled.

Source: newswatchtv.com

Word of the Day

December 21, 2011 5:02 pm

Semidetached. One structure containing two dwelling units separated vertically by a common wall.

Safely Skate, Slide and Glide through Winter

December 20, 2011 5:10 pm

In many areas of the country, the snow is falling, the temperature is dropping, and it's time to pull out those skis, sleds and skates!

While winter sports provide a wonderful opportunity to exercise and enjoy the outdoors, these activities also have the potential to cause severe injury if proper safety precautions are not practiced. Common injuries from skiing, skating and sledding include sprains and muscle strains, dislocations and fractures.

More than 440,000 people were treated in hospitals, doctors' offices and emergency rooms for winter sports-related injuries in 2010, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. This includes more than:

• 58,500 ice skating injuries;
• 91,000 injuries from sledding and tobogganing;
• 144,000 snow skiing injuries; and
• 148,000 snowboard injuries.

"When participating in winter sports, it's important for participants to know the weather and terrain, to stay alert for changes, and to take a break when feeling pain or fatigue," said orthopaedic surgeon A. Herbert Alexander, MD. "Before skiing, skating or sledding, make sure you're dressed appropriately, in good physical shape, know and abide by the rules of the sport in which you're participating, and seek medical attention immediately if necessary.

"And don't forget safety equipment, in particular helmets for skiing, snowboarding, sledding, and even ice skating," said Dr. Alexander.

As part of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons'(AAOS) on-going Prevent Injuries America!® campaign, the AAOS urges children and adults to consider these additional winter sports injury prevention tips before braving the snow:

• Check the weather for snow and ice conditions prior to heading outdoors. Pay attention to warnings about upcoming storms and severe drops in temperature to ensure safety while outdoors. Skiers and snowboarders should make adjustments for icy conditions, deep snow powder, wet snow, and adverse weather conditions.
• Dress for the occasion. Wear several layers of light, loose and water- and wind-resistant clothing for warmth and protection. Layering allows you to accommodate your body's constantly changing temperature.
• Wear appropriate protective gear, including goggles, helmets, gloves and padding. Also, check that all equipment, such as ski and snowboard bindings, is in good working order.
• Skiers and snowboarders should have their boots and bindings adjusted, maintained and tested by a ski shop that follows American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) standard job practices.
• Never participate alone in a winter sport. If possible, skiers and snowboarders should ski with a partner and stay within sight of each other. If one partner loses the other, stop and wait. Also, make sure someone who is not participating is aware of your plans and probable whereabouts before heading outdoors. Consider carrying a cell phone in case of an emergency.
• Skiers and snowboarders should observe all marked hazard and trail signs, and should never venture into closed areas. You also should respect designated slow skiing and family areas and never ski in the trees alone. Backcountry skiers and boarders should avoid avalanche zones, carry proper safety equipment and ski only with a licensed guide or partner who knows the terrain well.
• Avoid sledding near or on public streets. Sledding should be done only in designated and approved areas where there are no obstacles on the sledding path. Speeding down hills in parks that are not designed for sledding puts you at risk to be hit by cars and trucks, or to slam into parked vehicles, curbs, and fences.
• Sit in a forward-facing position when sledding and steer using your feet or the rope steering handles for better control of the sled.
• Wear a helmet. Children especially should wear a helmet for skiing, snowboarding, sledding and even skating.
• Warm up thoroughly before playing. Cold muscles, tendons and ligaments are vulnerable to injury. It's important that skiers and snowboarders warm up by taking it easy on the first few runs.
Drink plenty of water before, during, and after outdoor activities. Don't drink alcohol as it can increase your chances of hypothermia. Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated, especially to avoid altitude sickness when participating in sports at a high elevation.
• Keep in shape and condition muscles before partaking in winter activities. If over the age of 50, it may be wise to have a medical check-up prior to participating in a winter sport.
• Know and abide by all rules of the sport in which you are participating.
• Learn how to fall correctly to avoid injury. Take a lesson (or several) from a qualified instructor, especially in sports like skiing and snowboarding, to learn how to fall correctly and safely which can reduce the risk of injury. Falling techniques aim to protect your vulnerable body parts.
o If skiing, learn how to properly hold the poles with the strap to avoid "skiers thumb" – tearing an important ligament by falling onto an outstretched thumb.
o Also, don't fight a fall! Instead, try to break the fall with your arms in a flexible position, landing first on your hands and wrists, letting your elbows bend into the fall, and then rolling onto the back part of your shoulder. A fall onto stiff arms can cause a severe wrist fracture. Also, try to avoid landing with your thumb against the handle of your pole.
o Injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the knee occur frequently in skiing, often when a skier makes a sharp sudden movement or a hard, off-balance landing. Avoiding high-risk ski behavior, maintaining balance and control, and recognizing and responding correctly to dangerous situations, can help alleviate the risk for ACL injury.
• Seek shelter and medical attention immediately if you, or anyone with you, is experiencing hypothermia or frostbite. Early frostbite symptoms include: numbness and tingling in you digits, lack of feeling and poor motion.
• Avoid participating in sports when you are in pain or exhausted. Many skiers are injured on the final, "one last run"—if tired, call it a day.
• Follow-up with an orthopaedic surgeon if injured during any winter excursion, especially if pain or discomfort persists.

Source: www.aaos.org