Gunning Daily News

The Truth about Debt Settlement: Is It for you?

October 11, 2011 4:09 pm

Many people hear about friends or acquaintances that were relieved of credit card debt through debt settlement and think this might be the best solution to their payment problems. The Illinois CPA Society warns you need to fully understand debt settlement agreements before taking this serious financial step. 

How Does Debt Settlement Work? 
Simply stated, debt settlement is an approach to debt reduction in which the debtor and the creditor agree on a reduced balance that will be regarded as payment in full. A credit company must have a solid reason to believe that you are actually unable to pay them before entering into a debt settlement agreement. Unfortunately, you prove this by not paying them which is an instant black mark on your credit score that doesn't go away for seven years. Once you've proven you can't pay them, you must negotiate a balance you can pay. The debt doesn't go away, it just gets lowered.

What are some of the Consequences of Debt Settlement? 
In addition to having already hurt your credit score by non-payment, you must pay the negotiated balance immediately. Also, any debt that is forgiven is considered income—and you will have to pay taxes on that income.

Are There Alternative Solutions?
You can call your credit card companies and ask them to reduce your rate. Point out that you've been a loyal customer who's paid on time in the past. If the first person you speak to isn't authorized to lower your rate, ask to speak to a supervisor. Be persistent and assertive.

Also try to get rid of your payments faster by trying to pay more than the minimum; even $5 makes a difference.

How do you get on top of already large minimum payments?
Cut out extras to make it work and pay your credit balances down first—no more premium cable, expensive data packages on your phone or eating out too many lunches or dinners. What you save goes to paying your credit card. Also consider selling through consignment shops or eBay things you bought but aren't using. Look at your budget and lifestyle carefully to see where you're living outside of your means and identify where you can cut back.

Debt settlement is a serious decision with serious repercussions. It's important to think beyond your current situation. With debt settlement you'll have a black mark on your credit report that could keep you from any number of new things you'd like in the future—a house, apartment, job or car.

For more information, visit www.icpas.org.

Majority of Americans Have Fire Escape Plans but Don't Practice Them

October 11, 2011 4:09 pm

According to a new nationwide survey, a majority of Americans don't practice what they plan when it comes to fire safety. The survey of 1,000 Americans revealed a surprising good news/bad news scenario related to fire escape planning.

Conducted by First Alert as part of a consumer education campaign tied to national Fire Prevention Week (Oct. 9-15), the survey showed that a majority (79 percent) of Americans reported having a home escape plan in place in case of fire or other emergencies. However, more than half (51 percent) have never practiced it, and 29 percent have only practiced it once.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends planning an emergency escape route and practicing it twice annually, while other fire safety organizations promote monthly drills to improve reaction time in case of an emergency.

"It is encouraging that so many people have given thought to a fire escape plan, but unpracticed, it cannot be as effective," says Deborah Hanson, director of external affairs for First Alert, a leader in residential fire and carbon monoxide (CO) detection devices. "The NFPA and local fire safety officials make strong recommendations because they know that proper planning can help prevent tragedy."

To develop an effective fire escape plan, First Alert and the NFPA offer the following tips:

• Involve everyone in your household in developing a plan. Walk through your home and inspect all possible exits and escape routes. Identify two ways out of each room, including windows and doors. Make sure everyone in the home understands the plan.

• Install smoke alarms throughout the home and test them monthly. Change batteries every six months to ensure proper function.

• Choose an outside meeting place (i.e. neighbor's house, a light post, mailbox, or stop sign) a safe distance in front of your home where everyone can meet after they've escaped.

• Have everyone memorize the emergency phone number of the fire department. That way any member of the household can call from a neighbor's home or a cellular phone once safely outside.

• Once you're out, stay out! Under no circumstances should you ever go back into a burning building. If someone is missing, inform the fire department dispatcher when you call. Firefighters have the skills and equipment to perform rescues.

Practice your home fire escape plan at least twice a year, making drills as realistic as possible. Allow children to master fire escape planning and practice before holding a fire drill at night when they are sleeping. The objective is to practice, not to frighten, so telling children there will be a drill before they go to bed can be as effective as a surprise drill.

It's important to determine during drills whether children and others can readily waken to the sound of smoke alarms. If they fail to awaken, make sure that someone is assigned to wake them up as part of the drill and in a real emergency situation. Also, consider switching to voice-enabled alarms such as the new Child Awakening Alarm from First Alert. This technologically advanced alarm uses a loud, pre-recorded and tamper-proof human voice to alert residents in case of smoke or unhealthy levels of CO and also to the specific location of the hazard within the home.

"Studies show that children ages six to 10 are awakened more readily by voice, so this new technology provides an increased level of safety," explains Hanson. "These alarms also help save time by identifying where smoke or CO is detected in the home, so residents can determine the fastest and safest ways out."

First Alert products range from combination smoke and CO units to smoke alarms with escape lights, along with basic battery-powered products.

For more information and a complete home safety checklist, visit http://www.firstalert.com/safety_checklist.php.

Fremont Insurance Tips: Avoiding Deer-Car Collisions

October 10, 2011 4:39 pm

As deer hunting season opens in many areas around the country, the risk of a deer-car collision increases. According to Fremont Insurance, there are several steps you can take to put the odds back in your favor when it comes to avoiding deer collisions:
• Stay aware, awake, and sober
• Car-deer crashes occur all year, but are more likely during spring and fall, and at dusk and dawn so drivers should take extra precautions during these times
• Pay attention to deer crossing and speed limit signs. Deer are creatures of habit and signs are installed at known deer crossing areas to alert you
• Be aware that deer are herd animals, and frequently travel single file. If you see one whitetail, watch for others
• Always wear a safety belt. It is your best defense against injury in any roadway crash
• Multiple independent studies have found that "deer whistles" are not effective at warding off deer so even if you have one, remain vigilant

In the event that a crash is unavoidable, Fremont Insurance offers this advice to drivers:
• Don't swerve. Brake firmly, stay in your lane, hold onto the steering wheel, and bring your vehicle to a controlled stop
• Pull off the road. Turn on your emergency flashers and be cautious of other traffic if you leave your vehicle
• Don't try to remove a deer from a roadway unless you are convinced it is dead. A wounded deer can cause serious injuries.
• Report the crash to the nearest police and your insurance agent.

For more information, visit www.fmic.com.

End Wallet Woes by Winterizing Windows

October 10, 2011 4:39 pm

The record-breaking summer may be over, but with winter around the corner, you can be sure high utility bills aren't going anywhere.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, winterizing your home windows can save up to 10 percent on energy bills right away, and replacing inefficient windows can save up to 25 percent.

Most heat escapes through gaps around windows. Failed sealant, gaps between the trim and the window, and bad window seals are the most likely culprits.

"You can find drafts with a simple trick. Hold a candle near the window on a windy day and watch the smoke," David Kozlowski of Glass Doctor® of Southeast Wisconsin says. "The more it moves, the worse the draft."

Once you find the draft, temporarily fix the problem with caulk or weather stripping. Fit older windows that remain unopened with weather stripping to prevent leaks. Be sure to measure the perimeter of the window and add at least 10 percent to account for overlap.

For windows you do open, you can replace the caulk yourself. After replacing the caulk, paint over it to complete the seal and protect the caulk.

If the economy has hurt your stock portfolio, consider an investment with a larger return. Increase your home's value and permanently fix drafts with replacement windows. Plus, the energy savings help pay for the windows over time.

The most energy-efficient replacement window is the Insulated Glass (IG) Unit. IG Units are multiple-pane windows with insulating gas between the panes. Thanks to the added insulation, IG units help sustain a consistent temperature. In the summer, IG units reduce heat gain, and in the winter, reduce heat loss.
If you already have IG Units, but they appear foggy between the panes, they are not insulating properly. Full-service glass shops can repair or replace bad IG Units, so your home can return to its original insulation factor.

With a hot summer, high heating fuel prices and a cold economy, lowering your heating and cooling costs is more important than ever. Invest in your windows and say goodbye to high utility bills.

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

Pumpkin Pulp and Seeds Can Spook Your Home's Plumbing System

October 10, 2011 4:39 pm

Carving pumpkins into jack-o'-lanterns is an age-old Halloween tradition. However, it can turn into a plumbing nightmare if the pulp and seeds go down the garbage disposal.

With the usual increase in clogged kitchen sink drains and jammed garbage disposals plumbers see this time of year, Mr. Rooter® Plumbing is already prepared for the spike in calls.

"We stay busy during Halloween because people don't realize the pumpkin's stringy, slimy substance hardens and sticks to the pipes," says Mary Kennedy Thompson, president of Mr. Rooter Corporation. "Our service professionals are on call 24/7, so we can repair plumbing emergencies and get our customers back to their Halloween activities and guests."

The trick to keeping pumpkin pulp and seeds from causing plumbing problems is being cautious when removing and disposing of the pumpkin's remains.
Mr. Rooter Plumbing has this advice:
• Carve pumpkins on a newspaper away from the kitchen sink.
• Do not put pulp and seeds into the garbage disposal or toilet.
• Instead, throw all pumpkin-related material and newspaper in the garbage.
• For those who recycle, put the remnants in a compost pile.

And the treat for following this recommendation—pumpkin carvers can use the pulp and seeds for Halloween desserts, breads and muffins. There are recipes that use both pulp and seeds.

For more information, visit www.mrrooter.com or www.mrrooter.ca.

U.S. Unemployment Rate Plateaus as Hiring Speeds Up

October 10, 2011 4:39 pm

ManpowerGroup , a leader in innovative workforce solutions, warns against waiting for the right talent to arrive when it's time to hire, as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that the overall September unemployment rate stayed at 9.1 percent, and 103,000 new jobs were created. It also revised the zero growth rate reported in August to a gain of 57,000 jobs. The temporary staffing industry added 53,000 jobs over the past three months.

"The world is reacting in a hyperbolic manner to the unverified saw-toothing in the employment numbers. When you look at the revised jobs numbers over the past three months, hiring activity paints a steady picture—which is exactly what you'd expect to see in a slow and tepid recovery, and is completely aligned with ManpowerGroup's forward-looking hiring confidence index and what more than 65,000 employers tell us they are seeing in their business: 'It's not great, but it's going ok,'" says Jeffrey A. Joerres, ManpowerGroup Chairman and CEO. "The bottom line is that demand trumps economic uncertainty. The ripple effects of Europe's banking crisis don't help the situation, and companies that bolstered their workforce strategies have a critical edge during times like this.

"ManpowerGroup continues to see more employers revamp their approach to short- and long-term workforce development, but I can't warn employers enough to clamp down on pinpointing essential skills, needed today and in the future, and finding what we call 'The Teachable Fit' to develop them in existing workers and candidates," Joerres adds. "When it's time to hire, scrambling to align the right talent is not an option for businesses seeking to remain competitive. A range of micro and macro factors affect accessibility to the right talent and these factors continue to evolve and curtail hiring plans without much notice."

Last month ManpowerGroup released the results of its Fourth Quarter Manpower Employment Outlook Survey, which found that U.S. employers expect hiring to remain relatively stable for the rest of the year. According to the seasonally adjusted survey results, the net employment outlook for this quarter is +7%, up from +6% during the same period last year and down from the +8% outlook during last quarter.

The survey is regularly used to inform the Bank of England's inflation reports. In addition, it is a regular data source for the European Commission, and is sourced by financial analysts and economists around the world to track job creation and industry growth.

ManpowerGroup's 2011 Talent Shortage Survey found that 52 percent of U.S. companies are struggling to fill key jobs, the highest percentage in the six-year history of the survey. ManpowerGroup advises companies to think long-term because the talent mismatch will inevitably worsen as demand for products and services increases.

For more information, visit www.manpowergroup.com.

Word of the Day

October 10, 2011 4:39 pm

Listing. Contract used for hiring a real estate agent to sell a piece of property. Also a piece of property that is for sale.

Question of the Day

October 10, 2011 4:39 pm

Q: Why is location so important?

A: Location remains the single most important factor when choosing a home. It can make or break the value and desirability of a home.

Because everyone’s preferences vary, your lifestyle will determine the best place for you to live. Some people prefer the suburbs while others thrive on downtown living. If you favor city living, find out what part of the city suits you best – a fast-paced neighborhood or one slightly more subdued. Talk with the neighbors and keenly observe such things as traffic patterns, lifestyles, and even sounds and smells.

When choosing a town, take property taxes, schools, accessibility to work, services, recreation, and the character of the community into consideration.

One in Four Americans Would Not Inform Spouse of Financial Difficulties

October 7, 2011 4:39 pm

The National Foundation for Credit Counseling’s (NFCC) September online poll revealed that twenty-four percent of more than 1,400 respondents would not tell their spouse if they were experiencing financial difficulties. 

Reasons given for withholding the information include the fear that it would worry the spouse (nine percent); that the spouse is unaware of the debt (eight percent); that it would damage the relationship (seven percent). 

“Even if well-intentioned, withholding financial information from a spouse is not a sign of a healthy relationship, either emotional or financial,” says Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the NFCC. “It is encouraging that the majority, 76 percent, would share the information with their spouse so that they could work together to resolve the situation.” 

Even though having a discussion around money can be difficult, particularly if it is long overdue, it is a topic that ideally should be addressed early in a relationship, preferably before tying the knot. “People bring financial baggage into a relationship that they often don’t deal with until there is a problem, making it challenging to have a constructive conversation,” continues Cunningham. 

To help facilitate a positive conversation about financial issues, the NFCC recommends the following Dos and Don’ts of a successful discussion:
• Don’t approach the subject in the heat of battle. Instead, set aside a time that is convenient and non-threatening for both parties.
• Do make it a casual conversation about a serious subject, respecting the fact that each person has valid opinions and concerns.
• Do be honest about your current financial situation. If things have gone south, continuing the same lifestyle that was possible before the change in income is simply unrealistic.
• Do be open to adjusting your lifestyle. If spending cutbacks or second jobs are necessary, resist whining. It’s likely that your situation will be temporary, and you could end up regretting the pity party you hosted.
• Don’t hide income or debt. This is known as financial infidelity. Instead, bring financial documents, including a recent credit report, pay stubs, bank statements, insurance policies, debts and investments to the table.
• Don’t point the finger of blame. That’s a real conversation stopper.
• Do probe to understand long-held financial attitudes, often present since childhood and ingrained by observing how parents addressed money issues.
• Do acknowledge that one may be a saver and one a spender, understanding that there are benefits to both mindsets and agreeing to learn from each other’s tendencies.
Once everything is out in the open, it’s time to make decisions about how to handle your finances in the future:
• Do make a plan to deal with any skeletons that came out of the financial closet. Such surprises can greatly compromise your ability to obtain future credit opportunities. Now is the time to deal with them.
• Do construct a new joint budget that includes savings. Emergency situations drop into your life at the most inopportune times. Without a rainy day fund, the financial hole becomes even deeper.
• Do decide which person will be responsible for paying the monthly bills. It is likely that one person will be a good fit for this task, while the other finds it burdensome.
• Do allow each person to have independence by setting aside money to be spent at his or her discretion.
• Do decide upon short-term and long-term goals. It’s ok to have individual goals, but you should have family goals, too.
• Do talk about loaning money to family members and friends. Decide if it’s something you’re each comfortable with, or should be taboo.
• Do talk about caring for your parents as they age, and how to appropriately plan for their financial needs, if necessary. 

“Court records show that financial stress is one of the main causes of divorce. Taking action now could prevent a disaster later,” comments Cunningham. 

For more information, visit http://www.DebtAdvice.org.

Household Budgeting: To Save or to Spend?

October 7, 2011 4:39 pm

From big-ticket purchases to basic household items, people from all economic backgrounds are prioritizing their shopping lists to spend wisely on items worth the investment. It’s not surprising that when buying items for you or your family, it can be difficult to decide where to adjust your household budget. Personal finance expert, author and TV personality Farnoosh Torabi provides these tips for how to save on everyday items, and shows families where extra spending can lead to long-term savings. 

Saving on the Everyday
Buy in bulk and store. Basic household items such as paper towels, toilet paper, dish soap, hand soap and laundry detergent can be purchased in large quantities and shelved for later use in order to save money over time. Look to large retailer stores that offer buy-in-bulk options. Also consider purchasing frozen food to store and use as needed. 

Get creative; call for reinforcements.
• Email friends and family to set up a kids' clothing swap. Trading gently-used clothing with other families is a great way to get the items you need, without spending a great deal of money.
• Save on babysitting expenses by swapping out weekend nights of kid watching with a friend or family member.
• Set up a carpool to save time and fuel. 

Clip those coupons. Though it may seem obvious to point out that you can save big by clipping coupons, many people overlook this money-saving practice. Look for coupons online and in your local newspaper. There are several sites online that can keep you updated about savings at stores in your specific location as well. 

Spending for Long-Term Savings
 Trade up now, save more later. Certain household items may cost more up front, but will save time, energy, money and other resources down the line if you invest in quality products. Torabi suggests the following items deserve larger budgets up-front:
• Running shoes - Fitness experts suggest purchasing quality, high-performance shoes that are designed to protect against injuries and their impending medical costs. Purchasing good workout shoes during your lifetime could potentially save you from costly injuries such as a $15,000 knee surgery.
• Quality mattress - The average person spends a third of his or her life in bed. So, investing in a quality mattress now, and one that can adjust to your changing body over time, will provide a low cost-per-use, since you sleep on your mattress every day.
• Electric toothbrush - Proper brushing and flossing practices are important for maintaining oral health and can save you money down the line. Avoid costly dental expenses by purchasing a quality electric toothbrush, brushing and flossing two or more times daily, and keeping those dental cleaning appointments.
• Green appliances - When upgrading kitchen or other household appliances, spending more up front can mean big savings later. "The average household spends $1,400 a year on energy bills. By purchasing energy-efficient products, you can save 30 percent, or more than $400 a year," says Torabi. Over time, those savings could pay for the cost of each appliance. And purchasing a high-quality product means your appliance will continue to run properly with minimal maintenance years from now. 

To learn more, visit www.sleepnumber.com.