Gunning Daily News

Question of the Day

September 30, 2011 5:09 pm

Q: How do lenders define bad credit?

A:
It is all those things that appear on your credit report that are unflattering. They include: missing a credit card payment, defaulting on a previous loan, filing for bankruptcy in the past seven years, or not paying your taxes.

Other black marks include a judgment filed against you – perhaps for non-payment of spousal or child support – or any collection activity.

9 out of 10 Americans Still Believe in “American Dream

September 30, 2011 3:39 pm

Despite the ups and downs across America’s Real Estate landscape, I was buoyed by a recent New York Times/CBS News poll that affirmed home ownership is still the American dream. In fact, nearly nine in 10 Americans say an important part of their American Dream is owning their own home.

This point was brought to my attention by Scott Cooney with ERA Goodfellow Homes, a leading real estate brokerage serving western Connecticut. He recently blogged that he has never witnessed real estate market conditions quite like what the U.S. and the region is experiencing today.

So is that good or bad news for consumers who are currently in the market for a new home? Cooney seems optimistic in offering these insights:

1. Homes are More Affordable - Current housing prices are down 27% on average across the nation from peak values five years ago according to the Freddie Mac House Price Index (June 2006 to March 2011), and the national housing affordability index continues to hover at record levels.

2. Rates are Low - With interest rates hovering around 4%, 30-year fixed mortgage interest rates remain near historical lows, based on an average 30-year fixed mortgage rate with an average 0.7 point as shown in the Primary Mortgage Market Survey data according to Freddie Mac as of July 7, 2011.

3. Timing is Everything - While conforming loan limits were set to be reduced on Oct. 1, (2011) many sources said the effects would be minimal and would only affect a narrow percentage of the housing market.

4. Financing is Available - If you have stable employment of at least two years; sufficient income to cover the monthly mortgage payment and living expenses; adequate savings to make at least a 3.5% down payment; and, in general, a credit score of at least 620, Cooney says you are well on your way to the American dream.

Just remember, according to Cooney, the FHA requires a minimum 3.5% down payment; while conventional mortgages will require a down payment of 5% or more. FICO score minimums may be higher or lower depending on loan type, income history, property type and other factors.

So take stock in Cooney’s advice, and don’t let those sensational headlines about the current real estate market dissuade you from pursuing your American dream of home ownership.

Homeowners Should Act Now, Debt Relief Act of 2007 Expires 2012

September 30, 2011 3:39 pm

According to Expert Home Solutions, the difference in the loan modification payment is often not different enough from the original. Sometimes the modification is canceled because there is no grace period and the homeowner misses his due date. 

According to an article on CNN only 1% of homeowners in negative equity have received modifications. There have been 1.5 million HAMP trial modifications since the program began in March, 2009. 50% of the trial modifications have been canceled due to borrowers defaulting or banks rejecting homeowners after the trial period. Only 152,289 of the trial modifications converted to permanent status were active in 2010. 15 million homeowners are in default and only 1% have been able to get a modification that is still in force.
According to walletpop.com, only 4% of loan modifications get a principal reduction. With only 1% of the 15 million homeowners in default getting a loan modification that means that about 7,000 homeowners received a principal reduction by April 2010. 

While this trend continues today, some homeowners want retirement with a reverse mortgage or want to leave a legacy to their family. In a modification with no principal reduction they will not be able to do either. Equity normally increases about 3% per year. If a home loan is $500,000 and now the home is worth $300,000, it will take 18 years to reach $500,000. This homeowner breaks even in 2029. If the owner short sales now, he can buy in two years and start building equity in 2013.

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

Medicare 2012: What You Need to Know

September 30, 2011 3:39 pm

The Medicare program can be confusing because of its many different parts, supplemental coverage options and specific Medicare enrollment periods for different products. All of these nuances can make Medicare hard to understand for new enrollees as well as for those who have been on the program for a number of years. 

If you're new to the program or even if you're a seasoned Medicare veteran, here are a few things you should know about the program heading into 2012. 

Be aware of deductibles, co-insurance, out-of-pocket limits and prescription drug costs
If you're new to Medicare it's important to know that both parts of Original Medicare (A and B) have deductibles. And, the Part A deductibles are not tied to a calendar year like they are with traditional health insurance. Instead, they're tied to a 90-day benefit period, with some exceptions. 

The Medicare Part B benefit also includes coinsurance after you meet your deductible. With coinsurance, Medicare pays a percentage of each bill (typically between 20 and 45 percent, depending on the service) and you pay the rest after applicable premiums and deductibles. 

Original Medicare also has no limits on the amount you could pay out of your own pocket for covered medical services each year. And, original Medicare does not cover the cost of most prescription drugs.
People concerned about some of the gaps in original Medicare have the option to enroll in insurance products regulated by the government but provided by private companies. These are products designed specifically to fill some of the different gaps in Medicare. They include:
• Medicare Part D stand-alone prescription drug plans, which cover the cost of most prescription drugs. New Benefit: In 2012 part D recipients get a 14 percent discount on the cost of generic drugs when they reach Medicare's coverage gap, or "donut hole," on top of the 50 percent discount they got last year on the cost of brand name drugs when they reach the donut hole.
• Medicare Supplement plans, which cover portions of the deductibles, coinsurance and out-of-pocket costs not covered by original Medicare.
• Medicare Advantage plans, which bundle together the Part D drug benefit with some additional coverage for deductibles, coinsurance and out-of-pocket costs. New Benefit: Starting in 2011, health care reform requires all Medicare Advantage plans to have a maximum limit of $6,700 on how much a customer can pay out of their own pocket for medical services, excluding the cost of prescription drugs. 

Each type of supplemental coverage has different guidelines for when you can enroll, change and cancel your coverage. 

Most beneficiaries can change a Medicare Advantage plan or stand-alone Medicare prescription drug plan once per year during Medicare's annual enrollment period (AEP). The dates for AEP changed this year, and run from October 15 to December 7 in 2011. 

Medicare Supplement plans have an initial enrollment period, which occurs in the first 6 months after you enroll in Medicare Part B and are 65 or older. During that time, you can enroll in a Medicare Supplement plan and not be declined. But, if you try to enroll after the initial enrollment period, your application could be declined based on a review of your medical history. 

But, if you want to switch from a Supplement plan to an Advantage plan, the AEP is a good time to make that switch. 

New to Medicare?
Many people who are new to Medicare may have to deal with the complexity of the program. Here are some basics:
• Medicare is comprised of four major programs: Part A, Part B, Part C, and Part D. Medicare Part A and Part B are often referred to as "Original Medicare." There are also Medicare Supplement plans, which are designed as an alternative to Part C to fill gaps in Parts A and B.
• Generally speaking, Part A covers in-patient hospitalization while Part B covers outpatient services and other medical care.
• Part C denotes the "Medicare Advantage" program where private insurance companies deliver Medicare Part A, Part B and -- in most cases—Part D benefits to plan enrollees.
• Part D is the Medicare prescription drug benefit that provides insurance coverage for medications.
• Your circumstances determine when you can enroll in or change Part D and C plans.

This and other food and lifestyle content can be found at www.editors.familyfeatures.com.

Fun Foods That Fuel the Family

September 30, 2011 3:39 pm

For a lot of busy moms, it seems that kids' activities dominate the family calendar. Between school, soccer practice, ballet rehearsal and everything in between, sometimes you need to have a plan of attack for keeping the family satisfied. 

Eating right goes a long way to giving everyone the energy they need to fuel all those activities, but it can be tricky coming up with new ideas for meals and snacks the kids will actually eat. 

Blogger Meagan Francis, from The Happiest Mom, shares a few of her ideas for satisfying hungry kids and keeping them going throughout the busy day. 

Quick Breakfast Bites
• Wrap up the first meal of the day in a tortilla with scrambled egg burritos. If you're in a hurry, they can be a great on-the-go breakfast.
• Make a fruit smoothie or a toasted whole grain English muffin with peanut butter and no sugar added jelly.
• Skip the sugar-bomb-in-a-bowl cereal and go for whole grain cereal with strawberry or banana slices. 

Stock Up On Easy-to-Cart Snacks
• Pretzels dipped in peanut butter (or your favorite nut butter) is a creamy, crunchy snack that gives kids a little protein to fuel their afternoon activities.
• Let the kids help make a custom blend of homemade trail mix using their favorite ingredients. Try walnuts, almonds, yogurt covered raisins, sunflower seeds, and mini chocolate chips.
• A delicious, low fat—and fun to eat—portable snack, string cheese pleases just about every kid. 

Pack Some Lunchbox Fun
Stuff it - Fill pita pockets with their favorite chicken salad, low-sodium deli meat, or peanut butter and a banana.
Dip it - Give them finger foods to dip, like apples and peanut butter; baby carrots and ranch or yogurt dip.
Build it - Let them build their lunch by packing the ingredients in separate baggies or containers. Try a stacker with crackers, cheese and deli slices.

This and other food and lifestyle content can be found at www.editors.familyfeatures.com.

Word of the Day

September 30, 2011 3:39 pm

Judgment. Court decree stating that one person is indebted to another. Also specifies the amount of the debt.

Question of the Day

September 30, 2011 3:39 pm

Q: What if I am turned down for a loan?

A: Unless your credit is absolutely abysmal – with all kinds of judgments, liens, excessive delinquencies or non-payments, foreclosures and bankruptcies that show no attempt on your part to make progress – you can generally get a loan.

More and more borrowers are finding ways to become homeowners despite past credit problems, a lack of a credit history, or debt-to-income ratios that exceed traditional limits. This is because a greater number of lenders are willing to take a chance with borrowers today that they once turned down for home loans.

If you are denied a mortgage, ask the lender for a full explanation. If you feel you are creditworthy, then appeal the decision in writing.


5 Easy Ways to Store the Harvest: No Root Cellar Required

September 29, 2011 4:39 pm

It's an exciting time of year: Fall is here, and the rewards of a summer garden, including onions, garlic, carrots, potatoes, winter squash and more, are coming fast and furious. 

"Canning and preserving are two favorite ways to keep favorite fruits and vegetables tasting in-season fresh throughout the winter," says Maree Gaetani, director of gardening relations for Gardener's Supply. "But for those of us who don't have time or interest in canning and preserving, there are a number of crops that can be stored 'as is' in cool, dry and dark conditions—no root cellar required." 

Gardeners can consider these practical harvest tips and products when putting their favorites away for the winter: 

1. Harvest before frost or cold temperatures damages plant tissues—and be picky about what you pick! Since decay will accelerate and spread once a crop is in storage, keep only perfect specimens. Provide good air circulation and a dry, dark environment: The ideal temperature depends on what you're keeping. 

A root storage bin creates a portable, affordable root cellar in any dark place. The heavy, wire frame bin with convenient carrying handles is lined with natural, breathable jute to protect precious carrots, beets, potatoes, turnips and squash. Layer carrots or beets with damp sand or sawdust, or toss other vegetables right into the bin, and they'll keep all winter. 

2. Freeze your favorites. Freezing is a fast and easy way to save vegetables, fruit and herbs for later use. Buy the best quality freezer bags you can find, remove as much air as possible from the bag and label all bags with date and contents. Herbs are the easiest crop to freeze: Just chop to size (for parsley and cilantro) and fill a freezer bag or puree (for basil) with olive oil. Berries can be frozen whole or in syrup. Vegetables need to be blanched before freezing to slow down the enzymes that cause decay. 

3. Rescue unripe tomatoes! If cold weather arrives before your entire tomato crop has ripened, harvest firm, green, unblemished fruit and wrap each tomato individually in newspaper. Store between 55-60 degrees F and check weekly to monitor ripening. 

4. Store crops right in the garden. The easiest way of all to preserve your harvest is to leave crops right in the ground and put something on top to protect them from extreme cold. A length of Gardener's exclusive Garden Quilt Cover, suspended just over your crops using hoops and wooden clothespins, allows rain and sun to reach plants while keeping them safe from wind and chilly temperatures. 

5. Refrigerate root crops. Harvest carrots and beet crops before a hard frost, use scissors to cut off most of the greens (except for about ½" on top so as not to cut into the root), and leave the dirt until you're ready to cook! 

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

Why Now Is a Great Time to Start Your Own Business

September 29, 2011 4:39 pm

Despite the economic woes that have plagued the U.S. over the past few years, there are still great opportunities out there for those who really want to find them, says women’s business coach and mentor Karen Terry.

"There has never been a better time to start a new business," said Karen Terry, a women's business coach and mentor based in Houston. "Many women who work in Corporate America dream of starting their own business but are afraid.” 

For others, Terry says they’ve hit the glass ceiling and wonder when they can be their own bosses. “Now is the time,” she says.

To help entrepreneurs start their own businesses, Terry has written a special report titled "The 10 Biggest Mistakes New Entrepreneurs Make When They Start Their Business."

Here are some of her favorite business ideas:

1. Create a financial safety net. Start saving money by skipping the extra coffee or newspaper. All that money adds up and can come in handy when you are running your new business.

2. Get one new client before you leave your current job - if you can. "Every little bit helps. For a lot of people it is scary to quit a job and not have any clients lined up. Clients translate into income, which helps ease the transition to self-employment," she says.

3. Use your network. If you are going through a career change, don't assume you can't use your existing network. For those who are simply venturing out on their own—use your network to your advantage.

4. Professional development. You need to identify your skills. If you are weak in certain areas, take a class so you can become the best you can be. You aren't going to be successful if you have certain areas where you are weak.

5. Mentors. It's always a good idea to work with a business coach who has also had experience running a business.

What You Should Know Before Buying Your First Car

September 29, 2011 4:39 pm

Buying a car for the first time is a celebratory moment in anyone's life, regardless of age, and the site's expert editors offers their 'best kept secrets' to ease the trip to the dealer with these easy-to-remember pointers. 

"The car-buying process is never filled with as much uncertainty as it is for the first time," said Jack R. Nerad, executive editorial director and executive market analyst for Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com. "With this advice in mind, Kelley Blue Book hopes to alleviate some of the stress inherent with such a large financial decision." 

Helpful Hints for First-Time Car Buyers 

For those in the market to buy a car for the first time, here are some helpful suggestions to keep in mind while doing your research and shopping. 

Establish a realistic budget
This figure is generally based on what you can afford per month. Calculate your cost-of-living in all the more important areas, like shelter, food, health insurance and Happy Hour. Once you have that total, the remainder could be spent on a car payment, car insurance and, of course, gas for your new ride. 

Know what you can spend monthly
While this may look similar to No. 6, your level of indebtedness is different from your monthly commitment. If you choose to finance your car, figure $25/month for every thousand dollars that you borrow for 48 months, and $20/month for 60-month financing. 

Establish your transportation needs
Make sure to choose a car that best fits your needs. For instance, if your lifestyle or career requires a car for hauling heaving items, then invest in a larger, heavy-duty vehicle. Given the cost of fuel, insurance and—in many cities—monthly parking, don't buy what you don't need. 

Identify and prioritize your wants
The first-time purchase doesn't need to be your be-all/end-all acquisition, but you should still pay attention to your 'want' list. Better to stretch a bit for those features that will bring more satisfaction in your purchase and prevent buyer's remorse. 

Do your research (it's never been easier)
There is an incredible amount of information and perspective on new cars and their late-model alternatives. There are listings devoted to cars for teenagers, cars for students and first-time buyers. 

Locate a convenient dealer
Don't feel intimidated, as the dealership salesman is closer to a normal person than you think. When deciding between different car models, compare dealer locations and showroom environments. We tend to stay away from dealerships where two-thirds of the sales staff is sitting or standing at the front of the entrance. 

For more information visit www.kbb.com.