Gunning Daily News
July 14, 2011 5:29 pm
In today’s tightened credit arena, it’s easy to feel so relieved when a mortgage lender approves your loan that you decide to look no further. But if your credit is good, you should have the luxury of choosing the lender who offers the terms and service you need.
Chicago loan officer Mel Stevenson offers the following tips for settling on the lender best for you:
• Consider your lending needs – If you have special lending considerations, such as a small down payment, or if you are self-employed, look for a lender who specializes in your circumstances. A mortgage broker can help you determine what you need.
• Start with references – You very likely chose your doctor, attorney, and stock broker based on recommendations from friends. Choose a lender the same way, checking with friends and neighbors about their happiness or unhappiness with their mortgage holder.
• Compare fees as well as rates – Comparing loans based on annual percentage rate (APR) is a good place to start. But ask lenders for a ‘good faith estimate’ of the fees you will incur with your loan, and ask about charges that may not appear on that list, such as prepayment penalties.
• Check the range of loan types – There are more loan types available today than ever, from conventional fixed rate and adjustable rate loans to hybrid and option ARMS. Look for a lender who offers a wide variety of loans so you can choose the one that seems best for you.
• Evaluate customer service – Does the lender appear to listen to you? Will they charge a fee for locking in their quoted rates? Are they amenable to amending one of the terms—such as the payment cap or payment date? Choose the lender who appears to be most flexible and responsive.
July 14, 2011 5:29 pm
With interest rates lower than they've been in 15 years a lot of consumers are looking to save money on their monthly mortgage payments. Although this is a great option for many borrowers, choosing the right type of refinance is a very important decision.
You can save money by refinancing at the similar term you started with or you can shave years off your mortgage by refinancing into a shorter term mortgage, potentially without upfront costs. Some borrowers are waiting for the rates to bottom out before considering a refinance; the problem with that is there is really no consistent, verifiable way to predict which direction rates will go in the future. At this time with the current financial markets in such a "perplexed" state, no one can reliably predict the short term direction of mortgage interest rates.
The best refinance option depends on the specific borrower and their current economic condition and what the near future holds for them and their lifestyle choices. For example, an ARM may be the right fit for someone who knows they are going to be moving for one reason or another in the next five to seven years. They can get a short term ARM that will have a very low interest rate for a number of years. This could add up to be a significant savings over their current mortgage. If you are not planning on moving but would like to cut down on the number of years you will be paying your mortgage you could reduce your term in a refinance from the most popular 30 year fixed to a 20, 15 or 10 year fixed. The rates will be more attractive and the amount of interest you will save could be very significant over the term of your loan.
Before considering any refinance, you should take a very good look at the current mortgage, the interest rate, and how long you have been paying it off. Additionally in today's environment it is very important to have a good understanding of home values in your neighborhood. Values have come down now for the past two years and a reduced value on your home could influence your ability to refinance. Lastly, as mentioned above, know what your short and long term ideas are for staying in the current home or possibly moving to a new location.
It is important to ask a lot of questions about your lender and their way of doing business. Are they brokers? What banks do they use for mortgages? How long have they been in business? Can they supply references? It is also important to shop around for competitive rates on your transaction. Referrals are a great way to locate a mortgage person that you can trust. Ask your friends and family who they have had experience with and start your search with those that get favorable remarks.
When refinancing, be sure to understand the costs associated with the refinance. In some situations the breakeven point when paying closing costs can be way too long to make it an effective move. However, if your mortgage lender offers a true no point no closing cost loan it is probably a good reason to start the process right away.
For more information please visit www.PoliMortgage.com
July 13, 2011 5:59 pm
Q: What is an impound account?
A: It is a special bank account held by the lender to collect monthly payments from the borrower to pay property taxes, mortgage insurance, and hazard insurance. These accounts also are called escrow or reserve accounts.
Lenders like to set up impound accounts to ensure the property taxes and insurance will be paid on time. They typically also collect a two-month cushion for taxes and insurance at the closing. A few states require the lender to pay interest on funds held in these accounts.
July 13, 2011 5:59 pm
Commingle funds. Mixing of a clients’ funds, or escrow, with an agent’s personal funds in an account; considered to be grounds for the suspension or revocation of the broker’s real estate license.
July 13, 2011 5:59 pm
What do guests expect when staying at a hotel? Studies have found that cleanliness, amenities, quality beds and safety consistently make the top of the list. In fact, more people become victims of credit card fraud and scams while dealing with the hotel industry, than when interacting with any other industry.
Based on a myriad of sources such as stories in The New York Times and Los Angeles Times, and information provided by observers of the hotel industry, findings show that 38% of all credit card hacking involves hotels. This is double the number of hacking done in the finance industry, which is ranked second at 19%. Other, retail, and restaurants and bars came in third, fourth and fifth respectively with 15.8%, 14.2% and 13%.
Charles Tran, founder of CreditDonkey, says this news was highly unexpected to him and his team. “Frankly, yes, we were surprised at the numbers showing that hotel visitors run the greatest risk of all for having their credit card information stolen,” Tran says.
Lack of Security Upgrades
The recent economic recession has hit the hotel industry particularly hard, which may have kept some hotels and hotel chains from upgrading their computer security systems as much as they should have. This could be one of the main reasons they have become prime hacking and credit card fraud targets."
Two Recent Incidents
There have been a number of costly cases that appear to back up the findings presented in infographic. In one recent three-month-long hacking incident, credit card information was stolen from 700 hotel guests resulting in losses averaging from $2,000 to $3,000 per credit card account.
In a separate incident in the Lone Star State, hotel guests are now being targeted by a new scam, according to Monica Horton, president of the Better Business Bureau of North Central Texas. "The BBB has been alerted of a scam that is again plaguing hotels and their guests, whereby a scam artist obtains the credit card information of hotel guests over the phone," says Horton.
Explaining how the scam works, Horton says, "The caller indicates they are a hotel employee, and the hotel computer system has crashed. To complete the hotel audit, they must have the credit card number. Many times, the caller also offers a discount on the room for the inconvenience. These callers are very convincing, and many hotel guests do fall for this scam."
Horton added that the calls are normally made when guests are sleeping. The BBB has yet to determine whether or not the calls are being made from within the hotels or from people who have the direct numbers to specific rooms.
The BBB of Central Texas is actively trying to get the word out about this new scam by contacting hotels. Horton wrote in a letter sent to hotels in Wichita Falls, "Please alert your hotel guests of this scam and remind them not to provide their credit card information over the phone during their stay. Let them know if there is ever a problem with billing, your staff will handle it at the front desk and not over the phone."
Can We Protect Ourselves?
CreditDonkey says that credit card users can protect themselves from identity theft by reviewing credit card purchases and regularly checking their online statements for unknown purchases. Criminals will often make numerous small “test” purchases to test the card owners’ vigilance, before they try to steal a large amount.
Tran adds, “Unfortunately, this is the world we live in today. We’d just be foolish to think our electronic data was safe. It is not. We must assume that all of our electronic personal information may be compromised, because that is in fact the case. This means we must be diligent about regularly checking our accounts and credit reports, just as we are about checking our windows and doors before going to bed at night.”
The BBB says that people should never give out personal information over the phone if they did not initiate the call. And, while staying in a hotel, guests should only give out their information in person.
To see a complete infographic and read more coverage about credit card safety and threats in hotels, visit CreditDonkey.com.
July 13, 2011 5:59 pm
Since 2006, it has been much easier for people allergic to certain foods to avoid packaged products that contain them, says Rhonda Kane, a registered dietitian and consumer safety officer at the Food and Drug Administration.
This is because a federal law requires that the labels of most packaged foods marketed in the U.S. disclose—in simple-to-understand terms—when they are made with a “major food allergen.”
Eight foods, and ingredients containing their proteins, are defined as major food allergens. These foods account for 90 percent of all food allergies:
• fish, such as bass, flounder, or cod
• crustacean shellfish, such as crab, lobster, or shrimp
• tree nuts, such as almonds, pecans, or walnuts
The law allows manufacturers a choice in how they identify the specific “food source names,” such as “milk,” “cod,” “shrimp,” or “walnuts,” of the major food allergens on the label. They must be declared either in:
• the ingredient list, such as “casein (milk)” or “nonfat dry milk,” or
• a separate “Contains” statement, such as “Contains milk,” placed immediately after or next to the ingredient list.
“So first look for the ‘Contains’ statement and if your allergen is listed, put the product back on the shelf,” says Kane. “If there is no ‘Contains’ statement, it’s very important to read the entire ingredient list to see if your allergen is present. If you see its name even once, it’s back to the shelf for that food too.”
There are many different ingredients that contain the same major food allergen, but sometimes the ingredients’ names do not indicate their specific food sources. For example, casein, sodium caseinate, and whey are all milk proteins. Although the same allergen can be present in multiple ingredients, its “food source name” (for example, milk) must appear in the ingredient list just once to comply with labeling requirements.
"Contains" and "May Contain" Have Different Meanings
If a “Contains” statement appears on a food label, it must include the food source names of all major food allergens used as ingredients. For example, if “whey,” “egg yolks,” and a “natural flavor” that contained peanut proteins are listed as ingredients, the “Contains” statement must identify the words “milk,” “egg,” and “peanuts.”
Some manufacturers voluntarily include a “may contain” statement on their labels when there is a chance that a food allergen could be present. A manufacturer might use the same equipment to make different products. Even after cleaning this equipment, a small amount of an allergen (such as peanuts) that was used to make one product (such as cookies) may become part of another product (such as crackers). In this case, the cracker label might state “may contain peanuts.”
Be aware that the “may contain” statement is voluntary, says Kane. “You still need to read the ingredient list to see if the product contains your allergen.”
When in Doubt, Leave It Out
Manufacturers can change their products’ ingredients at any time, so Kane says it’s a good idea to check the ingredient list every time you buy the product—even if you have eaten it before and didn’t have an allergic reaction.
“If you’re unsure about whether a food contains any ingredient to which you are sensitive, don’t buy the product, or check with the manufacturer first to ask what it contains,” says Kane. “We all want convenience, but it’s not worth playing Russian roulette with your life or that of someone under your care.”
For more information, please visit www.fda.gov.
July 13, 2011 5:59 pm
There is nothing like the warm evenings of summer to set the mood for a great party. Ideally, a party should be a time for you to catch-up with your friends, eat delicious food and enjoy yourself. However, planning a party often becomes more stressful than it needs to be. The following tips will ensure a hassle free summer party that both you and your guests can enjoy.
Setting the right mood for a party is vital. Decorate with brightly colored tablecloths, plates, glasses and cloth to create a vibrant atmosphere. Keep guests cool in the daytime by offering a shaded tent or covered porch, and for evening affairs, create subtle lighting with candles and torches. If outside, create conversation spaces around the yard using outdoor furniture, blankets and bistro tables so you don’t wind up with everyone crowded around the grill. Have enough seating for at least half the guests to sit at any given time.
The Guest List
Don’t over-invite—You want to have a good time, too. Invite members from different social circles who haven’t had a chance to connect yet, but who you think would really hit it off—like friends from your office and your buddies from book club or some of the parents of your children’s friends.
Make sure you have enough room for all guests indoors, in the chance a sudden summer shower may occur.
In the summer, it’s a good idea to keep party fair fresh and light. Burgers, kebabs, grilled veggies and pizzas are all great choices. To avoid having a crowded fridge and empty wallet post-party, think about food costs and quantities. Hosts usually purchase too much food, so be sure to think about portions to people. If you are offering hot dogs, hamburgers and barbequed chicken, the average party goer is not going to have one of each.
To keep stress at bay, do as much cooking as possible ahead of time. Or, even better, let your guests do some of the work themselves. Allow them to build their own skewers, personal pizzas or handle their own burgers on the grill, giving the food an interactive focus. Add a few simple, seasonal side salads for variety, like sweet corn and black bean with avocado, or garden tomato and fresh mozzarella.
Keep dessert simple and light, so guests have more energy for mingling and dancing. Try serving sliced seasonal fruit with fresh, home-made whipped-cream or your favorite local ice-cream.
A summer fiesta isn’t the same without a selection of cool beverages, alcoholic or not. First, decide whether you want to keep it simple or go all out. Making a delicious punch available (spiking optional!) with an assortment of beers and chilled wines is a perfectly acceptable, low-maintenance beverage idea. If you want to get fancy, hire a bar-tender or enlist the help of a neighborhood college student home for the summer. And don’t forget the details—find festive glasses and freeze fruit or mint leaves in ice cubes for a fresh finishing touch.
Do as much prep-work as you can ahead of time—set tables, prepare food and make sure everything is clean and clutter free. Place trash and recycling receptacles around your home and yard so you don’t end up cleaning tons of trash after the party has ended. Create a festive playlist and turn on the music before the guests are scheduled to arrive, so they walk into a party atmosphere and not a quiet house. To make your party memorable, end the evening by sending guests home with a thank-you gift—like a jar of home-made jam, locally made honey or a candle with a summery scent.
July 13, 2011 5:29 pm
With summer in full swing, many spring plans have given way to hunting for the right contractor to complete your home improvement or repair projects. So it is as good a time as any to review this checklist on the subject provided by the Connecticut Dept. of Consumer Protection—which has many points applicable no matter where you live.
1. Before choosing a contractor, decide exactly what you want done; the type of materials you want used; for renovations, have photos from magazines, brochures or friends’ homes.
2. For names of dependable (and undependable) contractors, talk to friends; check out work being done in your neighborhood, and contact local building officials for referrals or suggestions.
3. Get more than one estimate. If bids are far apart, be skeptical; get more bids. The lowest bid is not necessarily a bargain.
4. Look at contractors’ recent and past jobs. You can even see if your state or county permits you to check contractors’ litigation history to see if they’ve been sued by former clients. Or check to see if your preferred contractor and/or salesperson are registered and to see if there are any complaints against the company.
5. Ask contractors about their workload. Can they truly start and finish on time?
6. If a contractor offers to finance your home improvement project or put you in touch with a finance company, have an attorney or some other informed person review the finance agreement before you sign, to verify that it complies with the State and Federal Truth-in-Lending Act.
7. Ask for at least three references from former customers and check them. Verify that the contractor has the appropriate level of worker’s compensation and liability insurance.
8. Require a detailed, written contract including start and end date, work to be done, materials to be used, and price. Include a payment schedule corresponding to the project’s progress. A contract that provides some money up front, some while work is underway, and a final payment when everything is satisfactorily completed is strongly suggested. Get receipts for all payments, never pay in cash.
9. In Connecticut, building permits are ultimately the property owner’s responsibility. Make sure that either you or your contractor applies for all necessary building permits wherever you live.
July 12, 2011 5:29 pm
Q: Can I contest my property taxes?
A: Many people do, mainly because determining value can often be tricky. This is especially true in a changing market when local prices either take off dramatically or plunge precipitously, like during the Texas oil bust of the 1980s.
While it is up to a professional assessor to evaluate property value for tax purposes, property owners are usually allowed to contest their assessment until a certain date after they are made public.
Once you contest, you will have to prove why you think your property is worth less – few homeowners contest hoping to pay more taxes! The two most popular ways for determining value are an appraisal and a comparative market analysis. With an appraisal, a professional estimates the property's market value based on recent sales of comparable properties. A comparative market analysis is an informal estimate of market value performed by a real estate agent based on similar sales and property attributes. Most agents will offer free analyses to win your business.
Contact your local tax assessor's office for procedures on appealing your property tax assessment.
July 12, 2011 5:29 pm
Collateral. Something of value given or pledged to a lender as security for the repayment of a loan.