Gunning Daily News

Question of the Day

August 16, 2011 5:05 pm

Q: What kind of return can I expect from home improvements?

A: This will vary depending on the type of work that is done. Remodeling magazine publishes an annual "Cost vs. Value Report'' that can answer this question in more detail, based on the top 15 home improvements. A recent study it conducted says the highest remodeling paybacks have come from siding and window replacements, major kitchen remodeling, bathroom and family room additions, and mid-range master bedroom suites.

An important point to remember is that remodeling not only improves a home’s livability, it also enhances its curb appeal with future buyers.

The 'Teeth' of FDA's Food Safety Law

August 11, 2011 6:05 pm

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), signed into law by President Obama in January, has been called “historic” because it puts the focus of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on prevention—working to ensure that unsafe foods are not distributed in the first place. 

FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg says the law directs the agency to oversee food safety in a way that applies “the best available science and good common sense to prevent the problems that can make people sick.” 

What lends the new law additional importance is that it provides FDA with new enforcement and inspection authorities. 

“These new authorities are critical for the law’s success,” says Michael R. Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods. “They give the food companies strong additional incentives for keeping their products safe, and that helps us achieve the new law’s goal, which is to protect consumers from unsafe food.” 

Foodborne outbreaks are a significant public health burden that increases the cost of the nation’s health care and, as Taylor has emphasized, many of them can be prevented. And keeping foodborne outbreaks from happening in the first place is what FDA intends to do by implementing the following key provisions:
 
Preventive Measures
• Expanded administrative detention:
The law gives FDA more authority to prevent the release into the marketplace of adulterated or misbranded food, including potentially harmful food.

Food adulteration can be caused by many factors, including bacterial or chemical contamination, filth or decomposition, the presence of an unsafe food additive, being prepared, packed or held under insanitary conditions, and leaving valuable materials out of the product or substituting other, inferior materials.

Misbranding food can be caused by ways that include not declaring certain ingredients or major food allergens, and not complying with nutrition information content on labeling.

This tool allows FDA to effectively remove the food from distribution channels while the agency pursues legal or other enforcement actions. 

• Records inspection: The law expands FDA’s authority to gain access to records about potentially hazardous foods. In addition to examining the records tied to a particular food that could pose a health hazard, the agency can now inspect records related to any other food it believes is likely to be affected in a similar manner. 

• Authority to deny entry: Under FSMA, if a food producer in another country does not permit FDA to inspect its facility, FDA can refuse to allow food from that facility into the United States. 

Enforcement Measures 

The new law also strengthens FDA’s enforcement tools in the event that potentially unsafe food has already entered the marketplace. 

• Suspension of registration: The law authorizes FDA to suspend the registration of a facility under certain circumstances if the food it manufactured, processed, packed, received or held presents a serious health hazard. A facility with a suspended registration will not be able to legally offer food for sale in the United States until FDA lifts the suspension. 

• Mandatory recall: Before FSMA, FDA had to rely on a firm’s voluntary decision to remove food from the marketplace that could be hazardous to humans or animals. Under the new law, the agency can order a recall if the company does not cease distribution itself and recall its product. If there is reason to believe that the food is adulterated or misbranded and that use of the product could result in serious illness or death, FDA can order that distribution be halted and all implicated products recalled. Additionally, FDA has launched a new search engine where consumers can quickly and easily check on new and recent recalls.
FDA is also directed by the law to upgrade its ability to track both domestic and imported foods. To do this, FDA will establish pilot projects to test how to rapidly identify recipients of food—this is critical information FDA needs to rapidly find the source of a foodborne outbreak and to understand its scope. 

“Product tracing doesn't prevent an outbreak, as it’s more about response,” says Bill Correll at FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “However, it can prevent further illnesses during an outbreak when FDA can determine the source, contain further exposure and get the product recalled and out of distribution and consumer households.” 

For more information visit www.fda.gov.

8 Plumbing Tips to Prepare Your Home for the Dog Days of Summer

August 11, 2011 6:05 pm

You probably noticed an increase in your water bill this month. During peak water use, usually in late July or early August, the average American uses about four times as much water than they do the rest of the year. From taking more frequent showers to watering the lawn to even washing additional loads of laundry—it all adds up. "Aside from watering your lawn later in the day, there are many other summer water-saving tips that many people don't think about," Minneapolis Roto-Rooter general manager John Senescall says. 

Fortunately, the plumbing experts at Roto-Rooter recommend a list of plumbing precautions to save your wallet from the summer heat, while saving energy and staying within the family budget. 

1. Check the temperature setting on your water heater. It should be set no higher than 120 degrees to prevent scalding and reduce energy use. Summer is a good time to turn the temperature down, especially when away on vacation.
2. Replacing an old shower head can save up to 7.5 gallons of water per minute without sacrificing water pressure. To clean mineral deposits from the showerhead, unscrew it, soak it in vinegar overnight and then gently scrub with a toothbrush to remove deposits.
3. Check washing machine hoses for rupture. Turn valves on and off to check for leaks.
4. Make sure that yard drains, gutters and downspouts are cleaned out, open and free of debris.
5. Check outdoor faucets and hose bibs to make sure water flows freely.
6. Beware of standing water. Excess water can result from leaky or broken pipes or a damaged sewer line. Standing water is not healthy for children or pets, and is a breeding ground for insects and germs. Inspect the yard for areas that are too wet and with unusual plant or grass growth.
7. Conserve water. Water your lawn before sun up or after sun down to reduce usage.
8. In humid weather, ductwork may sweat and cause condensation. This can cause a backup if the drains are not clear. If you have an attic installation, be sure to check for water in the drain pan, which could potentially ruin your ceiling.

For more information visit www.rotorooter.com.

Word of the Day

August 11, 2011 6:05 pm

Downpayment. Initial cash investment made as evidence of good faith when purchasing real estate. It is usually a percentage of the sale price.

Question of the Day

August 11, 2011 6:05 pm

Q: Can I refinance a home loan more than once?

A: You most certainly can. During the most recent refinancing boom, for example, many homeowners refinanced their home loans two or three times within relatively short periods of time because interest rates kept treading downward, making it extremely attractive to trade in one loan for another.

Just remember that refinancing is basically like applying for a mortgage all over again. Each time you refinance, you will still have to go through the application process, get a home appraisal, and likely incur closing costs. Also, if you have a pre-payment penalty clause in your present mortgage, you will have to pay that penalty if you refinance. So be certain that it is actually worth it for you to refinance.

Word of the Day

August 11, 2011 5:35 pm

Discount points. Added loan fee charged by a lender to make the yield on a lower-than-market-value loan competitive with higher-interest loans.

Question of the Day

August 11, 2011 5:35 pm

Q: What guidelines should I use to find a contractor?

A: Chances are you will need plenty of help making those major repairs and additions. But the last thing you will need is someone who fails to complete the job or botches it up. Finding good, responsible help is imperative.

Here’s what you can do:
• Avoid the Yellow Pages. Check with family, friends, neighbors and co-workers for recommendations.
• Deal only with licensed contractors. The state licensing board and local Better Business Bureau also can tell you if there are any outstanding complaints against the license holder.
• Interview each contractor, request free estimates, if possible, and ask for recent references.
• Ask for proof of worker's compensation insurance and get policy and insurance company phone numbers so you can verify the information. If the contractor is not covered, you could be liable for any work-related injury that takes place during the project. Also check to make sure the contractor has an umbrella general liability policy.
• Never hand over a deposit at the first meeting – you could end up losing your money.

6 Strategies to Help Avoid Credit Card Fees

August 11, 2011 5:35 pm

The credit card fee changes of a few several months ago are designed, like previous changes, to protect consumers by adding clarity and transparency to interactions between card issuers and holders.

However, as these new rules take away revenue opportunities for card companies, issuers are raising other fees or creating new ones to compensate. Money resource Bills.com cautions consumers to be aware of the new rules and also learn how to avoid new fees.

In order to avoid these fees, personal money resource Bills.com shares the following strategies consumers can employ to better avoid additional charges that have arisen because of changes outlined in the Credit CARD Act.

1. Monitor your communications from your credit card issuer. One of the best ways to stay abreast of changes specific to your cards or situation is to closely monitor information sent from your issuer. New regulations require much greater disclosure on all changes, so any update will be sent to your attention. Be alert for all mailings and read them carefully before throwing away or destroying.

2. Maintain prompt payment status with your credit card company. Despite all these changes, the simplest way to avoid fees is to pay your credit card bills on time. By missing or being late on a payment you will incur fees, potentially increase your interest rate and lower your overall credit score.

3. Pay down high balances to improve credit card utilization. This will show that you can responsibly manage your credit limit, minimizing the chance of higher tiers of interest rates or reductions in credit limit. Additionally, better credit utilization will help boost your credit score.

4. Maintain activity on your credit card accounts. By using the revolving credit lines that you need or want to keep and promptly paying on them, you can help avoid cancellation of those credit card accounts. This will also help avoid faux inactivity fees and help boost your credit score, while having a long existing credit line closed could lower your score.

5. Avoid over-limit fees through responsible spending habits. Credit card issuers have begun to charge fees for opt-in over-limit coverage. By remaining aware of credit limits and balances, consumers can avoid a need for this service and these fees altogether.

6. New regulations do not apply to corporate or small business cards. This means some small business owners might consider using personal cards for business expenses because of fee and rate limitations. However, these owners should remain cautious because their personal credit scores could suffer in the event of missed payments or defaults. Conversely, be aware of companies that are increasing solicitations for corporate card members to avoid new regulations.

For more information, visit www.bills.com.

Where Is America Moving? Top Migration Trends Seen in 2010

August 11, 2011 5:35 pm

According to the 2010 Atlas Van Lines Migration Patterns study, more Americans are on the move. In 2010, Atlas saw increases in the number of household moves, a possible sign that the economy is improving. Atlas' annual study has tracked the nation's moves since 1993.

For some states, outbound moves were high. Due to high unemployment, especially with declining manufacturing and automotive jobs, residents of the Rust Belt continue to relocate elsewhere. States adjacent to the Rust Belt saw a great increase in the number of inbound moves.

For the first time in two years, Kentucky joined its surrounding Mideast states—North Carolina, Maryland, and Washington, D.C.—as inbound states. For the fifth year in a row, Washington, D.C. had the highest percentage of inbound moves, while Ohio came out the clear leader in the highest percentage of outbound moves.

Regardless of economic highs and lows, several states have remained constant in status for 10 or more years. California, Kansas and South Carolina have been balanced, Indiana has been outbound, and Alaska and North Carolina have remained inbound.

As the year progressed, Atlas saw increases in the monthly totals of household moves. Summer months continued to see the highest number of moves per season. Overall, the total for 2010 was 74,541.

"Every year we look forward to sharing the results of the Atlas migration study; it is a great bellwether for the economic situation of the country," said Jack Griffin, president and COO of Atlas World Group. "The results are especially promising this year, as the number of moves has increased, with monthly numbers higher than last year's."

Here's a closer look at relocation patterns in 2010 as identified in the Atlas study:

Westward-Ho!
Much of the West continues in a balanced state. For the first time in three years, Idaho moves from an outbound state to a balanced state, joining California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Montana, Colorado, Utah and Arizona.

Déjà Vu
For several states, economic ups and downs have had little influence on the number of residents moving in or out of that state. For ten or more years, six states - California, Alaska, North Carolina, Kansas, South Carolina and Indiana - have remained constant in their inbound, outbound or balanced status in Atlas' annual study.

Silver Lining
Despite high foreclosure rates and poor housing sales, a large pocket of southeastern states - including Florida, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina - saw no drastic increase in the number of outbound moves; in fact, they remained balanced in their number of outbound and inbound moves. A reason for the balance could be these states' popularity as a retirement destination.

For full results of the migration study and to view a map and annual histories for each state, visit www.atlasvanlines.com/migration-patterns/.

The Low-Down on Credit Insurance

August 11, 2011 5:35 pm

I recently came across some great advice from Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler regarding costly and unneeded insurance being marketed to consumers who are borrowing money or making a purchase on credit. According to Gansler, this ”credit insurance” is notorious for being one of the most overpriced insurance products.

Credit insurance may be sold under the pretense of being mandatory, but rarely is. For instance, in Maryland and other states lenders cannot require the purchase of most types of credit insurance.

Lenders may require credit property insurance on loans secured by a piece of property, or a destructible possession, but a consumer is allowed to choose the insurance company.

There are three types of credit insurance:

1. Credit Life Insurance, which pays off an outstanding loan if a consumer dies;
2. Credit Disability Insurance, which makes payments on a loan if a consumer is disabled; and
3. Credit Involuntary Unemployment Benefit Insurance, which makes payments on a loan if a consumer is involuntarily unemployed.

If consumers wish to purchase insurance, Gansler says they should consider a few alternatives, including checking to see if their current homeowner’s or life insurance policy provides adequate coverage.

As with other forms of insurance, it is important for the consumer to check the policy closely before agreeing to its terms. Some good questions to ask include the length of any waiting period, limitations, cancellation terms, coverage length, financing and comparability to other similar policies.

U.S. Dept. of the Treasury reports that the cost of the Credit Life Insurance is often added to the principal amount of a loan. And lenders must disclose the terms and costs of obtaining the insurance since it can affect the terms of the loan.

Some policies may also combine Credit Life and Credit Disability (also called accident and health insurance) into one policy—and may contain provisions for cancellation of the policy. A bank cannot force you to buy credit insurance, but once you sign up for credit insurance on your loan, the cost of your coverage becomes part of your contract with the bank.

Then there is private mortgage insurance or PMI. If the borrower stops paying the loan, PMI is a policy that protects the lender by paying the costs of foreclosing on a house.

PMI usually is required if the down payment is less than 20 percent of the sale price, and while PMI protects the lender, it is typically paid monthly by you, the borrower.