Gunning Daily News
July 5, 2011 4:23 pm
Q: Are there tax credits for first-time homebuyers?
A: Yes, thanks to the many city and county governments that offer Mortgage Credit Certificate (MCC) programs, which allow first-time home buyers to take advantage of a special federal income tax write-off. The credit reduces the amount of federal taxes paid by the buyer each year, if he keeps the same loan and lives in the same house.
An MCC also makes it easier for eligible buyers to qualify for a mortgage loan. The lender can reduce the housing expense ratio—the percentage of gross monthly income applied toward housing expenses—by the amount of the tax savings. Normally, lenders reject loans if the housing expense ratio is too high.
Program requirements for MCCs vary, although most adhere to the following guidelines:
• The buyer must live in the home being purchased with an MCC-assisted mortgage.
• Total household income cannot exceed certain limits.
• The buyer cannot have owned a principal residence within the past three years. This restriction may be waived if a property is purchased within a certain targeted area.
• The purchase price must fall within an established limit.
More information is available by calling your local housing or redevelopment agency, or contacting your real estate agent.
July 5, 2011 4:23 pm
CC&Rs. Stands for covenants, conditions and restrictions. They are the rules by which a property owner in a condominium agrees to abide.
July 5, 2011 4:23 pm
Over-reaching by federal audit contractors in Medicare is restricting the ability of legitimate providers to supply medically required care and equipment to patients. The American Association for Homecare is working with policy makers to ensure that fraud prevention efforts are effective at stopping fraud without limiting access to care.
At a June fraud prevention summit conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Justice Department, the administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) admitted that audits designed to detect fraud are a "blunt instrument." After hearing several complaints from healthcare providers participating in the fraud prevention summit, another CMS official stated that federal officials will conduct an "audit audit" to ensure that audit contractors do not needlessly hamper legitimate providers.
"The current auditing strategy is expensive, inefficient, and distorts the Medicare claims error rate for at-home care products," says Tyler Wilson, president of the American Association for Homecare. "The burdensome process disrupts the service and care provided to patients in need of these at-home services and severely taxes providers' resources."
In 2008, the Medicare homecare claims error rate was approximately 9%. However, in 2009 CMS adopted its new auditing criteria, which resulted in a claims error rate of 52%. In 2010, the claims error rate jumped to an astonishing 75%, incorrectly suggesting that three out of four Medicare claims for at-home equipment and services are paid improperly or are the result of fraud or abuse.
"When 75 percent of Medicare HME claims are considered to be improper, we believe that this shows a breakdown in the system. The American Association for Homecare is working to inject common sense and accountability into the audit process and address the complexity of Medicare at-home coverage policies to ensure that beneficiaries are receiving medically necessary items and services. Both these steps are necessary to make the program work better for all stakeholders," says Wilson.
Current audit standards employed by Medicare contractors are having the following unintended consequences:
• Data regarding fraud is being distorted;
• Eligible Medicare beneficiaries are not receiving medically necessary and covered benefits;
• Auditors for CMS misinterpret and then misapply Medicare rules and regulations, sometimes on a retroactive basis, leading to inaccurate error-rate data;
• Legitimate providers furnishing medically necessary items and services are being hurt by unjustified monetary recoupments; and
• CMS will not be able to achieve the Administration's goal of reducing the error rate until it modifies its current audit policies.
For more information, please visit www.aahomecare.org/athome.
July 5, 2011 4:23 pm
As Americans take off on their Summer 2011 vacations, be prepared for the extra costs. CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison website, released a new infographic tallying up the most common costs American travelers will encounter on their trip.
"Unfortunately, many leisure travelers forget to add in all of the additional costs that go hand-in-hand with flying. These costs can add up to hundreds of dollars for a family of four, placing strains on already tight family budgets," says Charles Tran, founder of CreditDonkey.
"We want to make everyone aware of the hidden costs that come with travel so travelers can make smart choices this summer," shares Tran.
As revealed by the Real Cost of Flying infographic, the costs of flying are much more than just the airfare. And that's not including the unfortunate incidents of losing luggage or needing to reschedule flights.
“These somewhat hidden costs make a huge impact on your wallet,” says Tran. “But when you’re talking about a family of four, these unexpected costs can really put a wrench in a carefully planned budget. It’s about the same as an entire extra seat on the plane, making the parents ask if the vacation is really worth all of the costs.”
And there are some even larger expenses lurking in the shadows according to CreditDonkey. "Need to change your itinerary? That’ll put you out an additional $150. Traveling with small children? In the past they would have flown free, but now they’ll add an extra $49 to $100 to your bill. Don’t want to leave your furry friends at home? That will cost you too—up to $400 with some airlines," shares Tran.
Thankfully, the folks at CreditDonkey shared some tips to help Americans who are planning to travel this summer:
• Take advantage of airline credit cards - if you're going to spend the money, you might as well be rewarded for it. Besides seat upgrades and free flights, airlines often waive fees for their top frequent flyers.
o Gold Delta SkyMiles - Check your first bag free for up to 9 people on your reservation on every Delta flight; 20,000 bonus miles with your first purchase; no annual fee for your first year.
o United Mileage Plus - 25,000 bonus miles + $50 statement credit after your first purchase; no annual fee for your first year.
o Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Plus - 20,000 points toward free flights + $50 after the first time you use your card; your bags fly free; no change fees; $69 annual fee.
o »Miles by Discover - 12,000 bonus miles (earn 1,000 miles each month you make a purchase for your 1st year); 2 miles on travel and restaurant purchases on your first $3,000 each year; no annual fee.
“If you’re going to be using your hard earned dollars on flights this summer, why not take advantage of these cards?” asks Tran. “These cards can also be used for booking hotel rooms, rental cars, gas and restaurants, taking care of virtually any travel expense you may run into. Of course, you’ll want to be responsible with your credit card usage. No rewards will ever be worth additional interest payments if you’re unable to make payments.”
• Read up on your credit card benefits. Rental car insurance, baggage insurance, roadside assistance… the right credit cards are full of useful travel benefits. The best part? These extra perks are often free to cardholders.
• “As long as the traveler used the right credit card for their travels, they can cash in on these benefits in the unlucky instance that their bags get lost or damaged, they’re in a rental car accident or their car breaks down,” saysTran. “These events can really put a dent in your bank account.”
• Avoid the weekends. The cost of flights varies greatly throughout the week, with the weekends being most expensive as they are the most popular times to travel. Consumers looking to cut down the costs of traveling should consider flying on Mondays and Tuesdays, as they are typically the least expensive days of the week.
“Flexibility is truly key when it comes to traveling on the cheap,” says Tran. “Flying at unpopular times and unpopular days can help you cut corners so your travels don’t make you rack up unnecessary debt.”
To view the Infographic, please visit http://www.creditdonkey.com/cost-of-flying.html.
For more information, go to http://www.creditdonkey.com.
July 5, 2011 4:23 pm
What do side-by-side refrigerators, laptop computers, and zero-turn-radius riding mowers have in common? They're among the most repair-prone products consumers can buy, according to Consumer Reports' most recent Product Reliability Survey. And in Consumer Reports' separate Repair or Replace Survey, 27,404 subscribers reported about the troubles they had with 53,218 broken appliances, electronics, lawn equipment and more.
Though consumer goods have become more complex and contain more electronics than a decade ago, the 33 products featured in the survey aren't failing more frequently. But when things go wrong, they tend to go horribly wrong. Consumer Reports National Research Center found that more than half of the products that did break stopped working altogether, and another 30 percent still worked, but poorly.
"’Should I repair or replace it; how much is the repair likely to cost; what will a new one cost.’ These are many of the questions that go through a consumer's mind when a major product breaks," says Celia Kuperszmid Lehrman, deputy home and yard editor at Consumer Reports. "Being armed with the right answers can save people thousands of dollars on appliances and gear."
To ensure all consumers are well equipped to avoid lemons, check Consumer Reports August issue for the "What Breaks, What Doesn't" list of temperamental products and of some of the most and least reliable brands, and then use the "Repair-or-Replace Timeline" charts to find out which products to fix and which aren't worth the effort and expense. Here's what else Consumer Reports' survey found:
• Computers break – a lot. Around one in three laptops and desktops break by their fourth year. Many computer breakdowns are due to malicious software (malware) or hard drive failure. Installing antivirus software on a computer is the best defense against malware. To be safe, always shut down the device before traveling even a short distance.
• Some technologies are finicky. Refrigerators with icemakers are twice as likely to break down as those without. The device's complicated design and the extreme environment it must operate in explains the high failure rate. Among laundry appliances, front loading washers are more repair-prone than top-loaders. The large rubber gasket that forms a watertight seal around the door is the common culprit. Mold is another issue. Manufacturers recommend periodically cleaning the gasket with a bleach solution and keep the door ajar after each use to allow ventilation.
• Extended warranties don't deliver. Based on Consumer Reports' survey, appliances usually don't break during the extended-warranty period, normally after the standard warranty has expired, but within two to three years of purchase. Even when breakdowns occur in that time the median repair cost isn't much more than the median price of a warranty. And if a product doesn't break, the extended warranty is just a waste of money. A computer might be an exception, especially if you travel frequently and take the device along for the ride. Make sure the warranty covers accidental damage and extended tech support.
• Brand reliability varies by product. Manufacturers often have strengths and weakness in different product categories. GE, for example, has made very reliable cooking appliances, but its refrigerators with icemakers have been repair-prone. John Deere's lawn tractors have been very reliable, but its self propelled lawn mowers have been significantly more repair-prone than other brands. And LG has made reliable plasma TVs and clothes dryers, but not reliable side-by-side refrigerators.
• The 50-percent rule still stands. Consumer Reports recommends that a replacement should be purchased if the repair will cost more than half the price of the new product. Replacing electronic gear might be less costly than most people think because prices are steadily dropping in some categories. Major appliances, on the other hand, are getting more expensive and they usually have long service lives, which is why Consumer Reports generally recommends holding onto them longer than electronics.
• Some products are harder to repair. Consumer Reports' survey indicates that repairs of gas cooktops, built-in refrigerators, and home-theater systems can also be frustrating because they take an inordinately long time or cost a lot, or because the item requires further service calls. Dryers, electric cooktops, and digital cameras have the highest success and satisfaction rates.
The full report on repairing or replacing appliances, electronics, lawn equipment, and home exercise gear, appears in the August issue of Consumer Reports and online at www.ConsumerReports.org.
July 5, 2011 4:23 pm
Summer is good for providing homeowners with loads of opportunity to find and repair damage left over from the previous winter. Coming from a region that was among the hardest hit last winter, Steve Hatfield, a real estate professional fromDearborn Heights, MI recently offered up ideas about assembling a first-aid repair kit that will come in handy for all those summertime fix-it chores.
Hatfield advises keeping some or all of these common items together in one single drawer or carrier to make it easier and more efficient to get at and tackle the most common household repairs:
Simple tools – Keep a hammer, screwdriver, utility knife, tape measure and pencil in your first aid repair kit, and consider stocking a couple of tongue depressors or craft sticks for spreading glue. They can also be used to hold small nails instead of hammering your thumbs.
Gorilla Glue – This product is 100% waterproof and perfect for fixing anything from a broken chair leg to a broken flower pot, even resetting a loose stone on a walkway. Hatfield says if you’ve never used polyurethane glue before, be careful because it will expand as it cures—you will only need a very small amount for an indestructible bond.
Sandpaper and a two-part, epoxy-based wood filler – Hatfield says all exterior door and window trim work should be checked every spring because gaps and cracks not only reduce your home’s efficiency, but can also provide an entry location for unwanted insects and rodents.
Gorilla Tape – Gorilla Tape has a strong fabric backing and three times the adhesive of other duct tapes, and will even stick to impossible surfaces like brick and stucco. It also provides a quick fix for a torn grill cover or split garden hose.
Cordless drill and variety of high quality screws – Due to expansion and contraction during the winter, screws are likely to loosen. Tighten up exposed screws on things like your deck, wood railings, etc., before they become a safety hazard.
Touch-up paint and foam applicators – Hatfield says stocking a small amount of paint in a disposable airtight container in your kit from any large painting jobs you’ve done will save you the headache of trying to locate that larger can if you just need to make a quick touch-up. He says foam applicators, which you can get inexpensively from any craft and hobby store, are great for quick touch-ups, and are disposable.
June 30, 2011 1:23 pm
Seventy-one percent of Americans say they celebrate Fourth of July with a cookout, according to a recent survey from the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA). In fact, Fourth of July ranks as the most popular outdoor cooking holiday, above Memorial Day (57 percent), Labor Day (55 percent) and even Father's Day (47 percent).
Celebrating with family and friends can be as easy as lighting up the grill. To please an outdoor party crowd, Americans say first and foremost that they prefer hamburgers (33 percent) at their Fourth of July cookout, followed by steak (29 percent), poultry (14 percent), and hotdogs (7 percent), according to HPBA's 2011 National Barbecue Poll.
"Cooking out is a popular tradition on the Fourth of July, and at any time of the year, because it's an easy way to unite friends and family over delicious tasting food at an affordable price," says Leslie Wheeler, HPBA Communications Director.
HPBA offers these tips to get grill-ready for Independence Day celebrations:
• Evaluate your cooking equipment and grill (consider replacing it if you have rusted or wobbly legs, or if the manufacturer's safety guidelines are not being met).
• For charcoal grills, never use gasoline, kerosene or highly volatile fluids as a starter. Use an electric, solid, metal chimney or other starter specifically made for lighting charcoal briquettes or wood chunks.
• Make sure you have enough propane, cooking wood, and/or charcoal for the cookout, so the heat will last through second helpings.
• Before lighting the grill, apply non-stick spray on the grates. The protective spray cuts down the clean-up time afterwards.
• For charcoal grills, line the bowl with aluminum foil. After grilling, and once the grill and coals are cool, simply discard the foil with the coals and ash.
For more outdoor cooking tips and tidbits, as well as recipes, visit www.facebook.com/thebbqsource or www.twitter.com/thebbqsource .
June 30, 2011 1:23 pm
In Steven Spielberg’s classic horror film, Poltergeist, little Carol Anne—while watching TV static—ominously announces to her family, “They’re here.” With July upon us, Cowleys Termite and Pest Control is giving the same reminder to homeowners—not for the pending arrival of malevolent spirits—but for something almost as creepy: carpenter ants that are poised to invade homes.
In the northern states, carpenter ants become active in May and slow down in October. But July is the month of peak activity.
This warning is especially important for those with homes built in wooded areas. Carpenter ants are known to forage up to 100 yards to search for food and establish satellite colonies. And these foragers often wind up around or inside our homes. It is important for homeowners to not only monitor the inside of their house for carpenter ant activity, but the surrounding trees and other wood sources around the house as well.
New Jersey hosts eight carpenter ant species of different sizes and colors. The most common and largest of these ants is the black carpenter ant that has a uniform dull black color. Carpenter ants take their name from what they do best: chewing and tunneling through wood in order to create passageways (called “galleries”) for building and expanding their nesting sites.
Carpenter ants, unlike termites, do not eat or digest wood for food, preferring a more traditional insect diet. However, carpenter ants are nothing to ignore. They cause significant cosmetic damage that, if left untreated year after year, can be extensive. Also, once a carpenter ant colony is established, they do not simply “go away.”
In all likelihood, if a home has a carpenter ant problem, it usually has a water-related problem as well that has caused decaying or mold-infested wood. Nests are commonly found:
• Behind bathroom tiles
• Around tubs, sinks, showers, and dishwashers
• Under roofing
• In attic beams
• Under subfloor insulation
• In foam insulation
The only effective, long-term way to control carpenter ants is to locate and destroy the nest, replace damaged or decayed wood, and eliminate moisture problems.
Although it may “feel good” to kill a few of the pesky ants, spraying a home-use insecticide on surfaces where ants travel or congregate such as along baseboards or in holes or cracks in the walls and floors has little long-term effect. It may reduce the frequency and number of ants that you see, but it does nothing to eliminate the nest.
Homeowners can do the most good in dealing with carpenter ant infestations through prevention.
• Replace any moisture-damaged wood in your home.
• Keep any wood or lumber that is stored in a garage or near the house dry and, if possible, elevated to allow air circulation.
• Store firewood as far from buildings as possible.
• Remove tree and shrub stumps and roots; leaving them to rot is an open invitation for these pests.
• Trim branches that overhang the home or touch electrical wires connected to the house.
• Seal cracks or small openings near the base of your home.
• Remove water/moisture sources in and around your home (roofing and plumbing leaks are the most common).
By being proactive in caring for one’s home and surrounding property, homeowners can significantly reduce the likelihood of a carpenter ant infestation. But if there is a carpenter ant infestation, contact a pest control professional immediately. Otherwise, the colony will continue to expand and cause even more damage.
For more information visit http://www.cowleys.com/
June 30, 2011 1:23 pm
While you’re enjoying that well-deserved summer vacation, don’t forget your garden will be home working hard. Here are some simple tips from Preen.com to keep your garden going while you’re on the go.
A Good Soak – Give flower and vegetable gardens a good final soak before flying the coop. This is especially important if rainfall has been inadequate, or sparse precipitation is predicted. The good news is that further watering may not be a worry no matter what the weather. Established annuals can last for ten days without supplemental water. Most perennials can weather two weeks of dry conditions. Trees and shrubs won’t feel the pinch for about a month. Lawns are the camels of the garden. A healthy lawn can go six weeks without extra water.
Don’t Feed and Leave – Don’t fertilize plants before leaving. Slower growth is what you want while you are away.
Protect Containers – Container plants need water more often than border plants. If you ask a friend for a watering favor, group containers in a protected area with indirect sun, but access to rainfall. This makes it easier to water and harder to miss a pot. This lessens stress on plants and your watering chum.
Harvest Produce – Harvest produce before you leave. If you can’t take it with you, or just have too much, donate to a food pantry or share with friends or family. If you’ll be gone for more than two weeks, ask a friend to harvest produce. If you stop harvesting vegetables some stop producing.
For more information, visit the garden tips section of http://www.preen.com.
June 30, 2011 1:23 pm
Q: Is a reverse mortgage good for elderly homeowners?
A: A reverse mortgage is an increasingly popular option for older Americans to convert home equity into cash. Money can then be used to cover home repairs, everyday living expenses, and medical bills.
Instead of making monthly payments to a lender, the lender makes payments to the homeowner, who continues to own the home and hold title to it.
According to the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association, the money given by the lender is tax-free and does not affect Social Security or Medicare benefits, although it may affect the homeowners’ eligibility for certain kinds of government assistance, including Medicaid.
Homeowners must be at least 62 and own their own homes to get a reverse mortgage. No income or medical requirements are necessary to qualify, and they may be eligible even if they still owe money on a first or second mortgage. In fact, many seniors get reverse mortgages to pay off the original loan.
A reverse mortgage is repaid when the property is sold or the owner moves. Should the owner die before the property is sold, the estate repays the loan, plus any interest that has accrued.