Gunning Daily News

Question of the Day

June 3, 2011 5:19 pm

Q: Is private mortgage insurance necessary?
A:
Lenders require private mortgage insurance (PMI) on most conventional loans with less than a 20 percent down payment. They believe there is a correlation between borrower equity and default. They have found that the less money borrowers put down, the more likely they are to default on a loan. PMI guarantees the lender will not lose money if this happens and a foreclosure is necessary.

The buyer pays this insurance, usually a small fee at the outset and a percentage of the face amount of the loan that is added to the monthly payment.

What most homeowners do not realize is that the insurance is usually no longer necessary after enough equity has built up in the property. Contact your lender if you meet this requirement and want to drop PMI.

A precaution: do not confuse PMI with mortgage life insurance. The latter pays all, or a portion, of your mortgage in the event of your death.

Should You Start Planning Your Kids’ Retirement?

June 3, 2011 3:19 pm

When our generation was growing up, we were taught about Social Security, and many of us had grandparents who were reasonably comfortable with a combination of their investment income and their government checks.

Today, not so much.

Over the last few years, we have seen the market crash and burn, and Social Security is on its way toward doing the same. So, if we’re scrambling to salvage our retirement income, imagine what it will be like for your kids.

Rick Rodgers, a retirement counselor and author of the new book The New Three-Legged Stool: A Tax Efficient Approach To Retirement Planning, believes that parents can help their kids safeguard their retirement by starting now.

“When we were just starting out in life, our parents told us to start saving money right out of the gate, but we didn’t listen,” he says. “Instead, we ran up our credit card debt, spent more than we earned and bought more house than we could afford. But our kids can and should learn from our mistakes and helping them to start saving now could give them a nest egg or millions instead of thousands.”

Rodgers’ advice includes:

• Start at 16 – Just $5,000 contributed to a Roth IRA each year for 5 years starting at age 16 could be worth more than a million by the time the reach age 65. In a Roth IRA all that growth would be tax-free when withdrawn.
• 10 Percent Rule – Everyone should save a minimum of 10 percent of their take home pay.
• Shelter Early – Ideally, you should save in a Roth IRA account at the beginning of your career. When you reach your peak earnings (usually around age 40), switch to a tax-deferred account like a 401(k).
• Fun or Fund? – Take half of what you have been spending on gifts (toys, games, etc.) and invest it in a mutual fund for your child.
• Birthday Booster – Encourage friends and relatives to contribute to the mutual fund account you’ve started instead of buying gifts for birthdays and holidays.
• Every Little Bit Helps – Contributing small amounts on a regular basis is a better strategy than waiting to accumulate a larger sum. Get in the habit of saving something regularly.
• Use the Refund – Let the government help. Currently the child tax credit is $1,000 per child until they reach age 17. Discipline yourself to save the credit when it is returned to you as a refund.

“It doesn’t take a lot to give your kids long term security,” Rodgers says. “The magic of compounded interest can do more of the heavy lifting as long as you start early and contribute often.”

Rick Rodgers, Certified Financial Planner, Chartered Retirement Planner Counselor, Certified Retirement Counselor, and member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisers, is Founder and CEO of Rodgers & Associates.

Farm Aid Responds to Weather Disasters across the Country

June 3, 2011 3:19 pm

As thousands deal with the aftermath of the devastating tornadoes and severe storms that continue to threaten the South, Midwest and Northeast, Farm Aid has activated its Family Farm Disaster Fund to aid in the immediate relief effort for family farmers in the affected regions.

"Our hearts go out to all the folks across the country that have been affected by the devastating weather disasters over the past few weeks," says Farm Aid President Willie Nelson. "At Farm Aid, we are doing everything in our power to deliver immediate support to family farmers, getting them back on the land and growing good food for all of us."

Recent reports indicate that 2011 has been the deadliest year for tornadoes in almost 60 years, and tornado season is only half over. Farmers along the Mississippi River have lost their fields and homes to record flooding. Meanwhile, farmers and ranchers from the Southeast to the West are dealing with historic drought conditions. And most recently, farmers in the Northeast have also been affected by heavy rains and flooding.

Since activating the Family Farm Disaster Fund, Farm Aid has raised more than $22,000 in emergency assistance. Every dollar raised will support local farm groups, churches and rural organizations that get funds as quickly as possible to farmers in the impacted regions.

"We are proud to join in the relief effort to help family farmers rebuild their farms and livelihoods," says Farm Aid Executive Director Carolyn Mugar. "These farms serve as a critical part of our nation's backbone, and we strive to help them in this time of need, as they have served the needs of our nation's people for decades."

Contributions can be made to Farm Aid's Family Farm Disaster Fund online at www.farmaid.org.

Farm Aid's mission is to build a vibrant, family farm-centered system of agriculture in America. Farm Aid artists and board members Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews host an annual concert to raise funds to support Farm Aid's work with family farmers and to inspire people to choose family farm food. Since 1985, Farm Aid, with the support of the artists who contribute their performances each year, has raised more than $39 million to support programs that help farmers thrive, expand the reach of the Good Food Movement, take action to change the dominant system of industrial agriculture and promote food from family farms.

FDA: Breast Thermography Not a Substitute for Mammography

June 3, 2011 3:19 pm

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently warned women not to substitute breast thermography for mammography to screen for breast cancer.

Unlike mammography, in which an X-ray of the breast is taken, thermography produces an infrared image that shows the patterns of heat and blood flow on or near the surface of the body. Some health care providers claim thermography is superior to mammography as a screening method for breast cancer because it does not require radiation exposure or breast compression.

However, the FDA is unaware of any valid scientific evidence showing that thermography, when used alone, is effective in screening for breast cancer. To date, the FDA has not approved a thermography device (also referred to as a telethermographic device) for use as a stand-alone to screen or diagnose breast cancer. The FDA has cleared thermography devices for use only as an additional diagnostic tool for breast cancer screening and diagnosis. Therefore, FDA says, thermography devices should not be used as a stand-alone method for breast cancer screening or diagnosis.

"Mammography is still the most effective screening method for detecting breast cancer in its early, most treatable stages," says Helen Barr, M.D., director of the Division of Mammography Quality and Radiation Programs in the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health. "Women should not rely solely on thermography for the screening or diagnosis of breast cancer."

The FDA has issued warning letters to some health care providers who have been promoting the inappropriate use of breast thermography. The letters instructed the providers to cease making claims that thermography devices, when used alone, are an effective means of detecting breast cancer. Claims have, for instance, appeared on some providers' websites.

The FDA encourages women to:
• Have regular mammograms according to screening guidelines or as recommended by their health care provider;
• Follow their health care provider's recommendations for additional breast diagnostic procedures, such as various mammographic views, clinical breast exam, breast ultrasound, MRI or biopsy; additional procedures could include thermography;
• Remember that thermography is not a substitute for mammography and should not be used by itself for breast cancer screening or diagnosis.

"While there is plenty of evidence that mammography is effective in breast cancer detection, there is simply no evidence that thermography can take its place," says Barr.

For more information visit www.fda.gov.

Public Health Experts Advise against Further Privatization of Alcohol Sales

June 3, 2011 3:19 pm

National public health experts are recommending against further privatization of retail alcohol sales based on evidence that privatization would increase excessive alcohol consumption and associated health and social problems, the Keystone Research Center reports in a new policy brief.

The recommendation was made in an April statement from the Task Force on Community Preventive Services, an independent, volunteer body of public health experts created in 1996 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"The Task Force statement is the most definitive statement on retail alcohol privatization issued to date by U.S. public health researchers," says Stephen Herzenberg, PhD, Economist and Executive Director of the Keystone Research Center. "It is based on the best available evidence, drawn from research on 'natural experiments' with actual privatizations. The Task Force statement deserves close examination as Pennsylvania lawmakers consider a proposal to privatize state wine and spirits stores."

In the Task Force statement, researchers explained that their recommendation against further privatization of alcohol sales in states with control of retail sales is "based on strong evidence that privatization results in increase per capita alcohol consumption, a well-established proxy for excessive consumption."

The Keystone Research Center policy brief provides an overview of the Task Force and its findings on alcohol privatization.

The Task Force periodically conducts rigorous "systematic reviews" of peer-refereed studies on a variety of issues, including "excessive alcohol consumption," and makes recommendations based on the evidence it gathers.

Twelve research papers that examined the impact of actual cases of privatization were used as the "primary evidence" by the Task Force in its evaluation. The papers evaluated the effects of 21 instances of privatization or (in one case) re-monopolization of retail alcohol distribution. They included retail alcohol privatizations in seven U.S. states, two Canadian provinces, and two European countries (Finland and Sweden).

Sixteen of the 21 privatization events studied examined the effects of privatization on per capita consumption of alcoholic beverages that were not privatized as well as those that were privatized. After privatization, the Task Force found, consumption of privatized beverages increased "substantially" (the median increase was 48.2 percent). Meanwhile, consumption of non-privatized beverages increased very little (the median change was a fall of 2 percent).

The Task Force inferred based on "extensive evidence" that "when privatization results in substantial increases in alcohol consumption, there are at the same time substantial increases in excessive consumption."

While the 12 research papers examining natural experiments with privatization did not focus heavily on health effects and other alcohol-related harms, the Task Force found 16 other high-quality studies that examined the impact of private retail distribution on health and other social problems across different jurisdictions (some with private retail distribution and some without). The preponderance of this "secondary evidence" showed an increase in health and other social problems from private alcohol distribution.

"The maintenance of government control of off-premise sale of alcoholic beverages is one of many effective strategies to prevent or reduce excessive consumption which is one of the leading causes of preventable death and disability," the report concludes.

Dr. Herzenberg notes that writings by Dr. Antony Davies published by the Commonwealth Foundation and George Mason University's Mercatus Center present a different view on alcohol privatization. That work, however, has not been published in any peer-referred scholarly journals and failed to meet the quality standards necessary for inclusion as primary or secondary evidence in the Task Force Report.

The Task Force on Community Preventive Services is an independent, nonfederal organization that is partly staffed by "The Community Guide," an organization that provides guidance on public health issues. Members of the Task Force are appointed by the Director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) but conduct work independent of the CDC.

The Keystone Research Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization that promotes a more prosperous and equitable Pennsylvania economy. For more information visit: www.keystoneresearch.org.

Word of the Day

June 3, 2011 3:19 pm

Agent. Person authorized to act by and on behalf of another.

Question of the Day

June 3, 2011 3:19 pm

Q: What about title insurance?

A:
Title insurance protects the lender against unclear title to the property you are buying. It is almost always a requirement for closing on a home. If you desire coverage as well, buy an owner’s policy, which will protect you against any title-search errors and losses that arise from disputes over property ownership. The cost of title insurance is usually a set value per thousand of dollars of the total loan amount.

NeighborWorks America Kicks Off National Homeownership Month

June 2, 2011 5:19 pm

NeighborWorks®America kicked off National Homeownership Month by announcing a series of activities that will highlight the important role that informed, prepared and engaged residents play in healthy communities through long-term, affordable homeownership.

"For more than 30 years, NeighborWorks America and its network of affiliates around the country have supported and encouraged affordable and long-term homeownership," says Eileen Fitzgerald, Acting CEO of NeighborWorks America. "From providing homeownership tips and urging homeowners facing foreclosure to talk to the right people, to strengthening communities through NeighborWorks Week and NeighborWorks HomeOwnership Centers, throughout National Homeownership Month we are working to get good information in the hands of potential homebuyers and current homeowners so they can achieve and sustain homeownership."

NeighborWorks America activities during Homeownership Month include:
• NeighborWorks Week(June 4-11, 2011): Every year during NeighborWorks Week—the first week in June—NeighborWorks America and the NeighborWorks network mobilize tens of thousands of volunteers, business leaders, neighbors, friends and local and national elected and civic leaders for a week of neighborhood change and awareness. Homes are rehabbed and repaired, properties are painted and landscaped, neighborhood tours are conducted, partnerships are recognized, and education events are held. During this week NeighborWorks America will highlight NeighborWorks Week events happening across the country on www.nw.org, the NeighborWorks News blog, NeighborWorks' Facebook fan page and our YouTube channel.
• HomeOwnership Centers(June 13-17, 2011): NeighborWorks HomeOwnership Centers are one-stop shops for all things related to homeownership. From professional homebuyer advice and education on affordable mortgage loans, to home repair and rehab guidance and foreclosure intervention counseling, NeighborWorks HomeOwnership Centers pave the road to long-term affordable homeownership for thousands of homebuyers and homeowners each year. During this week, NeighborWorks America will highlight the services NeighborWorks HomeOwnership Centers offer and help you locate one in your community. This information will be available on www.nw.org, the NeighborWorks News blog, NeighborWorks' Facebook fan page and our YouTube channel.
• Homebuyer Education(June 20-24, 2011): Everyday homeownership advisors work with potential homebuyers to prepare them for long-term, affordable homeownership. During this week NeighborWorks America will offer consumer tips on how to prepare for homeownership, seven steps to obtain a mortgage, and more on www.nw.org, the NeighborWorks News blog, NeighborWorks' Facebook fan page and our YouTube channel.
• Loan Scam Alert Campaign (June 27-30, 2011): Every day homeowners facing financial difficulty fall victim to vicious scam artists. During the last week in June, NeighborWorks will remind homeowners of the signs of a loan modification scam, how to report scams and point homeowners facing foreclosure to the right people—nonprofit, HUD approved counseling agencies who offer foreclosure intervention counseling. This information will be available on www.nw.org, the NeighborWorks News blog, the Loan Scam Alert Campaign's Facebook fan page and our YouTube channel.

For more information about Homeownership Month, visit www.nw.org/homeownership.

Employee Wellness Programs Help Lower Healthcare Costs, Incentives and Social Networks Key Motivators

June 2, 2011 5:19 pm

Healthcare costs are rising, but employers are proactively working to curb costs and create healthier workforces—and employees are getting onboard, according to a survey released today by Virgin HealthMiles.
While 76 percent of American businesses report healthcare cost increases of as much as 10 percent year-over-year, nearly 90 percent are now relying on employee health and wellness programs to lower costs. Seventy percent of employers now offer incentives to employees to participate in wellness initiatives. The approach is working: nearly 88 percent of employees said incentives were an extremely or somewhat important contributor to long-term participation in wellness programs. 

Additionally, social networks are creating organizational cultures of good health. Forty-four percent of employers say leveraging an individual's social connections with its workplace wellness programs has increased employee engagement. Almost 60 percent of employees said community and social elements of wellness programs were either "extremely" or "very" important in staying committed to good health.
The survey was released to mark June's National Employee Wellness Month. In its third year, the initiative was created by Virgin HealthMiles with support from the Strategies to Overcome and Prevent (STOP) Obesity Alliance, the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease and the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation. More than 90 companies across the U.S. and over 40,000 of their employees are participating. 

"Employers and employees recognize they play a role in bending the healthcare cost curve—and it must start with prevention," says Chris Boyce, CEO of Virgin HealthMiles. "More companies are implementing prevention-based wellness initiatives and using tools such as incentives and social connections to drive long-term participation and healthy behavior change. The value of these strategies is powerful, and our survey results show they create healthier workforces." 

Key Survey Findings:
• Implementing Wellness and Education Programs Helping to Offset Rising Costs: More than 42 percent of employers said improved employee health from wellness investments would lower costs. Other strategies include education to make employees better healthcare consumers and increasing emphasis on work/life balance.
• Incentives Aren't One-Size-Fits-All: More than 38 percent of employers reported offering incentives in the $100-500 range and 22 percent in the $501-1,000-plus range.
• Measuring Program Impact Poses Challenges: More than 65 percent of employers said they measured the impact of wellness initiatives, but the approach is largely not validated and cumbersome. More than 61 percent rely solely on manual approaches, anecdotal data or periodic employee surveys to measure program impact. Correspondingly, more than 35 percent of employers said it is difficult to accurately track overall employee health improvements and impacts on healthcare costs. Only 23 percent leveraged technology to gain validated reporting to measure program impact.
• Employees Want Employers to Help Create Healthier Workplaces: Nearly 88 percent of employees said an employer has a responsibility to take a leadership role in encouraging and promoting workplace health.
• Employees Reap the Benefits of Improved Health: Employees who participate in wellness initiatives report improved activity levels, feel healthier and happier, and pay less in healthcare premiums. 

Visit www.nationalemployeewellnessmonth.com for an executive summary and more information on National Employee Wellness Month.

Summer Is an Ideal Time to Volunteer

June 2, 2011 5:19 pm

Summer camps and summer school are not the only stimulating activities young people can do to have a productive summer. Another attractive option is to do volunteer work. 

There's no shortage of opportunities nationwide to do charitable work, from food banks and clothing drives, to community emergency preparedness and health events. No matter what you choose, it's relatively easy to join a group of people working for a good cause. 

Below you'll find some of the resources available, whether you are looking to join a charitable group, create your own volunteer project or participate in long-term volunteer work. 

How to Become a Volunteer
There are plenty of opportunities to do volunteer work, and Serve.gov is a great place to start your search. This is a website created by the federal government as part of a nationwide initiative that seeks to promote community service. 

Serve.gov can help you:
• Search for volunteer opportunities by topic of interest and geographical area
• Learn about volunteer work available in your community
• Get contact information for organizations seeking volunteers
• Share your experience with others

How to Create Your Own Volunteer Project
You can also create your own volunteer project tailored to the needs of your community. This might be a good opportunity for parents and children to share a positive and stimulating activity.
Serve.gov has several toolkits to help you create a community campaign such as a food bank. The guides offer step-by-step instructions on how to build your own community project. 

These toolkits can teach you how to:
• Organize a book drive for low-income students who lack age-appropriate books
• Start a walking team for senior citizens
• Make your home energy efficient and get your neighbors to do the same

If you start your own project, you can also use Serve.gov to promote your initiative and to look for volunteers. 

Long-Term Volunteer Work
For some, volunteering is a commitment that goes beyond the summer. There are federal programs that offer volunteer work both in the United States as well as in foreign countries:
• AmeriCorps is a network of domestic volunteer programs that features full time volunteer work in different parts of the country. Here you'll find opportunities in the areas of urban and rural development, infrastructure improvement and emergency assistance
• Peace Corps offers full-time volunteer work in other countries for periods of about 27 months. Volunteers get to work in different areas of interest and in several parts of the world

USA.gov and GobiernoUSA.gov are the U.S. Government's official web portals in English and Spanish, and part of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA).