December 30, 2011 4:10 am
According to financial expert and television commentator, Jean Chatzky, there are several financial lessons from 2011 to be aware of as we move into the new year. Here are a few of Chatzky’s favorites:
- Don’t obsess over the news. Negative economic news, such as the debt-ceiling debacle and the Eurozone crisis, created substantial market volatility, which plays with our emotions and makes us act impulsively, says Chatzky. Remember, she advises, the market rewards those who stick around for the long-term. A recent study by Fidelity revealed that 401(k) accounts are almost back to pre-recession levels—but only for those who didn’t back down and stop contributing. If the headlines are bad, turn off the TV, says Chatzky, and avoid the temptation to tinker with your portfolio.
- Take control of your finances. While negative news and the financial market are out of our control, we always have control over our own finances, including how much we spend, and more importantly, how much we save. If you haven’t already, says Chatzky, automate your savings and watch your money grow. This is the ultimate sense of control.
- Limit what you borrow for college. Student loan debt will reach $1 trillion for the first time ever and college tuition is soaring faster than inflation, so Chatzky advises college-bound students and their families to be careful about what—and how—they borrow to avoid ending up in a default situation.
- It’s never too late to get on track. Chatzky stresses that it doesn’t matter how old or young you are—if you’ve made financial mistakes this year, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and make a plan that will put you back on track, whether it’s saving $10 a day or finding a better-paying job. Options are always out there for the taking.
December 29, 2011 4:10 am
If your home will be for sale this winter, it is important to master certain seasonal issues that are less significant or even non-existent at other times of the year. Here are a few tips to aid in the successful sale of your home:
- Brighten it up: Counter the cloudy days of winter by making your home stand out. Keep the lights on in the front of the house even if no showings are scheduled. You never know who will be driving by to take a peek.
- Don't overlook a place for shoes: Prospective buyers and guests will likely be schlepping through your home with muddy shoes and boots. Make sure you have a designated spot for wet footwear, like a festive rug or area in the breezeway. You want to ensure that your home stays just as clean for whoever will be touring the home next.
- Keep it fresh: Homes, especially ones not currently being lived in, have a tendency to get stuffy in the winter time. Air out the home on warmer days or have a nice room fragrance available, like a candle or spray. As always, keep pets hidden or away from the main quarters to make sure no additional smells enter the home.
- Keep a steady temperature: Don't cook your prospective buyers. Keep the home at a steady 65 degrees during showings. Those touring will likely not be taking off their jackets, so there's no reason to make them sweat.
- Don't ignore the exterior: Just because it's winter doesn't mean you should neglect the yard. Be sure to keep walkways clear of ice and debris to ensure everyone's safety. Always shovel the driveway and walks promptly after a snowfall or ice storm.
With these tips and a little bit of thought, adjusting your selling methods to suit the season can only help in the long run.
December 29, 2011 4:10 am
Finding a new place to live just became easier for consumers, who can now browse apartments on their smartphones, according to Apartment Finder, which recently launched an additional mobile tool—a free Android App to make looking through photos, maps, and more information a better experience for apartment shoppers. Consumers may download the app for free from the Android Marketplace.
According to Nielsen Research, more people will own smart phones than personal computers or laptops as soon as 2013 and comScore Research indicates that 73 percent of local searches (such as looking for a home) are currently performed through mobile web browsers.
To reach more consumers at a time and place when they are actively engaged in apartment searching, Apartment Finder launched a mobile version of its website in 2011 and an iPhone app in 2010.
The new app includes helpful features such as:
- Search by GPS
- Search by city, state or zip
- Advanced search
- Recent search history
- Search results in map or list views
- Apartment details such as photos, floor plans, price, description, amenities, and contact information in user-friendly screen displays
- Save to Favorites, Save Notes, Driving Directions, Map Location and the ability to share with friends or family
- Widget for Android Home Screen
- View in Landscape or Portrait Mode
- Android Operating System 2.1+
For more information, visit www.ApartmentFinder.com
December 29, 2011 4:10 am
The top 1,000 search terms for 2011 are in, and Facebook was the top-searched term overall in the US. This is the third year that the social networking Website has been the top search term overall, accounting for 3.10 percent of all searches, a 46 percent increase from 2010. Four variations of the term "facebook" were among the top 10 terms and accounted for 4.42 percent of searches overall, a 24 percent increase from 2010.
Among the top 10 terms, "youtube" moved up from the third spot in 2010 to the second spot in 2011. "Facebook login" was the third most-searched term in 2011, followed by "craigslist" and "facebook.com." Facebook.com moved up one spot in 2011 to be among the top five search terms. This is an increase of 12 percent compared with 2010. When combined, common search terms for Facebook - e.g., facebook and facebook.com - accounted for 3.48 percent of all searches in the United States among the top 50 terms, which represents a 33 percent increase compared with 2010. YouTube terms accounted for 1.36 percent, representing a 21 percent increase compared with 2010. Google terms (including YouTube) accounted for 1.59 percent - an increase of 27 percent compared with 2010. Yahoo terms accounted for 0.59 percent - an increase of 15 percent compared with 2010.
New terms that entered the top 50 search terms for 2011 included addicting games, amazon.com, cnn, chase online, face, facebook sign up, hotmail, lowes, pandora, and twitter.
Top-visited Websites in 2011
Facebook was the top-visited Website for the second year and accounted for 10.29 percent of all U.S. visits between January and November 2011, a 15 percent increase from 2010. Google.com ranked second, with 7.70 percent of visits, a 7 percent increase, followed by YouTube (3.17 percent), Yahoo! Mail (2.95 percent) and Yahoo! (2.47 percent).
The combination of Google properties accounted for 11.98 percent of all U.S. visits, a 22 percent increase compared with 2010. Facebook properties accounted for 8.93 percent, and Yahoo! properties accounted for 6.81 percent. The top 10 Websites accounted for 32 percent of all U.S. visits between January and November 2011, which was flat compared with 2010.
Top public figure searches - Justin Bieber was the 92nd most popular overall search term in the United States in 2011:
1. Justin Bieber (92)
2. Casey Anthony (178)
3. Kim Kardashian (193)
4. Nicki Minaj (210)
5. Selena Gomez (244)
6. Charlie Sheen (292)
Top personalities - the top five searches from within the Personalities category (sites focused on celebrities and stars):
1. Kim Kardashian
2. Glenn Beck
4. Robert Pattinson
5. Khloe Kardashian
Fastest-moving movie titles - the top five searches from within the Movies category:
1. Star Wars
2. Transformers 3
3. (Twilight) Breaking Dawn
4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
5. Fast Five
Music - the top five searched-for artists/bands:
1. Lady Gaga
2. Justin Beiber
4. Taylor Swift
5. Chris Brown
Top TV show searches - the top five from the Television category:
1. American Idol
2. Young and the Restless
3. Dora the Explorer
4. Dancing with the Stars
5. Days of our Lives
Source: Experian Hitwise, a part of Experian Marketing Services
December 22, 2011 10:06 pm
If you're planning to travel during the new year, you can help protect your home while you're away by following these simple tips:
1. Make it look like you're home. Install timers on interior lights so they turn on and off periodically. Many timers cost less than $25. Some more costly products are capable of varying the time that your lights turn on. Also consider leaving your radio on and tuned to an all-news or talk show station.
2. Disconnect and remove all exterior electrical decorations before you leave to reduce the chance of fire and theft. Install exterior lights controlled by motion sensors to make your home a more difficult target for prowlers.
3. Discontinue your newspaper delivery temporarily. Be sure to give several days notice so your order can be processed in time.
4. Ask someone to collect any free papers or sales materials left near your house. When fliers and papers are left on a driveway day after day, it's a sure sign that no one is home.
5. Have the post office hold your mail. This can be initiated by calling the U.S. Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777 and listening to the option for putting a vacation hold on your mail. You can make arrangements up to 30 days in advance of your vacation; at minimum, two days will be needed to process your request.
6. Ask a friend or neighbor to park a car in your driveway occasionally and keep an eye on your place. If police regularly patrol your neighborhood, give law enforcement authorities your schedule so they can watch for suspicious activity. If there's a crime-watch program, notify the person in charge.
7. If you have an alarm that is monitored, tell the alarm company you will be away. If possible, provide a phone number where you can be reached.
Before traveling, take these simple steps to help protect your property.
December 22, 2011 10:06 pm
The National Association of REALTORS® supports legislation introduced recently that provides sensible reform of the secondary mortgage market and protects the interest of taxpayers.
Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) introduced the legislation, “The Mortgage Finance Act of 2011,” in the U.S. Senate. The bill creates a limited-term, government-chartered secondary mortgage market mechanism, the Mortgage Finance Agency, that would focus on the securitization of loans meeting the “qualified residential mortgage” (QRM) standard crafted by Sens. Isakson, Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) for the Dodd-Frank Act.
“We commend Sen. Isakson for putting forth this legislation. As the leading advocate for homeownership, NAR is committed to working with Congress on a solution that protects U.S. taxpayers while continuing to allow Americans access to the dream of homeownership,” said NAR President Moe Veissi. “Any new secondary mortgage market model must ensure that mortgages are affordable and always available to creditworthy buyers, especially in times of economic distress; ensure that taxpayer dollars are protected; require sound underwriting standards; and provide for rigorous oversight. We think this legislation creates the framework to accomplish that.”
NAR has long recommended a considered, responsible approach to reforming the secondary mortgage market. Toward that end, the association established a set of principles and recommendations that include facilitating the flow of capital into the mortgage market in all market conditions; establishing entities with a separate legal identity from the federal government, but still serving a public purpose; ensuring risk-based pricing of loan products or guarantees; and requiring the highest standards of transparency and soundness with respect to disclosure and structuring of mortgage-related securities.
For more information, visit www.realtor.org.
December 22, 2011 10:06 pm
Freddie Mac recently released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing average fixed mortgage rates largely unchanged and near their record lows helping to keep housing affordability high for those borrowers who are in the market. The 30-year fixed dipped to 3.99 percent, and at 3.27 percent, the 15-year fixed averaged just slightly above its all-time low of 3.26 percent on October 6, 2011. According to the report:
• 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.99 percent with an average 0.7 point for the week ending December 8, 2011, down from last week when it averaged 4.00 percent. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.61 percent.
• 15-year FRM this week averaged 3.27 percent with an average 0.8 point, down from last week when it averaged 3.30 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.96 percent.
• 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.93 percent this week, with an average 0.5 point, up from last week when it averaged 2.90 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.60 percent.
• 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.80 percent this week with an average 0.6 point, up from last week when it averaged 2.78 percent. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 3.27 percent.
Average commitment rates should be reported along with average fees and points to reflect the total upfront cost of obtaining the mortgage. Borrowers may still pay closing costs which are not included in the survey.
According to Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist, Freddie Mac, “Thirty-year fixed-rate loans have declined 0.62 percentage points from a year ago, and median sales prices on existing homes are off 4.7 percent in the year ending with October. These low rates and home prices have pushed housing affordability to record highs this year. For instance, the National Housing Affordability Index, which dates back to 1971, reached another all-time record high in October for the sixth time in 2011, according to the National Association of REALTORS®. Monthly principal and mortgage interest payments accounted for a mere 12.6 percent of median family incomes that month. This level of affordability likely contributed to the rise in conventional mortgage applications for home purchases over the week of December 2nd to the most in nearly a year."
For more information, visit www.freddiemac.com.
December 22, 2011 4:06 pm
With the holidays officially over, it's time to get reorganized for the new year. If your home is in disarray, you may feel the need to take some time to get cleaned up and prepared for what's to come. The following tips can help you return to normalcy:
Clutter control: Make room for your new belongings by weeding out some of your old ones. For every new item you receive, donate or toss an older version. Challenge yourself to rid your closet of outworn or rarely used items. Alternately, you can try filling every leftover holiday mailing box in your home with items to donate to Goodwill or charity. Regardless of what you fill them with, you'll be surprised by how much clutter you conquer.
Sort before you store: With the rush over, it's very tempting to throw all ornaments and decorations in a box and never think twice about it. However, if you take the time to sort your holiday items, you'll be glad you did come December 2012. Organizing your holiday cookware, decorations, specialty linens, etc., will make next year's decorating process that much easier and may save you some space in the basement or attic.
Rid yourself of those white elephants: Don't allow those unwanted gifts to overtake your home. Designate a spot in your home for "regifts." Write a little note about who gave you the item to prevent any awkward mistakes in the future. You may even want to consider a white elephant exchange party where each guest brings an item they'd like to regift. Some venders online may allow you to sell unwanted items. Amazon Marketplace and Ebay are great sites to start, depending on the item. Appropriately dealing with these gifts is important to controlling the clutter in your house.
Start the new year off right with a clean and clutter-free living space. The time invested in the clean-up process will be time well spent.
December 22, 2011 4:06 pm
Many people looking for unoccupied homeowners insurance for an empty residence will find that the process can be difficult. Many companies will not cover such a dwelling or charge high premiums because of the increased risk associated with vacant properties. The chance of burglary and vandalism are higher. The potential of unnoticed damage which can compound problems and costs also increases. There may also be an issue with squatters.
If a residence is vacant for more than 30 days, a standard policy may become invalid. In order to find homeowners insurance that will cover this type of property for a reasonable price, here are four things that should be known to reduce risk and help lower rates.
1. Make the home look occupied. There are many things that can be done, such as asking a neighbor to park their car in the driveway and putting lights on a timer. It is also recommended to leave furniture in the home when securing your home. Be sure to also have newspapers and other mail stopped.
2. Prepare the central heating and water. If a house will be empty during the winter months, the risk of frozen pipes and water damage increase. By keeping the heat on at a low setting, this risk is reduced.
3. Set up regular inspections. The majority of problems with vacant properties are simply because of unnoticed issues and compounding damage and costs. By having a trusted third party make regular visits, this can be avoided and add peace of mind.
4. Secure the property and remove valuables. All entry points should be secure with an alarm set. Valuables should be removed so they do not attract attention that could lead to burglary.
By following these tips, you can reduce the risk and hopefully use it as leverage to receive lower insurance rates.
For more information, visit www.HomeownersInsurance.net
December 22, 2011 4:06 pm
Your credit score can affect many aspects of your life. The biggest, perhaps, is the ability to secure a mortgage should you be in the market for a home. The better the score you have, the less your debt will cost you in the long run. It's important to take control of your credit score before beginning the buying process. If you want to boost your score, here are a few tips to get that number heading in the right direction.
If you don't know what your score is or you are worried it might have errors, don't hesitate to contact one of the three big credit bureaus and request a report. Each bureau is required to give every requesting consumer one free report once a year. Check your report for errors and get them corrected as soon as possible. Send the credit agency a certified letter explaining what is wrong and include any documents that may support your claim. You don't want your score to suffer due to inaccurate records.
If you have missed any payments in the past, catch up as soon as you can. Within a few months, your score will improve if you get current and stay current. The negative weight on your score will lessen over time, erasing the negative marks from your record for good. Once you are current, do everything you can to ensure that payments are on time.
Going forward, keep your balances below your limit. Just because you have a certain credit limit doesn't mean you have to use it all. The less available credit you use, the better. Some credit card companies have been lowering credit amounts without telling consumers. If this happens to you, it could negatively affect your credit score because your utilization ratio will increase. The bureaus recommend using 33 percent below your available credit. Remember, a small amount of debt on multiple cards is better than having just one or two cards with a large bulk of debt. Spread out your spending, and keep those balances low.
Keep old accounts open...even if you don't use them often. Part of your score is based on how old your accounts are. Closing older accounts erases the credit history that was accumulated through those accounts. To prevent a credit card company from closing your account, use it every now and then to keep it active. Even miniscule charges will suffice and protect your account and history.
Don't be afraid to check your score as often as you want. You checking your own score is seen as a "soft inquiry" by the credit bureaus. By checking often and properly managing your debt, you can be well on your way to raising your credit score.