February 6, 2012 6:34 am
Appliances can pose a fire hazard even when they are not in use, according to a recent investigation by Consumer Reports. While human error can play a role, especially in fires involving cooking appliances and clothes dryers, Consumer Reports' in-depth analysis of federal fire data revealed that only about half of all appliance fires could be attributed to human mistakes—much of the rest appear to be caused by problems with the appliances themselves.
In fact, in the past five years, more than 15 million appliance units have been recalled by the CPSC and manufacturers for defects that could cause a fire; 7.3 million (almost half) of the recalled units were dishwashers. Consumer Reports offers the following eight steps homeowners can take to protect themselves:
- Register new appliances. It is critical that consumers register their products with manufacturers in order to be promptly notified in the event of a recall. Consumers concerned about their privacy or junk mail need only provide manufacturers with their name, contact information and the appliance's model number.
- Check for recalls. Consumers can sign up for alerts at www.recalls.gov. Those who move into a home with existing appliances should record their make and model and check company websites for any recalls or review customers' experiences with those products at www.SaferProducts.gov.
- Install fire-prevention equipment. Each level of a home and every bedroom should have a working smoke alarm. Consumer Reports recommends smoke alarms have both photoelectric and ionization sensors to provide the fastest response to any type of fire. Also, keep one full-floor fire extinguisher (rated 2-A:10-B:C or greater) on every level, plus a smaller supplemental unit in the kitchen.
- Inspect power cords. Check for frayed power cords and never route electric cords (including extension cords) under carpeting, where they can overheat or be damaged by furniture.
- Check home wiring. The electrical wiring in older homes cannot always handle the demands of modern appliances. Systems should be inspected by a qualified electrician. An upgrade to wiring may cost several hundred dollars, but is likely worth the added expense.
- Practice kitchen safety. Unattended cooking is a common fire-starter, whether using a range or microwave oven. If small children are home, maintain a kids-free-zone of at least 3 feet and use back burners when possible. Consumers should unplug their small appliances, including toasters and coffeemakers, when not in use and or when planning to be away for long periods.
- Clear range hoods. Grease buildup in range hoods is another fire hazard, so be sure to clean the vents regularly.
- Keep dryer vents clear. Clean the lint screen in the dryer regularly to avoid buildup, which has been listed as a factor in many fires. Use rigid metal dryer ducts instead of flexible ducts made of foil or plastic, which can sag and let lint build. Check ducts regularly and remove any lint buildup.
Published with permission from RISMedia.
February 6, 2012 6:34 am
Mortgage applications decreased 2.9 percent last week from the previous week, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending January 27, 2012.
The Market Composite Index, a measure of mortgage loan application volume, decreased 2.9 percent last week on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier. On an unadjusted basis, the Index increased 9.0 percent compared with the previous week. The Refinance Index decreased 3.6 percent from the previous week. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 1.7 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index increased 17.1 percent compared with the previous week and was 4.3 percent lower than the same week one year ago.
The refinance share of mortgage activity decreased to 80.0 percent of total applications from 81.3 percent the previous week. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity increased to 5.6 percent from 5.3 percent of total applications from the previous week.
“The Federal Reserve surprised the market by indicating that short-term rates were likely to stay at their current low-levels until the end of 2014. Longer-term treasury rates dropped in response, and mortgage rates for the week were down slightly as a result,” said Michael Fratantoni, MBA’s Vice President of Research and Economics. Fratantoni continued, “Although total application volume dropped on an adjusted basis relative to last week, refinance volume remains high, with survey participants reporting that the expanded Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) contributed to roughly 10 percent of their refinance activity.”
In December 2011, Connecticut had the largest increase in refinance applications, increasing by 80.1 percent from November. Maine saw a 30.8 percent increase in applications for home purchase, which was the largest state-increase in applications for home purchase. Only 12 states had a decrease in home purchase activity in December, while every state in the U.S. saw an increase in refinance volume.
Published with permission from RISMedia.
February 3, 2012 6:34 am
Even though the typical college student is on a tight budget, there are still clever ways to add style to dorm rooms and off-campus apartments.
According to doityourself.com, industry designers say this year's color trends are funky, bright and lively, but minimalist-inspired earth tones are also popular. While painting walls may not be allowed, students can add color with liquid fabric starch, which can be removed easily and reused.
Students should also be encouraged to create custom wall art with their own photography. Interior Designer Libby Langdon (libbylangdon.com) suggests retouching the pictures to black and white and then adding a stylish frame in chrome or black. A gallery effect can be achieved by grouping several pictures together. John Franke, a design expert of the Comfort Council , recommends buying plexi-glass fitted to the size of your desk and then placing pictures and artwork underneath.
The one item students are likely to use most in their dorm rooms is the bed. Selecting the right comforter, therefore, is essential, and should reflect the student’s sense of style. Instead of choosing drab sheets that blend into the background, select vibrant colors. And don’t forget about the floor. Interior Designer Sarit Catz (saritcatz.com) recommends using a washable and durable floor paint to make bland floors more appealing.
Given the limited space in most college housing, choose items that can double as storage space and furniture, such as a trunk that can also be a side table. And, while milk crates never go out of style on the college scene, consider silver mesh cubes for an updated look.
Langdon also suggests making your room look more spacious with the right lighting and mirrors. Tall standing lamps are usually good at providing an entire room with ample light for reading, as opposed to harsh fluorescents. A strategically placed mirror – opposite something attractive, like a poster or window – can magically make a room appear larger.
February 3, 2012 6:34 am
While many may think the Super Bowl is a man’s domain, women have a lot to say about it, too. Online dating website Zoosk.com recently surveyed more than 1,000 single women in the U.S. to determine their thoughts on the Big Game. Here, some highlights from the survey findings:
- 91 percent of single women view being taken to the Super Bowl in Indianapolis as a “dream date.”
- 51 percent of women think the New England Patriots will win.
- 49 percent of women think the New York Giants will win.
- 66 percent of females think that the game is the best part.
- 20 percent are only watching for the commercial entertainment.
- 14 percent of women tune in for the halftime show.
- 60 percent of single women think that Quarterback, Tom Brady is the sexiest Patriot.
- 61 percent of single women think that Quarterback, Eli Manning is the sexiest Giant.
- 34 percent of single women plan to participate in a pool this year.
The Zoosk poll was conducted online in January 2012 and fielded 1,012 responses from single women in the United States who use Zoosk.
February 3, 2012 6:34 am
From losing your job to being confronted with unexpected medical bills, there are many factors in today’s world that can lead to falling behind on your mortgage payments. While it may be tempting to ignore the problem, taking proactive steps is the best way to protect your credit and avoid losing your home. The longer you wait to call, the fewer options you will have.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, many loan servicers are expanding the options available to borrowers in an effort to stem the foreclosure crisis. So try calling your lender again even if your request has been turned down before. And keep in mind that lenders are most likely swamped with such calls, so be prepared to be patient and keep trying .
The FTC says that you may qualify for a loan modification under the Making Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) if:
- Your home is your primary residence
- You owe less than $729,750 on your first mortgage
- You got your mortgage before January 1, 2009
- Your payment on your first mortgage (including principal, interest, taxes, insurance and homeowner’s association dues, if applicable) is more than 31 percent of your current gross income
- You can’t afford your mortgage payment because of a financial hardship, like a job loss or medical bills
If you meet these qualifications, have the following documentation ready and call your lender:
Source: Federal Trade Commission
- Information about the monthly gross (before tax) income of your household, including recent pay stubs
- Your most recent income tax return
- Information about your savings and other assets
- Your monthly mortgage statement
- Information about any second mortgage or home equity line of credit on your home
- Account balances and minimum monthly payments due on your credit cards
- Account balances and monthly payments on your other debts, like student loans or car loans
- A completed Hardship Affidavit describing the circumstances responsible for the decrease in your income or the increase in your expenses
February 2, 2012 6:34 am
People taking care of an elderly family member might be eligible for tax deductions they are not even aware of, from hearing aids, walkers and dentures to the cost of transporting an elder to the doctor. Furthermore, if they pay over half of the elder's expenses for food, housing and medical supplies, the caregiver might be able to claim the elder as a dependent, a deduction worth thousands of dollars. However, caregivers often don't know the tax laws and short-change themselves come tax time.
According to AgingCare.com, caregivers should be aware of the following potential tax deductions:
- Medical Expenses. Nearly 100 medical costs can be deducted, related to the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of disease or costs for treating any part of the body. Those include equipment, services and supplies, ranging from glasses to eye surgery to acupuncture to prescriptions.
- Long-term health care costs. An often-missed expense is the amount paid for long-term care services and long-term care insurance (that's a more limited deduction, depending on age). Rehabilitation, therapeutic, preventative and personal care services are among those that qualify as long-term care services, if your family member is chronically ill and if it's part of a plan set by a health care practitioner. Someone is considered chronically ill if they can't perform at least two activities of daily living (such as eating, toileting, bathing and dressing) without substantial assistance from someone else.
- Mileage. From weekly doctor's appointments to out-of-town visits with a specialist or for a procedure, the miles you log for your parents' medical needs can be deducted. You can qualify for this deduction if your parent is considered a dependent. You can take 19 cents a mile for 2011, for medical mileage. If you're staying overnight for a medical purpose, deduct $50 per night, for each person, for lodging.
- Home improvements for aging adults. Investing in ramps for a wheelchair-bound parent, handrails and grab bars in the bathroom or a stepless shower can be part of a deduction. It doesn't matter if the improvements are in your home or your parent’s home, as long as it doesn't add value to the house. According to the IRS, the cost of the improvement is reduced by the increase in your property value. Other changes, such as widening doorways and hallways, lowering kitchen cabinets and installing lifts, also typically do not add value to houses.
- Mortgage interest. If you are paying interest on your or your parents' home loans, construction loans or home equity lines of credit, it's deductible. There are some limitations, though, so you need to discuss with your accountant.
- Estate tax on an inherited IRA. This is not as easy as deducting medical expenses or charitable contributions, but it is worth checking out. If you inherited an IRA from your parents, you could take a deduction for the federal estate tax paid on IRA income.
February 2, 2012 6:34 am
This just in: One-third of Americans would choose their dream home over their dream significant other! These and other interesting statistics come from a recent survey conducted by Rent.com about love in order to better understand renter habits about relationships and moving in together. Here are a few other highlights from the survey data:
- 28 percent of men have delayed a break-up with someone they were living with because they didn’t want to look for a new place to live, while in comparison, 21 percent of women have done the same.
- While 39 percent of respondents aged 18-34 have delayed a break-up with someone they were living with because they didn’t want to look for a new place to live, only 22 percent of respondents aged 35-54 and 17 percent of respondents aged 55+ have done the same.
- 37 percent of those who delayed a break-up waited one year or more to end ties with their significant other, while 35 percent waited six months and 28 percent waited 3 months.
- 40 percent of females who delayed a break-up waited one year or more to end ties with their significant other, while 32 percent of males waited one year or more.
- 29 percent of females would choose their dream home over their dream significant other, while 32 percent of males would choose their dream home over their dream significant other.
- 25 percent of respondents aged 55+ would choose their dream home over their dream significant other, while 44 percent of respondents aged 18-34 would choose their dream home over their dream significant other.
February 2, 2012 6:34 am
For many Americans, tax season opens the door to an organizational nightmare as they sort through bank records, track down receipts, and figure out what financial information is needed and what can be discarded.
According to financial planner, Rick Rodgers, author of “The New Three-Legged Stool: A Tax Efficient Approach To Retirement Planning,” tax time is the perfect time to get organized and put a system in place for managing your finances moving forward. Here are five steps he recommends for a stress-free, streamlined financial life:
- Know what to get rid of. Discard the records you no longer need, including: tax returns older than seven years; bank records and credit card statements that are not related to the tax returns you’re keeping; brokerage statements that aren’t related to purchases of current holdings. Of course, make sure such private documents are shredded before throwing them out.
- Create digital files. Convert the documents you plan to save into digital images that are stored on your hard drive. Invest in a good scanner and scan as you go through your paperwork, shredding and tossing the hard copies. On your computer, file by tax year, so your 2011 folder will contain your tax return for 2011 and all pertinent bank records and receipts. Organize the previous six years the same way. Next year, you can delete the oldest folder when you add the 2012 folder.
- Go paperless. Stop receiving paper statements from your financial institutions—they’d prefer to send you documents electronically, anyway. Instead, download your statements electronically and store them in your new filing system. Most banks and credit card companies keep at least a year’s worth of statements available. You need to download these files only once a year to complete the year’s file.
- Back-up your files. Make backup copies of your files on CD. Choose a CD-R (recordable) as opposed to a CD-RW (rewriteable), because CD-R cannot accidentally be overwritten. Depending on your computer operating system, you may be able to continue adding data to a CD-R each year, until the CD is full. However, some operating systems won’t allow that, so you’ll need a new CD for each year.
- Apply your new system to all critical documents. Your new electronic filing system can be expanded to include all your financial records, from car maintenance receipts to pay stubs. Wills and insurance policies can also be scanned and stored but, of course, keep the originals in a safe deposit box or fireproof safe.
February 1, 2012 6:34 am
Textile and leather suppliers showcased their newest looks at the trade show “Showtime” held in High Point, N.C., this past December. Showtime is a semi-annual textile market produced by and for the members of the International Textile Market Association (ITMA). The internationally acclaimed market is said to offer one of the most thorough fabric, leather and trimmings presentations in the western hemisphere. Showtime provides retailers with a preview of key looks they can expect to see from upholstery manufacturers at the High Point Market furniture market this April.
Keep the following design trends from Showtime in mind for adding some cutting-edge style to your home:
- Teal and burnt orange were strong color contenders, closely followed by apple green and bright lemon.
- The neutral grays are morphing into driftwood or raffia tones.
- Botanicals are back, particularly in silhouetted prints of trees, ferns, or gingko leaves. Figurative florals are also key.
- Prevalent patterns included paisleys, cabana stripes, suzanis (a type of embroidered and decorative tribal textile made in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries), toiles, lace, and Florentine tiles.
- Menswear designs inspired leather looks, including a houndstooth pattern on a hair-on-hide.
- Crocodile featured strongly on fashion runways this fall, and it’s back in a very big way for leather suppliers.
- Novelty patterns included folk-art birds, postcards, scientific equations, china plates, round chickens, and hamsa (a palm-shaped design).
- In trims, look for tassels to start appearing again, particularly Deco-inspired designs that step away from the traditional shapes.
February 1, 2012 6:34 am
Remodeling sentiment rose to the highest level in five years, according to the National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB) Remodeling Market Index (RMI) for the fourth quarter of 2011. The RMI increased to 46.6 in the fourth quarter from 41.7 in the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, the RMI component measuring current market conditions rose to 48.4 from 43.0 in the previous quarter. The RMI component measuring future indicators of remodeling business was also positive, increasing to 44.8 from 40.4 in the previous quarter.
An RMI below 50 indicates that more remodelers report market activity is lower (compared to the prior quarter) than report it is higher. The overall RMI averages ratings of current remodeling activity with indicators of future activity.
NAHB attributes this increase in remodeling activity to the growing number of homeowners choosing to stay put as opposed to putting their homes on the market in today’s economy.
Current market conditions improved significantly in all four regions of the country over the third quarter of 2011. The RMI reported higher market activity in two important categories: major additions 52.3 (from 45.2) and minor additions 50.1 (from 45.7).