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Four Ways to Reduce College Costs in High School

August 29, 2014 1:06 am

(Family Features)—College is a significant investment and how to pay for it can be a major source of concern for parents and students. However, there are ways to reduce the amount of debt you take on when preparing for higher education.

Outstanding student loan debt has now reached $1.2 trillion, according to recent estimates from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Yet there are ways to help reduce the amount a family or student has to borrow to fund a college education, if families start early.

1. Earn college credit in high school. Many high schools offer students the opportunity to earn dual high school and college credit, before college, through advanced placement (AP) courses. You can learn more about AP programs online.

2. Consider a community college. Average annual community college tuition and fees are less than half those at public four-year colleges and universities and one-tenth those at private four-year colleges and universities, according to a 2008 report from the National Center of Education Statistics.

3. Learn about college savings financial options. There are many different financial products to help save for college. Under certain circumstances, some colleges and universities lock in tuition for all four years. Even certain life insurance policies offer cash savings options to help pay for expenses such as college tuition, weddings, or starting up a business. Look for permanent or whole life policies with cash value accumulation options.

4. Research scholarships early. Scholarships are available for traditional and non-traditional students, but don't wait until senior year to research. Some require organizational membership, volunteer hours, or criteria that may take time for the student to be eligible.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


Most Homeowners Use Cash to Finance Home Improvement Projects

August 28, 2014 12:54 am

Data released this summer from HomeAdvisor shows most homeowners surveyed (almost 58 percent) paid for their last home project with cash. Additionally, 45 percent of the requests nationally were for addition and remodeling projects, such as bathroom and deck renovations.

National trends show that 47 percent of homeowners surveyed said they were more likely to put money into their home now to increase value than they were 12 months ago. Additionally, 78 percent of homeowners are completing home improvement projects to increase their quality of life. Of the cities that data was collected from, Dallas, Texas had the highest percentage of addition and remodeling requests. Results also show an increase in home improvement requests in Dallas, Denver and Boston, with Boston receiving the largest increase of 6.35 percent.

“While maintenance and repair projects lead the requests in numbers, large home improvement projects, such as remodeling a bathroom and building a deck demonstrate homeowner confidence,” said HomeAdvisor CEO Chris Terrill. “Homeowners are investing in their homes to increase value and quality.”

More than half of the projects requested nationally (55 percent) focused on maintenance and repair projects. Top tasks include repairing, installing or replacing electrical switches, and repairing or replacing faucets, fixtures and pipes. Of the cities data was collected from, Sacramento had the highest percentage of repair and maintenance projects requested (54.4 percent).

For interior design trends, the most common style was a transitional style and the most popular room to design was the kitchen. The most common types of countertop and flooring materials were granite and hardwood.

Source: HomeAdvisor

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Know Which Professional Is Right For Your Kitchen Remodel

August 28, 2014 12:54 am

Kitchen renovations rank highly for those seeking to add value to their home. Kitchen remodels often reap the most reward when listing the home on the market, but they can be a challenge for homeowners financially. Before you upgrade, consider the scope of the project. Then, hire the right professional for the job to avoid overspending.

Remodeling contractor – Most renovations require the assistance of a certified contractor who has at least five years of experience. A certified contractor is equipped to tackle any project from demolition, electrical and plumbing to ventilation and installation. They are also responsible for outsourcing tasks to other professionals if needed.

Interior designer – Contractors typically work with designers to select the right aesthetics and finishes for a particular room. An interior designer might be worth hiring if you want your kitchen to flow seamlessly with other rooms in the home, or if you want to achieve a custom look with uncommon materials.

Kitchen designer – Not to be confused with an interior designer, a kitchen designer is important to have on hand when reconfiguring an existing space. Consider hiring one if you are planning to redesign a cabinet layout or move non load-bearing walls.

Architect – Your local zoning board may require an architect to authorize renovations, so be sure to check regulations before beginning a project. Architects are also helpful when rearranging load-bearing walls, tampering with mechanical systems or making any other major structural changes.

Source: Consumer Reports

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Three Steps to a Bountiful Vegetable Garden

August 28, 2014 12:54 am

(BPT) - Anyone can have a successful home garden no matter where they live by following a few steps from professional gardeners. Consider these three important steps for starting your vegetable garden right so you can enjoy fresh produce faster.

Step 1: Research appropriate plantings.
A good place to start is by researching proper plants for your region’s early season. If you have questions, consult your local nursery or call your local extension office for specialized advice.

In general, good plantings include brassicas, a family of plants that includes kale, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbages. Additional cool-season crops to consider include radishes, beets, peas, potatoes and carrots. These plants will thrive early in the season and produce yields quickly.

Want produce quicker? Consider purchasing starter plants, also called plant starts, rather than relying on packets of seeds. These are the small plants that have already germinated and have a basic root system. These are easy to transfer to your own garden and, with proper tending, will grow quickly and produce fruit faster.

Step 2: Prepare garden spaces for accelerated growth.
If you’ve never gardened before, your soil is likely compact and will require some tilling to loosen the dirt and encourage plant growth. You can do this with a garden rake; for large gardens, some people prefer to rent a power tiller.

People who live in smaller homes, a townhouse or condo might prefer to use raised garden beds. Stylish and functional, raised garden planters eliminate the need to bend over to tend garden, a benefit that has made them vastly popular. Raised garden beds can be used virtually anywhere outdoors, including on a deck or patio, and they can be moved, too, if necessary.

Whether you create a garden plot in your yard or add a few raised-garden planters to your patio, make sure the dirt is nutrient-rich and ready for your plants. Typically it’s wise to mix black dirt in with your soil to ensure that plants grow strong. If you’ve had trouble growing in the past, consider getting your soil tested to verify pH levels.

Step 3: Tend daily and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

For best results, tend your garden on a daily basis. Check for soil moisture and water as necessary. Make sure to pluck weeds and watch for pest infestations. If done daily, it should only take a few minutes to verify the health of your garden.

Keep in mind that as plants grow, you need to make sure they don’t overcrowd each other. This can limit growth and yield production. If your garden starts to look overgrown, you may need to pluck out a few plants to open up space and encourage proper growth and healthy root systems.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Should You Retain and Rent Your Home after Relocating?

August 28, 2014 12:54 am

As I chat with real estate pros and industry experts across the country, a new issue is cropping up that warrants some focus. Today more than in recent history, we are learning that many folks are considering renting out a current home after shopping for and moving into a newly acquired property.

Marcie Geffner at recently produced a report warning consumers who want to buy a new home while renting out the old house, that they could face a glitch. Say someone owns two houses - one they occupy, and one they don't.

To cut monthly interest expense, that owner might want to refinance the house they're renting. But Geffner says it might not be easy, and offers a few tips.

She says often, equity is the biggest hurdle in the effort to refinance a house being rented out.

Enter Stephen LaDue, a senior loan officer at Prime Lending in Brookfield, Wisconsin who notes that lenders typically require a cushion of 25 percent or more to refinance a loan secured by a non owner-occupied house. The reason: an owner who has a substantial stake in the property is less likely to default on the mortgage.

A second mortgage on the rental house will make refinancing difficult because that lender probably won't agree to remain in the lesser position if the first loan is refinanced.

Ray Martin who blogs for Moneywatch advises, when deciding whether to rent out your home, consider the pros and cons:

Rental pros:
  • Keep property to sell later at a better price
  • Rental income covers mortgage, taxes, insurance, and other costs
  • Tax breaks offset rent or other income
Rental cons:
  • You are the landlord
  • Tenants may damage your property
  • You could be taxed on gains if you later sell
Don't assume rental income can be counted toward the guidelines to refinance a house being rented out. Gary Parkes, vice president of mortgage lending for Guaranteed Rate in Atlanta, says lenders tend to be suspicious of rent unless the landlord is a professional property investor.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Tailgate with a Healthy Menu This Fall

August 28, 2014 12:54 am

(Family Features) Soon, parking lots of colleges, high schools and professional stadiums across the nation will be filled with fans gearing up for another sporting season - and the tailgating celebrations that go hand-in-hand.

Die-hard tailgaters have come to revel in the culinary pride of putting together the best and most creative barbecue and tailgate grub. While traditional menus feature staples such as hamburgers, hot dogs, baked beans and cold salads, tailgate "chefs" are now only limited by their imaginations.

However, traditional tailgating fare hasn't been high on the nutrition scale, and this pre-game celebrating is a classic example of food-centric entertainment in which people unintentionally become less conscious of the calories they consume.

The rules of thumb on better-for-you tailgate side dishes are that baked is always better than deep-fried, and homemade recipes allow you to control the ingredients. Pick tailgate foods that not only fill up hungry sports fans, but also add nutrition to the fun.
  • Choose lean grilling options such as skinless chicken breast or hamburgers made with 95 percent lean ground beef. Skip calorie-rich condiments and boost the flavor of your burger with toppings like mushrooms, grilled onions, fresh pineapple, jalapenos, avocados and roasted red peppers.
  • Shrimp or chicken skewers are a great protein alternative to traditional hamburgers and hotdogs, especially when prepared with chunks of onions, peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, zucchini, squash, and sweet peppers.
  • Ditch pre-packaged marinades for fresh, homemade options. Combine herbs such as basil, rosemary or dill with citrus fruits, spices, onion and garlic with a little olive oil.
  • Grill corn on the cob. Corn on the cob can be cooked on the grill wrapped in its own husks or in aluminum foil. Add flavor with herbs and spices before roasting.
  • Use whole wheat pasta for macaroni salad, and add plenty of veggies and a meat or bean as a protein source to boost the nutritional value. Replace heavy pre-packaged creamy dressings, which often contain hidden sugar and sodium, with homemade vinaigrettes to control the ingredients.
  • Black beans and corn add nutrients and a Southwest flair to guacamole and salsa, and they're great for dipping tortilla chips and bite-sized vegetables.
  • Add water to the cooler to keep tailgaters hydrated.
Source: NuVal

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Why Credit Is Important to Your Home Insurance and Your Life

August 28, 2014 12:54 am

Having good credit can help you in a surprising number of ways. A good credit history can result in getting that dream job, lower interest rates on car loans and mortgages, and better rates on your insurance, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

With a solid credit rating in hot markets across the country, renters will have an easier time finding an apartment and homebuyers may be the first to view properties, giving them an inside edge. It can also lower insurance costs.

While insurance represents only about 5-7 percent of a typical housing payment, when you’re buying a home, you want to save wherever you can. Many insurance companies give discounts on homeowners policies for those with good credit.

Credit Scores vs. Insurance Scores

Insurance scores and credit scores differ. Credit scores predict credit delinquency while insurance scores predict insurance losses. Both are calculated from information in a credit report, such as outstanding debt, bankruptcies, length of credit history, collections, new applications for credit, number of credit accounts in use, and timeliness of debt repayment. Insurers or scoring agencies then calculate the insurance or credit score by assigning differing weights to the favorable or unfavorable information in the credit report. Information such as income, ethnic group, age, gender, disability, religion, address, marital status and nationality are not considered when calculating an insurance score.

Credit and insurance scores measure how well individuals manage their money—not how much money they make. And actuarial studies show that how a person manages his or her financial affairs is a good predictor of insurance claims. Statistically, people with a low insurance score are more likely to file a claim.

The good news is, most people have good credit and most people will pay less for insurance than they would if insurance scores weren’t considered.

Source: Insurance Information Institute

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Labor Day Travels Highest Since Recession

August 28, 2014 12:54 am

AAA Travel projects that nearly 35 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the Labor Day holiday weekend, the highest volume for the holiday since 2008. Eighty-six percent of travelers will celebrate the holiday with a final road trip before summer comes to a close and children head back to school.

Other trends forecasted this Labor Day include:
  • Historically, Americans have shown a higher tendency to travel when Labor Day weekend begins in August.
  • Consumer spending has surpassed income growth, indicating that Americans are willing to take on debt to finance a vacation.
  • Automobile travel will increase, with 29.7 million travelers hitting the road. Gas prices are expected to remain low.
  • Nearly eight percent of travelers will travel by air.
"As the economy makes modest gains, more Americans are joining the labor force this year," said AAA Chief Operating Officer Marshall L. Doney. "With Labor Day symbolizing the American workers' contributions to the strength and prosperity of our country, it's only fitting that millions are choosing to celebrate this positive direction with an all-American road trip."
Consumer spending is continuing to rise in spite of stagnant income growth. In the third quarter of this year spending is expected to increase 3.8 percent year-over-year, while disposable personal income is only expected to increase 1.4 percent. Reliance on credit cards, rather than increasing income, is fueling holiday travel spending this year. While economic growth is slow, consumers are feeling more comfortable taking on debt.

"This year, Americans are more optimistic about their financial situation," continued Doney. "Consumer spending continues to outpace disposable income, indicating that Americans are comfortable using their credit cards to take one last summer vacation this year."

Source: AAA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


HUD: Veteran Homelessness Drops 33 Percent

August 28, 2014 12:54 am

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) recently released a new national estimate of veteran homelessness in the United States. Data collected during the annual Point-in-Time Count conducted in January 2014 shows there were 49,933 homeless veterans in America, a decline of 33 percent (or 24,837 people) since 2010.

HUD, VA, USICH, and local partners have used evidenced-based practices like Housing First and federal resources like HUD-VASH (the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing voucher program) to get veterans off the street and into stable housing as quickly as possible. Since 2008, the HUD-VASH program has served a total of 74,019 veterans.

The federal government has provided significant new resources to help communities pursue the goal of ending homelessness among veterans. Communities that target these resources strategically are making significant progress and can end veteran homelessness in their communities in 2015. These strategies include:
  • Using a Housing First approach, which removes barriers to help veterans obtain permanent housing as quickly as possible, without unnecessary prerequisites.
  • Prioritizing the most vulnerable veterans—especially those experiencing chronic homelessness—for permanent supportive housing opportunities, including those created through the HUD-VASH program.
  • Coordinating outreach efforts to identify and engage every veteran experiencing homelessness and focus outreach efforts on achieving housing outcomes.
  • Targeting rapid re-housing interventions, including those made possible through the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Supportive Services for Veteran Families program, toward veterans who need shorter-term rental subsidies and services in order to be reintegrated back into our communities.
  • Leveraging other housing and services resources that can help veterans who are ineligible for some of the VA’s programs get into stable housing.
  • Increasing early detection and access to preventive services so at‐risk veterans remain stably housed.
  • Closely monitoring progress toward the goal, including the success of programs achieving permanent housing outcomes.
  • Aligning local goals and strategies with Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.
“We have an obligation to ensure that every veteran has a place to call home,” said U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro. “In just a few years, we have made incredible progress reducing homelessness among veterans, but we have more work to do. HUD will continue collaborating with our federal and local partners to ensure that all of the men and women who have served our country have a stable home and an opportunity to succeed.”

“The Department of Veterans Affairs and our federal and local partners should be proud of the gains made reducing Veterans’ homelessness,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald, “but so long as there remains a Veteran living on our streets, we have more work to do.”

“As a nation, we have proven that homelessness is a problem we can solve,” said U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness Executive Director Laura Green Zeilinger. “Communities all across the country are meeting this costly tragedy with urgency and a focus on helping all veterans and their families achieve safe and stable housing.”

Source: HUD

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How Overwatering Your Lawn Can Cost You

August 28, 2014 12:54 am

Overwatering your lawn is not only detrimental to your water bill, but can also disrupt the ecosystem, advises the Environmental Protection Agency. Healthy lawns are inhibited by too much saturation, so skip the daily sprinkler and water only when necessary. Here’s why:

Root damage
- Your lawn only needs one inch of water a week in growing season, and overwatering can encourage growth of root systems that are shallow, not strong.

Weed growth - Weeds thrive in moist conditions, and an overwatered lawn prevents oxygen from reaching the roots, which leaves the grass vulnerable to insects and plant diseases.

Environmental effects
– Overwatering can lead to runoff, which carries fertilizers and pesticides into storm drains and larger public waterways.

If you notice your lawn is turning brown in color, don’t panic. This signals the start of a natural dormant period, which is not at all harmful to your lawn.

To cut back on watering, consider scaling down the size of your lawn by planting trees, shrubs and other ground coverings. In addition, richer soil holds water for longer stretches of time, so add mulch or compost to conserve even more.

Source: Consumer Reports

Published with permission from RISMedia.