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Superstorm Sandy Reminds Homeowners about the Importance of Storm Preparedness

October 30, 2013 3:27 am

The one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy reminds many Americans about the importance of storm preparedness. Volatile weather can strike at anytime, anywhere in the country. From hurricanes and tornadoes, to snow storms and high winds, all homeowners need to be prepared for severe weather events.

Here are the top seven tips to help homeowners prepare for storms, power outages and other emergencies.

1. Assemble a dedicated storm box or bucket. If you are not told to evacuate, having items on hand like batteries, candles, matches, flashlights, AM radio, water, and even extra cash can be useful if your area loses power. If told by officials to evacuate your home, leave well in advance. Make plans for a safe route and destination where someone will be expecting you at a predetermined day and time.

2. Create a storm to-do list. This list reminds you of the important things you need to do before the storm hits. Things like getting prescription drugs, filling propane tanks, going to the bank, and filling your car with gas can be essential.

3. Compile a list of important phone numbers. Essential phone numbers to have on hand can include: utility companies, insurance company, bank, doctors, radio stations and local police. Also, have at least one hard-wired landline phone in the house.

4. Protect your chilled and frozen food supply. Before the storm hits, pack your most commonly consumed items like milk, cold cuts, and leftovers in a cooler with ice. Turn your refrigerator/freezer settings to the highest levels to chill remaining food as much as possible. Keep your refrigerator door taped closed to prevent unnecessary opening during a power outage.

5. Store water if you are on a well system. Store plenty of drinking water in clean containers. Also, store water in your bathtub so you can flush the toilet with a bucket of water when needed.

6. Inspect your basement sump pump system before the storm. During a major storm, heavy rains can flood your basement, so make sure your sump pump is plugged in and fully operational. Inspect the pump switch float ball on your sump pump to make sure it's operating smoothly. Also, make sure the drain line is not blocked and extends at least four feet away from your home's foundation. Finally, get a battery backup for your sump pump in case of power loss.

7. Look into an automatic standby generator system. A standby generator is permanently installed outside your home and hooks up to existing gas lines (propane or natural gas). If power is lost, a standby generator will automatically start up and restore power to your home. It can power lights, heating/cooling systems, refrigerators, sump pumps, home security systems, computers and more. With the addition of a standby generator, most issues you face during a storm can be eliminated.

Source: Kohler Generators

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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5 Sure Ways to Waste Your Money

October 29, 2013 3:27 am

No matter how careful we are with money, everyone has holes in the budget: small indulgences or careless mistakes that end up costing big dollars. The finance experts at Kiplinger’s point out six common money-wasters it makes good sense to avoid:

Carrying a balance – This can cost hundreds of dollars each year in interest – and also costs you down the line in the form of lower credit scores that trigger higher interest rates on loans. If you can’t pay off balances each month, at least keep your balance to less than 25 percent of available credit.

Paying late fees on missed deadlines – It’s easy to miss a payment occasionally. But if you miss a credit card payment by even one day, you will pay a late fee of $25 ($35 if it's the second time in six months) – and your credit score could also take a hit. A history of on-time payments accounts for 35 percent of your FICO credit score - more than any other factor. If you have a good payment record, you should call your card issuer and ask that a one-time late fee be waived.

Buying insurance you don’t need – Unless you have people financially dependent on you, you may not need as much life insurance as you are paying for. You can also probably do without credit-card insurance (use the premium to pay down debt), rental-car insurance (most auto policies carry some coverage) and mortgage life insurance (a regular term-life insurance policy is more comprehensive).

Overspending on gas and oil – Most cars do fine on regular gas, and be sure tires are properly inflated for best gas mileage. Most cars today require oil changes every five or six thousand miles, not every 3,000 as they once did. Check your owner’s manual regarding regular maintenance – and opt for a fuel-efficient car.

Keeping unhealthy habits – The average price per pack of cigarettes in the U.S. is $6.03, but health-related costs per pack are $35, according to the American Cancer Society. Over a year, those added costs can amount to $12,775 for a pack-a-day smoker. Another habit to quit: indoor tanning. There is a 10 percent tax on indoor tanning services – and as with cigarettes, the true cost of tanning -- one of the most dangerous forms of cancer-causing radiation -- is higher than the price you pay per session.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How to Make Working at Home Work

October 29, 2013 3:27 am

(BPT) - Working at home is a growing trend. The 2010 U.S. Census reports 9.5 percent of the population spends at least one day a week working at home—an increase of more than 2 percent since 1997. Technology is making it easier for employees and self-employed workers to set up a home office and conduct business.

When deciding to set up an office at home, one challenge many workers face is determining what computer to use—or purchase. Apple and Windows-based PCs are the two staples, and everyone has a preference on which system they prefer. Sometimes it's the user interface of one over the other that's preferred, and in other cases, how chosen programs perform on each platform determines what type of computer workers purchase. And often, workers just want to seamlessly blend in with the office environment, and purchase the same system for home.

With Parallels Desktop for Mac, the difficulty of choosing between the two platforms is obsolete. This software enables users to run all operating systems like Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows XP, Mac OS X, Google Chrome OS and more on a Mac without rebooting. This allows an at-home employee to easily switch between the system provided on work computers and the home computer, even if they're running different operating systems.

This allows at-home workers several benefits:

• If you have a Mac and a PC, then Parallels Desktop software can simply move your entire PC onto your Mac so you have everything on one computer. If you don't have a PC, its wizard lets you simply add Windows and other operating systems to your Mac so you can do everything on one computer.

• Save money because there is no need to repurchase software you already own. All of the PC applications you invested in can simply be moved to your Mac and run in Windows via Parallels Desktop.

• Run both Windows and Mac systems at the same time, allowing you to work in a Mac program while using a Windows platform.
• Copy and paste between documents running in both operating systems easily, which is not possible if you must reboot your Mac to change between OS X and Windows applications.

Another challenge working-from-home employees face is taking the business on the road. Those who are self-employed often don't have the luxury of bringing business into the home office, and have to make the office mobile. This requires updating technology so email, documents and files can all be accessed from either a smartphone or tablet.

Another option is to access your computer remotely, allowing you to do everything you'd be doing at home while away. Parallels Mobile for iPad and iPhone lets you remotely access and run all of your Mac and Windows files and applications when you're on the go.

One final challenge is being able to handle business errands without having to leave the office - or home. Banking, setting up conference calls or ordering supplies can all be done electronically using websites and downloadable apps. This technology allows a home-worker to make business deposits, connect with clients and have supplies delivered to the door - without having to leave.

Seamless connection is key to working at home, because any interruption in getting technology to work is lost time, and potentially lost business. Apps, using the same computer programs you've always used through Parallels Desktop for Mac and mobile devices will help any at-home worker keep all connections with the office and clients going strong.

Source: http://www.parallels.com/desktop

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Leak-Proof Your Shower Update

October 29, 2013 3:27 am

(BPT) - Bathrooms are certainly among the busiest rooms in any home. But a bathroom can be so much more than just the place where you get ready during your hurried morning routine. One of the hottest trends in home decorating and remodeling is creating a bathroom that serves as a spa-like retreat.

Soothing colors and natural materials are right on trend, but if you really want your bathroom to be an oasis of calm, it also needs to be low-maintenance. If you're worried about your beautiful new shower leaking, it's hard to enjoy the experience. Instead, start by taking steps that ensure you don't have to worry about leaks and the damage they cause.

Whether you're a DIY expert or hiring the job out to a professional, it's important to carefully review the plans for a new shower. If you're bringing a contractor on for the job, ask what kind of materials and practices they'll be using to ensure they're not cutting corners. If you're up for a do-it-yourself job, carefully consider the materials you'll use—look for options that make your job easier but don't skimp on quality. For instance, the new Shower System from USG is designed to streamline installation without compromising on performance.

Keep these tips in mind to ensure that your shower is as durable and leak-proof as possible:

• The shower tray: Having the right base in your shower makes all the difference. There's a perception that the best way to ensure a leak-proof base is an expensive and labor intensive mortar bed. But there are solutions that can cut down on cost and labor. The pre-sloped, high-density, molded-foam shower tray in USG's DUROCK Shower System, for instance, has a two percent slope that makes it easily compatible with a wide array of tile shapes and sizes, offering comfortable flooring and simplicity of installation.

• Waterproof membranes: No matter how beautiful your tile, it's what's underneath that counts. Using a waterproof membrane ensures far better performance long term. A strong (tear-proof) and thin waterproof membrane over a durable backerboard ensures that your shower stays waterproof, even beyond what your eye can see.

• The drain: A securely fitted drain will help keep water flowing where it's supposed to go. If you're installing a shower system, consider using the proper drain assembly that goes along with it. There are many systems that offer a versatile drain assembly and wide range of drain grates. Keep in mind that grate height might need to be adjusted to match tile thickness.

A carefully constructed shower will hold its beauty for a long time. And that means your bathroom will remain a retreat where you can think about relaxing instead of repairing.

Source: www.durockshowersystem.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Most Consumers Don't Know Their Credit Score

October 28, 2013 3:27 am

A new survey found that most U.S. consumers don't know their own score, despite its importance not only in determining whether they can get credit cards, auto loans and mortgages, but also in employment and insurance decisions. The survey found that only 42 percent of consumers know their credit score.

The annual survey of 1,000 U.S. adults was conducted for by Ipsos Public Affairs. Fifty-six percent of respondents indicated they did not know their credit score, and two percent did not answer the question.

Credit scores represent a person's creditworthiness and can be obtained from the major credit bureaus—Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. Lenders use a consumer's credit score to decide whether to lend them money and at what rate. Credit scores are also used by organizations for screening employment, insurance and other applications. A consumer's credit report, which indicates whether a person pays their bills on time and how much of their available credit they use, influences their credit score.

Below are tips to help consumers improve their credit scores:

Credit Do's
• DO order a copy of your credit report annually. The three major credit bureaus are required to provide you with a free copy of your credit report at your request each year. To get a free copy of your credit report, visit www.annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228. You can also obtain your credit score from any of these credit bureaus for a reasonable fee.
• DO know the power of credit. Banks look at your credit history as an indication of your future financial behavior. By using credit wisely, you can build a good credit history making it easier to get loans with low interest rates, rent an apartment, purchase a car or home, and may even help you get a job.
• DO read the fine print on the credit application. The application is a contract, so read it carefully before signing. Credit card companies are very competitive so interest rates, credit limits, grace periods, annual fees, terms and conditions may vary.
• DO pay at least the minimum due and contact your creditor if you have trouble making payments. This will help you to avoid late fees and a rising APR. To pay off your balance more quickly, pay more than the minimum due. If you are unable to make the minimum monthly payments, let your creditor know so they can work with you to create a more manageable payment plan.
• DO be wary of anyone who claims they can "fix" your credit report. No one can legally remove negative information from your credit history if it is accurate. The only thing that can fix a credit report is time and a positive payment history.

Credit Don'ts
• DON'T pay your bills late. Late payments can affect your credit rating and increase your balance. If you are unable to pay the minimum monthly payment, let your creditor know and they may be able to lower your payments.
• DON'T spend more than you can afford. Credit is a loan and has to be repaid. It is your responsibility to manage your debts and to keep your commitment with lenders. Avoid reaching your credit limit or "maxing out" your cards.
• DON'T ignore the warning signs of credit trouble. If you pay only the minimum balance, pay late, use cash-advances to fund daily living expenses or transfer a lot of balances you might be in the credit "danger zone." Talk to a non-profit financial counseling organization like the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (www.nfcc.org) to regain control of your finances.
• DON'T share your credit card number. Never give out credit card or personal information if you have not initiated the transaction. Be aware of identity theft and phishing scams that ask for credit card numbers. If you suspect that your identity has been compromised, call your bank and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-ID-THEFT (1-877-438-4338) or www.ftc.gov/idtheft.

Source: American Bankers Association

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Tips to Protect Your Skin This Winter

October 28, 2013 3:27 am

(Family Features) From non-friendly weather conditions to itch-inducing dyes found in everyday products, your skin can be exposed to a variety of unexpected irritants. But, protecting and maintaining healthy, comfortable skin can be easy with simple tips and products.

“With so many skin types out there, getting to know how yours reacts to different factors – be it cold weather or harsh chemicals – is important,” says dermatologist Elizabeth Hale, M.D. “Take care of skin with products that are skin-friendly, mild and hypoallergenic, to avoid discomfort. Just be sure to test out each on a small area of skin before applying liberally.”

Here are three more tips from Dr. Hale to keep your skin feeling its best during the cold-weather months:

Stay hydrated: The key to protecting skin is to keep in check with everyday habits, such as getting good nutrition, enough sleep and plenty of water. Drinking at least eight glasses of water every day is necessary not only for your skin, but also for your body’s overall health. During the winter, try incorporating hot tea with lemon into your recommended daily serving of water to keep warm when you’re outside, but still give your body the hydration it needs.

Check your laundry
: During the frigid months, be sure to cover up with hats, scarves, gloves and long-sleeves to avoid cracked, dry skin. Also, go for comfort by layering soft, lightweight fabrics that aren’t aggravating to the skin, like cotton. Keep your favorite clothing clean and smelling fresh, without irritation to the skin, by using a hypoallergenic laundry detergent.

Apply sunscreen: From tailgating to hiking to skiing, make sure you’re still protecting your skin during outdoor cold-weather activities. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, one in five Americans will develop some form of skin cancer during their lifetime, so it’s important to apply sunscreen year-round, even when it seems as though UV rays aren’t as strong as they actually are. Aim to apply sunscreen liberally on all exposed skin before you step out the door and reapply an SPF 15 or higher lotion every two hours when outdoors for an extended period of time.

Irritated skin is no small matter and should be taken care of every day. Using the right products and taking necessary precautions to reduce the stinging, burning, itching and redness of sensitive skin will keep it feeling comfortable during all the colder weather months.

Source: Arm & Hammer

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Do's and Don'ts for Bringing the Next Generation into the Family Business

October 28, 2013 3:27 am

We often tell families that there is no "one size fits all" formula for transitioning a family business from one generation to the next. There are multiple variables in every family and business that impact how to best address the process in a given situation, making it challenging to offer tools like checklists to help with preparations. Yet, while each situation is unique, there are some experiences most businesses will face for which there is some common wisdom. One such situation is the experience of getting the next generation of family employees started professionally in the business.

Anyone who has ever begun a new job can attest that early accomplishments often play a significant role in one's long-term success. Of course, there are no guarantees for success, but a family member who starts his or her career in the business with strong objective success or as a clear contributor on a team will be more valuable to the company and likely have continued success than a family member who does not. With that in mind, here's that checklist I mentioned earlier; a list of "Do's and Don'ts" for onboarding new family employees in a family enterprise:

Do...

• Plan ahead. The most important preparations happen years before the new family employee actually joins the family business, ideally when they go to work at another company. The self-confidence, credibility and learning of outside best practices that come from working elsewhere have immeasurable value for the new family employee once they join their family's enterprise. Outside experience gives the new family hire instant credibility with other employees - credibility that can otherwise take years to develop, as some non-family team members may assume successes the family employee has at the business are thanks to their family connection. Even more important, however, is the self-confidence that is developed when a family member knows without a shadow of a doubt that he or she can succeed in the outside world, too.

• Start the new family employee at an appropriate level. If you start them at a level that's well above their skills and experience, then you risk overwhelming them and sending a signal to the rest of the organization that they will be given unfair advantages. If you start them at a level that's too low-because you started at the bottom and they should, too - even if they come with years of outside experience - then you risk putting them in a boring work situation or causing them a lot of frustration that could lead them to leave. Of course, many families believe it is important that their family employees experience all aspects of their business (tiresome jobs included), and that approach has great merit; the only caveat is you may not want to have a college-educated and well-experienced manager bagging groceries for more than a few weeks.

• Have the new family employee report to a long-standing employee and well-regarded non-family member. It's not always possible, but there are great advantages to having the new family employee report to someone who is not also a family member. Most importantly, this kind of reporting relationship will increase the chances that the new family employee will receive accurate performance feedback.

• At a minimum, provide the new family employee with the same performance feedback process as all other comparable employees. If all employees receive an annual formal performance review with informal "check ins" quarterly, then that's what the new family employee should receive as well. As it can be challenging for a mid-level manager to provide objective feedback to a member of the owning family, it can sometimes be helpful to develop some support from the HR department or other senior leaders in the business for this process. In addition, there may be a desire to take a more proactive role in the professional development opportunities for family employees if they have the ambition and potential to eventually move into more senior roles in the business.

• Communicate. Too often, the new family employee or the incumbent feels frustrated, angry, confused or even delighted about a particular situation... and they keep that feeling to themselves. It's important for all key parties to check in with each other frequently and informally, simply to keep the lines of communication open. Establish a tradition of a weekly breakfast or monthly lunch to ensure communication stays strong. Family members may have many qualities, but mind-reading isn't one of them!

Don't...

• Create a job for the new family employee. This is really an extension of the second bullet point above. Just as it's important to bring the new family employee into the organization at an appropriate level, it's equally important that a job is not created for them. If the position is not genuine, then others in the company will know that... and they will likely resent the new family employee as a result. In addition, it can be difficult to objectively assess the performance and development of the family employee if they are not in a role or job that has to be done, that provides some accountability.

• Put all the responsibility for the career entry and development of the new family hires on just one generation. Onboarding a new family employee in a family enterprise is a complicated and sometimes difficult process that is too big for any one person. It's not the new family employee's sole responsibility to make it happen; nor is it the sole responsibility of the incumbent. Successful onboarding is a responsibility that is shared by both generations.

If you keep the above items in mind while planning for the transition of your family's business, you will take an important step toward increasing the likelihood that your family business will continue long into the future.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Selling Your Place? Tips for Negotiating

October 25, 2013 3:24 am

A blog at helpinghomesellers.com, has good advice for sellers who want to respond to low-ball offers. The site suggests instead of getting into a debate about money, try sweetening the pot with a variety of counter-offers, including:

• Paying for some of the buyers’ title insurance, closing costs and/or points.
• Pay homeowner’s association fees for a year.
• Look into buying down the buyers’ mortgage rate for the first year.
• Cover a year's cost for a lawn-maintenance/snow removal service.
• Pay or provide an allowance toward moving expenses.
• Provide the buyers with a home warranty.
• Pay for the lawn and pool services for a year.
• Offer a golf club membership, pool membership, or cable subscription.
• Offer an allowance to repaint, new carpeting or for window treatments.

Incentives, especially for first time homebuyers, can often do the trick, the site states.

Investopedia.com says even in declining markets it is extremely important to be cognizant of comparable properties, and to price one's home to entice potential buyers to view it and ultimately bid on it.

That site says sellers should reject the temptation to hold out for top dollar, or to price the home at the upper end of what the market will bear. To get a sense of what similar homes are selling for, Investopedia.com recommends:

• Attending open houses
• Perusing the newspaper for local listings
• Ask a real estate agent to print up comparable listings on the multiple listing service (MLS)

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Fixed Mortgage Rates Drop to Four-Month Low

October 25, 2013 3:24 am

Freddie Mac released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing average fixed mortgage rates hitting their lowest levels since this summer amid market speculation that the Federal Reserve will not alter its bond buying purchases this year.

Findings

• 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 4.13 percent with an average 0.8 point for the week ending October 24, 2013, down from last week when it averaged 4.28 percent. A year ago at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 3.41 percent.

• 15-year FRM this week averaged 3.24 percent with an average 0.6 point, down from last week when it averaged 3.33 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 2.72 percent.

• 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 3.00 percent this week with an average 0.4 point, down from last week when it averaged 3.07 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 2.75 percent.

• 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.60 percent this week with an average 0.5 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.63 percent. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 2.59 percent.

"Mortgage rates slid this week as the partial government shutdown led to market speculation that the Federal Reserve will not alter its bond purchases this year. The weak employment report for September added to this expectation,” says Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist, Freddie Mac. “The economy added just 148,000 jobs, which was below the market consensus forecast and less than the 193,000 jobs increase in August."

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Are Dads The New Mom?

October 25, 2013 3:24 am

Who wears the pants in the family when it comes to household purchasing decisions – mom or dad?

According to a September 2013 survey by Child's Play Communications, titled Are Dads the New Black, mom remains by far the No. 1 decision maker when buying for home and family. Dads are making inroads, but not to the degree many now assume. And mom's evaluation of dad's contribution often differs dramatically from his own.

Conducted with The NPD group, an independent market research company, the Child's Play survey queried nearly 2,500 moms and dads – approximately 1,250 couples – across the U.S., asking for each one's view of dad's decision-making role in 20 different product categories. The survey looked at where dads were "entirely" responsible for a product category, then "primarily" responsible and lastly, where they "shared responsibility equally" with their spouses.

"Based on our immersion in the world of moms, it seemed that some of the claims about dad's involvement in household purchasing decisions were overstated," said Child's Play Communications president, Stephanie Azzarone. "Our goal in launching the survey was to separate perception from reality."

Some highlights:

• Moms remain the major household purchasing decision maker in about 80 percent of families.

• Moms are responsible for the majority of those decisions--about two thirds. This is notable because it contrasts with the long-held belief that moms are responsible for about 80 percent of household purchasing decisions—an indication that dads are getting more involved.

• Dads continue to dominate decision making in what might be considered traditionally "male" categories. 55.3 percent of moms and 62.2 percent of dads said that dad was entirely responsible for buying decisions related to Home Repair, and 50 percent of moms and 57.0 percent of dads said dad had sole responsibility for Lawn & Garden. Meanwhile, roughly a third or more said dads handle all decision making for Automobiles (38.4 percent of moms, 48.6 percent of dads) and Technology (31.8 percent of moms, 35.1 percent of dads). The percentages remained similar when families were asked what dads were "primarily" vs. "entirely" responsible for.

• Moms, however, dominated purchasing decisions for children's products. In fact, dad's role here was noticeably minimal. Moms said that only 1.1 percent of dads were entirely responsible for buying children's toys and clothes and dads were in close agreement, claiming sole responsibility for 2.2 percent of toy purchases and 1.2 percent of children's clothes.

• The balance improved when families were asked where they shared responsibility equally. The four categories that ranked significantly higher than others among both moms and dads were Home Furnishings (51.0 percent of moms and 46.0 percent of dads said decision making here was shared equally), Family Travel (51.0 percent and 46.6 percent), Family Entertainment (43.2 percent and 43.1 percent) and Appliances (41.4 percent and 36.2 percent).

Source: Child’s Play Communications

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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