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Put Painting Your Home at the Top of Your Spring To-Do List

April 20, 2012 5:08 am

As the springtime weather shifts from messy to mild, every homeowner's attention turns to the out of doors. It's time to clean things up, tend to the garden, and make needed repairs to both the home and its surroundings. Where to start? Assuming that your exterior paint is failing, it's best to focus on that first, says Debbie Zimmer, director of Communications and Alliances for the Paint Quality Institute.

There are plenty of good reasons to start spring chores with exterior painting. First, spring is a very comfortable time to do outdoor painting. Second, it's smart to paint before putting down mulch, which along with your plants, will just get trampled if you paint later on. Third, why not get your painting done before more pleasant distractions like gardening, sports, and barbecues begin?

If your house paint is near the end of its life expectancy, you're taking a chance by postponing repainting. It doesn't take long for exposed wood to begin to rot, and other types of exteriors also suffer when the paint wears off. Wait too long and you may have to make repairs before starting to paint.

Another reason to get to your painting first: Exterior latex paint forms the most durable, protective finish when the weather is mild. It's always best to do exterior painting when the temperature is above 50 degrees F., but not too hot. Very hot days can cause the paint to dry too quickly and impair good paint film formation. By painting in moderate weather, you'll likely get a longer-lasting paint job.

Zimmer recommends hiring a professional painter who knows the best times to paint and what types of weather conditions to avoid. A professional painting contractor also has the industry knowledge to know how to prep the work surface properly and is educated on the type of products to use. Relying on an educated, professional painting contractor helps eliminate surprises and ensures you have a finished product you can be proud of.

Once you've finished your exterior painting project, you can turn your attention to the other things on your to-do list. What's more, you'll have peace of mind knowing that you've "invested" in your biggest investment – your home.

Source: blog.paintquality.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Guidelines for First-Time Investors

April 20, 2012 5:08 am

Whether it’s for a down payment for a home, college tuition or a retirement nest egg, investing in the future is a wise financial decision. The two most pressing questions are, understandably, “How much can I afford to save?” and “What is the best way to make my money grow?”

Financial experts agree that long-term investing is the surest way to build savings—and also that you do not need a lot of money to get started. What is critically important, however, is that you save on a consistent basis.

There are classes you can take, books you can read, and experts you can consult in order to learn the finer points of investing. To begin with, however, there are three fundamental steps you must take:
  1. Determine your savings goals. You need to know what your savings goals are in order to figure out how to get there. Let’s say you want to retire at age 65 with the same standard of living you have now. You can find retirement calculators online to help you determine how much money you will need in order to reach that goal.
  2. Evaluate the stock market. Guaranteed investments and savings bonds are great for reaching short-term goals. They generally return about 2-5 percent at best. But if you have some time to reach your goal, investing in the market will likely be your best approach. Averaged out over the last 25 years, despite some trying times, DOW returns have paid around 9 percent or 10 percent. Here’s the difference: Over 25 years, a $10,000 investment at a 3 percent rate of return will grow to $26,000. A 9 percent return will give you $86,000.
  3. Understand that time is money and plan accordingly. For saving money to be successful, it must be approached as a long-term plan—there are no get-rich-quick plans that really work. Therefore, it makes sense that the earlier you start to save, the more money you will have at retirement. In these scenarios, assume a 10 percent rate of return compounded annually:
    • Begin investing $100 per month at age 30 until you reach age 65. At that point, you will have about $345,000 in investments. You will have put in $42,000 over the 35 year span. The other $303,000 is from the growth of your money over time.
    • Begin the same $100-per-month saving plan at age 20. At age 65, you will have about $916,000. You will have invested $54,000. The other $862,000 is from the growth of your money over time.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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REALTORS Raise Fair Housing Awareness in Local Communities

April 19, 2012 5:06 am

As the leading advocate for homeownership and housing issues, the National Association of REALTORS® joined the nation in honoring Fair Housing Month this April.

This year marks the 44th anniversary of the 1968 landmark Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap. NAR also supports equal opportunity on the basis of sexual orientation, incorporating that support into the REALTOR® Code of Ethics.

NAR’s Equal Opportunity and Cultural Diversity program offers REALTORS® education, grants, programs and events related to fair housing and diversity. Various grants help REALTOR® associations play leadership roles in their communities through three initiatives; diversity, smart growth and housing opportunity grants. These grants help associations and their members reach out to and better serve today’s diverse clientele.

NAR also offers several training courses for REALTORS® and REALTOR® associations. The At Home with Diversity® course addresses the topics of diversity, fair housing and business planning development in a full-day certification course. NAR’s Employer-Assisted Housing Class gives REALTORS® tools to work with local employers, helping them implement employer-assisted housing benefits to help employees become homeowners. Leading with Diversity is a workshop for local REALTOR® associations that helps bring more diversity to the leadership of the REALTOR® community.

Other courses touch on affordable housing opportunities, as well as the benefits of smart growth communities and how to help communities adopt a smart growth strategy.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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What is your Digital Personality?

April 19, 2012 5:06 am

When it comes to your online habits, are you a Content King or a Social Butterfly? The difference matters to businesses who want to capture your attention on digital devices.

A new IBM study of the media and entertainment market reveals that as consumers adopt an increasing number of digital devices, four distinct new "digital personalities" are emerging. This shift is compelling companies to adopt more innovative business models that deliver personalized experiences.

The "Beyond Digital" study paints a portrait of a rapidly changing audience that is adopting a wide range of digital devices at a dizzying pace. And, contrary to popular belief, most are not college students. For example, 65 percent of respondents aged 55 to 64 report surfing the Web and texting with friends while watching TV. Of those over age 65 watching TV, 49 percent surf the Web and 30 percent are texting. Eighty-two percent of surveyed global consumers aged 18 to 64 are embracing connected digital devices.

Today’s connected consumers demand instant access to personalized content on their own terms. With the growth of digital devices, one-way communication and distribution of content is no longer feasible. According to the IBM study, most users fall into one of four emerging personality categories:
  • Efficiency Experts: With 41 percent in this category, these respondents use digital devices and services to simplify day-to-day activities. Efficiency experts send emails rather than letters, use Facebook to communicate with others, access the Internet via mobile phones, and shop online.
  • Content Kings: Are generally male consumers, who frequently play online games, download movies and music, and watch TV online. This audience represents 9 percent of the global sample.
  • Social Butterflies: Place emphasis on social interaction – they require instant access to friends, regardless of time or place. Fifteen percent of consumers surveyed reported they frequently maintain and update social networking sites, add labels or tags to online photos, and view videos from other users.
  • Connected Maestros: 35 percent of those surveyed take a more advanced approach to media consumption by using mobile devices and smartphone applications to access games, music, and video or to check news, weather, sports, etc.
According to the IBM study, media and entertainment companies' payment infrastructures need to be flexible and scalable to allow a variety of innovative pricing approaches to attract consumers with different preferences to their content. The need for payment option flexibility, even for the same set of consumers, is apparent by looking at those most active in adopting new devices. This group's preferred mode of payment to watch a movie on a website is by viewing advertising that is included with the movie (39 percent of this segment chose this option), while they prefer to see movies on a tablet by purchasing a subscription (chosen by 36 percent). But to watch movies on a smartphone, they prefer to pay per use (the payment choice of 36 percent).

IBM surveyed 3,800 consumers in six countries – China, France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States for this study, and also met with global representatives in broadcasting, publishing, as well as media service agencies, and telecommunication providers, to evaluate digital consumption behaviors.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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5 Ways to Take Control of Your Spending Habits

April 19, 2012 5:06 am

You might be among the many who head out on a routine shopping trip and come home with purchases you never intended to buy… and bills you never wanted to pay. Needless to say, such impulse buying is a fast way to derail a savings plan.

M&I Financial offers the following five tips for getting your spending under control:
  1. Start by developing a budget based on your income. To create financial stability, it's crucial that your spending not outpace earnings. To do this, track your spending for a few months and write down where your money is going. From there, you can make any necessary adjustments to spending in order to bring spending in line with income. Once your budget is written, don't forget to check back periodically and ensure plans are still on track.
  2. Learn to distinguish between wants and needs. While it's nice to treat yourself, it's most important to live within your means. Wants are things that are nice to have, while needs are things that are really necessary to survive. Nearly half of Americans consider a cellphone a necessity and about a quarter say the same about cable, but whether those are really necessities is debatable.
  3. Control seasonal spending. Holidays, birthdays, and back-to-school spending can all put a dent in a savings account. To keep spending at a reasonable level, set budgets and priorities before the holidays hit. To gauge how much you'll spend in the coming year – and how much you'll need to save for it – review your previous year's expenses for holidays, wedding gifts, etc., and be sure that spending is accounted for in your budget.
  4. Don't give in to social spending. The scenarios are familiar, where a friend encourages spending on an expensive non-necessity, or friends regularly wanting to meet for dinner and drinks. While it can be fun to occasionally splurge, these social spending habits can really break the bank. To avoid overspending, create a fixed budget to cover discretionary spending on things like clothes and unexpected social outings.
  5. Raise your kids to be responsible spenders. Talk to them about your family budget and give them opportunities for real-life learning. Explain where the money comes from when you visit the ATM or write a check, along with the importance of paying bills on time.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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New Bully Deterrent System Free to Schools

April 18, 2012 5:04 am

Providing schools with the right technology and free promotional materials to report and deter bullying, uTip Bully Busters from e2Campus® is a cloud-based platform that utilizes standard text messaging and can be implemented in less than five minutes.

The news from e2Campus comes on the heels of an announcement from the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services about the re-launch of their website www.StopBullying.gov.

Already in place at schools around the country, uTip Bully Buster combines technology with psychology to decrease bullying and crime at school. SMS text messaging technology puts the power in the palm of students' hands – enabling them to discreetly and anonymously report a situation immediately, so schools can respond quickly.

Free promotional materials show students how to anonymously send a tip while simultaneously sending a warning to would-be bullies. When posters are displayed in a prominent area, they acts as a constant reminder to bullies that hundreds of eyes are watching and that anyone – even a friend – can now anonymously report an incidence of bullying.

The company is offering free one-year pilot programs to schools that sign up for uTip before August 31, 2012.

For more information, visit www.Bully-Buster.com.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Consumer Credit Default Rates Decreased in March

April 18, 2012 5:04 am

Data through March 2012, released this week by S&P Indices and Experian for the S&P/Experian Consumer Credit Default Indices, a comprehensive measure of changes in consumer credit defaults showed that, with the exception of bank card, all loan types saw a decrease in default rates for the third consecutive month.

In addition, the four that did decrease posted their lowest rates since the end of the recent economic crisis. The national composite declined to 1.96 percent in March from the 2.09 percent February rate. The first mortgage default rate decreased from February's 2.02 percent to March's 1.88 percent. Second mortgage and auto loans default rates also declined from 1.20 percent and 1.22 percent in February to 1.03 percent and 1.11 percent in March, respectively. Bank card was the only loan type where default rates increased in March to 4.47 percent from its 4.41 percent February level.

"The first quarter of 2012 was largely positive for the consumer," says David M. Blitzer, managing director and Chairman of the Index Committee for S&P Indices. "Not only have we resumed the downward trend in consumer default rates that began in the spring of 2009, but we appear to be reaching new lows across most loan types. The first three months of 2012 show broad based declines in default rates with first and second mortgage, auto and composite default rates all reaching post-recession lows.

"The first mortgage default rate fell by 14 basis points in March, bringing this rate below the prior August 2011 low. The second mortgage rate fell by even more during the month, 17 basis points. Both second mortgage and auto default rates are also at their lowest in the three-plus year history of these data. While the bank card rate rose, it was not by much and is still close to the recent low reported just last month.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Spring Brings Mixture of Financial Optimism and Caution

April 18, 2012 5:04 am

Spring seems to be breathing new life into consumer’s attitudes toward their financial outlook. The bi-monthly measure of Americans' sentiments toward their overall financial security, the Country Financial Security Index®, inched up 0.4 points from February to 66.2. This uptick marks the fourth consecutive increase in financial security sentiments, the longest in the survey's five-year history.

According to the report, improvements in savings and optimism about college funding helped drive the overall increase.
  • 53 percent were able to set aside money for savings this month, a three-point increase from February. This is the highest percentage of those able to save since October 2008.
  • Those confident in their ability to send their children to college jumped five points to 61 percent.
  • Despite these gains, Americans seem undecided about the future of their financial security.
  • Confidence in retirement savings and overall financial security both dropped one point to 57 and 41 percent, respectively.
  • Americans who said their overall level of financial security was getting worse inched up two points to 39 percent.
More than any other age group, 40-49 year olds exhibited strong optimism in both their short- and long-term money matters this month.
  • 81 percent were confident in their ability to pay debts, up nine points. There was also a 13-point jump to 58 percent in those able to set aside money for savings.
  • 64 percent were confident in their ability to send their children to college, a 12-point increase from February.
  • Confidence in retirement and those who rate their overall financial security positively were both up six points to 57 percent and 41 percent, respectively.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How Green is Your Neighborhood?

April 17, 2012 5:04 am

You may be taking steps at home to live a green life, but how does your community stack up? A new online tool, 10Green, can help you assess the health of your local environment.

Enter your zip code or the name of your community and 10Green gives you the health of your location on a simple 0 to 10 scale. Developed by the renowned Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine, 10Green uses 10 air quality measures representing some of the most significant threats to human health, including carbon monoxide, large and small particulates, ozone, sulfur dioxide and heavy metals.

"If you care about the health of your body, chances are you know your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and if you care about your financial health, you probably know your credit score," says Dr. Paul Mayewski, the explorer, scientist and professor who serves as director of the Climate Change Institute. "But if you care about the environment where you live and work, how do you measure the health of your community? We created 10Green to be a place where you can easily learn about the health of the environment in your community."

In determining whether communities are healthy or unhealthy, 10Green uses the strictest health standards from those reported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, European Commission, California Environmental Protection Agency, Health Canada, and the World Health Organization to assign a health score.

10Green also leverages decades of ice core research by the Institute to promote understanding of how the chemistry of Earth's atmosphere has changed as a consequence of human activities. And beyond just an overall score, 10Green gives users the health implications of their community's score and how the health of the community has changed over time.

"10Green was motivated by our years of scientific research into climate change," adds Mayewski. "People have so much information at their fingertips. It is hard to make sense of all of the data, so we wanted to give people a useful tool that helps them easily understand the implications of climate change and air pollution."

For more information, please visit 10green.org.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Economic Indicator: Prom Spending?

April 17, 2012 5:04 am

Despite continuing economic sluggishness, a new national survey by Visa Inc. shows that when it comes to high school proms, Americans appear to be willing to spend ever increasing amounts. American families who have teenagers will spend an average of $1,078 each on the prom, a 33.6 percent boost over the $807 spent in 2011.

"Prom season spending is spiraling out of control as teens continuously try to one-up each other," according to Jason Alderman, senior director of Global Financial Education, Visa Inc. "It's important to remember that the prom is a high school dance, not a wedding, and parents need to set limits in order to demonstrate financial responsibility."

The prom spending data also revealed some interesting regional and income level disparities. Families in the Northeast will spend twice as much as every other region of the country. Regionally, the survey found:
  • Northeastern families will spend an average of $1,944
  • Southern families will spend an average of $1,047
  • Western families will spend an average of $744
  • Midwestern families will spend an average of $696
One troubling statistic is that parents surveyed who fell in the lowest income brackets (less than $50,000) plan to spend more than the national average - $1,307. Breaking down the spending by family income, the survey found:
  • Parents who make under $20,000 will spend an average of $1,200
  • Parents who make $20,000-$29,999 will spend an average of $2,635
  • Parents who make $30,000-$39,999 will spend an average of $801
  • Parents who make $40,000-$49,999 will spend an average of $695
  • Parents who make over $50,000 will spend an average of $988
  • Parents who make over $75,000 will spend an average of $842
The Visa survey also found that parents are planning to pay for 61 percent of prom costs while their teens are only covering the remaining 39 percent.

"One of the reasons that prom spending may be running amok is that parents are paying the vast majority of the costs, giving teens little incentive to economize," Alderman added.

Visa offers the following tips for sensible prom expenditures:
  • Shop for formal wear at consignment stores or online. As with tuxedos, many outlets rent formal dresses and accessories for one-time use.
  • Have make-up done at a department store's cosmetics department or find a talented friend to help out.
  • Split the cost of a limo with other couples, or drive yourselves.
  • Take pre-prom photos yourself and have the kids use cell phones or digital cameras for candid shots at various events.
  • Work out a separate prom budget with your child well in advance to determine what you can afford. Set a limit of what you will contribute and stick to it. If teens want to spend more than that, encourage them to earn the money to pay for it or decide which items they can live without.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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