July 27, 2011 4:57 pm
By Keith Loria
There is nothing quite as frightening in the mortgage process as learning that your credit report contains some late payment you made in college or some mistake from a phone company that happened a decade ago.
Luckily, most errors and negative items can be taken care of and eliminated; and when it comes to buying a home, you will need to get your credit cleaned up so you can qualify for that low interest loan.
“Your credit score is the basic decider regarding your capability to attain loans, ideally on much lower interest rates,” says Greg Tilley, from a credit repair agency in Colorado. “Put simply, the higher your credit score is, the higher your chances are of being permitted to get a loan and/or credit. In the case of a low credit score, you may find yourself in an ‘extreme-risk’ classification which means lenders will be reluctant to offer you any sort of financial assistance.”
According to credit counselors, there are approximately 43 million people in the United States with credit blemishes severe enough to make obtaining home loans with reasonable terms difficult.
“There are things that can be done, regardless of whether it is a mistake or an actual failed payment on your part,” says Anna Rodriguez, of an Arizona-based credit information center. “The important thing is not to panic, get ready to plead your case and be courteous when talking to the people who have the power to make the changes.”
The simplest thing to do if you’ve missed a payment and have it on your record is to call the creditor and ask them politely to erase the negative listing. You can also do this with a well thought-out letter. There is no guarantee that a lender will do this, but if you’ve been a good customer through the years, this method has proven to be successful.
“You can also get a collection agency to agree to remove a debt from your report if you pay it,” Tilley says. “This method is called ‘pay for delete’ and it works great on smaller amounts of $500 and under, especially medical collections.”
It is advisable to get the agreement in writing before you pay them though, and only send a money order after you get them to agree.
If you are one of the millions who have defaulted on a student loan you can enter into a “rehab program,” which will get your account back on track after 12 months. This may not be the quick fix that someone buying a house needs, but the sooner you do this the better.
For disputing something that was not your fault, you can try disputing the account with the credit bureaus as “not mine.”
“The older and smaller a collection account, the more likely the collection agency wouldn’t have bothered to update the correct information and the credit bureau won’t be able to match up computer records,” Rodriguez says. “This is a great way to clear blemishes.”
A quick fix that some people use to boost their credit score is to have an older family member with a great credit rating add you as an authorized user on one of their old credit cards. This could help your score increase dramatically and you wouldn’t even need to have the card in your possession.
With more loans requiring higher credit scores today, it’s never too early to start fixing those problems.
July 27, 2011 4:57 pm
U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki announced recently that HUD will provide $46.2 million to public housing agencies in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to supply permanent housing and case management for 6,790 homeless veterans in America.
This funding, from HUD’s Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program (HUD-VASH), is a coordinated effort by HUD, VA, and local housing agencies to provide permanent housing for homeless veterans.
“Over the past three years, HUD helped thousands of homeless veterans find a permanent place to call home while VA provided medical treatment, case management and other services to address their specific needs,” says HUD Secretary Donovan. “We have no greater mission than to prevent and end homelessness, especially for those brave men and women who risked their lives to protect our nation.”
“This initiative will strengthen our ongoing efforts to eliminate veteran homelessness by 2015 and improve quality of life for veterans,” says VA Secretary Shinseki. “Working with our partners at HUD and in Congress, we continue to make good progress to reduce veteran homelessness though much work remains. VA is committed to providing veterans and their families with access to affordable housing and medical services that will help them get back on their feet.”
This funding to local housing agencies is part of the Administration’s commitment to end Veteran and long-term chronic homelessness by 2015. Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness serves as a roadmap for how the federal government will work with state and local agencies to confront the root causes of homelessness, especially among former servicemen and women.
The grants announced are part of $50 million appropriated for Fiscal Year 2011 to support the housing needs of 6,900 homeless veterans. VA Medical Centers (VAMC) provide supportive services and case management to eligible homeless veterans. This is the first of two rounds of the 2011 HUD-VASH funding. HUD expects to announce the remaining funding by the end of this summer.
Homeless veterans are referred to the public housing agencies for these vouchers, based upon a variety of factors, most importantly the need for and willingness to participate in case management. The HUD-VASH program includes both the rental assistance provided by the vouchers and the comprehensive case management that VAMC staff provides.
Veterans participating in the HUD-VASH program rent privately owned housing and generally contribute no more than 30 percent of their income toward rent. VA offers eligible homeless veterans clinical and supportive services through its medical centers across the U.S., Guam and Puerto Rico.
For more information, please visit www.HUD.gov.
July 26, 2011 4:57 pm
All over the country, people are taking the time to enjoy the simple pleasures of growing their own vegetables and herbs. From small container gardens and raised beds, to community-based home farms where people grow food with neighbors, the idea of home-grown goodness has taken root. In fact, a survey from Triscuit found that more than 60% of Americans say they are interested in growing fruits, vegetables, and/or herbs in a backyard garden and 44% have grown some of their own food in the past year.
If you haven't started digging in to the trend, it's not too late. "The Gardener Guy," Paul James, has teamed up with Triscuit to celebrate the "Home Farming" movement, which encourages the simple joy of growing fresh herbs and vegetables on home farms and community-based home farms. James shares the following tips to get you started.
Helpful tips for the novice:
Where to plant - Vegetables and herbs can be grown in practically any container, which should have a hole in the bottom so it can drain.
Nourish your garden - Make sure plants get at least five to six hours of sun a day and feed them every couple of weeks with a balanced fertilizer.
Water, water, water - Water plants every few days and increase to every day in the summer. Saturate the top half inch of soil so seeds can absorb moisture to germinate.
Give them space - All plants need sufficient room to get an adequate supply of water and nutrients. Be sure to read spacing requirements on the back of seed packets or plant tags before planting.
"The number one rule is to start small. Whether it is growing herbs on your windowsill or vegetables in your backyard, anyone can start a home farm. As you gain confidence and knowledge you can always expand,” says James.
Helpful tips for the advanced home farmer:
Secret is in the soil - Good soil can help plants grow. A great recipe for container plants is to mix 75% sterilized potting mix with 25% bagged compost. Mushroom compost is ideal.
Organic matters - Organic matter can improve soil, and includes compost, leaves, grass clippings, hay and straw. At least once a year, add organic matter to the top six inches of soil.
Block party - When you plant in blocks, there are no paths between plants for weeds to grow, or wasted space.
If you don't have space for your own home farm, consider volunteering at a community-based home farm.
For more information, visit www.triscuit.com.
July 26, 2011 4:57 pm
A thriving lawn is more than a soft, friendly playground. It can help cool the environment and clean the air. And it's not hard to practice a little backyard environmentalism. Here's how it works and what you can do to take good care of your lawn.
Keeping It Cool
Through its natural processes, grass releases water to stay cool, much the same way our bodies stay cool through perspiration. Water evaporating from your lawn absorbs excess heat to keep a constant cool temperature. Because your lawn stays cool, the air above it can be as much as 30 degrees cooler than it is above your driveway, patio or sidewalks.
Cleaning the Air
An average lawn has over 11 million individual grass plants. These little green machines work 24/7 to trap dirt, dust and impurities from the air. And like all plants, grass absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen, making it possible for us to breathe a little easier.
How to Have a People and Earth-Friendly Lawn
• Well-fed lawns are strong and vibrant. In general, feeding two to four times a year will build a lawn that is ready to stand up to weeds, heat, drought and insects. If your lawn doesn't get much activity from the kids, pets or parties, 2 to 3 feedings is enough. Feeding a couple of times a year also applies if the spring and fall seasons where you live are only a few months long. If your grass is used for ball games or parties, you'll want to feed 3 to 4 times a year so the grass can regenerate and withstand wear and tear.
• Choose a fertilizer that says "for lawns" on the bag and has a spreader setting. All-purpose fertilizers don't have the right nutrient balance for lawns and may not even have spreader settings to apply the right amount.
• Set your mower to one of the highest cut settings to give your grass an advantage over heat, drought, weeds and bugs and make lawn care simpler. Mowing high means longer grass blades and therefore more deep roots that reach water in the soil better. Longer grass blades crowd out weeds, capture rain water better and reduce moisture loss from the soil.
• Mow and feed your lawn at the same time by leaving grass clippings on the lawn. These break down quickly and recycle nutrients back into the soil.
• Sweep any fertilizer and grass clippings that land on driveways and sidewalks back into the lawn to keep nutrients where the grass can use them for food.
In many parts of the country, Mother Nature provides enough water for your grass to survive. These tips should help you decide if you need to water.
• Sometimes when it's hot and dry, the lawn will go dormant and turn brown. Don't worry. Grass will bounce back again once it rains, especially if you've fed it well and mowed high.
• If you use your lawn as an extension of your living space, then your grass will let you know when it needs a drink. It will turn dull in color and footprints will appear.
• If rain isn't expected soon, water using a sprinkler that shoots the water in a jet fashion, low across your lawn. Be sure to do this in the morning to reduce water loss from evaporation.
• Compared to unfed lawns, properly fed lawns tolerate heat and dry weather better than unfed, weak lawns. That's because they have better roots and stored energy reserves to bounce back when rainfall or water returns.
For more information, visit www.loveyourlawn.us.
July 26, 2011 4:57 pm
Fannie Mae's new monthly national consumer attitudinal survey report provides eleven indicators offering a window into the opinions of Americans across the country. These behavioral insights convey what consumers think about the outlook for owning and renting a home and about their household finances, and may serve as key inputs for determining the future course of investment across housing types.
The most detailed attitudinal survey of its kind, the Fannie Mae National Housing Survey polls 1,000 Americans each month via live telephone interview to assess their attitudes toward owning and renting a home, mortgage rates, homeownership distress, household finances, and overall consumer confidence.
Homeowners and renters are asked more than 100 questions used to track attitudinal shifts (findings are compared to the same survey conducted monthly beginning June 2010). Fannie Mae conducts this survey and shares monthly and quarterly results so that we may help industry partners and market participants target our collective efforts to stabilize the housing market in the near-term, and provide support in the future.
"Our survey data on key aspects of the housing environment and Americans' household financial situations offer a comprehensive view of the marketplace that hasn't existed previously," says Doug Duncan, Vice President and Chief Economist of Fannie Mae. "There's been strong interest across the industry for a monthly consumer attitudinal data set of this size. The data have only a very short lag from collection to delivery and at present show how sensitive consumers are to contemporaneous events. We see a continued lack of confidence among consumers on home prices, the ability to sell their homes, and the state of their personal finances—all of which point to housing as a continued downside risk to economic growth going forward."
The June 2011 Fannie Mae National Housing Survey was conducted between June 1, 2011 and June 28, 2011. Interviews were conducted by Penn Schoen Berland, in coordination with Fannie Mae. Forthcoming Fannie Mae National Housing Survey Monthly Reports will be released on or around the seventh day of every month.
For more information, please visit www.fanniemae.com.
July 25, 2011 4:57 pm
According to a recent survey, only three out of 10 workers expect to have enough funds to comfortably retire with. To avoid being one of those other seven, here are five tips to increase your retirement nest egg.
The biggest help you can offer yourself is to start as soon as possible. Employees who begin squirreling away at the age of 25 can accumulate twice as much as those who start just 10 years later. Begin early, and continue regularly contributing.
Max Out Your Company’s Match
If you work for a company that offers to match on 401(k) contributions, you can get free money for doing what you already should be doing. Take advantage of any match program your company offers in order to capitalize for your future.
Take control of your account. Don’t let fees add up and take away from your retirement savings. Even a percentage fee as little as one percent can cut your savings by 25% over 35 years. Take a hard look at your management, distribution and advisory fees and make sure that your plan is working to pay you and not the other way around.
Make Your Payments Automatic
A study by NACHA, The Electronic Payments Association, found that those who have money automatically deposited into savings save up to $90 more per month than those who don’t. Over many months and years, that money adds up. Don’t risk forgetting. Set up automatic deposits to make sure your contributions are regular.
Most Importantly: Don’t Touch It
To make the most of what you have, put your money away and don’t even think about touching it. Keep it in a 401(k), 403(b), IRA or other plan that works for you and let it compound and grow until you are ready to retire for good. Though college tuition, buying a house and many other factors can tempt you into dipping in, avoid doing so at all costs.
If you are disciplined and regular with your contributions, you can successfully plan for your future starting today.
July 25, 2011 4:57 pm
Homeowners can take several steps to increase their home's appeal both inside and out without spending a fortune. In fact, homeowners can breathe new life into their homes and increase its appeal by spending $100 or less.
"You'd be surprised at what a difference you can make without spending a lot of money," says Tom Humpal, a broker/owner in Rockford, Ill. "It's always the little things that make a big difference when you're showing your home."
Homeowners who want their residences to sell quickly need to make sure that their single-family homes and condominiums are priced right and show well. Their homes need to be top-of-mind with buyers no matter how many residences were seen that day. Buyers look for homes that are clean, bright, roomy and warm. Here are five easy ways homeowners can give their residences these attributes without spending much money.
1. The wonders of paint. You might be surprised at the difference that a fresh coat of paint can make. For $100, homeowners won't be able to paint all the rooms in their homes, but they will be able to spot paint. And that can turn a formerly drab room into one with plenty of style.
Rachel Hausman, a sales associate in Buffalo Grove, Ill., recommends that homeowners purchase a five-gallon bucket of white paint. They can then use this paint to color the trim in their living rooms, kitchens, dens and hallways. The white trim makes a home's walls pop more vividly, Hausman says. She does warn homeowners against choosing colors such as grey or blue. These are colder colors, which sometimes work against a home’s appeal.
"Warmer colors tend to make homes show better," says Hausman. "A nice warm beige or ivory can make a home seem warm and comfortable. Buyers react well to such colors."
2. First impressions matter. One hundred dollars can help a home make a strong first impression on buyers. The sellers just have to spend that money on the home's front door. A front door with peeling or chipped paint can instantly create a negative impression. Buyers who see a fading front door might wonder what other features the home's owner is neglecting.
It costs far less than $100 for homeowners to apply a fresh coat of paint to their front doors. And, it costs nothing to make sure that front entrances are swept free of old leaves and debris.
3. Curb appeal. Many buyers today pre-screen the homes that might interest them. They'll look them up on the Web and then spend an afternoon driving past them, scratching homes off their list if they don't like what they see. What causes potential buyers to eliminate homes from their lists? More often than not, lawns that haven’t been mowed, overgrown bushes and a general lack of curb appeal.
Putting at least a little money into your front yard is always a good idea. Such an investment can result in a big payoff. By planting flowers and shrubs, adding flower pots and baskets to front porches and mowing the lawn, homeowners can create a front yard that entices buyers. In today's market, that's an important advantage.
4. Bring in the cleaning pros. Nothing turns off potential buyers more quickly, and thoroughly, then dirty carpets, dusty ceiling fan blades, murky windows and sticky counter tops. Buyers who see a home that isn't even clean for its showing tend to question the commitment that homeowners have made to maintaining their residences.
Depending on the job, a professional cleaning service might be the way to go, easily affordable for $100 or less, to give the homes a thorough scrubbing before it is placed on the market. Cleaning service professionals will tend to the areas of a home that owners often forget as they prepare their homes for showing.
5. Focus on the first room. Homeowners should pay particularly close attention to the first room that potential buyers will see when they tour a house. For many homes, this will be a living room. It is also encouraged that owners add new pillows to couches and wrap love seats and chairs in up-to-date fabrics.
Focus on the small details in the rooms buyers will be spending the most time, and as always, remove as much clutter as possible to make rooms look open, large and airy. Homeowners should make sure that all the light bulbs in their rooms are working and turned on to create bright and comfortable spaces. If living room, kitchen or bedroom walls have dents or holes in them, invest the small amount of money and time it takes to patch those dings.
"People may say they don't want to put money into their homes in order to sell them," Hausman says. "But, you can either drop your asking price to get buyers to walk in the front door or spend a little money to make sure your home shows as nicely as possible and draws buyers in."
July 25, 2011 4:57 pm
By Nick Caruso
In just three weeks since the launch of Google+, the tech-giant's new answer to social media, 20 million users have signed up via exclusive invite-only registrations. The speed of growth will only continue to excel when Google finally lifts the veil to its more than 1 billion monthly visitors. To hit the ground running, here is everything you need to know in case you receive that golden ticket before the inevitable Google+ public launch:
Have greater control with "circles." Although Google+ and Facebook do share some similarities, Google+ allows for greater control of what you share and who you share it with thanks to its circles feature. Group your friends together by different categories, for example, school friends, relatives, colleagues, etc. When sharing a particular status update or link, Google+ then asks you which circles you'd like to share with. Keeping acquaintances apart from best friends and work friends is crucial to retaining privacy, offering users greater flexibility in their social networking.
Fun with the +. Google+ boasts its streamlined approach to sharing. No matter what section of Google you are using (Gmail, Google Documents, Google Reader, etc), users can share directly without having to return to the Google+ homepage. In the upper right hand corner, users can click "Share" and immediately share a status update, link, photo or video with their circles. To the left of that, a number counter tells the user about various notifications, which can all be read without returning to Google+. It's social networking seamlessly weaved throughout your regular Google experience.
Click the cog. No matter what section of Google you are using, there is always a small cog in the top right-hand corner of your screen. Clicking on the cog will give users options in a dropdown such as change settings, send feedback or view recent web history. It's a one-stop shop for any housekeeping users may need to do. The cog helps users stay organized while keeping in sync with the different sections of Google.
Start a hangout. With the Google+ hangout feature, users can start simultaneous group video chats with others in their circles. No matter where you are, the hangout feature takes social networking to the next level, letting groups of friends meet up at any time and from any place.
Although some are deeming Google+ to be "the Facebook killer," such claims may be preemptive strikes. However, as Google+ continues testing through its beta phase and making corrections and upgrades, it's highly possible that Facebook could face a serious competitor in the near future.
July 21, 2011 10:57 pm
Searching for ideas to make your home greener, with a smaller eco-impact? Now may be the best time to look up, as the roof over your head can make a big difference to the environment. While most people never think about their roof until there is a problem, planning ahead is key for making eco-friendly home choices.
The experts at the Metal Roofing Alliance provide the following information regarding eco-friendly roofing materials.
Did you know that asphalt shingles are petroleum-based, with a huge environmental impact? Asphalt shingles increase dependency on fossil fuels, must be replaced every 15-20 years, and there's no good way to dispose of them.
Eco-friendly products, including metal roofs, are rapidly replacing petroleum-based shingles. A recent McGraw-Hill Construction and Analytics survey showed metal roofing now comprises 11% of the residential re-roofing market, more than doubling in just ten years.
Highly reflective "cool"-colored metal roofs look just like traditional roofs, provide year-round relief from high energy costs, and are sustainable products.
Installing a metal roof reduces a home's energy needs. Tests conducted by Oak Ridge National Laboratories (ORNL) prove that a cool metal roof can save a homeowner up to 25% in cooling costs compared to a dark-gray asphalt shingle.
ORNL's field tests have also shown the combination of venting and increased reflectance can reduce heat penetrating the roof deck by about 45% for stone-coated metal roofs compared to an asphalt shingle roof in certain climates.
Metal roofing provides a market for recycled materials. An old car, dishwasher or refrigerator can be recycled to re-roof a home. All steel roofs contain a minimum of 25% recycled content—many have a much higher percentage. At the end of its useful life, metal roofing is 100% recyclable.
Photovoltaic Systems and Solar Panels can be integrated into metal roof systems, making them an even better choice. Metal roofs can also allow consumers to harvest rainwater for reuse.
For more information, visit www.metalroofing.com.
July 21, 2011 10:57 pm
It's peak home improvement season and many homeowners are itching to roll up their sleeves and tackle a home improvement project. However, before embarking on a home improvement or renovation project this summer, homeowners need to understand just what they're getting themselves into. Cutting costs on big projects by doing-it-yourself — or "DIY" — can actually cause huge problems down the road. Homeowners should educate themselves on what is best to leave to the professionals who are knowledgeable about what to consider when embarking on a home improvement project, including materials, sizing, project pitfalls, code requirements and permitting.
"As a remodeling enthusiast, I personally understand a homeowner's desire to tackle projects on their own. The feeling of pride that results from improving your own home is a wonderful sense of accomplishment, but it's also important to know your limits," says Power Home Remodeling Group co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Kaliner. "Some home improvement projects can be complex and benefit from a professional's expertise, such as window and siding installation, electrical wiring and plumbing. If such projects go awry, it could end up causing the homeowner quite a headache or additional costs that could have been prevented by consulting a professional."
The following tips and resources will assist homeowners in making the decision when not to DIY.
• Do you have the time? This important question can easily aid your decision to complete a home improvement project. Take an honest evaluation of the time you can allot to the project. Diving into a project on a weekend without a realistic timeline can leave your house in shambles for weeks as you complete the project in your spare time.
• Do you have the right tools? Window, siding and door installation projects require very specialized, expensive tools to produce a quality result. Cutting corners with improvised tools will produce a less-than-stellar final product that can negatively affect the home's resale value. Less obvious tools such as permits, licenses and insurance are required to complete several projects. Without these, homeowners could face fines or zoning issues that can affect their taxes.
• Do you have the experience? For homeowners, their home is typically their biggest investment. Projects that change a home's structural integrity, energy efficiency and even visual appeal can drastically change its value. Before investing time and money in trial and error, homeowners should consider calling a professional to guarantee a high quality result.
Simpler projects such as landscaping, painting and shelving are great do-it-yourself opportunities for homeowners looking to save money. Green projects like 'upcycling' a piece of old furniture or caulking a leaky drain can also satisfy a desire to DIY on a smaller scale. These projects can be completed with less risk of doing any major damage to the home. Botched projects can even jeopardize the homeowner's ability to sell down the road. For homeowners who aren't sure whether a DIY project is right for them, the National Association of the Remodeling Industry offers a short quiz that can help make the decision easier.
Kaliner added, "Homeowners should also consider starting with a smaller DIY project that won't take a lot of time, they can see to completion, gain some confidence and get a better understanding of what's involved for future home improvement projects."
For more information, please visit PowerHRG.com.