Daily Real Estate News

Syndicate content
Updated: 3 hours 59 min ago

Real Estate Q&A: What Happens When a Storm Disrupts Home Deals?

September 9, 2019 - 4:21pm

(TNS)—Q: I have been on a tear, damaging homes up the Atlantic coast. How does this affect people who are under contract to buy or sell a home? – Dorian (yes, that Dorian!)

A: Here in Florida, we are experienced in dealing with you and your siblings. When we get wind that you are coming to town, it becomes next to impossible to get homeowner’s insurance and financing approval, delaying most closings.

The standard real estate contract used in most closings will contain a clause dealing with the issue of a natural disaster or “force majeure.” Typically, the closing will be delayed for a week after things return to normal.

However, if the delay lasts for more than 30 days, either the buyer or seller would be able to cancel the contract. Of course, it’s important to carefully review the terms of each particular contract as it might be different from the standard.

After you leave town and power and water are back on, the buyer will need to have the home carefully inspected for damage. Generally, if the repair cost is no more the 1.5 percent of the purchase price, the seller must fix the problems, hopefully before closing. If they take longer to fix, the funds will be held in escrow while the seller keeps at it.

If the repairs cost more than that, the buyer can take the 1.5 percent as a repair credit on the closing statement and close as-is, or cancel the contract and get the deposit back.

The buyer and seller, or their real estate agents, should stay in good communication with each other, the closing agent and lender to determine what must be done to continue to closing. Everyone should stay patient and work with the process as things return to normal. In my experience, things get back on track fairly quickly, and very few deals are lost due to a storm.

Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar.  

©2019 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
Visit Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

The post Real Estate Q&A: What Happens When a Storm Disrupts Home Deals? appeared first on RISMedia.

Categories: Real Estate

Enjoy the Vibe in These Great College Football Towns

September 3, 2019 - 4:26pm

(TNS)—You don’t have to be present for game day to appreciate the enthusiastic ambience of a great football town. Here are five places that may appeal to the sports fans in your family:

  1. Ann Arbor, Mich.
    It’s all about the maize and blue in a community where the University of Michigan Wolverines capture the town’s attention every fall. Those lucky enough to snag tickets to the “Big House,” as the 100,000-plus-seat stadium is called, will revel in the sweet smell of barbecue as fans fire up their grills before the game. While in town, check out the local farmers market, enjoy breakfast at Zingerman’s, a local fan favorite, and visit the botanical garden. Stay at the cleverly renovated and centrally located Graduate Hotel, where you’ll appreciate the classic collegiate inspiration and the nod to local history and tradition. Contact: www.annarbor.org, www.graduatehotels.com/ann-arbor/
  1. Los Angeles
    It’s fun to take in a spirited college football game in a stadium that is also brimming with Olympic history. The Coliseum, home to the University of Southern California Trojans, has twice hosted the world event and in remembrance, has integrated the lighting of the torch ritual into every home game. Before the start of the fourth quarter, the Trojan rider and the USC mascot, a majestic white horse named Traveler, ride onto the field, accompanied by the band’s rendition of the William Tell Overture. On the rider’s command, the torch is lit and play resumes. From the Harry Potter fun at Universal Studios to the Getty Center, Walt Disney Concert Hall and Starline tours, the beaches and hiking in the hills, there is no shortage of family fun in the LA area. Contact: www.discoverlosangeles.com
  1. Boise, Idaho
    The Idaho capital city, named by French-Canadian fur trappers, is a dynamic destination known for a plethora of outdoor activities, a thriving culinary scene and an enthusiastic fan base that comes out in force to support the Boise State Broncos. You’ll want to ride bikes or stroll along the wooded Boise River, where a scenic greenbelt provides recreational access for visitors and locals. On game day, “Smurf Turf,” the artificial blue playing field at Albertsons Stadium, is center stage for the sporting action. The unique blue surface, the brainchild of athletic director Gene Bleymaier, was introduced in the 1980s and continues to set the venue apart. Contact: www.boise.org
  1. Columbus, Ohio
    Along the shores of the Olentangy River, Buckeye fever rises to red-hot as fans prepare for the annual rivalry with the Michigan Wolverines. For every home game, expect tailgate parties around The Horseshoe, as the stadium is known, and enthusiastic support for The Ohio State Marching Band Skull Session, a pregame music fest. Later the band famously spells out O-h-i-o on the field, and on rare occasion reserves the option to “dot the I” with an honored Columbus resident or alum. While in town, visit the world-famous Columbus Zoo; COSI, the Center of Science and Industry; and explore the historic German Village. You’ll find a burgeoning art, culinary and fashion scene. Contact: www.experiencecolumbus.com
  1. Your SportsTown, USA
    Do you or someone in your family have a sports tradition to share? Take the kids to your own high school or college homecoming game and take a stroll down memory lane. Wear the school colors and sing the old fight song. Revisit your favorite haunts, recall the taste treats, music or other details that have made the memory stick. Head on to campus and revisit your classroom time and share what you learned along the way.

©2019 Lynn O’Rourke Hayes
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

The post Enjoy the Vibe in These Great College Football Towns appeared first on RISMedia.

Categories: Real Estate

Relocating? Best Cities for Buyers

August 29, 2019 - 4:00pm

While homebuyers can’t always relocate to enjoy the best market advantages, if you’re looking to buy in a new locale, the financial site WalletHub.com published a list of communities where new homebuyers might want to consider as their newest “home town.”

According to WalletHub, nearly 40 percent of 2018’s single-family home purchases were made by first-time buyers. Researchers at the site point out that all homebuyers must balance what they want and need with what they can afford. All too often, WalletHub says, people begin searching for their dream homes without a realistic idea of market prices, interest rates or even their eligibility to get a mortgage.

To simplify the process, WalletHub compared 300 cities of varying sizes across 27 key indicators of market attractiveness, affordability and quality of life, and qualified affordability as the median house price divided by median annual household income.

Among some of the findings are: 

  • Akron, Ohio,has the most affordable housing (median house price divided by median annual household income), with a ratio of 1.83, which is 8.2 times cheaper than in Berkeley, Calif., the city with the least affordable housing, with a ratio of 15.04.
  • Honolulu has the lowest real estate tax rate, 0.29 percent, which is 12.9 times lower than in Waterbury, Conn., the city with the highest, at 3.74 percent.
  • Cleveland, Ohio, has the highest rent-to-price ratio, 16 percent, which is 6.1 times higher than in Sunnyvale, Calif., the city with the lowest, at 2.61 percent.
  • Shreveport, La., has the lowest average energy cost per household, $93.58, which is 4.2 times lower than in Honolulu, the city with the highest, at $388.65.

WalletHub’s overall top five best cities for first-time buyers are: Tampa, Fla.; Overland Park, Kan.; Thornton, Colo.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; and Boise, Idaho. When it comes to quality of life, the study says Colorado hits the jackpot with Fort Collins, Boulder, Greeley, Thornton and Centennial dominating the top five positions.

John Voket is a contributing editor to RISMedia.

The post Relocating? Best Cities for Buyers appeared first on RISMedia.

Categories: Real Estate

Now, a New Way to Estimate Next Year’s Tax Refund

August 28, 2019 - 4:04pm

(TNS)—Summer will soon be fading out of view and, like it or not, 2019 will move toward a close.

So what exactly have you done to withhold more money out of your paycheck to cover that 2019 tax bill?

If you need a motivator, the Internal Revenue Service has launched its much-anticipated new Tax Withholding Estimator. The calculator reportedly makes it “easier to enter wages and withholding for each job held by the taxpayer and their spouse, as well as separately entering pensions and other sources of income.”

Stepping back to fine-tune how much money you’re withholding in taxes now can make a huge difference between dreading having to write a big check to pay taxes in April or actually looking forward to getting a tax refund.

The estimator, which replaces the old IRS online tax withholding calculator, should help you see how on track you are right now. If necessary, you could make adjustments and dedicate more or less money toward federal income taxes out of your paycheck, and your spouse’s paycheck, too.

Many people found the old calculator to be a more than a bit cumbersome, but the new estimator is getting some good reviews. So it’s clearly worth a look.

See www.irs.gov and click on “Tax Withholding Estimator.”

Why do I need to think about taxes now?
Getting your withholding right, of course, takes on greater importance after a rather unsettling tax season earlier this year when many taxpayers ended up paying more than expected or took home far smaller tax refunds than usual.

If you’re working in the gig economy and juggling more than one job, the new program can take that into account, too.

Remember, take-home pay went up in 2018 once withholding tables were adjusted to reflect the lower tax rates in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

For some tax filers, though, the extra money that ended up in their paychecks turned out to be even more than the amount their taxes would have gone down under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, according to H&R Block data.

Were you upset by a smaller tax refund?
Under the new tax rules, some people lost key tax benefits. Maybe your children are 17 or older and you don’t get as big of a tax break. Maybe you now can only deduct up to $10,000—and no more—for the money paid for state income taxes, local taxes and property taxes.

If your tax story fell into one of those buckets, you could have faced more significant swings than the averages would indicate.

The average tax refund was $2,729 this year through May 10. That’s down 1.7 percent from a year earlier. The total amount of refunds was down 2.7 percent for that same time frame, totaling $277.26 billion through May 10. That’s the latest IRS information available; other statistics will be released later in the year.

While only a few months remain in 2019, it is still possible to have more money taken out of your paycheck to cover income taxes now to avoid unwelcome surprises in 2020.

How does this estimator work?
The IRS online estimator is broken into six sections: information about your household, income, adjustments to your income, deductions from income, tax credits and your results.

You need some paperwork on hand, such as your most recent pay stub and pay information for your spouse. You must know how much in taxes has been withheld already and how much you plan to contribute to your tax-deferred 401(k) plans this year.

You can be more detailed by entering any adjustments to income, but that’s not required. The IRS site notes that most taxpayers don’t have a large enough adjustment to have a significant impact on their tax obligation. Adjustments could include a student loan interest deduction, alimony paid that could be deductible for some in many cases and other factors.

What do you do next to update your W-4?
The online tool gives you step-by-step instructions for how to fill out a W-4, and you’re easily able to download a blank W-4 to give to your employer. If you want to withhold more money in taxes, you need to fill out that W-4 and give it to your employer.

Will this exercise even be worthwhile?
The more willing you are to dig for your real numbers, the better your odds for a clear tax picture.

Amazingly, the format of the new estimator is extremely straightforward. To get more comfortable with it, I played around by plugging in some random numbers to see how you move from one point to the next.

The only challenge, as I see it, will be getting your correct paperwork in order. It’s important to know information about your tax situation, such as if you’re going to claim deductions or take the standard deduction.

If you can do that, well, a clear graphic pops up at the end to spell out what kind of refund you might expect after you file your tax return in 2020.

You’ll be shown an estimate for how much you might owe in taxes or the size of you estimated tax refund.

And there’s a bar to show you how to make adjustments—even now. There’s process to follow if you want to get a refund and another if you want to owe as little as possible.

“Just as before, the more detail you put in the calculator, the more accurate the outcome will be,” said Nathan Rigney, who is a lead tax research analyst at H&R Block’s Tax Institute. “Unfortunately, we know that most people aren’t comfortable updating their W-4 on their own and that very few did, even after tax reform.”

So it’s important that the IRS took the step to make it as easy as possible for people. What’s attractive about the online format is that it’s not intimidating and you’re not handing over anything personal like a Social Security number or your bank account information.

“It’s easy if you’re sophisticated enough and organized enough to use it correctly,” said George W. Smith, a certified public account in Southfield. “Do I like and support it? Yes, definitely.”

Some tax experts say they’d view the new estimator as a much more helpful tool than previous online calculators at www.irs.gov.

“It’s user-friendly and takes a more comprehensive look at a person’s overall tax picture,” said Patricia A. Bojanic, a certified public accountant at Gordon Advisors in Troy, Mich.

One highlight: A married couple has a simpler time taking into account the wages, as well as the taxes being withheld, for both spouses.

“If used with the right information, it should result in much more accurate withholding,” Bojanic said.

Maybe it won’t turn out exactly on the money—but even if you make a good faith effort, things could turn out far better than if you simply kicked next year’s tax return down the road and totally ignored the potential problems.

©2019 Detroit Free Press
Visit Detroit Free Press at www.freep.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

The post Now, a New Way to Estimate Next Year’s Tax Refund appeared first on RISMedia.

Categories: Real Estate

5 Things Retirees Should Do With Their Credit

August 21, 2019 - 3:39pm

(TNS)—Whether or not you’re one of the 147 million consumers affected by the 2017 Equifax data breach—which resulted in a Federal Trade Commission settlement of up to $700 million—retirees need to stay vigilant about their credit profiles, experts say.

That may seem counterintuitive, particularly to those who pay off their homes, cars and other debt by the time retirement is on the horizon. Retirement itself, in fact, doesn’t hurt a credit score directly.

But the absence of credit can, indeed, torpedo a pristine credit score because payment history over the past two years—or the lack thereof—is the biggest determinant of a credit score. The length of credit history, where most retirees can really shine, carries less than half the weight of the overall payment record.

And a credit score dive can be trouble, even for retirees.

“It’s an important tool to have available and to protect,” said Rod Griffin, director of Public Education for Experian, one of the three major credit-reporting agencies.

A later-life move, purchases of items like cars, cell phones or insurance, even an application for a reverse mortgage may require a strong credit score. What to do?

Consider these five moves:

Leverage the positive. Retirees who’ve experienced a dip in their credit scores could be ideal candidates for Experian Boost, a program that lets consumers give the agency a look into their checking accounts to verify positive track records on paying utility and cell phone bills.

Two-thirds of the customers who try the Boost program see a rise in their scores, Griffin said, with an average increase of 12 points. Note that it can’t negate bad credit behavior; it simply can help consumers with thin credit records beef up their profiles.

“When you think about people heading into retirement, if they are adding recurring on-time utility payments, that could help maintain activity” on their reports, he said. The program is most helpful for people who started with scores below 680. (Scores range from 300 to 850.)

Embrace the freeze. If you’re retired and don’t plan to move or buy a car in the near term, this may be a good time to put a freeze on your credit with the three main bureaus, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. If you do this, creditors can’t access your information until you remove the freeze with a PIN number. So, keep that number in a safe place. For a fee, the bureaus offer a credit lock, which can be removed without a PIN, but may not carry all the protections of a true freeze.

Clean up. A lot of credit experts tell consumers never to close credit accounts because it can hurt scores, but Griffin says any dip is typically short-lived.

“If you close an account your scores will dip, but they usually recover within two or three months,” he said. If you’re not planning to buy a house or a car in the next six months, cleaning up orphan accounts may be a good idea now, he said.

Be ready. If you’re thinking about a reverse mortgage, where a lender provides funds to homeowners 62 and older that are tied to home equity, be aware that your credit history is now part of the equation. Since 2015, these lenders have been required to assess whether a borrower has the ability to continue making home improvements and tax payments on the property, and credit reports are a key part of the equation.

Check for a windfall. If you want to check your potential eligibility to claim part of the Equifax settlement, go here: https://eligibility.equifaxbreachsettlement.com/en/eligibility. To file a claim, go here: https://www.equifaxbreachsettlement.com/file-a-claim.

“You should always be diligent about managing your credit history,” Griffin said. “It can affect a wide range of financial transactions and you want it to be there to work for you when it is needed.”

©2019 Tribune Content Agency
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

The post 5 Things Retirees Should Do With Their Credit appeared first on RISMedia.

Categories: Real Estate

If You’re a Homebuyer, Pay Attention to Which Grocery Stores Are Nearby

August 18, 2019 - 1:02pm

(TNS)—The old real estate adage of “location, location, location” could be changed to “Trader Joe’s, Trader Joe’s, Trader Joe’s,” if recent analysis is any indication. A report by ATTOM Data looked at how home values were affected by proximity to different grocery stores, and the results are eye-opening.

It turns out that if Trader Joe’s is nearby, your house might be worth more than if it were close to other grocery chains. The average return on investment, or ROI, for Trader Joe’s-adjacent homes is 51 percent, 10 percentage points more than the runner-up, Whole Foods (41 percent), and almost 20 percentage points more than Aldi (34 percent).

The results were based on an analysis of 1,859 zip codes with at least one of each of these grocery stores: Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Aldi. ATTOM, a property data company, looked at current average home values from 2014 to 2019, current average home equity, home seller profits and home-flipping rates to learn whether these stores had any impact on equity, home-flipping returns and price appreciation.

Homeowners near the famous “Two-Buck Chuck” retailer, i.e., Trader Joe’s, also had more equity in their homes, with an average of 37 percent ($247,445). The runners-up were Whole Foods with 31 percent ($187,035) and Aldi with an average 20 percent equity ($53,650).

Aldi came in first place in the gross flipping ROI contest, however, with an average of 61 percent—almost double the second-place store, Whole Foods, which had a 35 percent ROI, trailed by Trader Joe’s with a 31 percent ROI.

Aldi also had the best five-year price appreciation: 42 percent, more than 10 percentage points ahead of Trader Joe’s, which had 33 percent. Whole Foods came in last place with an average five-year, home-price appreciation of 31 percent.

What Your House Is Near Today Might Predict Its Value Later
A popular grocery store is not the only neighborhood amenity that can increase your home’s value, according to experts.

Where you live can impact your investment as much—or even more—as your actual house, so it’s important to know what makes a location desirable, says James Marshall, director of Real Estate Analytics Products at Clear Capital.

Clear Capital’s automated valuation model, called ClearAVM, uses machine learning to predict the values of residential properties across the U.S. One of its findings is that desirable locations can predict home values.

“When we overlay points of interest (like transit, shopping and amenities) on top of prices, we see trends in the distance to these features,” Marshall says. “In urban areas, ClearAVM has found that access to public transit has a large correlation with higher property prices. We have found the same with access to restaurants, coffee shops and groceries in urban and suburban areas.”

While different folks will place more or less value on certain things—one person might love their craft brewery neighbor while another would prefer a yoga studio—there are universally positive (and negative) elements, says Chris Hunt, chief appraiser at Clear Capital.

Some of the positive location amenities that can impact home values and equity include high-ranking schools, hospitals, shopping centers, green spaces and being near the waterfront (think oceans and lakes), as well as access to highways and main thoroughfares.

Negative location markers include things like high-traffic and high-noise areas, crowded commercial properties, high-tension power lines or other utility easements, a poorly maintained home or neighborhood, and not being near the appealing attractions mentioned earlier, Hunt says.

Scope Out the Location Before You Buy the Home
Since buying a home is a major decision that can have serious financial consequences, both good and bad, buyers should think beyond the four walls. A solid investment strategy includes looking at the home’s surrounding location.

Whether you plan to sell your house in a few years or stay put for a lifetime, location will have a bearing on both your wallet and long-term satisfaction.

Take the time to get to know the neighborhood. Do people tend to stay, or is there a lot of turnover in sales? It’s important to get an idea of how a neighborhood might age based on community involvement, how long businesses have stayed there and what locals have to say.

“The beneficial amenities listed previously are those that, over time, tend to hold up as positively, adding to the home’s appeal and overall value impact in the market,” Hunt says. “That said, as neighborhoods mature and homes trade in the market, amenities and influences change, as well.”

Buyers should also consider where they’re buying in order to measure the long-term impacts of certain amenities. For instance, in urban areas, transportation is king, Marshall says. Likewise, in coastal markets, the distance to water is the largest driver of desirability.

“On a more micro level, a property that backs up to green space or has a slight view can fluctuate values on homes that may be next to each other,” Marshall points out.

©2019 Bankrate.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

The post If You’re a Homebuyer, Pay Attention to Which Grocery Stores Are Nearby appeared first on RISMedia.

Categories: Real Estate

These Are the Biggest Mistakes People Make With Social Security

August 13, 2019 - 4:02pm

(TNS)—Navigating Social Security can be cumbersome, to say the least. Even basic questions such as when you should retire can come to take on an immense and sometimes desperate tone as you try to make a decision that doesn’t screw up your retirement beyond repair.

Bankrate spoke with some experts to get their take on some of the biggest mistakes you can make with Social Security. Here’s what you should try to avoid doing as you navigate Social Security’s labyrinth.

Stick to a One-Size-Fits-All Strategy
The biggest mistake people make is “they do a quick Google search and take information that is meant to be very much at the macro level, and thus not individualized,” says Daniel Milan, managing partner of Cornerstone Financial Services. Often, they “fail to take into account their own household budget, financial needs and outside investment income.”

Since life situations can be different, it’s necessary to have a personalized approach that helps you optimize your retirement. And Social Security is not a “one-size-fits-all” experience. Social Security is complex. While that’s partly by design to help as many people as possible, it still creates a lot of headaches for those nearing retirement. While many retirees have a straightforward experience, others need and can receive specialized aid from the program.

“There are so many different strategies that exist when it comes to collecting benefits, and so many variables to consider, that listening to advice painted with a broad brush can prove to be detrimental,” says Cory Bittner, co-founder and COO of Falcon Wealth Advisors.

“Creating a financial plan and understanding the inner workings of it should be a prerequisite before making the decision to file to collect benefits,” says Bittner. He suggests people look for a financial adviser who is a fiduciary and is experienced at planning for retirement.

Misunderstanding How Much Money You’ll Receive
If you’ve been working and contributing to the Social Security fund, then you’ve likely received a statement of benefits, an estimate of what you might likely receive in the future. But that figure can be misleading in several ways, and you need to understand what’s driving the estimate.

“People see their statements, the dollar amount that is listed on the front, and assume that’s what they will start receiving monthly whenever they begin filing for their benefits,” says Bittner.

“However, the amount reflected on the front page of a Social Security statement is typically the amount someone will receive if they wait until their full retirement age to begin collecting benefits, and it assumes they work until that age and contribute to Social Security,” he says.

So if you stop working immediately at the earliest age to collect your benefits and don’t wait, don’t expect the full amount. In addition, this dollar amount is pre-tax, so you’ll have to figure how much tax will be stripped from your monthly check before you actually receive it.

As you’re planning your retirement budget, you’ll need to carefully assess how much money will actually make its way into your pocket.

Assuming Social Security Will Fully Cover Your Expenses
After a lifetime of working, many people assume that Social Security will meet their needs when they can no longer clock in. But unless your budget is minimal, that probably won’t be the case.

“The biggest mistake people make is thinking Social Security will be sufficient to retire on without also cutting one’s standard of living significantly,” says Ryan McMaken, economist and fellow at the Mises Institute, an economics think tank.

“If they try to fund their entire retirement on Social Security, they’re going to quickly find they’ll need to downsize in terms of housing and also in transportation and entertainment,” he says.

“Social Security is only designed to replace about 40 percent of your income,” says Tony Drake, a CFP and founder of Drake & Associates. “Most people will need at least 80 percent of their pre-retirement income to maintain the lifestyle they want in retirement.”

And with all that free time in retirement, you may be inclined to increase your spending well beyond that 80 percent level, Drake suggests. Healthcare is another expense that may consume a much larger portion of retirees’ budgets than they initially suspect.

So with the limited nature of Social Security, retirees who want to live large in their golden years must make sure that they have other sources of income. Many workers turn to their company’s 401(k) plan, but many other attractive options exist to fund retirement.

Not Making Extra Preparations, as a Woman
For a variety of reasons, women need to be extra prepared when planning for retirement. Women typically earn less than men over their working careers, and studies have shown that women have longer lifespans on average compared to men, leaving many widows with substantial financial needs, for example.

“While Social Security benefits are neutral when it comes to gender, there are many factors that women need to consider with regard to their benefits,” says Mary Ann Ferreira, a certified financial planner at Viridian Advisors.

“Women who work outside the home typically miss an average of 11.5 years of employment due to childcare and care of elderly parents.” She also notes the substantial gender pay gap.

And those lower lifetime earnings carry on into retirement, with smaller retirement accounts and a lower Social Security payout.

She sees many women working longer and saving more in order to cope with the challenge. “Many women are considering retiring at 70 rather than the full retirement age of 66 or 67. In doing so, they may boost their Social Security benefits by as much as 24 percent,” she says.

In addition to spousal support benefits that surviving spouses may receive, divorcees may also receive benefits.

“I find that women typically forget that they are eligible for divorced spousal and survivor benefits if they were married for over 10 years,” says John Foxworthy, director of Financial Planning at Foxworthy Wealth Advisors. “If they have been divorced for more than two years, the ex-spouse doesn’t even need to file in order to receive the divorced spouse benefit.”

Foxworthy says that the ex-spouse is not notified of the benefits election, so “there is no need to worry about a long-lost ex-spouse finding out that you are taking benefits on their record.”

Taking Social Security at the Wrong Time
And the question that keeps soon-to-be retirees up at night: When should they take their benefits? That depends heavily on their unique situation, but one of the biggest blunders is even simpler: failing to calculate what the best option is.

“The biggest mistake that I see most regularly is when people elect their benefits without doing the math first,” says Foxworthy. “There really isn’t a ‘do-over’ when it comes to Social Security, and the vast majority of people are leaving money on the table.”

Foxworthy details a situation involving a married couple, both of whom turned 62 years old and were planning on filing for benefits immediately. “We ran an analysis and uncovered a strategy to elect benefits that will get them $221,000 more over their lifetime,” he says. “That much money can have a significant impact on their retirement picture.”

Retirees who can go a few extra years without claiming their benefits can continue contributing to the program and increase their benefits at the same time.

“Claiming Social Security too soon is one of the most common mistakes we see,” says Drake. “Although 62 is the earliest and most popular age to claim your benefits, your monthly check will be permanently reduced by about 25 percent or more.”

To get your full benefit, you have to wait until full retirement age, between 66 and 67, he says.

But there’s potential for more. “There’s an added benefit to waiting to claim after you hit full retirement age. Your benefit increases by as much as 8 percent each year until you reach age 70.”

Bottom Line
Because Social Security is so complex, it’s tough to navigate, maximize your benefits or even just figure out where to begin. Even if you don’t quite maximize your payouts, it’s beneficial to know the mistakes to avoid. Most notably, you’ll want to know how much money you’ll receive and develop personalized strategies—perhaps with a financial adviser—that best fit your needs. 

©2019 Bankrate.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

The post These Are the Biggest Mistakes People Make With Social Security appeared first on RISMedia.

Categories: Real Estate

Home Improvement, Construction Issues Top List of Worst Complaints in 2018

August 6, 2019 - 4:29pm

(TNS)—Problems with home improvement and new-home construction topped the list of worst complaints received last year, according to a new report from the Consumer Federation of America.

The 2018 Consumer Complaint Survey Report looked at information related to 1.1 million complaints from agencies in 21 states. Home improvement and construction issues generated the second-most complaints in 2018, behind trouble related to vehicles.

The CFA asked the 35 state and local consumer agencies that participated in the report what they considered to be the worst complaints characterized by the volume of complaints, the financial cost to consumers, the impact on vulnerable consumers or the “sheer outrageousness” of the reports. Home improvement and construction issues rose to the top of the list.

Consumers can end up spending tens of thousands of dollars to rectify issues they encounter during a new-home build or remodeling project. And those expenses can lead to big headaches.

“The financial loss that consumers suffer when they pay for work that is shoddy, incomplete or never performed is bad enough, but these problems can also make their homes unlivable and cause emotional distress,” according to the report.

Top 10 U.S. Consumer Complaints by Topic 

  1. Auto: Misrepresentations in advertising or sales of new and used cars; lemons; faulty repairs; auto leasing; rentals; and towing disputes.
  1. Home improvement/construction: Shoddy work; and failure to start or complete the job.
  1. Retail sales: False advertising and other deceptive practices; defective merchandise; problems with rebates, coupons, gift cards and gift certificates; and failure to deliver.
  1. Services: Misrepresentations; shoddy work; failure to have required licenses; and failure to perform.
  1. (Tie) Landlord/tenant: Unhealthy or unsafe conditions; failure to make repairs or provide promised amenities; deposit and rent disputes; and illegal eviction tactics.

Utilities: Complaints about gas, electric, water and cable billing and service.

  1. Health products/services: Misleading claims; unlicensed practitioners; failure to deliver; and medical billing issues.
  1. (Tie) Credit/debt: Billing and fee disputes; mortgage modifications and mortgage-related fraud; credit repair; debt relief services; predatory lending; and illegal or abusive debt collection tactics.

Communications: Misleading offers; installation issues; service problems; and billing disputes with telephone and internet services.

  1. Internet sales: Misrepresentations or other deceptive practices; and failure to deliver online purchases.
  1. Home solicitations: Misrepresentations; abusive sales practices; failure to deliver in door-to-door, telemarketing or mail solicitations; and do-not-call violations
  1. (Tie) Household goods: Misrepresentations; failure to deliver; and faulty repairs in connection with furniture or appliances.

Fraud: Bogus sweepstakes and lotteries; work-at-home schemes; grant offers; fake check scams; and imposter scams and other common frauds.

Worst Complaints in 2018 

  1. Home improvement/construction: Shoddy work; and failure to start or complete the job.
  1. Services: Misrepresentations; shoddy work; failure to have required licenses; and failure to perform.
  1. Fraud: Bogus sweepstakes and lotteries; work-at-home schemes; grant offers; fake check scams; and imposter scams and other common frauds.

Complaints Related to Home Improvement and Construction
“Home improvement and construction have always been in the top three of our survey,” says Susan Grant, director of Consumer Protection and Privacy at CFA, adding “that is because, along with auto sales, these are very expensive transactions, and if something goes wrong, consumers are more likely to complain than if their toaster breaks down or they have some other minor problem.”

Home remodeling and improvement activity has increased in recent years, creating more potential for consumers to run into problems. Mortgage rates have also fallen in recent months, which means homebuyers and homeowners who want to refinance might save on monthly interest payments.

“It’s hard to say what will affect the rate of home improvement,” Grant says. “Certainly, low-interest rates puts more money in consumers’ pockets to do home improvements, as well as programs like PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) which provide easily attainable loans for consumers to do certain kinds of energy-efficient home improvements.”

Rising home equity can also spur homeowners into renovating their homes. Home prices have boosted American’s overall home equity to record-setting levels in recent years. Some buyers tap into that equity with a home equity loan or home equity line of credit to pay for major remodeling projects or home repairs.

“One of the lessons in the report is if you are taking any kind of home improvement loan that involves a lien on your property, you need to understand what that means and the ramifications of it if you want to sell your home,” Grant says.

Tips for Home Improvement and Construction
The Federal Trade Commission offers advice on how to avoid home improvement scams, including how to find a competent and reliable contractor for your project. Some states, such as Florida and California, require general contractors to be licensed.

“For a big, expensive investment like home improvement or construction, it’s vital to find out what the applicable requirements are before you hire a contractor,” Grant says. “Make sure your contractor has complied with them; that way you’ll be better protected if something goes wrong and, hopefully, it will be less likely that something goes wrong.”

In addition to familiarizing yourself with the rules for your home project, CFA recommends you pay a smaller initial deposit when you hire a contractor for home improvement work. Plus, make sure you get a written contract that sets out the scope of work, the project timeline and payment schedule.

“Never pay the full amount for home improvement work until the job is done. You have no leverage if the work is incomplete or unsatisfactory,” the report states. “If the contractor’s work doesn’t look right to you, hold off on making the final payment until you resolve the issue.”

If a contractor fails to finish a job or does shoddy work, CFA suggests keeping notes of your communication and taking photos to document the situation. You can ask your state or local consumer protection agency for advice. 

©2019 Bankrate.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

The post Home Improvement, Construction Issues Top List of Worst Complaints in 2018 appeared first on RISMedia.

Categories: Real Estate

Survey: Real Estate Is Back as Americans’ Favorite Long-Term Investment

August 4, 2019 - 1:03pm

(TNS)—Stocks have long been the most glamorous of the major asset classes. Many a Hollywood film has centered around making fast money in the stock market, and becoming a Wall Street big shot.

But despite their great long-term returns—they’ve averaged about 10 percent annually for decades—stocks are no longer Americans’ favorite long-term investment. What is? According to a nationwide Bankrate survey, it’s real estate.

Years after a housing crash that left the economy hurting, many Americans still see real estate as their top pick. Some 31 percent of survey respondents named real estate as their favored investment for money that they wouldn’t need for 10 years or more. It’s the best showing for real estate in the seven years that Bankrate has conducted the survey.

In 2018, stocks were the most popular investment. But this year they ran a distant second, with 20 percent of respondents naming stocks their top pick for holding periods of more than a decade.

Cash investments, such as savings accounts and CDs, finished third at 19 percent, while gold and other precious metals earned 11 percent. Americans picked bonds as their top long-term investment 7 percent of the time, while bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies were favored by 4 percent. Meanwhile, 5 percent of respondents said that none of these options were the best way to invest.

Millennials Are Most Drawn to Real Estate Investing
While some commentators have bemoaned the fact that millennials seem unwilling to buy housing, it’s not for lack of desire. Millennials in total scored the highest (36 percent) among all age groups in their preference for real estate as a long-term investment.

While millennials might be the most drawn to property, real estate still remained the most popular investment among all generations, from millennials to Generation X (31 percent), as well as baby boomers (30 percent) and the Silent Generation (23 percent).

“Millennials are higher on real estate than any other age group, have cooled a bit on cash, and still aren’t keen on the stock market when investing for more than 10 years,” says Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate chief financial analyst.

Strikingly, the preference for real estate is virtually identical in all four income categories surveyed by Bankrate. Between 32-34 percent of the time it was the top investment choice for those who reported earning more than $75,000 per year; between $50,000 and $75,000; between $30,000 and $50,000; as well as less than $30,000.

Home—or least, real estate—is where the heart is for Americans.

Stocks More Popular Among Higher Earners
While real estate outdistanced stocks in each age and income demographic, stocks were more popular with higher earners compared to those with lower incomes. In fact, stocks were two and almost three times as popular with the highest income groups in the Bankrate survey.

For the two groups with incomes of at least $50,000, stocks were their top pick 28 percent and 29 percent of the time, just behind real estate. For the two groups earning less than $50,000 annually, stocks were their top pick only 15 percent and 11 percent of the time. In fact, the higher a respondent’s earnings, the more likely the choice of their favored investment was stocks.

Meanwhile, lower-income households showed a higher preference for cash investments such as savings accounts and CDs (22 percent), as well as for gold and other precious metals (12 to 17 percent).

Cryptocurrency Most Popular Among Younger Investors
One notable result, though perhaps not surprising, is the extent to which younger generations prefer bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

Millennials picked cryptocurrencies as their top long-term investment about 9 percent of the time—about triple the rate of Generation X. Earlier generations had negligible numbers of respondents selecting virtual currency as their top choice.

While many investors have written off cryptocurrencies, one of the world’s largest companies is setting up a project that may disrupt some more traditional payment networks. Social media giant Facebook is in the process of creating a virtual currency called Libra that may potentially be cheaper than traditional payment services.

Declining Interest Rates May Not Affect Investing Decisions
At press time, the Federal Reserve had hinted that it may be open to cutting interest rates, and investors had been nearly unanimous in expecting a rate cut in recent weeks. With that as a backdrop, the survey also questioned Americans about how the expected decrease in U.S. interest rates would play into their investment decisions.

The surprising result is that declining rates would appear to have little effect at all. Declining rates are not likely to move them to invest in the stock market, borrow money or put money into savings accounts or CDs, say respondents.

“A Fed interest rate cut is unlikely to influence how consumers manage their finances,” says McBride. “Only a minority of Americans say they would save more, invest more or borrow more as a result.”

For example, just 40 percent of respondents said they would be more likely to move money into cash investments such as savings accounts and CDs in response to declining rates. Only 26 percent said they would be more likely to borrow more money in response to falling rates. Meanwhile, just 33 percent of respondents said they were likely to invest in the stock market as rates fell.

But the responses varied by income level. For example, households earning less than $50,000 were more likely (37 to 49 percent) than high-income households (31 to 33 percent) to move money into bank products as rates fell. The lower the income, the more likely the respondent was to move assets into the bank.

What Should Investors Do to Meet Their Goals?
While a person should choose the investment that works best for their own individual situation, there are smart ways of accomplishing your goals regardless of what you choose: stocks, bank accounts, bonds or something else entirely.

If you’re moving your assets to a bank, then it makes sense to find a bank that offers higher yields. An online bank can offer many of the benefits of a brick-and-mortar rival, while still paying much higher interest rates.

Similarly, if you’re looking to move into stocks, you should consider a broker that meets your needs, not necessarily the cheapest or the flashiest. For example, many brokers offer research and education, including research reports, that help when making investment decisions.

©2019 Bankrate.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

The post Survey: Real Estate Is Back as Americans’ Favorite Long-Term Investment appeared first on RISMedia.

Categories: Real Estate

New Home Trends: Dome Lights, ‘Maximalism’ and More

July 30, 2019 - 4:28pm

So you’re all fired up to make some changes around the house this season? Good! In the following rundown, you’ll hear from a bunch of worthy experts pointing to some of the hottest design and decorating trends that everybody will be gabbing about.

Gabrielle Savoie at MyDomaine.com says you’ll have the coolest place on the block when you light up your guests with retro dome or mushroom lamps. Maybe match that with a hot new plinth table. Savoie says coupled with the recent hype over colored marble and other stone finishes, these low and heavy tables are expected to have a moment in 2019.

The folks at DecorAid.com say 2019 is ushering in a return to “maximalism”—a natural evolution from the more minimalist design trends over the past few seasons. They say maximalism provides even experimental decorators much more freedom to follow their instinct. The key to getting maximalism right, Decor Aid says, is to maintain a well-judged edit and visual consistency so your efforts don’t appear as heavy-handed or overstimulating. Instead, stick to no more than three contrasting colors, patterns and finishes for a more timeless take on maximalism that won’t feel dated.

At ElleDecor.com, Lucia Tonelli rounded up a slew of tips from her deck of design sources:

Warm Colors – Katharine Pooley of Katharine Pooley London says colors she is seeing for 2019 are blush, dusty pink and bronze—warm colors and feminine tones for the walls and dashes of soft pinks to break up expanses of taupe or neutrals will instantly update a tired room.

Florals – Erin Gates of Erin Gates Design touts the traditional beauty of floral patterns, either abstracted or straight-up chintz, according to Tonelli.

Graphics – Amy Sklar of Sklar Design is gravitating toward making a little more impact in kitchens with bolder color choices or graphic tiles with a lot more pop and punch.

Spa Vibes – Kesha Franklin of Halden Interiors reports with relief that the spa-inspired bathroom trend has officially returned. These days, she says it’s all about bold, dark, sultry bathroom designs that evoke an indulgent high-end experience, Tonelli reports.

If you’re going DIY with a project, do your research and learn how these and other top designers are advising their own clients to embrace these trends.

John Voket is a contributing editor to RISMedia.

The post New Home Trends: Dome Lights, ‘Maximalism’ and More appeared first on RISMedia.

Categories: Real Estate

Putting $0 Down on a Home Was Big Right Before the Housing Crisis—It’s Getting Popular Again

July 25, 2019 - 3:00pm

(TNS)—More Americans are taking out zero-down loans to buy a home, but not at the rate or with the risk that helped bring on the U.S. recession a decade ago.

Experts say zero-down programs, through which people can purchase a house without a down payment, have become more popular since the 2008 housing crisis, creating an easier path to homeownership but posing risks if the market takes an unexpected downturn.

“We didn’t have to put $30,000 down on a house, but you still get the house you want,” says Christina Martinez, whose family bought a home in Kissimmee, Fla., a few months ago with a zero-down loan through Veterans Affairs. “We could have put (something) down, but since we didn’t have to, we just didn’t.”

In April, zero-down payment loans accounted for 3.6 percent of loans nationally, according to data from realtor.com®, compared with 2 percent nationally in 2008 when they hit a low.

But zero-down loans are still nowhere near as popular as they were pre-recession, when they made up 12.7 percent of loans nationally.

“As people have recovered, now banks are becoming a little bit looser with their lending standards,” says Jason Martin, a financial adviser with Allgen Financial.

Economists say it’s a relatively safe time to use zero-down programs, as home values continue to rise and the labor market remains strong. But some urged caution, pointing out the programs usually have high interest rates and high monthly mortgage payments.

In the past year, home values in the United States have shot up 5.2 percent, and Zillow predicts they will rise another 2.2 percent within the next year.

Martin says typically people who can’t afford to save enough for a down payment are not ready to buy a home, and most people who lost their homes in 2008 were those who put little down.

If the home’s value drops, buyers wind up owing more than the houses are worth.

“Why take the risk? You don’t want to get yourself into a position where, if the market does top, you’re way underwater on your home,” Martin says. “It’s very dangerous for someone to buy a home when they’re not ready to buy a home.”

Stacy Luna, a lender with Atlantic Bay Mortgage Group, says buyers who don’t make much of a down payment are more likely to lose their homes to their lenders.

“Unfortunately, what we do find with people with less skin in the game, those are the people who end up in foreclosure,” Luna says. “Maybe they lose their job, or maybe they had a roommate and now the roommate’s gone, something breaks on the house. All they know is I only had $1,000 in it so why should I stay?”

Some experts say the zero-down programs themselves are much safer than in the early 2000s, when applicants in some cases didn’t even have to prove income.

The most popular zero-down loans are for former military through the Veterans Affairs and people living in rural areas through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Federal Housing Commission requires buyers to put 3 percent down.

“We certainly are not back in the freewheeling days of 2006 where anyone could get a half-million dollar mortgage,” says University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith. “Availability to mortgage credit was beyond easy.”

For Dana Signore, a single mother who recently bought a house in Clermont, Fla., the only way she could afford to buy a home was if she didn’t put anything down. She qualified for a zero-down loan through the USDA for her $230,000 home.

“That was really the only option,” Signore says. “The money wasn’t there.”

If her clients qualify and are comfortable with the monthly mortgage payments, Annie Amalfitano, a manager and loan originator for Motto Mortgage Exclusive, encourages them to utilize the VA and USDA programs. It’s better than renting, she says.

“Why would you pay $1,200, $1,500, $1,600 a month…when you can get into a home for that much? Why would you?” Amalfitano says. “You’re just lining somebody else’s pockets and you’re not building any equity yourself. Your rent is going out the window.”

©2019 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)
Visit The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) at www.OrlandoSentinel.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

The post Putting $0 Down on a Home Was Big Right Before the Housing Crisis—It’s Getting Popular Again appeared first on RISMedia.

Categories: Real Estate

Concerned About Climate Change? Plant a Victory Garden

July 23, 2019 - 4:19pm

(TNS)—Catherine McDonnell-Forney has been growing food at her Minneapolis home for the entire decade that she’s lived there. But now she tends a registered Climate Victory Garden.

“Climate change is one of the top issues for me,” she said. “It affects all of us, and our ability to live happy, healthy lives. One way we can help is growing our own food and making healthier soil.”

Last year, she saw an online ad for the Climate Victory Garden initiative developed by Green America, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit. On its website, a YouTube video starring fashion designer/”Gangsta Gardener” Ron Finley and actress Rosario Dawson outlines basic steps for regenerative gardening that restores soil and captures carbon, including “Ditch Chemicals,” “Keep Soil Covered,” “Encourage Biodiversity,” “Grow Food” and “Compost.”

“I was totally sucked in,” said McDonnell-Forney. “It’s a positive call-to-action, presented in a way to get more people on board and excited—not doom and gloom.”

At 39, she’s too young to remember the original Victory Gardens, part of the war effort during World War I and II. “But my dad remembers that his parents had a Victory Garden,” she said.

During those conflicts, food was rationed. In addition, labor and transportation shortages made it more difficult to harvest and move fruits and vegetables to market. So the government encouraged citizens to plant “Victory Gardens” to provide their own fruit and vegetables.

By 1944, nearly 20 million Americans had answered the call, planting gardens that produced 8 million tons of food that year alone. But when World War II ended, so did government promotion of Victory Gardens.

About a year and a half ago, Green America decided the time was ripe to reboot the concept, this time in service to planet Earth.

“We wanted a campaign that addressed the climate issue—using gardens as part of the solution,” said Jillian Semaan, food campaign director for Green America. “Bring them back but this time for the climate and the environment. People want to help but they don’t know how.”

The initiative offers gardeners a tool kit with step-by-step instructions for planting a Climate Victory Garden and 10 carbon-capturing practices. There’s also an online community where gardeners can swap information and advice.

So far, it’s a small community—413 people have registered their gardens nationwide, including 43 in Minnesota, according to Semaan.

“It would take a lot of people doing this to make a significant difference,” said Paula Westmoreland, owner of Ecological Design, Minneapolis and vice president of the Permaculture Institute of North America. “On the other hand, it’s important that people have tangible things they can do. It’s much better than just having a lawn. Gardens that sequester carbon are generally multifunctional and good for pollinators.”

Yard to Table
McDonnell-Forney, a Hennepin County, Minn., Master Gardener, was already growing fruits, vegetables and herbs at her home long before registering as a Climate Victory Garden.

When she and her husband, Nick Schroetter, bought the house 10 years ago, the yard was mostly lawn. Over the years they’ve replaced much of it with fruit trees, shrubs and native plants for pollinators in front. On their south-facing side yard, they’ve added five raised beds where they grow tomatoes, onions, garlic, lettuce, peas, beans, potatoes, peppers and squash.

Every year, she experiments with a few new crops. “I finally got asparagus to take—I’m very excited,” she said.

The couple also are trying their hand at growing mushrooms on inoculated logs, and have converted their backyard into a bee lawn, planted with a mixture of fescue, white clover and creeping thyme. “When I mow, it smells like thyme,” she said.

They produce enough food to put something homegrown on the table for just about every meal during the growing season, she said.

That’s good for their family (they have two young daughters) as well as the environment because they’re not shipping produce from across the country, and they know it’s healthy and organic.

“I could get E. coli from my own lettuce, but it’s much less likely,” she said.

As an experienced gardener, McDonnell-Forney views the Climate Victory Garden initiative as “permaculture lite—easily digestible stuff.”

But that’s important because many enthusiastic would-be gardeners lack know-how and are intimidated.

“A lot of us, like city kids, didn’t grow up growing our own vegetables,” she said. “It’s a skill that a lot of us have lost, one that’s important to learn.

“Gardening seems overwhelming to some people,” she added. “But it’s easier than people think it is. Plants just grow. It’s what they do.”

Her advice to newbies? “Start small. It’s really rewarding.”

©2019 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Visit the Star Tribune (Minneapolis) at www.startribune.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

The post Concerned About Climate Change? Plant a Victory Garden appeared first on RISMedia.

Categories: Real Estate

Consumers Lose Thousands to Fake Credit Repair Scheme

July 21, 2019 - 1:03pm

(TNS)—No doubt, it’s tempting to sign up for a “quick fix” to clean up your credit. Who wouldn’t want to instantly find a way to add 100 or more points to a credit score to qualify for a rewards-packed credit card? Or maybe, finally, qualify for a great deal on a car loan?

But the Federal Trade Commission and others are warning that any company that charges money in advance for credit repair is going against the law.

The federal Credit Repair Organizations Act, which was enacted in 1996, makes it illegal for credit repair companies to lie about what they can do to clear up a clouded credit report, or charge upfront fees before they do the job they promised to do.

Things can go really bad when consumers latch onto ridiculous claims, such as that somehow you can piggyback on a stranger’s good credit to shore up your credit history. Yes, there are even a string of YouTube videos to convince you this is brilliant idea. Some outfits have said things like: “From 620 to 780+ in 3 Weeks? Yes!”

The Federal Trade Commission took action in late June to stop an operator called Grand Teton Professionals that pitched fake credit repair services via various websites, including DeletionExpert.com, InquiryBusters.com and TopTradelines.com. The FTC complaint alleges the defendants bilked consumers out of $6.2 million. Since at least 2014, the FTC claimed, the company and its websites operated an unlawful credit repair scam that deceived consumers across the country.

Don’t Bet Negative Marks Will Disappear
The egregious claims included falsely promising that they could remove negative marks on a consumer’s credit report as well as extracting thousands of dollars in illegal advance fees, according to Gregory Ashe, senior staff attorney for the FTC in Washington, D.C.

Negative marks could be removed in the case of ID theft, he said, such as if someone opened a credit card using your Social Security number. But otherwise, a credit repair outfit cannot remove legitimate negative remarks. Various negative marks, such as a car repossession, would last seven years on your report and then fall off. You can, of course, dispute any errors on your own.

In addition, the websites actually went as far as including terms that would prohibit a consumer from making disparaging comments online about the companies. Somehow the consumer could face a $25,000 charge for making negative remarks.

Really? The threat alone, though, meant some consumers wouldn’t take a chance saying a negative word, according to regulators.

“It’s enough to chill a consumer who believes it means what it says,” Ashe said.

As a result, many consumers said they couldn’t find complaints online about the credit repair sites so they thought it was OK to send thousands of dollars, Ashe said.

Some consumers, though, did reach out and complain to the Better Business Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission and their state attorney general. Such data is gathered and monitored by the Consumer Sentinel Network, an online investigative tool of the FTC. And those complaints helped the FTC in its case.

Ashe said the hope is that others engaging in wrongful practices will take notice of the action against Grand Teton Professionals. (No one answered calls to the company last week. Only recorded music played on the line.)

Consumers Paid Thousands for Nothing
Having bad credit can mean that you aren’t able to take out a loan because lenders don’t want to deal with high-risk borrowers. And when consumers are in a bind, they don’t always think clearly when they see a possible quick fix to their troubles.

Complaints found on the Better Business Bureau site, for example, indicated that consumers paid anywhere from $1,100 to $4,000 to Top Tradelines to piggyback on someone’s credit card accounts to build their own credit history.

“For a fee, defendants offer to register consumers as ‘additional authorized users’ on one or several credit cards or line of credit accounts held by unrelated account holders with long-standing positive payment histories (a practice also known as ‘piggybacking’ credit),” the FTC said in its complaint.

We’re not talking here about the long practice of making a son or daughter an authorized user on a parent’s credit card. That’s a legitimate strategy for building credit. Instead, we’re talking about an outside company cooking up a deal that involves paying someone with great credit to give someone with bad credit a shot as being an authorized user to build up a credit history.

“They almost act like online companies that set up blind dates,” said John Ulzheimer, a credit expert who formerly worked for credit-scoring company FICO.

Like online dating, you’re not always talking about a happy ending, either.

“The reality is making the person an authorized user is a sham,” said the FTC’s Ashe.

The person with a low credit score is not truly an authorized user; they can’t charge anything on the card. So they would be artificially raising a score, not accurately reflecting their creditworthiness and actual ability to pay their bills, if it worked, he said. And it doesn’t always work in someone’s favor.

FICO has known about such shenanigans and long ago took steps to make sure that nefarious authorized user accounts would not have any or much impact on your credit score, Ulzheimer said.

Regular authorized user accounts—say between a parent and a child—would still have an impact, he said.

In general, consumers should limit authorized users on their credit cards to their family members or friends. And even then, Ulzheimer said, a significantly higher credit score isn’t guaranteed as a result for someone with less-than-perfect credit or a younger consumer with little credit history.

“It’s not going to turn FICO 500 into FICO 800,” Ulzheimer said.

Here’s a Legitimate Way to Build Credit
Ulzheimer said he built up his own credit history as a young man as an authorized user on his father’s credit card. And plenty of people do the same.

About 15 percent of consumers opened their earliest reported credit account with a co-borrower, according to June 2017 report called “Becoming Credit Visible” by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

“The credit records of an additional 9.6 percent of consumers were created when the consumer became an authorized user on someone else’s credit account,” the report stated.

Such data would imply that about one in four consumers first acquire their credit history from an account for which others were also responsible. But such usage is less common in lower-income neighborhoods, the report said.

Beware of Some Credit Tips on YouTube
Some pretty kooky claims are being made on YouTube these days, including videos on how consumers with great credit can make thousands of dollars just sitting around in an ugly recliner.

“I can actually make quite a bit of money every week by letting CreditCardCashFlow add people to my credit card,” says Charles from New York on one YouTube video.

The FTC complaint also pointed out that CreditCardCashFlow solicited consumers with long-standing, positive payment histories to add outsiders as authorized users to their accounts. The third party is not able to use the card to charge anything.

“Defendants offer to pay these account holders to add other consumers as authorized users to their accounts, including third parties who are not family members or otherwise in close personal relationship with the account holder,” the FTC complaint stated.

But someone with good credit could still be at risk if their information gets into the wrong hands and fraud is later involved. You’re also taking part in making false statements to lenders.

What Are the Signs of a Scam?
As with most questionable deals, there are many red flags when it comes to fixing your credit. Here are some to watch:

  • You’re asked to pay a fee upfront before any of your debts are settled. Or some outfits require that you pay fees masquerading as “contributions.” It’s illegal to require an upfront fee in order to fix your credit.
  • The so-called credit repair company tries to look like an official government program.
  • There are so-called guarantees to make the debt go away or improve your credit score.
  • There are promises that the company can erase your bad credit or remove information from your credit reports.

“The chances credit repair companies can do anything you couldn’t do on your own are very unlikely,” said Laura Blankenship, director of Marketing for the Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.

One huge problem: It’s not uncommon that the person ends up paying a hefty fee to the credit repair company—and then many still have bad credit or owe money for old loans once the company is unable to deliver its promises.

“Before signing any contracts, it’s important to look at the success rate of the company and research reviews online,” Blankenship said.

You also have the right to cancel your contract with any credit repair organization for any reason within three business days from the date you signed it. Remember, a credit repair organization cannot charge you until it has completed the promised services.

What Are Some Real Ways to Fix Your Credit?
Take time to rebuild your credit by paying bills on time, paying off debt and avoiding taking on new debt. Pay extra close attention to the limits on your credit cards and avoid charging more than 25 percent of the available line of credit on each card. This is true even if you pay off the bill each month.

Get a free copy of your credit report to review—and if necessary, dispute any mistakes. See www.annualcreditreport.com.

You can dispute inaccurate information on your own. You should not have to pay anyone to do this for you. It’s also possible to get a co-signer with good credit on a car loan to get a lower interest rate. Or you may want to see if your landlord will report rent payments to credit bureaus.

©2019 Detroit Free Press
Visit Detroit Free Press at www.freep.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

The post Consumers Lose Thousands to Fake Credit Repair Scheme appeared first on RISMedia.

Categories: Real Estate

The Best Places to Retire—No. 1 May Surprise You

July 10, 2019 - 4:04pm

A lot goes into your home and lifestyle in retirement—especially location.

For impending retirees, Nebraska ranks at the top, due to factors like safety and wellness, as well as affordability, according to Bankrate findings released this week.

To determine the nation’s prime retirement states, analysts at Bankrate considered cost of living (highly weighted), along with crime, culture, weather and wellness. Nebraska, at No. 1, had high marks in four of those five. (The exception? Weather.)

According to Bankrate, overall, the top 15 retirement states are:

  1. Nebraska
  2. Iowa
  3. Missouri
  4. South Dakota
  5. Florida
  6. Kentucky
  7. Kansas
  8. North Carolina
  9. Montana
  10. Hawaii
  11. Arkansas
  12. Wisconsin
  13. North Dakota
  14. Vermont
  15. New Hampshire

For affordability—a chief concern for retirees—the highest-ranked states are:

  1. Michigan (Tie)
  2. Missouri (Tie)
  3. Indiana
  4. Arkansas
  5. Ohio
  6. Mississippi
  7. Kansas
  8. Iowa
  9. Kentucky
  10. Alabama
  11. Oklahoma
  12. Tennessee
  13. North Carolina
  14. Nebraska
  15. Idaho

For the best living overall in retirement, the Midwest reigns supreme, with seven states in the top 15. If affordability is the deciding factor, however, both the Midwest and South score, with seven states each. While four states across the Northeast and West are represented in the top 15, when accounting for affordability, the Northeast vanishes, and Idaho is the sole state in the West.

“There are many factors to consider when deciding where to retire,” says Adrian Garcia, Bankrate.com data analyst. “Some people may choose to stay close to family, while others prefer to seek out warm weather or affordable living. It comes down to very personal preferences, so it’s important to weigh all factors and determine what is most important for your happiness.”

Suzanne De Vita is RISMedia’s online news editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at sdevita@rismedia.com.

The post The Best Places to Retire—No. 1 May Surprise You appeared first on RISMedia.

Categories: Real Estate

Nothing to Cry About: More Than a Third of Home Sellers Get Weepy Over the Deal

July 2, 2019 - 4:01pm

(TNS)—You’ve heard of seller’s remorse, but seller’s tears?

More than a third of people who’ve sold their homes say they have shed tears over the experience.

Consumers’ polled by Zillow rank peddling their properties as one of their most stressful events—along with getting fired or planning a big wedding.

Zillow quizzed home sellers about the process and found that 36 percent admitted sobbing over the experience. One in five of the people surveyed said they cried five times or more while unloading their property—boo hoo hoo.

“If you’ve ever sold a home before, you know how daunting the process can be,” Zillow’s Jeremy Wacksman said in the report. “Anticipating that stress can be a huge obstacle that keeps homeowners from moving on to the next stage of their lives.

“Our survey found more Americans were stressed over selling their home than planning a wedding, getting fired or becoming a parent.”

The home sellers insist it isn’t crocodile tears.

They say that uncertainty about their home’s sale price, worries that the property wouldn’t sell and pressure to fix up the homes triggered their weeping fits.

With home prices in most neighborhoods at record levels, it could be that some of the sellers were crying all the way to the bank.

Since 60 percent of the folks Zillow talked to were also buying another property, buyer jitters also added to their consternation.

©2019 The Dallas Morning News
Visit The Dallas Morning News at www.dallasnews.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

The post Nothing to Cry About: More Than a Third of Home Sellers Get Weepy Over the Deal appeared first on RISMedia.

Categories: Real Estate

By and Large a Positive Recovery, Homeowners Say

June 17, 2019 - 4:03pm

According to 66 percent of homeowners, their homes have recovered in value, and at a higher level than prior to recession—this, despite 46 percent who believe their homes were impacted negatively in that period, new research shows.

While there are adverse echoes of the recession today, in the housing market, many have been minimized, according to a Bankrate survey. In the aftermath of the crash, affordability has improved for 23 percent of respondents to the survey; only 11 percent are eschewing homeownership today.

Twenty-one percent, however, believe their homes have not recovered in worth—aligning with the 23 percent who believe their financial outlook overall has worsened. Despite the downturn, 29 percent of Americans have not changed their financial habits since.

“While the current economic expansion is on track to set a record for duration, there will be a downturn at some point. We just don’t know when,” says Mark Hamrick, senior economist analyst at Bankrate. “That’s why it is critically important for Americans to try to save now for emergencies and for retirement while paying down or paying off debt. Don’t wait to prepare until after it is too late, when a financial storm has already arrived.”

Bankrate conducted the survey with YouGov, with 2,740 adults participating.

Suzanne De Vita is RISMedia’s online news editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at sdevita@rismedia.com.

The post By and Large a Positive Recovery, Homeowners Say appeared first on RISMedia.

Categories: Real Estate

7 Sneaky Ways Restaurants Get You to Spend More

June 11, 2019 - 3:32pm

(TNS)—We’ve all been there: You go out to dinner with a set budget, having already decided what to order and set aside the perfect amount for a tip. Then, your bill comes at the end of the night and you’ve somehow spent way beyond your limit.

Don’t be too hard on yourself. There’s science behind persuading you to spend more. You can scope out the city’s best happy hour deal, take advantage of online coupons and even save on your first round of drinks at home, but restaurateurs and menu engineers have nearly perfected the psychology of making you spend money during a night out.

Here are some common tactics restaurants use to get patrons to fork over more cash.

  1. Menu Minimalism
    From eliminating dollar signs to adjusting font weights and kerning, there are all kinds of theories for what draws a buyer’s eye on a menu.

Ryan Gromfin, author, restaurateur and founder of TheRestaurantBoss.com, says the most successful menu designs, for restaurant owners, are those that make price the last thing you see.

“Bury the price in the text,” he says. “Put the price in the description, not in the header of each menu item.”

Because numbers tend to automatically look larger than letters, it also pays to reduce the font size of prices so your eye isn’t immediately drawn to them.

Menu engineering, from fonts and lettering to page layout, can influence your choice of meal, but tricking customers isn’t the objective.

“We’re not trying to deceive anyone; we’re not trying to make them solve riddles to figure out the price,” Gromfin says. “I just don’t want it to be the first thing they see. I want them to read a description and fall in love with an item and then see the price.”

  1. Server Enhancements
    Upselling isn’t exactly an industry secret, but it’s important to be aware of the tactic so you don’t catch yourself splurging on something you may not really want.

To encourage upselling, especially on one specific product or special, many restaurant managers will offer incentives for servers. This can include a cash bonus or other reward for the servers who sell the most of that particular item.

Gromfin says the most effective servers offer enhancements not just to pull more money from you, but to actually enhance your meal.

“This is giving people a better experience,” he says. “Don’t ask someone if they want avocado on their hamburger because it’s more expensive; ask if they want avocado on their hamburger because it’s a better hamburger with avocado.”

  1. Details, Details, Details
    The best servers know that adding flourishes to their description of specials can help upsell a guest, but the same holds true for menu designers. For your entree, would you prefer a “100% Angus beef burger on a golden brioche bun with melted American cheese, fresh green lettuce, juicy Roma tomatoes, caramelized onions and tangy, spicy secret sauce,” or simply a “cheeseburger”?

According to a study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, adding descriptive menu labels increased sales by 27 percent and also improved attitudes toward the food and restaurant itself and increased repatronage.

  1. Trojan Horse Menu Items
    Even the most mouth-watering descriptions can be more effective for profits when paired with what Gromfin calls a price juxtaposition or price decoy, which is the practice of “putting something that is artificially substantially more expensive than the rest of your menu and then putting something else directly under it that looks expensive on its own but isn’t when it’s next to the really expensive thing.”

When listed under a $30 steak, the $20 fish entree you were hesitant to order can suddenly seem more appealing to your wallet.

  1. Comfort and Concept
    Once you’ve finished a glass of wine and settled in under a restaurant’s low lighting and comfortable seats, you may be more open and receptive to spending extra time (and money) on your meal.

That comfort level is something that successful restaurants aim to provide their customers through every step in the process, from the moment you enter the restaurant until you leave.

“If I don’t feel comfortable, I’m not going to take a risk on a menu,” Gromfin says. “If I walk into a restaurant and there’s no energy and no vibe and the cashier is fumbling through his words, I’m instantly going into protective mode.”

Not only does your comfort mean more profit for the restaurant; it also means you get your money’s worth.

  1. Heavy-Handed Pouring
    Anytime your table orders a bottle—whether it’s wine or sparkling water—keep an eye on your server’s attentiveness. Excellent service is always a plus, but they likely want you to finish that first bottle as quickly as possible so they’ll have the chance to replace it before your meal arrives. This means a timely refill whenever your glass starts to drain.

The same applies to beer or cocktails, which are some of the most profitable items on the menu. The quicker you finish each glass, the more time a server has to sell you on another.

  1. Visible Desserts
    Dessert-savvy restaurant owners may leave dessert menus on the table for you to peruse throughout your dining experience or even have you walk past a dessert display before you reach your table.

As a result, you’re more likely to approach your experience with dessert in the back of your mind. Throughout your main meal, you’ll be more likely to save room so you can splurge on that strawberry cheesecake or apple crumble. There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself every now and then, but make sure you’re not impulse-buying something that may leave you unsatisfied later.

Gromfin says the real secret to any long-lasting and successful restaurant, both in terms of bringing in revenue and in encouraging repatronage, is exceeding expectations. Any good restaurateur knows that menu engineering and tricky tactics will go only so far if you leave unhappy.

If you have confidence in a restaurant and your expectations are exceeded each time, you’re going to feel better about spending more money. Just remember to be smart about the choices you make so you don’t spend the next two weeks after payday regretting that pricey entree or extra glass of wine.

©2019 Bankrate.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

The post 7 Sneaky Ways Restaurants Get You to Spend More appeared first on RISMedia.

Categories: Real Estate

Millennials Willing to Go Into Debt for Travel Experiences

June 10, 2019 - 4:06pm

(TNS)—People love traveling, whether it’s meant to get away and relax or to reconnect with family and loved ones. However, a new survey reveals that some people are so willing to travel even if it may hurt them financially.

The home-sharing platform Vrbo conducted a survey of American travelers with the help of Ipsos and found that millennials aren’t willing to put off their vacation, even if they can’t afford it.

“Forget what you thought about millennials traveling on a shoestring,” said Karen Fuller, senior director of Global Market Research at Vrbo. “Our results revealed that they are actually the most likely to go into debt for travel, which is consistent with the notion that millennials like to accumulate experiences, not things.”

Comparatively, only 27 percent of Gen Xers and 15 percent of baby boomers were willing to go into debt for travel.

As Fuller explained, millennials are focused on having experiences, rather than material things. This matches up with the survey findings that discovered that 45 percent of millennials will “travel purely for exploration in 2019.”

In terms of Gen X, 20 percent said they’ll travel for a special occasion this year, while 44 percent will travel for a milestone event such as a birthday or anniversary. Baby boomers are the least likely to travel for a hobby or activity such as hiking or skiing, compared to 23 percent of millennials.

©2019 Travelpulse
Visit Travelpulse at www.travelpulse.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

The post Millennials Willing to Go Into Debt for Travel Experiences appeared first on RISMedia.

Categories: Real Estate

Nearly 6 Million People Can Now Cut Their Mortgage Payments With Refinancing

June 9, 2019 - 1:02pm

(TNS)—The average interest for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages is nearing 4 percent again, ushering the way for millions more homeowners to save money by refinancing.

The recent drop in rates means that 5.9 million people can potentially save money by refinancing their existing home loans and securing a lower rate—two million more than last month, according to a recent report by Black Knight. The combined savings totals $1.6 billion, or an average of $271 per person per month.

The sharp drop in rates comes as a surprise, as most experts were betting that rates would be on the rise, says Mark Hamrick, Bankrate’s senior economic analyst. For borrowers, however, this is an unexpected gift.

“The fact that this swoon in rates has occurred as and when it has underscores the fact that accurately predicting the future of rates is difficult indeed. So, instead of trying to outsmart the market, go with what you know for certain, which is where rates are right now,” Hamrick advises. “Between the pace of the news cycle and economic developments, the environment can change with release of a single presidential tweet. In an uncertain environment, seize upon certainty where you can find it.”

Why Your Credit Score, Income and Debt Matter
Before you spend the time applying for a mortgage refinance, be sure you check your balance sheet and credit first. Applying for a refinance is similar to getting a mortgage in that lenders will consider your FICO score, debt-to-income ratio and employment history when evaluating your application. Your interest rate is a reflection of your financial situation, and banks tend to reward low-risk customers with better rates.

Borrowers want to aim for a credit score of over 740 and a loan-to-value ratio of 75 percent or under to nail down the best rates, says Melissa Cohn, executive vice president at Family First Funding LLC in Toms River, N.J. The income needed for a loan is dependent on the bank’s qualifications; for self-employed borrowers, additional proof of income may be required to meet loan prerequisites.

Homeowners who have improved their credit score since getting their original mortgage should see if refinancing makes sense for them. For every 20-point increase in credit scores, the interest drops about 0.125 percent. So, if someone had a 680 credit score and now has above a 760, this alone will improve their rate by about 0.5 percent, says Daniel M. Shlufman, Esq., mortgage banker at Classic Mortgage LLC in Maywood, N.J.

For folks who are hoping to lock in a better rate but are not currently financially ready to do so, create a financial game plan now for a better position down the road. This includes paying down debt and saving money for an emergency fund (so that credit cards are not the go-to in a pinch).

“Anyone who has owned a home for a modest period of time can attest that unexpected expenses are the rule, not the exception. In addition, life brings its own surprises and added expenses,” Hamrick says. “For young families, that might include the birth of a child and related added expenses. By boosting your own finances, effectively paying yourself, you’ll also be boosting your creditworthiness which can only help one achieve financial goals overall.”

The Best Scenarios for Refinancing
Falling rates might seem like a money windfall if you have a higher interest rate than what’s available today, but make sure refinancing bolsters your bottom line. Expensive lender fees can actually put you in the red if you decide to refinance and the savings don’t outweigh the expense.

Generally, you need a drop in the rates of 0.5 to 1 percent (depending on the monthly savings and the closing costs) to justify doing a refinance, Shlufman notes. The rule of thumb is that the savings should be enough to recoup the closing costs within about 18 months to make a refinance justifiable.

“If the closing costs are $3,600, you would need a savings of about $200 per month on the mortgage payment for a refinance to be worthwhile,” Shlufman says. “The larger the loan, the more likely a refinance will make sense, since most of the closing costs are fixed (e.g., appraisal fee, recording fees, etc.) while the monthly savings will be much greater.”

If You’re Paying PMI, Pay Attention
Refinancing also makes sense is if you have private mortgage insurance, or PMI, and the house value has increased so that there is equity of at least 20 percent. Refinancing into a lower rate not only shaves off interest costs, but also knocks out monthly PMI payments, which are typically 0.5 to 1 percent of the total loan on a yearly basis. For borrowers with a $200,000 mortgage and a PMI payment of 1 percent, for instance, that’s a savings of $2,000 per year or $167 per month.

FHA loan borrowers are another group that can potentially benefit from refinancing into a conventional loan. Since PMI is more expensive on FHA loans, those qualified borrowers might save a small mint by reducing or eliminating their FHA PMI and locking in a lower rate, Shlufman says.

Those who want to reduce their terms and go from a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage to a 15-year loan might be able to ax an additional 0.5 percent from the top, since 15-year loans usually have lower rates. That might also mean larger monthly payments, but overall less interest paid over the life of the loan. Adjustable-rate mortgage holders can also profit from dropping rates; the timing might be right to lock via a fixed-rate mortgage as rates continue to hover around the 4-percent mark.

Finally, folks hoping to tap their equity while reducing their interest rate can take advantage of cash-out refinances. These are low-interest loans that allow homeowners to borrow against their equity by replacing their existing mortgage with a new loan for a higher amount and receiving the balance in cash. These can be useful for people who want to make home improvements, as the interest is tax-deductible.

©2019 Bankrate.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

The post Nearly 6 Million People Can Now Cut Their Mortgage Payments With Refinancing appeared first on RISMedia.

Categories: Real Estate