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Conducting Disaster Drills at Home

April 30, 2015 12:27 am

More than half of American adults have not participated in a disaster drill or preparedness exercise at home, work or school in the past year, according to a recent FEMA survey. Further, less than half of respondents have taken steps to develop an emergency plan and discuss it with members of their household. With 80 percent of Americans living in counties that have been hit with weather-related disasters, preparation should not be ignored.

To practice disaster preparedness, FEMA recommends the following:
  • Sign up for local text alerts and warnings and download weather apps to your smartphone.
  • Develop an emergency communication plan for your family. This will help you be in touch if a disaster strikes and family members are in different locations.
  • Collect important documents and keep them in a safe place. This will help you evacuate without delay and get back on track after the disaster passes.
  • Gather emergency supplies. Pack a “go bag” to evacuate quickly and have supplies in the home to be safe without water or power.
Source: FEMA.gov

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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5 Improvements that Sell Your Home

April 30, 2015 12:27 am

(BPT) - The housing market has improved across much of the country, but homeowners thinking about listing their homes need to stay competitive to attract buyers. Buyers are looking for long-term homes, ones they want to stay in for years while raising their children or settling down and retiring.

To prepare your home for listing - or to simply enjoy it a few years longer – consider upgrading with one of these five home improvements that sell.

1. Update Your Front Door

Buyers will enter through the front door to view your home, so be sure to give them a good first impression. The front door sets the tone for your home's curb appeal, as well as its overall security. It signals to buyers how well the rest of the home is maintained. If your door is in good shape, you might just need to give it a fresh coat of paint or new hardware. If it's seen some wear and tear over the years, consider replacing it with a steel door.

2. Create a Bathroom Retreat
Buyers will take note of a less than stellar bathroom. If you have a guest or master bath that could use an update, take the opportunity to replace the flooring, add cushy rugs, paint the walls and add modern accessories. Faucets, showerheads, the mirror and even the toilet can all be upgraded with water-saving and stylish designs.

3. Upgrade the Most-Used Entry Point

While the front door gets open house traffic, the garage door is traditionally the most-used door in the home. Old wooden garage doors will start to sag and the paint will peel over time. Replacing this door with an insulated steel door will not only improve the exterior look of your home, but also keep the garage space warmer.

4. Showcase an Outdoor Lifestyle

Remodeling magazine estimates homeowners can recoup up to 80 percent of their investment when adding a deck to their home. You may not consider a deck addition similar to extra square footage inside your home, but that’s how buyers will see it, especially if selling during warmer months. They'll be able to picture themselves enjoying meals outside or curling up on a lounge chair with a good book on a summer afternoon.

To upgrade an existing deck into a show-stopping selling feature, consider using a color-treated wood so that future owners can enjoy the space without the annual chore of staining.

5. Transform the Backyard
Buyers will be visualizing themselves in your backyard when touring your home. Consider adding a beautiful wooden fence to enhance privacy, which will be an asset for families with children and pets.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Survey: Credit Reports Undervalued

April 29, 2015 1:12 am

In 2003, the government recognized the importance of giving consumers access to their credit data, and federal law mandated every American be entitled to a free copy of their credit reports once a year. Since then, however, just a handful of those with credit histories have monitored their credit reports, according to a recent survey by Credit.com.

Of those who had not checked their credit reports, 34 percent never thought about checking them and 26 percent do not believe they are important, the survey found. Twenty-nine percent believe because they pay their bills on time, there’s no need to check them.

“Credit reports play a major factor in determining if you’ll be approved for a loan, apartment or even a job, so it’s essential to monitor and understand your report,” explains Gerri Detweiler, Credit.com. “Not only do credit reports indicate your credit worthiness, they are the first line of defense in monitoring for potential identity theft.”

Misconceptions exist for those who have checked their credit reports, according to the survey. One in ten found a collection account they were unaware of, and one in nine discovered a late payment they weren’t aware of. Twenty-seven percent were surprised by some of the information that appeared on their credit reports; 21 percent found incorrect information in general.

Source: Credit.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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4 Mower Maintenance Tips

April 29, 2015 1:12 am

For do-it-yourself homeowners, your lawnmower is likely the workhorse of your outdoor maintenance routine. Performing an annual engine tune-up will ensure your mower lasts all season long. Here’s how to get started, from the experts at Briggs & Stratton.

1. Change the mower oil, a task made easier than ever with an oil removal kit. With a kit, you no longer need to tip your mower over to drain the oil, making for a mess-free oil change.

2. Replace the air filter and spark plug at the beginning of each season. Doing so will ensure peak performance for your mower and can reduce emissions up to 50 percent.

3. Fill a gas can with fresh gas from the pump, and add fuel treatment and stabilizer to the gas can. Keep in mind gas begins to degrade and oxidize after 30 days. Oxidized gas can cause carburetor jets to plug, resulting in an engine that doesn't start, and can cost a significant amount to fix.

4. After tuning up your mower, dispose of used oil at your local hazardous waste center. Pick-up by your municipality may also be available in your area.

Source: Briggs & Stratton

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Energy-Efficient Upgrades that Pay Back

April 29, 2015 1:12 am

(Family Features) Homeowners today are seeking upgrades that not only look great, but save money. Energy-efficiency improvements are a smart investment toward curbing energy use, cutting energy bills, and increasing the value of a home.

To take the guesswork out of choosing the most cost-effective upgrades, the Propane Education and Research Council (PERC) ranked the top energy-efficient improvements. Here are some of the projects that will give a homeowner the most bang for their buck.

1. Sealing windows and doors consistently has the best payback for homeowners in all regions of the U.S. Proper air-sealing can reduce air infiltration by 30 percent, and has a payback within one to four years. Sealing leaks can also reduce noise pollution and prevent pollen or dust from entering the home.

2. Replacing windows and lighting with more energy-efficient options can significantly reduce energy bills and emissions. Swapping incandescent bulbs with high-efficacy fluorescent bulbs can substantially reduce annual carbon dioxide emissions, and the switch could pay for itself in less than a year.

3. Space heating and cooling accounts for the greatest energy use in the house. In many parts of the country, replacing a furnace or boiler with a high-efficiency model can pay for itself within the first year. Additionally, a dual-fuel system, like using a high-efficiency air-source heat pump in tandem with a high-efficiency propane furnace, offers big energy and emissions savings -- up to as much as three metric tons each year.

4. Water heating is typically the second largest energy consumer in the house. Upgrading a system, especially switching from an electric model to a propane-fueled, condensing tank-less system, can save up to 50 percent and significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions. In addition, new U.S. Department of Energy regulations now in effect mean that older water heaters between eight and 12 years of age need to be updated to meet new efficiency standards.

Source: PERC

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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4 Green Car Maintenance Tips

April 28, 2015 1:09 am

Considering adopting a greener lifestyle? Look no further than your vehicle.

"Being car care aware and performing basic vehicle maintenance go a long way toward protecting the environment and improving fuel economy," says Rich White of the Car Care Council.

Drivers can help protect the environment, and save money in long run, by following these four simple steps.

1. Follow a vehicle service schedule including steps like checking engine performance, keeping tires properly inflated, replacing air filters regularly, changing oil regularly and checking your gas cap. Routine maintenance helps reduce emissions and fuel consumption, saving money at the pump.

2. Keep your current vehicle longer and limit the number of new cars you buy over the course of a lifetime. Extending vehicle life is as simple as taking care of your vehicle properly. You'll gain years of reliable service without monthly car payments and higher insurance rates.

3. Recycle or properly dispose of motor oil, tires, batteries, fluids and other vehicle components to help protect the planet when performing vehicle maintenance or repairs.

4. Repower your engine when faced with serious engine trouble. A remanufactured/rebuilt engine can give your vehicle new life and make it more fuel efficient for about the cost of an average down payment on a new car.

Source: Car Care Council

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Protecting Loved Ones from Fake Loan Debt Collectors

April 28, 2015 1:09 am

Family of homeowners and other lessees should watch for fraudulent debt collectors, many of whom call to collect overdue payments on loans taken out by a family member or significant other. The caller, posing on behalf of a loan company, will often threaten consequences for your loved one if you do not comply with their demands.

But the majority of these overdue loans don’t exist, according to the Better Business Bureau (BBB). If a family member or significant other is in fact in debt, remitting payment to a scammer will not reduce it.

If a fake debt collector calls, take action with these steps.

Do not offer or confirm personal information. Until you have verified the call, do not provide bank account, credit card or other private information – and don’t confirm information the caller offers, either.

Ask for an official “validation notice” of debt. Legitimate debt collectors are legally required to provide, in writing, the name of the creditor, the amount of debt and a statement of your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, says the BBB.

Ask for specific identifying information. Get as much identifying information as possible, such as the name of the caller, the company he or she works for, the company’s street address and phone number, to confirm the collection agency exists.

Alert loved ones. Make sure targeted loves ones are aware that scammers have at least some of their personal information. Loved ones should also place a fraud alert on his or her credit report, says the BBB.

Monitor your credit report. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to check (for free) for suspicious activity or overdue debt in your name. Those without access to Internet can call (877) 322-8228 to monitor their report.

File an FTC complaint. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits debt collections from being abusive, unfair or deceptive. If the debt collector threatens you or your loved ones, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Source: BBB

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Planting on Your Property? 6 Tree Safety Tips

April 28, 2015 1:09 am

When selecting a tree to plant at home, it’s important to keep in mind the future growth of the tree, say the experts at SDG&E, a Sempra Energy utility. Note that as trees grow to mature heights, they can interfere with overhead power lines and, in some cases, underground utility lines. Before planting a new tree, follow these safety guidelines.

1. Take the time to properly select a tree that is not only aesthetically pleasing but is safe to plant in your area.

2. Keep water conservation in mind, and consider planting drought-tolerant trees and vegetation on your property.

3. Take the time to choose the planting site as carefully as you chose the tree. Remember to always plant the "Right Tree in the Right Place" for the best chance of success.

4. Call Underground Service Alert at 8-1-1 to mark out underground utility lines two days before digging. With just one call, you can have your underground cable, water and energy lines marked out for free.

5. Don't plant shrubs directly in front of utility boxes or pad-mounted (box) transformers. Allow room for doors to swing open when shrubs are fully grown. The law requires that eight feet in front of and two feet on the other three sides of the transformer must be clear.

6. Contact your city arborist, parks department or public works department to find out whether your city has guidelines for planting trees, and whether a permit is required for planting trees in parkways or public areas.

Source: Sempra Energy

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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6 Ways to Spend Your Tax Return

April 27, 2015 12:09 am

With tax season behind us, it may be tempting to spend your return on an HD television or long-awaited vacation. Instead, the experts at American Consumer Credit Counseling recommend investing your return in areas you’ll see the most benefit. Here’s how.

1. Pay off any outstanding credit card debt. Take the opportunity to make a dent in your credit card debt. While you’re likely making monthly payments on your credit card, if you continue to make just the minimum payment, financing the debt with interest can be harmful and costly down the line.

2. Start or replenish your emergency fund. Building up a financial emergency fund is critical. Many financial advisors suggest building enough financial reserves to last up to six months in case of crisis.

3. Invest in a retirement savings account. Even if you already have a 401k plan with your employer, consider creating your own account. It’s a good way to have more control over your investments and to jumpstart them. The sooner you begin saving, the more time the money has to grow.

4. Start a college savings plan. There’s nothing more important than investing in education. It’s no secret that college is expensive. College debt can add up very quickly and take years to pay off. Avoid credit problems by saving early.

5. Invest in boosting your income.
Invest in your career. Spending money on professional education or new technology or tools for your business can go a long way in boosting your earning power.

6. Begin a maintenance project on your car or home to improve the quality and value. Use your money to tackle necessary repairs. Replace worn tires or patch leaky roofs. These projects will save money in the long run, as they can cost you more if you wait. These updates can also work to prevent any unexpected disasters, costing even more down the line.

Source: ACCC

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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The Best Investment? Real Estate, Americans Say

April 27, 2015 12:09 am

Real estate was once again named the best long-term investment, topping stocks, mutual funds, gold, savings accounts, CDs and bonds as the preferred means to long-term gains, according to a recent Gallup poll.

For the Americans surveyed, investment preferences broke down as follows:
  • Real Estate – 31 percent
  • Stocks/Mutual Funds – 25 percent
  • Gold – 19 percent
  • Savings Accounts/CDs – 15 percent
  • Bonds – 6 percent
Most importantly, all major gender, age and income groups agreed that real estate is the best long-term investment, signaling growing confidence in opportunities for housing for Americans from a diverse range of socioeconomic backgrounds.

Source: Gallup

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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