Jeff Shauger, Associate Broker, ABR, CDPE, CRS, ePRO, GRI , SRES, SRS
 
Jeff Shauger, Associate Broker, ABR, CDPE, CRS, ePRO, GRI , SRES, SRS

Jeff's Blog

Myths about Consumer Debt Collection

October 12, 2012 3:54 am

Today, more than 30 million consumers have delinquent or defaulted accounts under collection, averaging $1,400 each. Here are a few dispelled myths concerning the reality of consumer debt collection:

Myth 1: Avoiding a debt collector makes the debt go away. Consumers who ask debt collectors to stop contact or choose not to respond to calls or letters often mistakenly believe it means their debt has been eliminated. Avoiding contact will not erase a debt. Instead, consumers should communicate with collectors to discuss the account, verify its accuracy and work on a plan for resolution. If consumers don't owe the debt, communicating with collectors can help put a stop to calls or letters.

Myth 2: Consumers don't have rights in the recovery of past due accounts. The collection of consumer debt is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the United States. Consumers have important rights under a number of federal and state laws. For more information about what to do if contacted by a debt collector please visit www.askdoctordebt.org.

Myth 3: All debt collectors are bad. Just as "all consumers" aren't the same, neither are all debt collectors. Most are committed to professionalism, training and customer service. By working with the right professional, you can start making payments or create a plan of action going forward.

Myth 4: It is boom time for debt collectors. It's no secret that consumers have struggled financially in the current economy. Despite an increase in defaults and delinquency, the inability of consumers to repay rightfully owed debts trickles down to those charged with their recovery.

Source: ACA International

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Protect Your Home This Fall

October 11, 2012 3:54 am

The change in seasons from summer to fall means several species of common household pests are crawling their way into homes across the country as the weather cools. The annual end-of-summer invasion poses many potential risks to homes that are not properly protected from the seasonal onslaught. Here are a few tips for homeowners looking to protect themselves from household pests that can do major damage to a home if left untreated.

• Eliminate yard clutter. Remove piles of wood and rotted stumps or logs from around your home to keep termites and carpenter ants at bay. When storing firewood, keep it at least 20 feet away from the home and five inches off the ground as a precautionary measure. Also, keep soil at least six inches away from structural wood to prevent decay.

• Get rid of standing water. Termites, carpenter ants and Powerpost beetles all thrive in moist conditions. Many pests use vegetation as a bridge from the ground into your home; so keep bushes, shrubs, vines and trees from touching the house. Wood mulch and plants should also be kept at least 18 inches away from the foundation to prevent rot.

• Seal gaps and cracks. Stink bugs, which are very prevalent this time of year, can easily pass through gaps and cracks in search of a warm place to rest. These pests are a smelly mess when they make it into the home. Inspect walls, windows, doors and the roof for places where pests could possibly enter the home. Seal any cracks or gaps with caulk or epoxy, and use steel wool or hardware cloth to block openings where wires, pipes and cables come into or out of exterior walls. Also be sure to ventilate attics and crawl spaces to ensure the venting system has a good airflow to prevent the buildup of moisture.

• Install and maintain screens on doors and windows. With the summer heat and humidity subsided, fall is the perfect time to open the windows and enjoy the fresh air. Torn or damaged holes in screens can allow a slew of pests easy access to your home. Replace old screens on doors and windows with fine mesh screening to prevent an invasion.

• Cover attic and crawlspace vents with mesh. Larger pests like raccoons, squirrels and mice can easily make themselves home in unprotected spaces. A warm dryer vent is a pest's ideal home as the weather gets chilly this fall, causing homeowners a huge headache. Placing a mesh barrier over points of entry, like vents, holes or large cracks, will keep both the animals, and the mites and fleas they carry, outside where they belong.

Homeowners are sure to save themselves time, money and frustration by taking the above steps to help protect their home from pests this fall. Prevention will make a home inhospitable to pests and will keep a seasonal intrusion from becoming an all-out pest invasion.

Source: Power Home Remodeling Group

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Little-Known Credit Card Perks

October 11, 2012 3:54 am

Many credit card users can be saving hundreds or even thousands of dollars by using their plastic and they may not even know it. Visiting your credit card's website is a good first step to finding out what benefits you may be missing out on, along with any rules and limitations you many need to know. Knowing these perks ahead of time can help you shop smarter and save big, especially during the holidays when you've got a full list of friends and family to buy for.

Here are three examples of credit-card benefits to look out for:

1. Extra product warranties. Some issuers automatically extend manufacturer warranties, usually up to a year - a great perk for expensive items that otherwise would be costly to replace. But it usually also applies to cheaper items that consumers may not know come with a warranty, such as eyeglasses or coffeemakers.

2. Coverage for damaged goods. A credit card with theft, damage, and loss coverage reimburses users for items purchased with it that are lost, stolen, or accidentally damaged within a stated time period, often 90 days. But some cards limit the number of times users can make a claim within a certain time period.

3. Rental-car coverage and travel insurance. Some credit-card issuers will cover any loss to a rental vehicle, up to certain limits. Some cards also offer trip cancellation, which covers losses if the user has to cancel plans, perhaps due to illness or injury. But check card issuers' rules about what doesn't qualify and how much can be recouped.

Source: ShopSmart

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Dream Makers Program on Track to Help Record Number of Military Families

October 11, 2012 3:54 am

The Pentagon Federal Credit Union Foundation (PenFed Foundation), a nationally recognized nonprofit organization working to meet the unmet needs of military personnel and their families, has announced it is on track to give away a record number of grants through its Dream Makers program this year.

“Members of our nation’s military frequently move, living on bases around the country and overseas,” explained Kate Kohler, chief operating officer of the PenFed Foundation and a former Army captain. “When they are finally able to settle down, they often need a little help with purchasing their first home.”

Under the Dream Makers program, qualifying military personnel and veterans who are buying their first homes may receive a grant to cover a portion of their down payment and closing costs.

With interest rates at historic lows and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, the program has become more popular, going from 47 grants in 2009 to 51 in 2010 to a record high of 93 in 2011. Already this year, the PenFed Foundation has given away 84 grants, putting it on track to beat last year’s record.

Applying for a Dream Makers grant is easy and can even be done online. Grantees don’t need to be a Pentagon Federal Credit Union member to benefit from Dream Makers and the grant can be applied to a mortgage from any financial institution.

According to the Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Installations and Environment, approximately 65 to 70 percent of service members live in private sector housing. This means that buying a home is one way that military members can make a significant investment during their service, which could help greatly benefit their financial security now and later on in life.

“With fewer service members heading overseas and longer station assignments, more of them are looking to buy a home,” said Kohler. “Through our Dream Makers program, the PenFed Foundation is planning on helping them make that part of the American dream come true.”

To learn more about the Dream Makers program and apply online, visit: http://www.penfedfoundation.org/dreammakers.

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Attitudes on Housing Continue Summer Season's Gradual Upward Trend

October 10, 2012 3:54 am

Results from Fannie Mae's September 2012 National Housing Survey show Americans' optimism about the recovery of the housing market and with regard to homeownership continued its gradual climb, bolstered by a series of mortgage rate decreases experienced throughout the summer. Consumer attitudes about the economy also improved substantially last month, breaking the progression of waning confidence seen during much of this year.

Keeping a relatively steady pace with recent periods, survey respondents expect home prices to increase an average of 1.5 percent in the next year. The share who says mortgage rates will increase in the next 12 months dropped 7 percentage points to 33 percent. Nineteen percent of those surveyed say now is a good time to sell, marking the highest level since the survey began in June 2010. Tying the June 2012 level (and the all-time high since the survey's inception), 69 percent of respondents said they would buy if they were going to move.

With regard to the economy overall, 41 percent of consumers now believe the economy is on the right track, up from 33 percent last month, while 53 percent believe the economy is on the wrong track, compared with 60 percent the prior month. Both the right track and wrong track figures mark the highest and the lowest readings, respectively, since the survey began in June 2010.

Other Survey Highlights

Homeownership and Renting
• Consumers' average home price change expectation is 1.5 percent, consistent with recent periods and marking nearly a full year in which home price expectations have been positive.
• Thirty-seven percent of those surveyed expect home prices to go up in the next year, the highest level since the survey's inception in June 2010.
• Thirty-three percent of respondents say mortgage rates will go up in the next year, a decrease of 7 percentage points since last month.
• Nineteen percent of respondents say it is a good time to sell, the highest level since the survey's inception.
• Those who say now is a good time to buy dipped slightly to 72 percent.
• The percentage of respondents who say they would buy if they were going to move increased to 69 percent, tying June 2012 at the highest level since the survey's inception.

The Economy and Household Finances
• Consumer optimism climbed in September, with 41 percent saying the economy is on the right track – the highest level recorded since the survey's inception and an 8 percentage point increase over last month.
• Forty-four percent of respondents expect their personal financial situation to improve over the next year, up from 42 percent in August.
• The share of respondents who say their household income is significantly higher than it was 12 months ago decreased by 3 percentage points to 17 percent.
• Thirty-four percent of those surveyed say their household expenses are significantly higher than they were 12 months ago, a 2 percentage point increase over August.

Source: Fannie Mae

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Bumps to the Head Minor Cause for Concern to Parents

October 10, 2012 3:54 am

Evidence of the long-term effects of head injuries to athletes has prompted the NFL to partner with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to educate the public of the dangers of concussions through the Heads Up: Concussion in Youth Sports campaign. However, the seriousness of a potential concussion does not seem to resonate with the public. In fact, only half of all respondents to a recent online survey by the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) sought treatment and were diagnosed by a medical professional when they received a head injury and thought they might have a concussion.

The main reason people did not seek treatment for their own possible concussion was they did not think the symptoms were serious enough or thought that it was just a headache. Surprisingly, three in five parents gave these same reasons for not taking their children with head injuries to a medical professional for treatment.

Better medical attention on the field?
The survey reported that only about one in four children obtained a possible concussion while playing either a school sponsored or non-school sponsored sport. In addition, children injured while playing sports may have a greater chance of being evaluated by a medical professional than if the injury occurred at home. According to the survey, more than eight in 10 parents said their children were evaluated by a medical professional, coach or event personnel when they obtained a head injury during a sporting event.

As of September 2012, 39 states across the country have adopted youth concussion laws. Many of these laws call for the removal of a youth athlete who appears to have suffered a concussion from the game or practice at the time the injury occurs and requires the child be evaluated and cleared by a licensed health care professional before returning to play.

There are six states that have no pending legislation or youth concussion laws: Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Montana, Tennessee and South Carolina.

Recognizing the signs
Even though the survey found that seven in 10 respondents were incorrectly identifying symptoms like "shortness of breath" and "hearing damage" as symptoms of concussion, they still reported feeling confident in their ability to recognize concussion symptoms. Actual symptoms could include any of the following:

• Pain in area of head injury
• Dizziness
• Nausea or vomiting
• Confusion or inability to focus
• Slurred or incoherent speech

It is easy to rationalize and say "this is just a headache and I am not nauseous or vomiting so it can't be a concussion," however, one might be missing something that a physician will notice.

Other survey results of note:

• Men were more likely than women to report they ever had a concussion. However, along with respondents between the ages of 18 and 29, men were the most likely to say they did not seek treatment because they didn't think symptoms were serious enough.
• Four in 10 adult respondents said they received their concussions playing sports, making it the most commonly reported setting for this type of injury in grown-ups. This setting followed both in-home injuries and accidents outside the home where three in 10 respondents said they suffered concussions.

Source: American Osteopathic Association

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Halloween Hazards: Think Twice Before Transforming Your Eyes

October 10, 2012 3:54 am

Halloween is a fun holiday, but playing dress-up can be serious business. Consumers spend hours making sure costumes are accessorized just right; however, transforming your eyes by changing their color or appearance with non-corrective, decorative contact lenses to look like a cat, werewolf or vampire can be a dangerous choice. The American Optometric Association (AOA) is warning consumers about the risks of wearing decorative contact lenses sold illegally, without a prescription from an eye doctor.

According to the AOA's 2012 American Eye-Q® consumer survey, 18 percent of Americans wear these non-corrective, decorative or colored contact lenses. Of those, 28 percent report illegally purchasing the lenses without a prescription and from a source other than an eye doctor, a great concern to doctors of optometry.

A proper medical eye and vision examination ensures that the individual is a viable candidate for contact lens wear, that the lenses are properly fitted and that the patient is able to safely care for their lenses.

Since 2005, federal law requires the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate decorative lenses as medical devices, similar to prescription contact lenses. However, decorative lenses continue to be illegally marketed and distributed directly to consumers through a variety of sources, including flea markets, the Internet, beauty salons and convenience stores. Consumers also report purchasing them at retail outlets, where they are sold as fashion accessories.

The AOA offers the following recommendations for all contact lens wearers:

• Wear contact lenses only if they are fitted and prescribed by an optometrist.
• Do not purchase contact lenses from gas stations, video stores, or any other vendor not authorized by law to dispense contact lenses.
• Never swim while wearing contact lenses. There is a risk of eye infection when contact lenses come into contact with bacteria in swimming pool water.
• Make sure contact lenses are properly cleaned and disinfected as instructed by your eye-care professional.
• Make sure you wash your hands before handling and cleaning your contact lenses.
• Never swap or share contact lenses with anyone.
• Never sleep while wearing contact lenses unless they are extended-wear lenses specifically designed for that purpose.

For more information about the risks associated with decorative contact lenses, visit http://www.aoa.org/x5235.xml.

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The Crack Down on Windshield Repairs - What You Need to Know

October 9, 2012 3:54 am

You’re driving down the road, abiding by the speed limit, avoiding distractions and following the rules of the road. The radio is softly humming your favorite tune and it’s a beautiful day for a drive. Then, TINK! Out of nowhere, a pebble smacks your windshield, leaving a jagged “bulls-eye,” “bee’s-wing,” or “star break” right in your line of vision.

Windshield damage is the most frequently reported insurance claim. The biggest cause—debris kicked up from the road.

Follow these steps when your windshield is damaged:

-Don’t hold off. The longer you wait to repair your windshield, the more likely it won’t turn out as well cosmetically or structurally. See if your insurance carrier has preferred repair shops to work with and call a glass or windshield repair company right away. Many insurance companies will even waive your comprehensive deductible and pay the entire cost for a stone chip repair.

-Use a temporary fix. Until you can get the crack repaired by a professional, temporarily seal the break with tape at the point of impact. This will help prevent moisture from seeping into the break, but won’t prevent the crack from expanding.

-Keep it clean and dry. Moisture can make a windshield crack expand, so it’s important to keep the damaged area as clean and dry as possible.

Repair or replace?
Temperature change and stress can make a small break become larger, which could mean the difference between windshield repair or windshield replacement. Technically most cracks can be filled, but depending on the size and location of the crack, the repair option may not be the best choice.

For damage larger than a 50 cent piece, repairing the windshield may make the crack less visible, but it may not be as structurally sound after the repair. The repair process isn’t usually recommended for damage that is located in your line of vision because even after it’s repaired, the crack may not disappear completely.

When thinking about repairing or replacing a windshield, most people don’t take into consideration the effect it may have on the structural integrity of their vehicle. An improper glass repair or replacement could put the safety of you and your family in jeopardy. In the event of an accident, a windshield should:

-Support the roof of the vehicle - A windshield provides support to the roof in a rollover accident if properly bonded to the frame with urethane sealant.

-Act as a back-stop for the passenger side airbag – The passenger-side air bag deploys off the windshield first and then expands to the passenger.

-Keep you safe inside the vehicle - If a passenger is thrown up against the glass, the lamination acts like an elastic band and snaps the person back into the vehicle rather than being thrown through it.

In any of these situations, the windshield will not properly perform as the manufacturer intended if the structure is weakened by improper repair or replacement. Look for an experienced glass repair company that will work with your insurance carrier to get you back on the road safely. Ask about safe drive-away time and the experience level of the technician.

For more information, visit www.Foremost.com.

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Get Ready for Thanksgiving Travel

October 9, 2012 3:54 am

Traditionally, over 40 million Americans travel more than 50 miles from their home each Thanksgiving to connect with friends and family in all corners of the country. Recognized as one of the most travel intense weekends in the year, packing becomes just another part of life we must be thankful for. Whether you and your crew are jamming five people into a sedan, or you have the luxury of running through crowded airports, there are a few packing tricks you can use to take some of the stress out of Thanksgiving weekend travel.

Travel light
First and foremost, select a suitcase that ensures your bag isn’t one of the items weighing you down. Find a set that succeeds in offering both lightweight and durable bags. Minimizing pounds is key.

Pack only what you need
While we all like to have a few choices, depending on different scenarios we may encounter on the long weekend, making the commitment to travel light will ensure your packing (and equally as important, your unpacking!) experience is a much easier task. Take some time to check the weather forecast for your destination to choose appropriate attire. And do throw in a few back-up items, just in case! Best of all, by packing light, you may just have some room to pick up a few souvenirs along the way.

Leave your self room to maneuver
We’ve all been there – packed perfectly, maximizing each nook and cranny of our luggage. But what about those extra items you may need to bring home? Could a friend or relative have something to pass your way? Are you planning on doing any shopping? Make sure you leave yourself some room to groove in case you need to bring back any additional items on your return trip.

Pack Smart
Once you have selected the correct combination of clothing, take some time to properly place these items into your suitcase. Think of what you will do when you arrive – will you unpack or live out of your suitcase for the weekend? Then, arrange accordingly. You may want to keep tops together, and bottoms together, sorted with a clip on the main lid and tie down straps for added security. Footwear can be neatly stored in the shoe pouch.

Source: Delsey

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Fireplace Industry Launches Gas Fireplace Safety Initiative

October 9, 2012 3:54 am

The Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA) announced an industry-wide safety initiative to protect young children, at-risk individuals and pets from burns resulting from touching glass fronts on gas fireplaces, stoves and inserts when in operation or cooling down. The initiative includes a consumer safety education campaign and a mandatory safety standard for new gas fireplaces manufactured after January 1, 2015. According to the 2012 Hearth Consumer Survey, nearly 11 million households have a gas fireplace with a glass front, and more than half of those households currently are unaware of the risk of burns from touching the glass fronts.

The industry is mounting a consumer safety education program to raise awareness of the potential of burns from hot glass, creating downloadable materials, and developing mandatory safety standards for glass front fireplaces. Specifically, HPBA advises owners of gas fireplaces, stoves and inserts that have glass fronts to observe these safety tips:

-Always supervise children, the aged or pets near an operating gas fireplace, stove or insert – or one that has recently been turned off.
-Keep the remote control out of the reach of children (if your appliance has one).
-Install a switch lock to prevent children from turning on the appliance.
-Make sure family members and guests are aware that the glass on a gas fireplace, stove or insert can be very hot.
-Wait for the appliance and glass to cool down before allowing anyone to get near it, noting that the cool down can take a long time – an hour or more.
-Be aware that metal surfaces, such as door frames and grilles, may also get hot.
-Always read the owner's manual and follow instructions.

Safety Screens or Barriers for Existing Fireplaces, Stoves or Inserts
While safety tips provide an extra margin of safety, there are no substitutes for supervision and a physical barrier. Consumers with existing gas fireplaces, stoves or inserts should consider installing a protective screen or physical barrier to reduce the risk of serious burns by preventing direct contact with the glass front. Safety products come in various forms, including:

-Attachable safety screens that fasten to the front of the fireplace to create an air space between the glass and the screen. Important note: Prior to installing, homeowners should consult with their hearth specialty retailer to verify that they have the appropriate safety screen, approved by the fireplace manufacturer, for use on their appliance as aftermarket safety screens could adversely affect the safe operation of the appliance.

-Free-standing safety screens and gates are barriers set up to prevent access. Free-standing fireplace screens and barriers are set back from the fireplace or stove front to prevent direct access.

For more information, visit www.SafeFireplaceTips.com.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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