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

National Foundation for Credit Counseling Launches Spanish Version of MyMoneyCheckUp

January 25, 2013 4:24 am

The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) announced the expansion of MyMoneyCheckUp™, the NFCC’s free innovative online financial resource tool for consumers. The tool is now available in Spanish at and, bringing Hispanic populations and communities a unique and much-needed method of assessing personal financial health.

“Our mission at the NFCC has always been to provide the public with the resources necessary for financial stability,” said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the NFCC. “The introduction of MyMoneyCheckUp™ in Spanish allows us to bring the tool to a much wider audience.”

As of 2011, the Hispanic population comprised 16.7 percent of the United States population, the largest minority group following African-Americans. In addition, 20.3 percent of U.S. households speak a language other than English.

Recognizing the need for expanded financial resources to the Hispanic community, Experian provided a generous grant to translate MyMoneyCheckUp™ into Spanish.

“Experian is so pleased to work with the NFCC Member Agencies in helping families with their financial capability and in making this valuable tool available to a wider audience,” said Maxine Sweet, Experian Vice President of Public Education. “We have a shared goal of helping everyone learn to live credit smart. That starts with a clear understanding of your financial position and having readily accessible tools to help guide your future.”

The English version of MyMoneyCheckUp™ originally launched in 2011 to provide consumers with a means of evaluating four key areas of personal finance: budgeting and credit management, saving and investing, planning for retirement, and home equity.

After answering a series of topic-specific questions, a personalized assessment of the individual’s overall financial health and associated behaviors is generated. With areas of concern identified, the analysis suggests changes that consumers are encouraged to implement in order to become more financially independent. The traditional red, yellow and green traffic light colors signal whether the consumer should continue on their current money path, proceed with caution, or stop and make a change respectively. Individuals can also complete an optional budget to further help them assess their financial health.

“When developing the tool, one goal was to make financial education more readily accessible to a broad segment of the population. Thousands of Americans across the country have already benefited from the English version of MyMoneyCheckUp™. It is our hope that the Hispanic community will now take advantage of this simple and free personal finance assessment tool, and embrace the opportunity to improve their financial stability,” continued Cunningham.

Since 1951, The NFCC and its members have promoted financial education, sound money management, and positive financial habits to millions of people in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, giving them the knowledge, capability, and support needed to achieve their financial goals. The NFCC Member Agency services are provided for free or at low cost, and are available in both English and Spanish.

For more information, visit

Published with permission from RISMedia.


The Rise of Craft Beer in the U.S.

January 24, 2013 4:22 am

While the economic downturn has affected consumer spending across many sectors, craft and craft-style beers are defying recessionary trends with an impressive upward trajectory. Indeed, latest research by Mintel on the craft beer market in the U.S. shows that sales of craft beer nearly doubled between 2007 and 2012—increasing from $5.7 billion in 2007 to $12 billion in 2012.

Moreover, the trend toward craft beer options is set to enjoy robust growth through 2017, with Mintel forecasting the segment to grow to $18 billion by 2017 — a result that will see the segment tripling in the decade between 2007 and 2017.

Jennifer Zegler, beverage analyst at Mintel, says:

"The growth rates seen by craft beer are impressive, especially during a period when domestic and imported beers have shown a flat to declining performance. Unlike its domestic and imported beer counterparts, craft beer has been able to defy overall beer market trends and continue expansion during the economic downturn and subsequent slow recovery."

The rise of craft beer in the US has been supported by increasing consumer demand. Nearly a quarter (24 percent) of consumers who drink beer indicate that in 2012 they drank more craft beer sold at stores compared to 2011. Meanwhile, more than one in five (22 percent) report consuming more craft beer in bars or restaurants.

When looking at age, research shows that craft beer's sweet spot is with 25-34 year old consumers. While overall, some 36 percent of U.S. consumers drink craft beer, half (50 percent) of older Millennials (25-34 year olds) do so. And craft beer also wins on taste. Some 43 percent of both Millennials and Generation X say that craft beer tastes better than domestic beer, compared to 32 percent of Baby Boomers.

In addition, 50 percent of overall craft beer drinkers express interest in locally made beer, and 25 percent are interested in purchasing craft beer where it was brewed. Another 39 percent say that they are influenced to purchase a craft beer if it has a personality to which they can relate.

"Buying local is not limited to supporting one's homebase; it also provides consumers with the ability to support towns that they do not currently call home. To bring that local feel to consumers regardless of location, craft breweries should consider partnering to create multibrewery variety packs that would offer consumers a taste of one city, state, or region. These taste-of-an-area packages would allow consumers to experience smaller breweries from their own or other geographies," Zegler concludes.

Source: Mintel

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Will 2013 be the 'Year of the LED?'

January 24, 2013 4:22 am

With prices for energy-efficient light-emitting diodes (LEDs) dropping, LED holiday lights lasting for years, and 32,000 LEDs glowing on the Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball, 2013 could be the “Year of the LED,” predicts the Alliance to Save Energy.

“We see LEDs grabbing more market share in 2013,” said Alliance President Kateri Callahan. “Their retail prices are coming down, and more U.S. consumers are realizing that their lifespans of up to 25 years make them a good deal.”

IMS Research also projects that starting in mid-2013, market growth for LEDs will skyrocket in North America. And next year, consumers will have even more choices when looking for LEDs, which are now available in 100-watt-equivalents alongside the 40-, 60-, and 75-watt replacements. They are also available in an array of decorative bulbs.

Goodbye Inefficient 75-watt Bulbs
The New Year will also usher in “year two” of the ongoing three-year transition to energy-efficient lighting for the U.S. market. Inefficient 75-watt incandescent bulbs will no longer be manufactured in the U.S., just as inefficient 100-watt incandescents were phased out a year ago.

“As the second phase of the national transition to energy-efficient lighting begins, the Alliance is continuing to work on its own and through the LUMEN Coalition to dispel myths and misinformation and to enlighten American consumers about the benefits of today’s lighting products,” Callahan continued.
Options include energy-efficient halogen incandescent bulbs, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), and LEDs. Halogen incandescents use about 30 percent less energy than inefficient incandescents, while CFLs and LEDs save 75 percent or more.

Energy Star Options
“As always, we advise looking for the Energy Star label, the government’s symbol of energy efficiency, to ensure that you are getting an energy- and money-saving product,” said Callahan.

Lighting accounts for 10 percent of home energy use, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The growing array of energy-efficient lighting options allows consumers to cut those expenses by $50 to more than $100 a year, depending on how many inefficient bulbs they replace and which efficient options they choose.

Consumers can learn more about energy-efficient lighting on

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Top 10 Moving Destinations in 2012

January 24, 2013 4:22 am

The housing market began to improve in 2012 as confidence in homeownership improved. With more people buying, it poses the question, where are they buying? And where are they moving?

Penske Truck Rental released an annual list of top moving destinations within the U.S. To create this list, the company compiled information based on requests for one-way moves in 2012.

Atlanta has topped the list for each of the three years that Penske has compiled this ranking. The Dallas/Fort Worth area made the jump from fourth to second place. Four markets (Chicago, Houston, Denver and Seattle) retained their rankings from 2011.

“This list fits the general geographic shifts of the country’s population with our customers being drawn to the Southeast and Southwest regions,” states Don Mikes, Penske senior vice president of rental.

So where were people moving in 2012? See the top 10 destinations, below.

2012 Top 10 Moving Destinations:

*Please Note: The previous year’s ranking is noted in parentheses

1. Atlanta (unchanged)

2. Dallas/Fort Worth (4)

3. Phoenix (2)

4. Orlando, Fla. (3)

5. Chicago (unchanged)

6. Houston (unchanged)

7. Denver (unchanged)

8. Seattle (unchanged)

9. Charlotte, N.C. (10)

10. Sarasota, Fla. (9)


Published with permission from RISMedia.


Clean Closets Make a Happy Home

January 23, 2013 6:46 am

(Family Features)—When it comes to getting the house clean and tidy, closets often get left off the to-do list. From hall closets and linen closets to bedroom closets, "out of sight, out of mind" thinking quickly leads to clutter - and then frustration when you can't find what you need when you need it. But a little planning and a few simple tips can help you get your closets in user-friendly shape in no time.

Put your closets on your calendar.
Take stock of your schedule and commit some time to tackle your closets. Set realistic expectations - you don't have to conquer all your closets at once. It may make sense for your family to forego TV one evening a week and focus on one closet at a time, for example.

Start by sorting.
If you haven't worn a piece of clothing in the past year -- or you can't remember the last time you wore something -- then you don't need it. Other items to purge from your closet: children's clothes and shoes that are either too small or too worn out to pass down to a sibling or a friend.

Sort your remaining clothes by season and then into piles to keep or pass down. If you have limited closet space, keep only the current season's wardrobe in your closet. Carefully pack and store the rest for later.

Linen closets stay more organized when you stack similar sized items together. Sort sheets by size, and group washcloths, hand towels and bath towels together.

For closets that hold everything from the vacuum cleaner to art supplies and anything in between, work one shelf at a time. Sort items by categories and dedicate one shelf or area of the closet to each group.

Eliminate excess - but don't throw it away. As the saying goes, one man's trash is another's treasure. There are easy ways to donate your unwanted items to benefit those in need. One example is, where you can request pre-paid UPS shipping bags that make it simple and free to send in unwanted clothes, shoes, accessories and household linens. Your donation benefits one of three national nonprofits of your choosing: AMVETS, Easter Seals, or The Purple Heart. It's tax deductible, and it reduces waste. Americans throw away an average of 68 pounds of clothing each year. You can learn more at

Green up your storage. When it's time to put things back into place, instead of buying new containers to hold things, look around the house for boxes and containers you already heave. Baskets, crates and even empty shoeboxes can be reused to keep your closets more organized.

Repeat often. You don't have to wait until the next neighborhood yard sale before you sift through your closets again. As with most household chores, a little maintenance goes a long way to keep your closets looking neat and clean. You could even keep a bag in each of your kids' closets and encourage them to set aside gently used and outgrown items on a regular basis.

You'll be amazed at how much happier clean closets can make the whole house feel - especially when you turn the stuff you don't need into a good deed.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Average Credit Score for Online Mortgage Shoppers was 70 Points above Average FICO Score for 2012

January 23, 2013 6:46 am

A review of more than 450,000 online mortgage applications received in 2012 found that the national average credit score for mortgage applicants increased by four points over 2011 to 734. By comparison, the average FICO score nationwide stood at 664 as of November 30, 2012, so online mortgage shoppers on average had a FICO score 70 points higher than the national average.

It was found that California mortgage applicants, for the third year in a row, had the highest average credit scores in the nation at 755 - a full 21 points above the national, online mortgage-shopper average of 734.

"It's worth noting that even the lowest average credit score of 689 is still considered to be a good credit score," said Rick Allen, chief operating officer of Mortgage Marvel. "If you're shopping for a first home, a score in this range is certainly considered to be good, and it will get you a reasonably priced mortgage."

Borrowers shouldn't necessarily be discouraged if their credit scores are not as high as those in the study, Allen said. FHA and VA loans, for example, often have lower credit score requirements.

It is anticipated that average U.S. credit scores will continue to move upward in 2013, as employment opportunities improve and incomes rise.

Source: Mortgage Marvel

Published with permission from RISMedia.


2013 to Bring Clean Ingredients, Juicy Treats and Bacteria for Home Cooks

January 23, 2013 6:46 am

Thanks to a partnership between and Meredith women's lifestyle brands, a new report entitled The Measuring Cup Trend Report: What American Families are Cooking and Eating: 2013 Trends concludes that healthier eating will continue to be a top priority for home cooks, whether it's incorporating probiotics, "clean" ingredients, or more fruits and vegetables in everyday meals.

"In the coming year, women will continue to place a heightened importance on making smarter food choices to influence their family's health and wellness through diet. We'll also see an increasing number of women rely on new technologies to simplify everyday meal planning, food shopping and cooking through the use of apps and sites on their smartphones and tablets, and connecting with their peers for mealtime inspiration on social sites such as Tumblr, Allrecipes and Pinterest," says Esmee Williams, vice president of Brand Marketing at Allrecipes.

The report also found that women are flexing their creative muscles in kitchen. Using whiskey as a flavoring is on the rise, while novelty cakes have taken the place of the traditional sweet treats. Home cooks continue to be mindful of saving money by recreating their favorite restaurant dishes at home rather than dining out. Below is a summary of 2013 trends:

Trend #1: Good-for-You Bacteria Goes Mainstream
Probiotic foods will become conventional refrigerator staples as one-third of home cooks have already "tried and liked them." The biggest probiotic food fans are women ages 30 to 39, with 40 percent earning 100k+/year.

Trend #2: It's a Piece of Cake!
Instead of a traditional birthday or holiday cake, 35 percent of women are creating novelty cakes for special occasions and holiday gatherings (think: ice cream cake, fun shape, unusual flavor).

Trend #3: Dinner Staycation
Home cooks continue to feel pinched by the economy. Survey respondents say they dined out less frequently in 2012 compared to a year ago (44 percent). However these same women still seek the variety and new flavors available through restaurant menus. To satisfy this craving, 61 percent of home cooks admit to having prepared a restaurant-inspired dish at home in the past year.

Trend #4: A Clean Sweep in the Kitchen
With more than 44 percent of home cooks trying to eat cleaner (no processed foods, more whole foods/vegetables), 21 percent eating organic foods, 29 percent cutting back on meat, and 48 percent eating more vegetables, the healthy habits of home cooks are sure to impact 2013. Leading the way in the clean-food frenzy are home cooks in the West and the younger generation (ages 18-29).

Trend #5: Shaken, Stirred or Seared—with Whiskey
Whiskey isn't just for cocktails anymore. The celebration of whisky/bourbon flavors is extending into home kitchens. Bourbon Balls, Bourbon Chicken, Bourbon Fudge, Bourbon Salmon, and Bourbon Meatballs were all among the fastest-moving recipe search terms in 2012.

Trend #6: First Eat with Your Eyes
The wildly popular photo and idea-sharing site, Pinterest, inspires 75 percent of home cooks to try new dishes based on inspiration gathered from friends, family, brands, and—complete strangers!

Trend #7: Increasing App-etites
Mobile phones continue their rapid growth as essential grocery shopping companions for family-focused women. Shoppers are most excited about mobile's ease of use, the variety of app choices, and the ability to make mealtime/purchase decisions while in-store. Shoppers aged 39 and younger are the most likely to seek in-store meal inspiration using a mobile device.

Trend #8: The Juicy Details
More than 56 percent of those surveyed prepared a smoothie or squeezed fresh juice at home last year. The majority trying this juicy option say their main incentive is, "it's delicious" (73 percent), followed by "health benefits" (64 percent).


Published with permission from RISMedia.


Finding Your Perfect Fit: Five Tips for Purchasing a Recliner

January 22, 2013 6:46 am

(Family Features) When it comes to choosing new furniture, it’s easy to get stumped when purchasing key pieces. Homeowners have to consider how each piece will blend with existing décor. While the word recliner may evoke images of your father’s favorite plaid-covered chair, recliners today are designed with comfort and style in mind.

Choosing a Recliner
Even with the ever-growing assortment of recliner styles available, choosing a recliner involves more than just aesthetics. You must consider the size, shape and fit of the chair. The best fit will provide the most comfort. Longevity is another consideration. Here are five tips to help you easily choose a recliner that fits your physical and aesthetic needs:

1. Choose a size. Keep in mind how much physical space you have allotted for a new recliner. Consider not only the space available in your living room, but also the size of recliner that will fit your shape as well. Recliners with attached ottomans will never fit your exact shape and size, so choose a chair with a feature that allows you to unlock the ottoman, so it tilts when you recline. This will take pressure off your knees and ensure a more comfortable position.

2. Seek comfort; consider longevity.
While you may be inclined to purchase a less expensive model, you want to ensure your investment is worth the cost of the recliner down the road. Be sure to consider the quality of fabrics, leathers, woods and metals from which each recliner is composed, as well as the comfort of the piece. Keep in mind that finding the proper fit will mean more comfort. While quality recliners may cost more up front, the right recliner will provide years of comfort and support. For example, according to Good Housekeeping magazine, the average recliner lasts about 10 years with regular use. Stressless recliners are built to last between 20 and 25 years.

3. Narrow down your style preferences.
For many, the idea of choosing a bulky recliner to complement existing décor may seem impossible. But recliners now come in a variety of designs and materials. Whether you’re searching for a modern and sleek chair, or a beautiful love seat composed of wood and leather, you can find a recliner to match your décor preferences.

4. Make a list of must-have features. Recliners now offer a variety of features, so keep in mind the features you most desire. For example, are you looking for a recliner that gives you total body support – including lumbar support – when you’re in the reclining position? New recliners, such as Stressless recliners offer added comfort features such as an articulating headrest, which cradles the head and neck in the reclining position. In addition, these recliners offer a sleep function to fully recline, and a dual support base, ensuring that the base of the recliner will provide even support whether you’re sitting, or in the full reclining position.

5. If you’re still stumped, go with a classic model.
If you have trouble choosing between several styles, consider this – if you’re purchasing a recliner that will last for two decades or more, you may want to keep in mind that your home décor preferences are likely to change in that span of time. Choose a classic piece that will complement any style evolution.

Source: Ekornes

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Upbeat Outlook for 2013 U.S. Real Estate Market

January 22, 2013 6:46 am

Confidence in a stronger real estate market in 2013 is growing among U.S. real estate professionals and homebuyers. Real estate agents in particular expect a more upbeat real estate market in 2013 while a high 71% of those surveyed predicted that home prices will go up or remain at the same level in 2013.

Home sale prices and sales volume are expected to rise
Almost 1,500 homebuyers and real estate professionals nationwide were surveyed in December 2012 on a number of aspects concerning the real estate market in 2013: sale prices, volumes and inventories evolution, and also the factors that will drive the market.

Home prices will stabilize or go up according to 71 percent of those surveyed. This opinion was shared by 59 percent of all agents and by 37 percent of the homebuyers.

Sales volumes in the U.S. real estate market are also expected to rise, according to 41 percent of the respondents. Once again, more real estate agents (52 percent) than homebuyers (41 percent) responded optimistically.

Inventories are expected to stay the same.

Californians are more optimistic than New Yorkers
Fifty percent of respondents in California predicted home prices will go up in 2013, compared to 44 percent of New Yorkers.

Regarding foreclosures, 21 percent of California respondents consider they will influence the market in 2013, compared with only 9 percent of the respondents from New York. This difference may be the result of higher foreclosures rates in California than in New York in 2012.

Number 1 factor to drive the market in 2013
Thirty-one percent of respondents think that mortgage rates will influence the market the most. This may be the result of the U.S. Federal Reserve's efforts to keep down borrowing rates. In second place was the ease of access to loans, followed by foreclosures in third place.

Within the categories surveyed, a higher proportion of homebuyers consider that foreclosures will have the most significant impact on the housing market.

Source: Point2Homes

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Agencies Issue Final Rule on Appraisals for Higher-Priced Mortgage Loans

January 22, 2013 6:46 am

Six federal financial regulatory agencies issued the final rule that establishes new appraisal requirements for “higher-priced mortgage loans.” The rule implements amendments to the Truth in Lending Act made by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (Dodd-Frank Act). Under the Dodd-Frank Act, mortgage loans are higher-priced if they are secured by a consumer's home and have interest rates above certain thresholds.

For higher-priced mortgage loans, the rule requires creditors to use a licensed or certified appraiser who prepares a written appraisal report based on a physical visit of the interior of the property. The rule also requires creditors to disclose to applicants information about the purpose of the appraisal and provide consumers with a free copy of any appraisal report.

If the seller acquired the property for a lower price during the prior six months and the price difference exceeds certain thresholds, creditors will have to obtain a second appraisal at no cost to the consumer. This requirement for higher-priced home-purchase mortgage loans is intended to address fraudulent property flipping by seeking to ensure that the value of the property legitimately increased.

The rule exempts several types of loans, such as qualified mortgages, temporary bridge loans and construction loans, loans for new manufactured homes, and loans for mobile homes, trailers and boats that are dwellings. The rule also has exemptions from the second appraisal requirement to facilitate loans in rural areas and other transactions.

The rule is being issued by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the National Credit Union Administration, and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. The rule will become effective on January 18, 2014.

In response to public comments, the agencies intend to publish a supplemental proposal to request additional comment on possible exemptions for “streamlined” refinance programs and small dollar loans, as well as to seek clarification on whether the rule should apply to loans secured by existing manufactured homes and certain other property types.

Source: FHFA

Published with permission from RISMedia.