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

Credit Utilization Ratio: What Does It All Mean?

September 17, 2012 3:34 am

Some spenders may view their credit as a maximum spending limit they can achieve before being penalized or declined. But what most don’t know is that credit scores place a large emphasis on your credit utilization ratio, that is, how much of your credit is used every month. Your credit score takes a plunge whenever that number climbs high.

Credit scores do not distinguish between balances you are paying off, it only looks at the new charges you are racking up. If you want to keep your credit score high, it is of dire importance that you keep those balances low.

To calculate your utilization ratio, add up last month’s balances and divide that by the total of all your credit limits on open accounts. The two-digit number after the decimal point is your utilization rate. Do the same for each individual card as well—FICO scoring looks at how much of your total limit you’re using, along with each card individually. Utilization is a significant portion of your scoring—30 percent. It is recommended that you try to achieve the lowest score possible. Those with the highest credit scores, 760 or above, usually have a utilization of approximately 7 percent.

Know the Difference between Charge Cards and Credit Cards

The main difference between charge cards is that they require you to pay the balance in full every month. They also aren’t included in your utilization rate, according to the most recent versions of the FICO scoring system. If you have a card and are unsure if it’s a charge card or credit card, call the issuer or check your latest credit report. Notations indicating “revolving” mean it’s a credit card; notations stating “open” means it’s a charge card.

Experts say that worrying about utilization rates or credit scores is unnecessary, but it can pay off to look more closely if you are a year or less away from purchasing a home or car, have unexplained card problems such as declining credit scores, or if you have a new card and want to see its impact on your credit score.

Understanding your credit can be extremely important, especially in situations when you need to rely on a good, solid credit score. By keeping your balances low and properly managing your credit card usage, you will hopefully never be financially limited by a poor credit score.

Source: Bankrate

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Tips for Selling a Home in Today's Market

September 17, 2012 3:34 am

For homeowners contemplating selling their homes in the current market, here are several tips to help sellers maximize the final sale price, get the home sold quickly and move on to their new home. While many factors come into play with finding the right buyer at the right time, there are many things sellers can do to help put the odds in their favor.

1. Do not overprice the home. Buyers today are looking for a bargain, and the seller in the end will likely have to bring the price down to meet market demands. The longer the home sits on the market, the stronger the negotiating position buyers have.

2. Select Internet-friendly pricing. More than 80 percent of home buyers begin their real estate searches online. Most real estate sites filter the prices in $25,000 to $50,000 increments. So while a creative price of $555,777 may grab attention, buyers who set their search maximum filter at $550,000 will exclude it. Additionally, prices ending in 000 (such as $500,000) tend to sell at a larger discount than homes ending in 500 (such as $524,500).

3. List the home on a Friday. Most buyers are checking out new listings on Fridays so they can see what is new for the weekend.

4. Occupy or stage the home. Buyers appreciate a home that is well attended. A vacant home typically feels cold and empty, while one that is still occupied has a warm, cozy feel, attracting more buyers. However, keep the personalization minimal; having neutral decor and paint colors will make it easier for a buyer to visualize their own style in the home. If a seller moves to a new residence before selling the old residence, it is a good idea to have the home professionally staged as if someone still lives in it.

5. Monitor local foreclosures. Foreclosures are costing sellers money and have become very aggressive opponents in today’s market. If the seller’s neighborhood has a lot of foreclosures, wait until they are sold before listing the home, if at all possible. Most banks are extremely eager to sell, thus creating an underpriced competitor. If the seller cannot wait to list the home, it will need to be priced competitively with the foreclosures, which can dig significantly into the home’s equity.

6. Keep the home neat and clean. With so many foreclosures on the market today, buyers are seeing homes at their worst. If the home is presented in the best possible way, it will attract more positive attention.

7. Keep records. Foreclosures do not come with any disclosures. Sellers who keep updated records, photos and permits handy for the buyer to review will make them feel much more confident about buying the home, giving the seller a competitive advantage over foreclosed properties in the neighborhood.

Though you can’t control market conditions, there are certain aspects of selling your home that you can grab a hold of. By following these tips, you can be one step closer to selling your home at a reasonable price.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


What You Need to Know about Apple's iPhone 5

September 14, 2012 3:30 am

Technology titan Apple has finally unveiled its plans for the highly anticipated fifth version of its seemingly magical mobile device. Announced on September 12, Apple has confirmed pre-order dates, shipping dates, and tech specs for the iPhone 5, proving that the wait for this impressive upgrade has definitely been worth it for consumers. Here is everything you need to be in the know:

Despite wide-spreading rumors, the phone is simply called the iPhone 5 and the screen is, in fact, bigger. Apple has upgraded the screen size to an expected four inches, making room for a fifth row of icons on the home screen, plus the usual shortcuts on the bottom. With its 326ppi Retina display, the phone now boasts a resolution of 1136 x 640 and carries a 16:9 aspect ratio with it. Any App that doesn't provide an update to fit these standards will appear letterboxed.

Size does matter, and this iPhone is a mere 0.3 inches thick and weighs only four ounces. Compared to the iPhone's last model, that's 20 percent lighter and 18 percent thinner. Although it has a redesigned shell, many aesthetics remain the same, such as the device's volume and mute buttons.

The iPhone 5's processor is the new Apple A6 chip. What does this mean? The phone will have twice the CPU speed and graphics power, while the chip is internally smaller and way more battery friendly than the iPhone 4S. Add to this the fact that the iPhone 5 will run on 4G making it Apple's first ever 4G LTE phone.

The phone's camera is still 8 megapixels and almost exactly mirrors the 4S model's cam. However, the iPhone 5 can shoot panorama shots to produce a 28MP image and it can also take photos while shooting a video.

Perhaps one of the biggest changes for the iPhone is its dock connector. Welcome to the new eight-signal mode coined "Lightning." It's 80 percent smaller than what Apple fans are used to, and old dock connectors will be made available. It's uncertain if these will ship with the phone.

iOS 6, Apple's new mobile operating system, is included with this update. With this system, users will find Passbook, Apple's new e-tickets app, plus the ability to FaceTime over 3G (network depending). Apple has also revealed its own maps product, featuring detailed satellite imagery, turn-by-turn directions and 3D imagery of buildings on the street.

Pre-orders for the iPhone 5 start today, September 14, through the Apple Online Store. The phone is expected to ship starting September 21. Prices will start at $199 for the 16 GB model, $299 for the 32GB, and $399 for the largest model, a whopping 64GB. Check with your carrier for more information about their own specific roll-out dates.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Make an Impact with the Perfect Quote

September 14, 2012 3:30 am

Relying on quotes for any kind of public speaking can help build the right tone and message you are seeking. A quote's real strength is in its ability to move others to feel or to act. It should transcend time, and uniquely and clearly encapsulate an idea, thought, maxim, or opinion.

The right words at the right time can be pretty powerful. What and how something is said, whether in person, online, or in writing, can change your world, or worse, get you into trouble. Using the perfect quote, however, is often the best way of communicating, persuasively and efficiently, in speaking and writing.

So what are the ways one should and should not use quotations?

• Be relevant. Do your homework and know your subject.
• Be light. A witty one- or two-line quote is much easier to pull off than any joke. Go for smiles, not guffaws.
• Be safe. What you say, or quote, publicly or in print can be taken out of context and spread within minutes.
• Be humble. A self-deprecating quotation can help gain needed support or change public perception.
• Be brief. Use quotes to avoid your own flowery language and simplify complex ideas.
• End wisely. People remember best what is expressed last.

Quotations can be a powerful tool. Use them to add power to your written and spoken words. You never know what kind of connection they can help you build with your audience.

Source: PartnerCom Corporation

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Retirement Planning at 40-Something - Halftime of the Big Game

September 14, 2012 3:30 am

If you started retirement planning early in your career, it's good news by the time you hit your 40s. But for those 40-somethings just thinking about retirement – it's like halftime in a football game.

Since football season is upon us, we'll use the gridiron analogy. Let's face it; working in your 40s really is like halftime in the big game. Your career is about half over, and it's time to stop the game, assess where you are and make any necessary adjustments to your plan. You have 20 years of work behind you, and roughly 20 years of work ahead. If you haven't been saving for retirement, it's time to get started. If you've been socking money away for years, then it's a good time to reassess where you are, and what you need to do over the next 20 years.

In your 40s, you still need to have an offensive strategy to continue building dollars for the future. On the flip side, a defensive strategy is still just as important to have in place for the possibility of premature death, disability, economic crises and other unforeseen financial needs. Just like any football game, you have to have that half-time 'locker-room talk' about preparing for the worst, but hitting the field with the mentality and the tools for ultimate success.

Here is a recommend checklist for creating a retirement strategy:

Plan - At this point in your career, you should have an excellent feel for when you'd like to retire, how much you need in those retirement years, and where your current career is likely to take you. For that reason, you should be able to create a very accurate retirement plan.
Do - At 40-something there is simply no time to waste. Once you've figured out what you need to do, just do it.
Check - If you're playing catch up, then you're going to need to check your retirement plan every two years or so. Because of the relatively short time between now and when you retire, you need to pay close attention to things such as the return on your investments to make sure they agree with your planning assumptions.
Act - As you check your plan, you may need to make adjustments to things such as retirement age and your rate of savings. Since you have half your career behind you, during each of these cycles you should only be tweaking your retirement plan.

Source: PFG Advisors

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Leftovers Good for Wallet and Waistline but Make Sure They're Safe

September 13, 2012 3:30 am

Saving leftovers to eat later is a great way to practice portion control and save money. For those times when our eyes are bigger than our stomachs, heating up leftovers to eat later is a no-brainer. However, making sure that food is stored and reheated properly is important to prevent you and your family from getting sick.

Keep these food safety tips in mind when reheating leftovers:

1. Refrigerate leftovers to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below within two hours of them being served to you. (In hotter weather over 90 degrees Fahrenheit, refrigerate after one hour.)

2. Seal leftovers in an airtight, clean container, and label it with the expiration date.

3. Reheat leftovers to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, and use a food thermometer to make sure all types of food reach the safe minimum internal temperature throughout before you eat.

4. Check on the shelf life of leftovers and discard when it's past the expiration date. When in doubt, throw it out!

Unfortunately, you can't rely on sight and scent alone to tell if food is spoiled or contaminated with foodborne pathogens. That's why it's important to follow these simple steps, to avoid putting yourself at risk for food poisoning.

According to a 2011 survey conducted by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, only 23 percent of Americans always use a food thermometer to check the doneness of their foods, and only 28 percent regularly check the refrigerator thermometer.

It's important to properly store and reheat leftovers, whether at home or the office. Encourage those around you or your work place to regularly clean the refrigerator and ensure it remains under the recommended temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Source: Home Food Safety

Published with permission from RISMedia.


What Everyone Should Know About Garage Door Safety

September 13, 2012 3:30 am

For many homeowners, garage doors are the heaviest moving object that your family utilizes day after day. Especially for those with small children, everyone should be aware of a few safety tips in order to properly use your garage door and prevent any harm from happening to a loved one or guest. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

-Garage door and garage door openers are not toys. People often forget that garage doors can and cause serious injury or even death. Do not take this lightly.

-While garage doors are opening or closing, make sure children are nowhere near them.

-Keep garage door buttons or openers away from children's reaches. Mount your buttons at least five to seven feet off of the floor.

-Always keep the garage door in full view while it is opening or closing to make sure no person or animal runs underneath.

-If someone has backed into the garage door, make sure to have the door serviced by a technician. In addition, it's a great idea to have the door properly checked out at least once a year. This is the best preventative measure one could take to avoid injury or death.

-Never mess with a garage door's springs or cables. These are usually under extreme tension and accidents can easily happen.

Source: Garage Door Care

Published with permission from RISMedia.


A Guide to Kitchen Faucets for a Fast Facelift

September 13, 2012 3:30 am

Replacing a kitchen faucet is hands down the fastest, easiest and least expensive way to dramatically improve the appearance and functionality of the kitchen. Maybe more importantly, replacing an older or corroded faucet goes a long way towards cleaning up and even updating the look and feel of the kitchen.
Here is a selection of kitchen faucets that can fit any budget, as well as a tip sheet to help consumers pick what’s right for them.

1. Bare bones, pure functionality, no-frills kitchen faucets can cost less than a hundred bucks, and if the existing faucet is in particularly bad shape, even a very plain-jane fixture can dramatically improve the appearance of the kitchen. For example, a simple, sleek Cascada kitchen faucet from Ruvati is a great choice, because it’s inexpensive (only $90!) and minimal, but also stylish. It’s no out-of-date, old-fashioned faucet; it’s lovely and unobtrusive, perfectly suited for a modern kitchen.

2. When kitchen faucets start getting expensive is when one either wants some more design to it, or more integrated functionality, though oddly enough, it’s the former that will often cost you more. Herbeau kitchen faucets are famous for their authentic artisan designs, made from the same casts and using traditional methods and materials used for more than a hundred years in the Provence region of France. For a French country kitchen, one can’t get much more authentic than the Herbeau’s Valence faucet, but it’ll also put the project in a much bigger budget bracket.

3. There are a lot of brands out there making kitchen faucets, and many designs one falls in love with can be found from another brand for a very different price. For example, the Af-430 Kitchen Faucet from Artisan has a similar French countryside inspirations and design, but will set one back about a third what the one from Herbeau would.

4. Where things start to get a little tricky is when looking for the most technologically up-to-date faucets out there. For example, the Touch2o faucets from Delta. They can be turned on and off with just a touch of any bit of bare skin, reducing the potential for cross contamination, no matter how dirty the hands happen to be. No other brand has anything like it yet, so if one wants the tech, there isn’t always a whole lot of room to shop around. Thankfully, though, at least the Touch2o faucets are pretty reasonably priced, and also come with integrated pull-down spray nozzles for added functionality.

5. Standard pull-out kitchen faucets, too, are starting to become ubiquitous in the market, and when shopping less well-known brands like AmeriSink, they can be a whole lot less expensive. The Amerisink Kitchen Faucets are simple, stylish, and with a slightly modern bent, but they’ll cost about half of what a similar faucet from a bigger designer brand would cost.

6. If looking for a faucet that’s unique, high-end designer pieces like the industrial-inspired, fully-articulated Karbon faucet from Kohler is something to look for. It doesn’t add any functionality that some of the simpler flexible neck or pull down faucets would, but it’ll certainly be a unique looking fixture.

With so many faucets to choose from, there are a few things to keep in mind in order to pick the right one:

-Set a budget
-Know the style
-Define the functionality needed
-Know the dimensions requirements
-Shop less expensive brands
-Shop around
-Shop online


Published with permission from RISMedia.


Why You Need To Watch Out For the 'United States Cyber Security' Program

September 12, 2012 3:28 am

According to ComputersMD, an online computer repair company specializing in virus removal, the United State Cyber Security virus targets millions of Internet users all over the world. The virus can easily infect a computer from any unsecure website on the web. Once it infects a computer, it uses the United States Cyber Law as cover for its malicious intentions. It locks a computer and uses the IP address and geolocation to alert that he/she has violated cyber law. It uses impeccable English to quote several clauses in the United States Criminal Code to support the crimes it accuses the Internet user of committing. This is accompanied by a fake punishment statement, which threatens the user of a jail term, unless a fine is paid.

The virus alerts the user that he/she is guilty of the following crimes and should pay a fine to unlock the computer or risk a jail term:

â— Violation of the Copyright and Rights law, which attracts a fine of $200-$500 or a jail term of 2-8 years.
â— Watching, distributing or downloading illegal pornographic content, of which the user may face a jail term of 2-12 years.
â— Neglectful use of the computer, which may have been caused by an illegal access prompted by a malware. This attracts a fine of up to $100,000 or a jail term of 4-9 years.

The virus also issues a fake threat that a criminal case may be initiated against the user unless a fine of $200 is paid via Moneypak within 24 hours. This allegedly unlocks the computer within 48 hours and the case is dropped. However, the Department of Defense functions differently. If anyone is suspected of cyber crime, he or she will be contacted directly without a prior request to pay any fine.

The only way to unlock an infected computer is to permanently remove the virus. There are four main ways to effectively do this. One of them is the use of Antivirus or Antimalware software. The software has to be transcendently strong and up-to-date to be able to effectively remove the virus. If this is not effective, a user could manually kill the virus process and remove all the related directory files and accompanying registry entries. Another malware removal method is troubleshooting the infected computer after booting via "Safe Mode with Networking." Finally, one could also remove the virus by restoring the entire system to a date and time prior to the infection.

Source: ComputersMD

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Fresh Tips on Pet Examination

September 12, 2012 3:28 am

Noticing an abnormality in your pet and reacting sooner rather than later can be a huge money saver. Many pet owners are not noticing or they delay contacting an animal care organization, causing the problem to escalate into a major concern. It is highly suggested that even before the purchasing of a pet, consulting a pet animal care specialist to understand the maintenance schedule for examination can save bundles.

Research the breed and understand the pet's needs. This helps to prevent many health-related problems on the front end. For example, Australian Shepards, Boxers and other breeds require frequent interaction because they are high-energy breeds. These are two examples that are not good condo pets. Depending on breed, size, gender and environment, you should always double check the proper caring instructions with a vet. Average routine checks should be scheduled every nine months.

After purchasing a puppy, the two-to-three month range is extremely important. This is the general schedule for the examination of a dog; as soon as the puppy is procured, the dog needs to be taken to the veterinarian for a thorough examination. The average dog is to be taken to the veterinarian in the fifth or sixth week of age. This is known as the vaccination period and it is extremely important in the fight against diseases throughout the pet’s life. The period of vaccination in the first year will be continued up to the sixteenth week of age and the schedule needs to be maintained accordingly.

Another successful measure to prevent disease is through exercise. Pet exercise is highly important for pet health as it prevents obesity, reduces hyperactivity and keeps a dog's eating and bowel movements on a normal schedule. Lying around eating and sleeping most of the day is not a healthy regime for humans or pets. Pet exercise also keeps pets in good spirits and is the most rewarding treats for dogs.

The final prevention method is to reduce stress. High anxiety or stress, just like in humans, is a precursor to heath issues. If you board your pet frequently, make sure when you return to check on bowel movements, unusual activity in behavior with other pets, and feeding schedules. If there is a constant issue, another option, such as in-home pet care, might be worth your time. A pet might also be stressed due to conditions or environment of a boarding facility. Be sure to ask staff to let you do a walk-through. Also, check on the schedule your pet will receive. These questions will help clear up doubt and make sure pet owners make a good decision when choosing pet care.

Source: Blue Chip Pet Care

Published with permission from RISMedia.