Regina "Ginny" Wolkoff
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Financial Education at Every Age

April 21, 2015 1:45 am

Developing financial skills at a young age is essential to making smart monetary decisions in the future. According to a survey by the Council for Economic Education, just 17 states in the U.S. require personal finance classes in high school.

“Financial education is key to economic stability and success, and kids are never too young to start learning about money, budgeting and saving,” says Steve Trumble, president and CEO, American Consumer Credit Counseling (ACCC). “While extensive financial education resources are available, too often they aren’t included in students’ learning environments or school curriculum. This has lifelong financial consequences. If we want our kids to be smart financial adults, we need to introduce these core concepts at a young age.”

ACCC recommends educating children about finances, budgeting and the impact of money at various stages:

Preschool – Grade 2: Parents should introduce the concept of money to children in pre-kindergarten. Preschoolers can learn to identify, count and sort different types of coins, while kindergarteners can learn how much different coins are worth. First and second graders can begin to determine how to use the fewest number of coins to achieve different amounts, and whether they have enough money to purchase items at various prices. Second graders can also learn to make change.

Start by turning everyday activities into an opportunity to explain what money is and how it is used. For example, during a trip to the grocery store, parents can compare food prices. Your next trip to the ATM is an opportunity to make sure your child understands that money must be earned and does not just come from a machine.

Grades 3-6: As children progress through elementary school into middle school, they can begin learning about smart money choices. Distinguish between needs – items such as food, shelter and clothing – and wants – things like toys and candy. Children at this age can be introduced to the concept of budgeting, particularly if they receive an allowance, get birthday cash or gift chards or money from chores.

Introduce a budgeting worksheet that lays out sources of income and expenses so that children learn what money is being earned and spent. At this age, the concept of saving – putting money aside now to be used later – becomes important. The next time your child receives a birthday check, take them to open a savings account and explain how their money can grow due to interest.

Grades 7-12: By the time children reach middle and high school they are old enough to understand and utilize the concepts of earning, planning and saving. Most kids at this age begin to earn money, whether through a summer job, babysitting or other work. It is important that kids keep track of their spending and know where their money is going each month. Explain that a portion of each paycheck should be put directly into a savings account.

Children should set SMART financial goals by deciding what they are saving for and how much they are going to need. SMART financial goals include being Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely.
1. Specific: What exactly needs to be accomplished? Who else will be involved? Where will it take place? Why do I want to accomplish this goal?
2. Measurable: How will I know I’ve succeeded? How much of a change do I need to make? How many accomplishments or actions will it take?
3. Achievable: Do I have, or can I get, the resources needed to achieve the goal? Is the goal reasonable for me? Are the actions I plan to take going to bring me success?
4. Realistic: Is it worthwhile for me right now? Is it meaningful to me? Will it delay or prevent me from achieving more important goals? Am I willing to commit to really achieving this goal?
5. Timely: What is the deadline for reaching the goal? When do I need to take action? What can I do today?
Once kids get SMART about their goals, they can develop a detailed budget, utilize a bank account, and learn about what it means to spend and borrow smart without getting into too much credit card debt.

College Students: As children begin thinking about college and life post high school, their financial needs become more pronounced. During this time, it’s critical that students learn in detail how to choose a bank and credit card.

Students thinking about college should learn about various scholarships, how to earn money while in school, and apply the financial lessons they’ve already learned by finding ways they can save money on textbooks and other college expenses.

Source: ACCC

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Future is Bright for Solar-Powered Homes

April 21, 2015 1:45 am

The future looks bright for American households.

According to a recent survey commissioned by solar service provider Sungevity, 81 percent of parents plan to live in a solar-powered home. The majority of those surveyed would also like solar to be the world’s primary energy source when their children grow up.

Savings topped the list of reasons why parents would power their homes with solar energy. Solar energy can substantially cut, or even eliminate, monthly utility bills. When it comes to environmentally friendly activities at home, however, nearly half believe it would be more difficult for their family to go an “energy diet” than a food diet.

In an interesting twist, more than a third of survey respondents would like to see the Las Vegas strip, known for its excessive use of electricity, powered by the sun.

Source: Sungevity

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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What Every Homebuyer Should Know about Termites

April 21, 2015 1:45 am

(BPT) - It's a cruel coincidence that spring homebuying season corresponds with another far less pleasant one - termite swarming season. When eager homebuyers emerge from winter hibernation to look for their dream homes, termites emerge, too, say the experts at the National Pest Management Association (NPMA).

If you'll be buying or selling a home this spring, the NPMA offers some valuable termite information:
  • The average homebuyer and homeowner might have difficulty spotting the evidence of a termite infestation. Termites chew through wood, flooring and other materials behind-the-scenes, so it can take years before the signs of an infestation are visible to the untrained eye. An inspection by a licensed pest professional is the best way to detect an infestation of wood-destroying organisms (WDOs) - especially if you live in a termite-prone area of the country.
  • A WDO inspection is different from a simple structural inspection. Buyers should be sure to have their prospective home inspected by a licensed pest professional. The inspection will last about an hour, and the specialist will probe the home from top to bottom to look for telltale signs of termite damage. After the inspection is over, the specialist will report to the buyers what he or she has found, and an estimate of how much it might cost to remediate any termite damage he or she has discovered.
  • Different states have varying laws about termite inspections. Some may require one before a home can be sold, while others do not. Check with your REALTOR® about the laws in your state, and keep in mind that many lenders will require a pest inspection be done in addition to a structural inspection - especially if the home you are buying is in a termite-prone area.
  • Termite detection, remediation and control are not do-it-yourself tasks. If an inspector finds signs of a termite infestation and damage, you'll need professionals to remedy the problem. Buyers who discover problems before the sale is final will be better able to negotiate with the seller to take care of the problem. In some states, the law may not allow the sale to be finalized until the damage is addressed, and lenders may refuse to finalize a mortgage for a home with unresolved termite issues.
  • If the termite inspection shows your new home is pest-free, congratulations! After the sale is finalized, be sure to take steps to protect your home from termites going forward, including having the home inspected for termites at least once every three years, and every year if you live in an area prone to termite infestations.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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7 Ways to Celebrate Earth Day with Kids

April 20, 2015 1:42 am

Each April, Earth Day acknowledges the need for continued care of our planet. To get children involved this Earth Day, host fun activities that not only celebrate the occasion, but also help increase their environmental awareness, say the experts at Smart Playrooms.

Here are 7 fun ways to celebrate with children this year:

1. Plant a Tree
Tree planting is one of the most traditional ways of celebrating Earth Day. By fostering trees, children can help reduce gas emissions from greenhouses and enable long-lasting biodiversity in their communities. This commonly practiced activity is appropriate for school-aged children, as it is incredibly impactful but fairly simple to execute.

2. Host a Garage Sale or Clothing Swap
For many people, the things they don’t want or no longer need take up a lot of space and resources. Repurposing these items for those who can use them is an earth-friendly way of reinforcing recycling and generosity. Garage sales are fairly easy to coordinate and can be done at home or even in a school setting. Children can take the time to de-clutter their spaces and find a home for their old toys and clothes.

3. Organize Your Playroom or Classroom
Getting organized around the house and in the classroom is a huge task, but is full of long-lasting benefits. Redesigning a space children play in can transform it into a room for inspiration. By using toys and furniture that already exist, convert cluttered spaces into an organized environment that far exceeds Earth Day.

4. Community Clean-Up
Assembling a group of children together to pick up trash and waste in your neighborhood is a fun way to reduce pollution. This hands-on and collective effort beautifies local neighborhoods and bonds everyone in the process. Before going into the field, be sure to review your neighborhood’s restrictions and safety guidelines to protect both children and adult volunteers. Make sure you’ve carefully delegated tasks and your clean-up route to use your time efficiently.

5. Wear Earth-Toned Colors
Having your children wear earth-toned colors like brown and green is one of the simplest ways to create awareness. Coordinate with other leaders in your community to spread the word a few days in advance.

6. Build a Birdhouse
Nature crafts are a kid-favorite. Installing birdfeeders encourages the local bird population. To create the birdhouse, used recycled materials from home like guitar strings or juice cartoons to drive home the importance of reuse. This is a project that will allow your children to express themselves creatively while benefiting our ecosystem.

7. Write a Letter
If you are a teacher, consider taking a day to have your class write a letter to your local government on ways to improve your environment. You’d be surprised what great ideas children come up with. In even better instances, your class’ idea may even come into fruition! Teaching children that they have power to make change to our environment is priceless.

Source: Smart Playrooms

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Top 10 Landscaping Trends

April 20, 2015 1:42 am

Sustainability and low-maintenance: those are the buzzwords swirling around this year’s home landscape trends, according to the most recent Landscape Architecture Trend Survey by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). Respondents expected the greatest demand for ecologically sensitive projects intended to preserve the environment, conserve water and reduce landscape maintenance.

Based on the survey and ordered by consumer expectation, the top 10 residential landscape projects are:

1. Native Plants

2. Native/Adapted Drought-Tolerant Plants

3. Food/Vegetable Gardens

4. Fire Pits/Fireplaces

5. Low-Maintenance Landscapes

6. Permeable Paving

7. Drip/Water-Efficient Irrigation

8. Rain Gardens

9. Lighting

10. Rainwater/Graywater Harvesting

The majority of respondents reported the most popular outdoor recreation amenities will include spa features—hot tubs, Jacuzzis, whirlpools and indoor/outdoor saunas—and swimming pools. Another anticipated amenity is a sport court, such as for tennis or bocce.

Among the results, the top three most popular outdoor design elements include fire pits or fireplaces, grills and lighting. Pergolas, decks and fencing are expected to be the most popular outdoor structures. In terms of sustainable features, respondents named compost bins, geothermal heated pools and solar-powered lights.

Source: ASLA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Your 4-Step Moving Plan

April 20, 2015 1:42 am

(BPT) – No matter the distance, moving is a big deal. Prepare now to move your belongings with this four-step plan from the experts at Penske Truck Rental.

1. Less is More
– The less you have to move, the easier your move will be on your body and your wallet. It will also be easier to fit everything into your new house. While packing, create three piles: the first is your "must-go" pile; the second is your "must-sell" pile, which includes anything you haven't used in the last year, anything you have multiples of and anything you just don't want; the third is the "must-throw" pile, which contains anything that can't be sold at a garage sale or donated. Start creating these piles now to make moving day much easier.

2. Stock Up on Supplies – Big boxes might seem like a great idea because they hold so much, but what happens when you try to lift one or carry it down a flight of steps? Stock up on boxes of multiple sizes, and keep in mind that smaller is much easier to carry. Purchase foam and bubble wrap to protect your fragile items, a good supply of packing tape and bold markers for labeling boxes. You'll also want to have moving blankets and hand trucks to make it easier to transport your items.

3. Pack Smart – Load the heaviest items in your car or on the truck first. When you've got a sturdy base of the heaviest items, you can start stacking on top. This is when it's handy to list a box's contents on its side. If you have friends and family helping, they'll know not to set books on top of your china, for example.

4. Stay Safe and Secure – Trucks are taller and wider and require more stopping distance than the vehicle you are used to driving. Take extra precaution, especially when the truck is loaded. Watch out for low-hanging tree branches and building overhangs, and use extra caution when cornering. To protect your belongings, park in well-lit areas and padlock the rear door. To make sure you've got everything you need on moving day, keep a travel bag with paperwork, credit cards, identification, a change of clothes, drinks and snacks close at hand.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Mortgage Rates Hover Near 2-Year Low

April 17, 2015 1:30 am

According to Bankrate.com’s weekly national survey, mortgage rates pulled back this week, with the benchmark 30-year fixed mortgage rate dipping to 3.79 percent and the average 15-year fixed mortgage rate inching lower to 3.03 percent.

The jumbo 30-year fixed mortgage set a new record low of 3.90 percent. Adjustable rate mortgages (ARM) were mixed, with the 5-year ARM nosing higher to 3.08 percent and the 10-year ARM drifting down to 3.54 percent.

Mortgage rates are at a 23-month low, a fact which could motivate buyers off the sidelines, particularly with the likelihood of higher rates later in the year. As evidenced by recent uneven data, the cold winter put a chill on the economy. The softness in economic releases continues to keep everyone guessing about the timing of the Federal Reserve interest rate hikes.

Source: Bankrate.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Smart Homes Met with Mixed Attitudes

April 17, 2015 1:30 am

Though consumers expect smart homes to “arrive” well before smart cars or wearable tech, their enthusiasm is tempered by some confusion around the smart home concept, according to research firm iModerate. This stems from concerns over price, ease of use and physical and data security.

Participants in a recent iModerate study said they think a smart home would be most beneficial when they’re away from home. Specifically, they said a smart home would alleviate worries of leaving an appliance on, help lower energy bills and reduce burglary concerns.

However, consumers see the smart home as something of a double-edged sword: they believe it will offer peace of mind to them and their families, but they are wary of the security and privacy issues a smart home could expose. They like the idea of being able to peek in to their homes, to remotely control home functions, and to receive alerts if there is an attempted intrusion or mechanical problem that occurs while they’re away.

Conversely, consumers are fearful that security measures could backfire, data collected by smart home systems could be exploited, and smart locks could be easily hacked.

“We found our conversations with consumers fascinating in terms of how eager people are to embrace the smart home,” says Adam Rossow, partner, iModerate. “They perceive the technology would generally better the home experience. Only 7 percent indicated concern that it would make their homes feel cold and uninviting, whereas the majority envisioned smart home technology as a silent task-master, freeing up time they’d typically spend on household chores and, in turn, allowing them more time with their families.”

Source: iModerate

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Breaking Down Spring Home Project Costs

April 17, 2015 1:30 am

(Family Features) Before you grab your toolkit or enlist the help of a professional for spring projects this season, do your wallet a favor and conduct some research.

HomeAdvisor’s most recent True Cost Report found that 38 percent of homeowners don't know how much it will cost to hire a professional for home projects, and nearly 70 percent are concerned about overpaying as a consequence of not having reliable cost information.

If you’ve got any of these projects on the agenda this spring, keep in mind these tips.
  • Repairing the roof: Maintaining the roof protects a home from the elements and can raise property values. Small repairs keep a roof in good shape for several years and help avoid costly damages. Most homeowners assume repairing a roof can be costly. In fact, the average roof fix only costs $550, according to the True Cost Report.
  • Remodeling a kitchen: Kitchen remodels boost a home's resale value and add functionality to the most utilized space in a home. Many factors go into remodeling a kitchen, including flooring, plumbing, appliances and electrical, so bear in mind these additional costs when budgeting.
  • Remodeling a bathroom: Homeowners can choose from different types of bathroom remodels, depending on style preferences and budget. The average cost of remodeling a bathroom is $9,000, says HomeAdvisor.
  • Painting the home's exterior: Painting the home's exterior not only boosts its curb appeal, but it also acts as a home's primary defense against weather, insects, and other damage. Consider your region’s climate before selecting a color and/or finish.
  • Installing landscaping: Landscaping can dramatically change the look of a house and property. Adding landscaping such as an outdoor patio, flowers or shrubs can increase the value of a home. The True Cost Report points to an average cost of $2,938 for landscaping.
Source: HomeAdvisor

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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HUD Grants to Assist 1.5 Million Households

April 16, 2015 1:27 am

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is helping individuals and families get smarter about homeownership with $36 million in counseling grants to hundreds of national, regional and local organizations to assist with housing needs. The counseling grants are expected to help over 1.5 million households locate housing or prevent future foreclosures and make more informed housing decisions.

The grants will help homebuyers:
  • Reevaluate their readiness for a home purchase
  • Understand their financing and down payment options
  • Locate affordable rental housing
  • Become financially literate, especially if struggling to repair credit issues
  • Seek reverse mortgages or HECM, especially if elderly
  • Review loan documentation
  • Avoid potential mortgage scams, unreasonably high interest rates, inflated appraisals or unaffordable repayment terms
  • Prevent foreclosure through expense reduction, negotiation with lenders and loan servicers and loss mitigation
Recent research from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia and the Urban Institute continues to find substantial benefits to housing counseling for families who purchase their first homes and those struggling to prevent foreclosure.

To locate a HUD-approved housing counseling agency, visit HUD.gov.

Source: HUD

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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