June Croissette
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RE/MAX 440   June Croissette
440 South West End Blvd, RT 309  Quakertown, PA  18951
Office Phone: 215-538-4400    Phone: 215-538-4400 Ext. 1210  Fax: 267-354-6834  Cell: 215-872-4966
jcroissette@remax440.com

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Retiring Homeowners FAQ: What the Heck Is a HECM?

May 6, 2016 12:48 am

The number of retiring homeowners is projected to expand exponentially in the coming years. Maximizing your real estate investment can help underwrite retirement expenses. For your consideration: the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM).

HECM is the Federal Housing Administration's (FHA) reverse mortgage program, which enables homeowners to withdraw some equity in their home in a fixed monthly amount, a line of credit, or a combination of both. 

To be eligible for a FHA HECM, you must:

• Be a homeowner 62 or older;
• You must live in the home;
• Own your home outright, or;
• Owe a low mortgage balance that can be paid off with proceeds from the HECM, and;
• Have financial resources to pay ongoing property charges like taxes and insurance.

You are also required to receive consumer information free or at very low cost from a HECM counselor prior to obtaining the loan.

A longevity annuity can also be a useful tool. Retirees aged 65 could draw $3,000 a month to age 100 with assets of $600,000, at which point their assets would be fully depleted. Retirees could use $200,000 of their nest egg to purchase a longevity annuity that begins payments of $3,000 after 10 years. These same retirees could draw on a reverse mortgage credit line to bolster their retirement income, as long as they had sufficient equity in their home.

Retirees with equity in their home who depend on pensions (rather than a nest egg of financial assets) can supplement their pension income using a HECM reverse mortgage in either of two ways. One way is to exercise the “tenure” option under the HECM program, and receive a fixed annuity payment for as long as the retiree remains in the house. The second way is to exercise the credit line option, using some or all of it to purchase an immediate annuity from a life insurance company.

You can find a HECM counselor online at HUD.gov, or by phoning 800-569-4287.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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8 Ways to Boost Your Home's Value

May 6, 2016 12:48 am

Improving the look and functionality of your home goes a long way toward boosting its value. But what types of renovation are today’s buyers looking for?

Consumer Reports reveals the most sought-after amenities:

Allowance for Aging in Place – As people are living longer and the number of senior citizens continues to increase, buyers see the long-term value of walk-in showers, comfort-height toilets and master bedrooms on the main floor.

Color and Light Matter – Fresh paint, natural color schemes and window treatments that let in the light will improve the look, as well as the value, of your home.

Energy Efficiency – Buyers are interested in energy costs and efficiency. ENERGY STAR appliances, high-efficiency windows and LED lighting help to lower the cost and increase your home’s ‘green’ appeal.

The Great Outdoors – Up your home’s curb appeal by keeping lawns and shrubbery neatly trimmed. Also high on buyers’ wish lists are a water-smart yard, a deck or patio and a built-in grill.

Kitchens Top the List – Buyers want a clean, updated and well-organized kitchen. A new coat of paint or modernized lighting can be inexpensive starts. Increasing the value exponentially are quartz counters, attractive cabinetry and stainless steel appliances.

Smart Technology – Some high-tech features may lose value as technology continues to evolve, but security systems, whole house generators and programmable thermostats controlled by smartphones will add value for their efficiency and convenience.

Updated Systems and Surfaces – Central air conditioning and updated mechanical systems, including water heaters and gas heat, can increase a home’s value by 3 to 5 percent. A newer roof and hardwood flooring are also much in demand.

Workable Floor Plans – Regardless of the size of your home, strategically increasing the living space is sure to boost its value. A more open floor plan, a finished basement or a dedicated playroom or office space appeals to the needs of young families.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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The 4 Things Grads Should Know About Student Loans

May 6, 2016 12:48 am

If the results of a recent National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®) poll are any indication, many college graduates are faced with stress over student loan debt repayment.

“The best way to feel more confident about keeping your student debt under control is to have a specific plan,” says Bruce McClary of the NFCC. “Part of the planning process involves learning about the debt and the options for making it work within a budget.”

To gain control over your financial future and stay on track repaying educational loans, the NFCC recommends the following tips.

1. Track Grace Periods – Different loans have different grace periods. A grace period is how long you can wait after leaving school before you have to make your first payment. It is six months for federal Stafford loans, but nine months for federal Perkins loans. For federal PLUS loans, it depends on when they were issued. The grace periods for private student loans vary, so consult your paperwork or contact your lender to find out. Don’t miss your first payment!

2. Understand Your Loans – Use whatever time you have during your grace period to get to know the types of loans you have, keeping track of the lender, balance and repayment status for each one. Every detail is important, because it can play a role in determining how each loan is repaid and what options might be available if you are ever at risk of falling behind. Start by visiting www.nslds.ed.gov to identify the details about the loan amounts, lender(s), and repayment status for all federal loans. If some loans aren’t listed, they’re probably private (non-federal) loans. For those, try to find a recent billing statement and/or the original paperwork. The school may be able to help if those records aren’t handy.

3. Plan for Repayment – When your federal loans are due, your payments will automatically be based on a standard 10-year repayment plan. If the standard payment is going to be hard for you to cover, there are other options, and you might be able to change plans down the line if you want or need to. Extending your repayment period beyond 10 years can lower your monthly payments, but you’ll end up paying more interest – often a lot more – over the life of the loan.

Some important options for student loan borrowers are income-driven repayment plans such as Income-Based Repayment and Pay As You Earn, which cap your monthly payments at a reasonable percentage of your income each year, and forgive any debt remaining after no more than 25 years (depending on the plan) of affordable payments. Forgiveness may be available after just 10 years of these payments for borrowers in the public and nonprofit sectors. To find out more about Income-Based Repayment and related programs and how they might work for you, visit www.IBRinfo.org.

4. Stay Out of Trouble – Ignoring your student loans has serious consequences that can last a lifetime. Not paying can lead to delinquency and default. For federal loans, default kicks in after nine months of non-payment. When you default, your total loan balance becomes due, your credit score is ruined, the total amount you owe increases dramatically, and the government can garnish your wages and seize your tax refunds if you default on a federal loan. For private loans, default can happen much more quickly and can put anyone who co-signed for your loan at risk as well. Talk to your lender right away if you’re in danger of default.

Source: NFCC

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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4 Ways to Create Better Spending Habits

May 5, 2016 12:45 am

If money is scarce by the end of every pay period, you may need to become a more efficient spender—and that means forming spending habits that come as naturally as paying your monthly bills.

U.S. News & World Report suggests test-driving a few of these ideas for living within your means:

Train Yourself to Change – Make small savings goals a part of your overall plan. One way to save money when eating out is to drink water instead of soda, wine or other pricey beverages. If you do it repeatedly, the small gesture will become a money-saving habit—and who doesn’t know that drinking more water offers significant health benefits?

Put Yourself on a Cash-Only Diet – If you tend to fall prey to the lure of credit cards, tuck them away and limit yourself to using cash instead. Withdraw the amount of cash you can afford to spend within a given time period. Chances are, you will find yourself spending more judiciously in order to make the cash last longer.

Limit Your Shopping Time – The more time you spend shopping or browsing, the more money you are apt to spend. Make short trips to the store or the mall. Buy what you need from a pre-written list and get on your way in a hurry. Spend the extra time reading or pursuing a hobby, and you reap double benefits.

Reward Yourself for Good Behavior – Habits can be formed much of the time by rewarding good behavior. If you stick with your spending plan (read: budget) for an entire month, successfully resisting all splurges and temptations, reward yourself with a little something nice that doesn’t break the bank, like a new pair of shoes or one of those special coffee drinks you cut out of your daily spend.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Your New Furnace Efficiency Checklist Starts with Ducts

May 5, 2016 12:45 am

So you've gone to the expense of finally replacing that old Buck Rogers-looking furnace with a high-tech, high-efficiency model that also coincidentally resembles a futuristic machine—albeit much smaller.

To be sure your new furnace is humming along as efficiently as possible, we turned to Don Ames of Home Energy Pros, a social network and community dedicated to home energy professionals. 

Ames says to maximize efficiency, check these four system items that affect how a new furnace will perform:

• Check for heating duct leakage and seal if needed
• Clean the air conditioner heat exchanger
• Make adjustments to the filter and the filter cabinet
• Add passages for return air that will balance the room pressure

Before installing a new furnace (and allowing efficiently heated air to escape unused), Ames says the duct system is the first and foremost thing that should be checked for air leakage, and sealed as needed.

If your utility, gas or electric provider has a duct sealing program, sign up—they may test your heating ducts for free. Otherwise, Ames says just seal them yourself using generous amounts of duct mastic.

First things first: do you have metal or insulated, flexible vinyl ducts? If you have insulated, flexible vinyl ducts, Ames says go ahead and check connections at the metal plenum or the metal register boots. If necessary, seal all joints in the metal plenum and seal the boots to the floor.

If you have metal ducts, whether round or rectangular, Ames says seal all joints and connections in both the supply and return air ducts with mastic using a gloved hand and applying it nickel-thick.

Ames reminds homeowners who want to squeeze every penny of savings from a high-efficiency heating system that sealing heating ducts is one of the most cost-effective and successful retrofits you can do to your home.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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How Much Should New Homeowners Set Aside for Repairs?

May 5, 2016 12:45 am

Owning a home comes with its fair share of expenses, including mortgage and insurance payments and maintenance costs, but how much can a new homeowner reasonably expect to spend on unexpected repairs?

"My recommendation for homeowners is to take a few simple precautions before moving into their home," says Marianne Cusato, HomeAdvisor.com. "Complete a sewer inspection, check that the insurance policy covers water damage, and set money aside for home emergency projects. Homeowners should plan on spending 1 percent of their home's purchase price on repairs and emergencies each year."

According to HomeAdvisor.com data, more than half of homeowners encountered unexpected home projects within the first year of owning a home. More than half also spent more time on projects than originally anticipated, and less than half spent more money than anticipated.

The most frequently cited emergency projects include blocked toilets and pipes, a clogged drain, a broken heating or cooling system and water leaks. These unexpected repairs can cost homeowners anywhere from $199 to $2,068.

In the first year of homeownership, most new homeowners tend to focus on improvements that increase curb appeal, such as installing landscaping, a sprinkler system, wood fence or deck. According to HomeAdvisor.com, the average cost of these outdoor projects is $12,850.

Source: HomeAdvisor.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Report: Retirees Happy "Just Getting By"

May 4, 2016 6:42 am

Despite economic progress, many retirees are still feeling the aftershocks of the recession—but that hasn’t dampened their spirits.

“Many American retirees are still recovering from the Great Recession while managing their households with modest retirement incomes,” explains Catherine Collinson, president of the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies® (TCRS), which recently released a “State of Retirement” compendium. “The good news is that most retirees are enjoying life, but the concerning news is that many may be ill-equipped to deal with a financial shock, such as the possible need for long-term care.

“As a society, we frequently speak of the need for workers to save and prepare for retirement,” Collinson continues. “Unfortunately, the conversation often ends once people stop working and retire, which is when it becomes even more critical for them to have a financial plan that can last their lifetimes.”

Over one-third of retirees included in the TCRS compendium have only “somewhat” recovered from the recession—a finding reflected in the “just getting by” mentality prevalent in the report. Other financial priorities cited in the compendium include paying off a mortgage, saving for retirement and paying off credit card debt.

Retirees today are living on a modest income: a median of $32,000, according to the TCRS compendium. Social Security is the top source of retirement income, followed by savings and investments, company-funded pension plans, and 401(k)s, 403(b)s and IRAs. Most retirees began collecting Social Security benefits at 62 years old.

Still, current retirees expect a long retirement, filled with meaningful activities outside of employment. These include spending time with family and friends, pursuing hobbies, traveling, volunteering and caring for grandchildren.

Overall, the vast majority of retirees included in the compendium are “generally happy,” “enjoying life,” and “have a strong sense of purpose.”

Source: Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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What Can Homeowners Do to Prevent the Spread of Zika?

May 4, 2016 6:42 am

Mounting concern over Zika and other mosquito-borne viruses has yet to motivate homeowners to take preventative measures, recent reports show, despite the urgency of the outbreak.

“Unlike Chikungunya and West Nile virus, Zika has been identified as a world health crisis,” says Scott Zide, co-founder of Mosquito Squad. “Removal of standing water is the most essential tactic in mosquito elimination, yet homeowners aren’t actively removing it, which is surprising given mosquito concerns are so high.

“Although Zika has yet to be transmitted by mosquitoes in the U.S., public health experts do expect that it soon will,” Zide adds, “and we're encouraging homeowners to walk their yards to check for ways to eliminate mosquitoes.”

Zide recommends these tips:

Stretch tarps taut. If you have items on your property covered by tarps, ensure they are stretched taut with bungee cords to eliminate the possibility of water accumulating. Inspect tarps over boats, grills, firewood piles, recycling cans and sports equipment, especially.

Toss any debris, including lawn clippings, leaves and twigs. Debris of any size can provide a prime breeding spot.

Tip over anything the collects or holds water. Since mosquitoes breed in standing water, dumping the water decreases their breeding ground. Yards with bird baths, catch basins, play sets, portable fire pits or fireplaces and tree houses are the most common collectors.

Turn over anything that holds water or trash. Items such as empty pots, light fixtures, pet bowls, plastic toys, plant saucers, portable sandboxes, or slides should be turned over or removed, if possible, to reduce risk.

Treat your home. A professional mosquito elimination barrier treatment around the home and yard can reduce the need for a DEET-containing spray.

Take care of your home. Regularly assess and clean out gutters, ensuring downspouts are attached properly. Frequently check irrigation systems for leaks, and keep your lawn trimmed and weed-free.

Talk to your neighbors. Homes in proximity to others, like those in developments or townhomes, may be at risk more so than those with more acreage. Discuss your concerns with your neighbors, and offer to assist with mosquito-repelling tasks as needed.

Source: Mosquito Squad

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Tornado Watch? 8 Safety Tips for Homeowners

May 4, 2016 6:42 am

Tornadoes threaten the safety of millions of homeowners, as well as damage to property, each year. Residents of areas in the path of the twister must be proactive ahead of its touch-down, starting with the following steps, courtesy of the Red Cross:

1. Build a disaster kit with enough supplies for at least three days. This kit should include:

• Battery-Powered or Hand-Crank Radio
• Copies of Important Documents
• Extra Batteries
• First-Aid Kit
• Flashlight
• Medications
• Multi-Purpose Tool
• Non-Perishable Food
• Sanitation/Hygiene Items
• Water

2. Develop an emergency plan in which each person knows how to reach other members of the household. Include an out-of-area emergency contact person in the plan, and designate a meeting area should you be unable to return home.

3. Select a safe room, preferably a basement, storm cellar or other window-less interior room on the lowest floor. Be sure all members of the household are aware of its location.

4. Move outdoor structures, such as hanging plants, lawn furniture or trash cans, inside to prevent wind-caused damage.

5. Watch for signs of a pending storm, such as darkening skies, green-ish clouds, hail and wind. If you can hear thunder, you may be at risk for lightning damage. Remember: If thunder roars, head indoors.

6. Know your community’s warning system, and be alert for its signals. Stay abreast of the latest information regarding the storm by listening to a NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Weather Radio or your local news.

When a tornado hits:

• Go to the designated safe room, or an underground shelter. If you live in a mobile home, go to the nearest sturdy building. Do not seek shelter in the mobile home’s bathroom or hallway.

• If caught outdoors, seek shelter in a vehicle. Buckle your seat belt and try driving to the nearest sturdy building. Keep your head down below the windows, if possible. If you can, drive to an area lower than the level of the roadway, exit the vehicle and lie in that area, covering your head with your hands.

For more tornado safety tips, visit the Red Cross online at www.RedCross.org.
 
Source: American Red Cross

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Have Tips, Will Travel: Stay Healthy on the Road This Summer

May 3, 2016 6:42 am

‘Tis the season for summer travel—unless a health crisis derails your plans.

Of all the factors to consider when planning a trip, you are the most important, says Dr. Christopher Sanford, travel health expert and author of The Merck Manuals, a medical resource for practitioners and consumers.

“When preparing for a trip, most travelers closely consider hotels, restaurants and itineraries, but few plan for health contingencies,” says Dr. Sanford, who operates a travel clinic at the University of Washington. “Travelers should consult with their primary care doctor to make sure they're up to date on routine and travel immunizations.

“There are also some basic rules of thumb that travelers should keep in mind before every trip,” Dr. Sandford adds:

1. Pack a travel kit.

A basic travel kit should contain first-aid supplies, pain relievers, decongestants, antacids, antibiotics, hydrocortisone cream and an antibiotic cream. Pack any medicine you've used in the past year, and keep all medications in the original pharmacy packaging to avoid questions at security. Bring these on board instead of checking them in your luggage—you don't want your medications to end up on a different continent!

2. Gather medical documents.

Keep a full list of regular medications handy while you're traveling. If you have a chronic condition, bring copies of recent medical records. If you have a heart condition, for example, you may benefit from having had a recent EKG if you end up in the emergency room with chest pain on your trip.

3. Activate and hydrate.

If you'll be traveling in a cramped plane, train or car, you may be at risk for clots forming from long periods of inactivity. Reduce this risk by taking frequent breaks to walk and stretch, or even by doing simple calf movements and exercises in your seat. If you'll be flying to your destination, don't skip the beverage cart—dehydration is exacerbated by dry air and can lead to fatigue, headaches and digestive issues.

4. Eat and drink right.

Evaluate the safety of local food in any country you visit—digestive issues are common throughout the developing world, for instance. Although it's not possible to eliminate the risk entirely, if you're traveling to a low-income area, try to avoid consuming food from roadside stands, ice, raw foods, salads and tap water.

5. Manage stress.

Airports and train stations can be high-stress environments, so get there early to avoid a last-minute rush to your gate or platform. If you're traveling with family and expecting prolonged contact with family members you don't see very often, plan regular breaks. Taking time to exercise or just have down time will reduce stress commonly associated with large family gatherings, as will eight hours of sleep per night.

Source: The Merck Manuals

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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