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Friday, December 10, 2010

7 Tips on Charitable Giving

7 Tips on Charitable Giving
RISMEDIA, December 9, 2010—While the holiday season puts many in the spirit to give, it’s also important to do some research before opening your wallet to support charitable causes.

"There are many worthy charitable causes and residents should feel free to contribute to causes with personal meaning, whether a local homeless shelter, food bank, soup kitchen, animal rescue, or an international organization with global outreach," said Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth Basil L. Merenda. "However, I urge everyone to take the time to understand where their dollars will be going so they can have confidence that their donation will have the biggest benefit and get to the people who need it most."

Before giving to any charitable organization, research how your money will be used. Most charities are legitimate and strive to ensure the majority of dollars go directly into worthwhile projects, but some may misrepresent their cause or spend a high percentage of donations on administrative costs. Be sure that the charity's spending practices match your expectations.

Here are some tips and warnings to help ensure your donation goes to the right place:

1. Never give to a charity you know nothing about.

2. Request written information from the charity about its programs and finances.

3. Do not feel pressured into giving on the spot or allow someone to come to your home to pick up the contribution.

4. Never commit to donate over the phone unless you are familiar with the organization.

5. Never give cash, credit card numbers or bank account numbers. Always write a check payable to the charity so you have a record of your donations.

6. All charities have expenses, so check carefully and understand how your donation will be spent.

7. Consult with a tax advisor to determine whether your contribution is tax deductible. If giving before Dec. 31, charitable donations may be tax deductible for the upcoming tax filing.

What's your favorite charity or worthy cause? Please share...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

12 Tips to Keep Holiday Spending Under Control

12 Tips to Keep Holiday Spending Under Control
By Claudia Buck Print Article
RISMEDIA, December 8, 2010—(MCT)—Whether you’re trekking to the mall or shopping online, the holiday season is a time when many consumers get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season and fall prey to holiday scams and financial missteps. Here are some tips to keep your holiday spending in control.

Shop from a list: To avoid impulse buys, write down the people you’re buying for and how much you can spend for each person.

Make it: Baking, crafting, sewing, woodworking. A homemade gift from the heart might not break your bank.

Skip the plastic: To stay within budget, ditch the credit card and use cash. Withdraw what you can comfortably spend, and when it’s gone, head home.

Credit vs. debit: A credit card can be safer than a debit card as most credit cards offer better protection if a card is lost or stolen, or if an online purchase doesn’t arrive. But if using credit cards, think ahead to avoid piling up holiday debt.

Watch your wallet: Keep your ID and credit cards inside a secure purse or pocket. Don’t get distracted or let credit cards out of your sight at the counter. Keep receipts in one place for easy returns.

At the ATM: When withdrawing cash, be aware of your surroundings and passers-by. If something looks odd on the ATM itself, notify the bank or business.

Give wisely: There are many worthwhile, needy causes seeking donations this time of year. Whether you’re asked by phone, mail, online or at a shopping center, be sure the donor is legitimate. Check charities with the Better Business Bureau (

Don’t get scammed: Some scams are holiday-related, others tried and true. A Sacramento, Calif., woman recently fell for a classic scam in which a Canadian caller persuaded her to wire $6,500 by posing as a grandson in financial distress. If you get such a call or e-mail, verify the situation with family, friends or your bank.

Be online-savvy: Look for deals at sites like and, as well as your favorite retailers. Confirm the site is legitimate: Look for a padlock symbol and be sure there’s an “https” in the browser when making a payment. Check if the store name is spelled correctly. The more safety indicators, the better.

Use your cell: Cell phones can help you compare prices and access coupons while shopping. Download apps from sites like RedLaser and that let you scan bar codes, and get product reviews, in-store discounts and competing prices from other retailers.

Be Wi-Fi wary: Browse but don’t buy when using public Wi-Fi connections to avoid hackers who could steal your financial information.

Don’t get suckered: If you’re buying $50 worth of merchandise but need to spend $75 to get free shipping, be sure you really want that extra $25 purchase. Check out for retailers offering free shipping with guaranteed Christmas Eve delivery.

(c) 2010, The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.).

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Any tips you would like to share?

Mortgage Modification Keeps Hope Alive for Struggling Homeowners

Mortgage Modification Keeps Hope Alive for Struggling Homeowners
By Mary Ellen Podmolik Print Article
RISMEDIA, December 8, 2010—(MCT)—This holiday season will be a happy one in the Bellwood, Ill., home that Rogelio Huerta and Maria Soto share with their two young sons. That’s because the couple recently made the first mortgage payment on a permanent loan modification that will keep the family in the home they expected to lose to foreclosure just two months ago.

The Chicago Tribune profiled the family and the predicament they faced in late October as an example of how homeowners who follow the rules and try to regain their financial footing were nevertheless being thwarted.

Huerta and Soto applied for and received a trial modification from PNC Mortgage early in the fall of 2009. But two months ago, the family was rejected for a permanent modification because during more than a year that their application was in limbo, the family managed to save $2,500—too much, in PNC’s view.

Had PNC responded in a more timely manner, or if the family had spent some savings, they would have met the criteria for a permanent loan modification. Huerta and Soto said they were following the advice of housing counselors to build up savings.

Two days after the story ran, the Northwest Side Housing Center, the housing counseling agency that worked with the family, received a phone call from a PNC representative, offering the family an in-house permanent modification.

But there has been no phone call or letter to the family apologizing for the drawn-out process or explaining the lender’s change of heart. Huerta doesn’t expect one.

“Maybe the mail guy sent an apology to a different house,” joked Huerta, who just a few weeks ago had trouble keeping his composure while talking about his situation.

Another set of numbers, on loan modifications made through the federal government’s Home Affordable Modification Program, shows a program struggling to gain traction. As of October 2010, while almost 1.4 million trial modifications were begun since the program’s start, only 483,342 of them, or 34.6%, had been converted to permanent mortgage modifications. Meanwhile, 41% of consumers in canceled HAMP trials received alternative modification programs from lenders themselves.

Counselors at the Northwest Side Housing Center are heartened by Huerta and Soto’s success. But like others who spend their day advocating for homeowners, they worry about the people whose good-intentioned efforts still come up short.

“Servicers were never set up to make modifications,” said Liz Caton, director of counseling services at the Northwest Side Housing Center. “They were set up to make loans and collect payments, but that’s not an excuse, not for the billions of dollars that taxpayers gave them two years ago,” said Caton. “There is a canyon that a bunch of people are falling through, not even a crack, and I don’t see good faith efforts by some of these lenders to fix that chasm.”

Huerta’s final package took time to negotiate; the final agreement will keep the monthly mortgage payment at a level similar to the trial payment for the next 40 years, at a slowly escalating interest rate.

Their family’s story struck a chord with many readers. Some asked how they could assist the family, financially and in other ways, and several contributed funds to a bank account set up for them by the counseling agency. Meanwhile, a local window installer contacted the family and, free of charge, replaced a broken window at their home that Huerta was afraid to spend the funds to fix. Huerta had also held back on car repairs to build up savings.

Huerta had sought the loan modification because a job relocation meant higher commuting expenses and his hours were cut.

Huerta, who said he was stunned by the level of support he received, plans to continue attending homeowner meetings at the housing counseling agency, where people offer each other support and advice in dealing with their mortgage issues.

“There’s a lot less stress now that I know I can keep a home for my family,” Huerta said. “There’s homeowners who have nothing yet. I want to share what happened to me, and for them to keep the faith.”

(c) 2010, Chicago Tribune.

Have you had a challenging experience with your lender that you would like to share?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

How to Green Your Holidays: Tips for Recycling, from Presents to Parties

How to Green Your Holidays: Tips for Recycling, from Presents to PartiesRISMEDIA, December 8, 2010—Amid the holly and jolly, don't forget to be nice and not naughty when it comes to recycling during the holiday season.

Presents, decorations and party supplies can make for a not-so-Earth-friendly holiday season. But Ben Champion, Kansas State University director of sustainability, says it's possible to celebrate and still be mindful of the environment.

"If you're going to consume, then do so conscientiously," Champion said. "Know what you are buying."

Champion offers several tips for an eco-friendly, yet still merry, holiday season:

• While many companies are trying to go green by reducing packaging—a good thing to be sure—what a gift is made of matters just as much. Paying attention to recyclability, energy use and materials that didn't cause environmental damage in their production is important. Look for trusted environmental certifications, and be sure to check your local recycler to see what materials they do recycle.

• Paper products are the easiest to recycle, as long as they don't have chemical coatings. Glossy paper decorations and wrapping paper are often not easily recycled because their coloring and designs are made of complicated chemicals. Some decorations or wrapping papers do use soy inks or other natural dyes, making them more recyclable. Buy wrapping paper and packaging that can be recycled, and then make sure to recycle them when finished.

• Plain, corrugated cardboard is best for containing presents because it's also easy to recycle. Plastic materials—especially No. 1 and No. 2 plastics—are the easiest plastics to recycle.

• Some alternatives to presents include a gift certificate or a donation to an organization in the name of the receiver. "The best way to save waste is to not buy presents that make waste," Champion said. "You can always just buy something that is going to last a long time so that it won't have to be thrown away."

• Products such as fair-trade, organic or locally made products can make one-of-a kind presents that may not require as much packaging for shipping.

• If mailing presents, try using biodegradable packing peanuts or newspapers, instead of non-recyclable packing materials.

• Disposable plates, cups and utensils can easily accumulate at holiday parties. Instead of using foam or plastic dishware, try either reusable or biodegradable, disposable dishware and utensils. While biodegradable dishes can't be recycled when they have food particles or food stains, many biodegradable dishes can be composted along with a lot of food scraps. Exploring how to compost is another way to green your living.

• Buying local food products—although they can be more expensive—provides a more eco-friendly option because smaller local farms tend to offer more customized products and can be less chemical intensive. "If it's a special occasion, you may be willing to pay that extra amount," Champion said. "You'll have something that everyone can appreciate together. It's often better quality, and I like the taste of organic and heritage foods better."

• But perhaps most important is to focus more on the season and less on material goods. "I would recommend spending our time and money not necessarily on buying stuff, but on enjoying each other's company," Champion said.

Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac Bailouts Could Hit 363 Billion Dollars

Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac Bailouts Could Hit 363 Billion Dollars

The taxpayer bailouts of housing finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could cost as much as $363 billion through 2013, according to government projections. The Federal Housing Finance Agency, which has regulated the former government-sponsored enterprises since they were seized during the financial crisis in 2008, said the figure was based on the worst of three scenarios for the economy and housing market that assumes a "deeper second recession."

Under the best-case scenario, which would be a "stronger near-term recovery" in housing prices, the bailouts of Fannie and Freddie would reach $221 billion. The third scenario, in which housing prices continue on their current projections, would result in the combined bailouts reaching $238 billion.

So far, Fannie and Freddie have received about $148 billion in taxpayer money since they were seized by Bush administration officials and placed in government conservatorship. Taxpayers now own 79.9% of the two companies.

"These projections are intended to give policymakers and the public useful snapshots of potential outcomes for the taxpayer support of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac," said Edward J. DeMarco, FHFA's acting director. "These are not predictions; the results reflect the potential effects of a limited set of hypothetical changes in house prices, a key variable driving credit losses for the enterprises."

DeMarco told a House subcommittee last month that taxpayer losses from Fannie and Freddie likely wouldn't top $400 billion, as some have feared, but did not provide specific data. In December, concerns mounted about the potential cost of the bailouts after the Obama administration lifted a $400 billion cap through 2012.

Officials said they did so to provide certainty to the real estate market that the government would stand behind the agencies as lawmakers and the White House began wrestling with their future. Many Republicans have blamed Fannie and Freddie for triggering the subprime mortgage problems and complained that the recently enacted financial reform law did not deal with the future of the two entities.

But the law did call for the administration to produce a plan by January, and Congress has been conducting hearings on the fate of Fannie and Freddie and the broader question of government involvement in the housing finance market.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are almost singlehandedly keeping the housing finance market going as investors have fled because of the financial crisis and deep recession. Together, they hold about $1.6 trillion worth of mortgage loans.

The additional projected losses would come from further eroding of the value of loans, particularly subprime mortgages that Fannie and Freddie bought before the government seizures, the FHFA said.

(c) 2010, Los Angeles Times. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. Copyright© 2010 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.

Now who will they lend all of this money to if more than half of americans don't qualify because of default???

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

3 Stress-Relieving Tips for Staying Sane During the Holiday Season

3 Stress-Relieving Tips for Staying Sane During the Holiday Season
RISMEDIA, December 2, 2010—According to a recent study by the American Psychological Association, 75% of Americans are stressed out to the max going into this holiday season.

Stress relief expert Lauren E. Miller gives people real tips on how to have more joy and less stress in the midst of the holiday craze.

"Stress is simply a signal within your body giving you an amazing opportunity to identify and adjust your perception of a situation, along with your behavior. We forget that whatever we focus on grows bigger quickly...positive or negative," said Miller, who is the author of Release the Stress ... 5 Minutes to Stress Relief around the Craze of Life at Work and at Home.

Miller suggests three quick tips to help you stay sane in the midst of the insanity:

• Know what you value most in life. When your priorities are clear, decisions are easy. Stress creeps in when you forget what you value most in life. When you spend most of your energy on the "nonessentials" in life you begin to feel depleted very quickly and the stress hormone begins to double. Create moments every day that nurture what you value most in this life and notice how quickly clarity of thinking and inner peace return within your being.

• Let go of this belief: "In order to be loved and accepted I need to be perfect, have the perfect house, tree, job, car, person, family, job, credentials." What is your inner list of requirements in order to feel loved and accepted in life? Let go of your need for certain outcomes around the holidays in order for you to feel good about yourself. Happiness returns when you release the attachments you have in life in order to feel good about you. Remember, joy flows from the inside out, not the outside in. Start loving yourself completely just as you are, right where you are at.

• Breathe, Breathe, Breathe and be present to the "Silent, Holy, Night" that dwells within every moment of life. Give yourself the gap of empowerment that comes when you become the observer of your life verses the reactor. Be a curious and fascinated human being who looks at everything before them as an opportunity for learning and growth. When one door closes, don't waste one moment looking at that closed door, start seeking the open window. Don't miss life; when you worry, doubt and fear, you miss the life standing right in front of your face. When you are present, you will laugh more in life, which has profound physiological benefits, another wonderful gift to give yourself and those around you this season.

Do you have any tips you would like to share?

Who will the banks lend to if more than half of the population is in default?

The 'First-Time Defaulter': the Newest Customer Segment for Banks RISMEDIA, December 2, 2010—Over the last two years, a new customer segment—the "first-time defaulter" (FTD)—has emerged and is presenting a new challenge for banks, according to a new survey examining the future of consumer lending by the Deloitte Center for Financial Services.

According to Deloitte's survey, 11 percent of bank customers surveyed have been hit with a negative credit experience for the first time in their lives during the past two years. Overall, 22 percent of consumers have experienced a serious negative credit situation since the peak of the crisis in September 2008, including events such as delinquency, foreclosure, bankruptcy and charge-offs.

"This is a significant new customer segment that banks should be aware of," said Andrew Freeman, executive director of the Deloitte Center for Financial Services, Deloitte LLP. "Our research shows just how sizeable the first-time defaulter group has become."

More than half of FTDs (58 percent) have been contacted by a collection agency, and 43 percent have been delinquent in their medical bills.

According to the survey, these events could be costly for financial institutions, as poor interactions and unmet customer expectations may cause the first-time defaulters to look elsewhere: 63 percent of respondents say they are not at all likely to borrow from their current institution in the future based on the lender's efforts to help resolve their issues.

"Today, retail banks are rethinking their broader lending strategies and practices," said Freeman. "As part of this reassessment, lenders are likely to be paying careful attention to how they serve this new segment. When implementing strategies to re-engage with these customers, financial institutions may want to recognize that once many of these individuals are able to regain their economic footing, they may become profitable again."

Other findings of the survey, from the full base of respondents, include:
• Almost two-thirds of consumers (65 percent) say they have the same level of satisfaction relative to two years ago with their bank.
• At the same time, most respondents have seen little change in the lending process overall, although 16 percent said they have seen higher fees associated with loans and credit.
• Only 28 percent believe the Dodd-Frank Act and other new regulations will have immediate benefits for consumers. Furthermore, a significant proportion of consumers expect higher fees, higher rates, more paperwork and fewer offers from lenders in the next 12 months.
• More than half of those surveyed (52 percent) would prefer to use a single bank for all their financial services needs. But, with consumers' interest in obtaining loan products from their primary bank surprisingly low, the survey findings indicate that banks' cross-selling efforts will likely require some fresh, creative efforts.

What are your thoughts?

Your Local Real Estate Market Update October 2010

October 2010 Real Estate Market Update

October 2010

It is a bit to early to announce a definitive trend. Although less than last year, unit sales still showed a reasonable pace (close to 2006 levels), with sales values holding steady since the spring, down about 40% from 05' peak values. It is still a Buyers Market at over 5 months supply, however the number of homes available for sale continues to shrink, helping move us towards stability and signaling the end of the imbalance in our market. Buyers should take action before they encounter an increase in interest rates.

Nationally, both NAR and the Mortgage Bankers project an increase in the number of homes sold in 2011 over 2010 based on continued low interest rates, affordable home prices as well as an improving economy. They also say values will continue to settle downward and bottom out next year. With that said, remember that real estate is local, not national. The various markets across the country will recover at different rates. In general, the Midwest, including Michigan, seems to be faring better than the South and West. Our data indicates most markets have shown a stable and even slightly rising value trend however, even in markets that continue to settle downward, it will not be significant enough for Buyers to delay purchasing, since any rise in interest rates will off set any savings from a potential price decline.

Also on the positive side, the latest Comerica economic activity report continues to move in the right direction since bottoming out in January of last year. Economic activity and hiring is slow, but it is still moving in the right direction.

One indicator that the market still has some work to do is our percentage of lease transactions, currently still running at about 20%. A good recovery indicator will be when the percentage of leases falls to under 10% which will go hand in hand with available home inventories falling to a three month or less supply.

With generally better news about the direction of the market in the past nine months, should Sellers be expecting the same in terms of rising values and offers? We are not quite there yet, however there is a growing pent up demand from buyers. In many cases aggressively price homes in good, updated condition are getting multiple offers and selling quickly. These homes represent less than 30% of the market and for the most part are priced below their competition. The rest are typically priced or "conditioned" out of the current Buyer demand.

On a bragging point, Hitwise once again ranked our web site as the most viewed broker site in the state and our new First to Know voice and text programs generated 1,150 client registrations in the past two months.

We are using a new format for the Market Summary this month. With the tax credits influence, comparing to last year can be misleading. A better current trend comparison is to the most recent months using a seasonal index so we can compare “apples to apples” months. These charts follow the current market trend over the past 90 days ( up, down or neutral).

Data Source: MIRealSource, Realcomp, Ann Arbor MLS, TAAR
Months Supply Inventory represents the rate (months) to sell the current listing inventory
*Includes Eastpointe and Harper Woods ** Includes Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Antrim, Leelanau and Benzie Counties,