How safe is your home for children?

Sep 7
Category | General

43207339_SMoving into a new home? If you have children, it’s a great time to make sure your home is safe for the smallest members of your household. Every 30 minutes a child in the United States is injured as a result of a TV or furniture tip-over incident. Most of those injuries happen at home, involving children younger than 7 years of age.

So how do these injuries happen? Generally, they come from climbing. Children spot a toy atop a dresser or bookshelf and decide to monkey their way to it. The unfortunate result is that the child’s weight tips the furniture over. When it comes to television sets – which constitute about half of all injuries – the problem usually comes from oversized screens toppling over.

What can you do to keep your children safe? Here are tips from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission:

Secure your television. Televisions that are not wall mounted should still be anchored so they won’t topple over.

Read all instructions. Follow all manufacturer instructions to secure TVs and furniture.

Secure top-heavy furniture. Bookshelves, dressers and other types of furniture are prone to tip-overs. Secure furniture to the wall and/or install anti-tipping devices.

Remove tempting objects. Remove items that might tempt kids to climb, such as toys and remote controls, from the top of the TV and furniture.

For tips on how to make your home safe, check out this guide.

21054033_SNo, you won’t get the lowest interest rate with a low credit score, but you can qualify for a mortgage loan. It’ll take more work and probably cost more, but it’s possible. Here’s how you should prepare for the process.

Know your credit situation

You know you missed payments, declared bankruptcy or have other blemishes on your credit record, but have you ever looked at your report in detail? Get a free copy at, and look for any mistakes. You can contact the credit-reporting agencies if you find anything that needs correction.

Next, look at your credit score. Lenders base many of their decisions on how high or low scores are. Some financial institutions provide their customers with a version of their FICO score, the most widely used credit score. Or you can pay a small fee to obtain yours.

Is your score very low? If you’ve corrected the behavior or situations that damaged your credit, consider waiting a few months. As the blemishes to your credit record age, they’ll affect your score less.

Don’t make it worse

Disputing possible problems on your credit report, being current on all your bills and other common sense practices can improve your credit score over time. At the very least, don’t do anything to make your loan application look worse.

Obviously, don’t open any new credit accounts, but don’t close any accounts either. It won’t hide anything, and you’ll only reduce your available credit. And if you’re shopping around for a lender, make sure you pick one within 30 days of your first application. The credit agency will ignore multiple credit checks within that amount of time, but after that, each hit will damage your already delicate credit.

Talk to your lender

Find a mortgage lender who handles mortgage products that may work for your situation. In addition to mortgage products, he or she likely knows of buyer-assistance programs that could help you.

And don’t be afraid to discuss what happened with your credit. Missing a car payment because your wife needed an expensive medical procedure is different than missing a car payment because you bought a boat. If extenuating circumstances contributed to your credit problems — and you can show evidence that supports your story — you may get the benefit of the doubt if the lender has any flexibility.

You can get a mortgage loan. It’s going to take time and patience, but with a lender’s assistance, you can find a product that works.

Documents you'll never want to toss

Oct 20
Category | General

4566764_SIf you’re like most Americans, you have amassed quite the collection of financial documents, including receipts, invoices, pay stubs, bank statements, utility bills and old tax returns. Most can be tossed after a certain period of time. But there are some things that you’ll want to consider keeping forever. Here are some of them:

Federal and state tax returns. While some experts say that you’re probably safe pitching your personal federal and state tax returns after seven years, others say it’s a better idea to hold onto them forever. After seven years, some financial planners recommend tossing the mound of supporting paperwork used to prepare and file a return while still holding on to the actual return. You can either keep paper copies of your tax returns or scan them and store them electronically.

Personal records. Birth certificates, Social Security cards, marriage licenses and divorce decrees all should be kept in a secure, fire-proof box as long as you live.

Estate planning paperwork. The same applies to wills, trusts, life insurance policies, health care directives and other estate planning information.

980286_SYou’re ready to move on. Maybe the house is too small, you’re moving because of a job, or you want to be closer to family and friends — the top three reasons for selling a home, according to the National Association of Realtors.

No matter the reason, the selling process can be stressful. You can’t eliminate all the complications of a real estate transaction, but here are three ways you can reduce the stress with some preparation.

Set a realistic price

Some sellers ask for more than the market will bear, assuming that buyers will want the property and offer less. But most buyers won’t even make an offer if it’s priced out of line with similar homes in the area. Properties with inflated prices stay on the market longer than average and often sell for less than homes that are fairly priced to start with.

Don’t put up the sign until the house is ready

Even though you’re ready to sell, is your house ready to be shown? Fix the leaky faucet, repaint the dingy dining room and replace the broken front step before you list the house. You’ve lived with these annoyances for years, but these problems will distract a buyer. When the property looks its best, you’ll have your best chance of success.

Make the house easy to show

Keep your schedule flexible. Although it’s inconvenient to tidy up on a Tuesday night, it’s in your best interests to eliminate any obstacles for people who want to purchase your home.

Leave home

When buyers view your house, you should be anywhere but home. They will feel uncomfortable looking through a home when you’re present, and they want to be free to discuss the pros and cons of the house without fear of offending the owners.

Following these steps will put you in good shape to sell your home. Talk to your lender to figure out the best way to leverage your sales proceeds for your next purchase.

3353455_SYou have an excellent credit score and a good job but not enough in the bank for a down payment. Sure, you can ask your parents for money or start saving money. But if you’d rather purchase property now, while interest rates are still very low, here are other options.

Talk to the sellers

You can ask the sellers to pay for the closing costs on your mortgage loan. If the property has been sitting on the market for a long time, or the sellers are otherwise motivated to get the deal done, they can agree to such “seller concessions.” There are limits, which depend on what type of mortgage product you’re using. Your lender can walk you through the options. This reduction in your upfront loan costs can go toward your down payment.

Give yourself a gift

Getting married? Skip the traditional wedding registry and ask for contributions toward your down payment. Having a birthday? Tell your friends and family to give you the money they’d usually spend on a fancy dinner and other gifts for your new property.

Liquidate your possessions

That’s a fancy way of saying “sell your stuff.” It’s unlikely you’ll clear $5,000 from a yard sale, but ridding yourself of higher-dollar items might make a dent in your shortage. Do you have two cars? Consider selling one for the short-term. It’s much easier to pick up another vehicle without much of a down payment than it is to find the money for your property purchase. Or if you’re moving a great distance, sell the big-screen TV instead of transporting.

These are only a few ways to boost the money you can put down for a property. Before you follow any strategy to help with your down payment, talk to your mortgage lender. There are government products and down payment assistance programs that may apply in your situation.

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