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Peter Cerruti
440 South West End Blvd, RT 309
Quakertown  PA 18951
 Phone: 215-429-7273
Office Phone: 215-538-4400
Fax: 267-354-6992 
petecerruti@yahoo.com
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Peter Cerruti

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Five Great Financial Freebies

August 15, 2013 7:42 pm

There are free financial products and services to be had, but consumers may have to shell out money to get some of them. The September 2013 issue of ShopSmart magazine, from Consumer Reports, features an up-close look at five truly free financial products and services including checking accounts and tax filing.

"Beware of the word free, especially when it comes to financial services," said Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart. "Free financial advice in particular can really end up costing you."

Five Great Financial Freebies

1. Checking accounts. Truly free accounts are getting harder to find, but there are still some available without no minimum-balance rules to follow and no monthly fees. Consumers are most likely to get them at credit unions, small or internet banks, and brokerage houses. For example, two online banks, Ally and Schwab, offer free checking accounts plus free checks, zero ATM fees, and interest (though puny) on a balance.

2. Personal finance help. Some free budgeting programs can help set short- and long-term financial goals and create a spending plan that will help consumers meet these goals. Mint (mint.com) has ads but it's easy to set up and navigate a plan; Yodlee (yodlee.com) is clunkier but has more features and no ads.

3. Retirement money. Some employers match funds that employees contribute to their 401(k). Consumers whose 401(k) is maxed out should consider a Roth IRA if it is offered by their employer. There is no tax break on investments, but withdrawals, including earnings, are free from federal tax if they are taken on or after the age of 59 and have held the Roth IRA for more than five years.

4. Trip insurance and other perks. Credit cards may offer free trip insurance that might come with other perks, such as price protection (meaning the card issuer will refund the difference if a better deal is found on something recently bought) and coverage of items purchased on the card that are lost or damaged within a limited time. Check the card's terms to see what it offers and read the fine print for restrictions.

5. Tax filing. At FreeFile on the IRS website, there's no charge to prepare and file federal taxes. But one version on FreeFile has income limitations that are updated annually. This year it was available to households with a 2012 adjusted gross income of $57,000 or less. Other services, such as Express1040, FreetaxUSA, TaxACT, and TurboTax Federal Free Edition, offer free tax preparation and filing for federal returns that are relatively straightforward.

Source: ShopSmart

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Dining Out With Kids: More Delight Than Disaster

August 14, 2013 7:42 pm

Restaurant.com revealed that parents enjoy dining out with their kids citing many benefits to the experience with family quality time and education opportunities topping the list. A recent survey by the company found that 59 percent of parents dine out with their children once a week or more. In fact, 70 percent say that going out to eat with their kids is a great way to spend time with the family.

The survey also reveals that 66 percent of parents feel that taking children out to eat offers educational benefits and provides the opportunity to try new foods they normally would not have at home. And, 57% say that eating out is a good time to emphasize good table manners.
Additional findings include:

American Cuisine – The most popular cuisine choice for family dining is American, with 40 percent reporting it as their family's favorite. Italian came in second with 25 percent of the votes, followed by Mexican with 21 percent.

Food Options – Parents are overwhelmingly satisfied with the menu selection restaurants provide for their family with 83 percent reporting that most restaurants have kid-friendly food options, and 56 percent feel that restaurants have healthy food options for kids.

Entertaining the Kids – As for keeping the kids entertained while in a restaurant, 74 percent of parents report that good, old-fashioned conversation is the best entertainment, followed by crayons and paper (53 percent).

Dining Deals are the Best – Nearly all respondents (96 percent) have used a coupon or a deal when dining out with their children, with 37 percent reporting they do so more often than not.

Source: Restaurant.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Parents Spend 26.7 Billion Dollars in Back-to-School Gear

August 14, 2013 7:42 pm

While parents report spending on average $90 per child on school supplies each year, a recent national survey shows that many of those pricey items will be lost. Michelle Brandriss, a mom and founder and CEO of Name Bubbles, advises parents to "label it or risk losing it; help keep items coming home."

Before the back-to-school season, Name Bubbles asked parents across America, between the ages of 18 and 44, a series of questions in an effort to learn more about one of the busiest times of the year. Of the more than 400 parents surveyed, 80 percent admitted that their children lost items at school last year. Of those parents, 73 percent never recovered the lost and unlabeled school supplies, and 27 percent spent more than $50 replacing those lost items. In contrast, the parents who did label their children's school supplies always recovered their lost items.

"Organization is the key to a successful school year," said Brandriss. "Whether you label school supplies, backpacks, jackets, or sports gear, name labels help students keep track of their belongings and avoid having them end up in the lost and found."

Most Frequently Lost Items and Percentage of Kids Who Lose Them:

1. Hats and gloves - 57%
2. School supplies - 52%
3. Outerwear - 43%
4. Lunch boxes - 36%
5. Book bags - 14%

Source: NameBubbles.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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The Eight Best Reasons to Use a Professional Pest Control Company

August 14, 2013 7:42 pm

Many people consider themselves would be "do it yourselfers" and with all the information available online, it makes sense that many household projects can be undertaken by a layman or weekend hobbyist. When dealing with pest control issues, however, it may be a better idea to let a pro handle it instead of just buying some poison and going to town.

Here are the best reasons to use a professional pest control company when you have a pest problem in your home:

8) Discount for Additional Services – Generally, the more services you purchase from your exterminator the more you save per service. As a result, each service becomes cheaper per service.

7) Referral Discounts – Many pest control companies offer discounts to clients who successfully refer them to their friends. This is a way to get money back for a service you have already purchased.

6) Exclusion Services – Once your exterminator has indentified the causes of your pest issues, he/she can either perform the corrections to the structure or recommend someone who can. By changing these conditions, pests are less likely to return.

5) Prevention - You pest control company is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to ways to prevent pests. They will assist you with information on what you can do to prevent termites, ants, roaches and more.

4) Identification – Not sure what the pest is that may be bothering you? Your exterminating company will be able to get an ID of the pest, even if you are not covered for that pest. Maybe you have a mysterious bite; again the pest control company can help.

3) Formulating a Plan – A professional exterminator understands the needs of your home or business. So he/she will formulate a planned approach to the implementation of service to aide in eliminating and reducing a pest invasion.

2) Risk– Using pest control products comes with a risk to your health, the health of your family and the environment. Pest Control companies are not only trained to use pesticides safely, they are also regulated by state and national laws that help protect non target animals from exposure to the insecticides.

1) Cost – The purchase price for an insecticide is generally cheaper for a professional exterminator since they are able to purchase their products at a wholesale price and in bulk. More importantly, they will use the right product for the pest that is infesting your home or business. Knowing the insect and the correct product to use is half the battle. Ants are not just ants, for example. Different species of ants may require a different type of product and application. You as the property owner may not be able to properly identify the pest; hence, spending more money on products in an attempt to correct your pest issue.

Source: Earth’s Best Pest Control

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Top Ten Reasons Your Property Isn't Hurricane-Ready

August 13, 2013 7:40 pm

If you used the plywood from your hurricane shutters to build a tree house there’s a good chance you aren’t hurricane-ready.

If hurricane season is anything like last year, being prepared is paramount. State Farm is reminding property owners that a little preparation can make a big difference when it comes to safety and security.

Is your property hurricane-ready? If you identify with a majority of our top ten list, you may not be ready:

1. Your roof is in poor condition and the shingles are questionable.
2. Your house has large trees looming over it and branches ready to fall.
3. There are none of those famous “hurricane straps” on your trusses or rafters.
4. The house was never bolted down to the foundation.
5. The plywood that’s supposed to serve as hurricane shutters was used to build a tree house.
6. Your six foot-wide patio doors rattle every time the wind blows.
7. The wind brace for your garage door is holding up a bird feeder.
8. The stuff in your yard; patio furniture, solid fence, pool cage, etc. is ready to sail away in the wind.
9. You have no emergency power system (generator).
10. You forgot to meet with your agent to review your homeowners coverage.

Forecasters expect to see above-average hurricane activity between now and November. The peak of hurricane season begins in August. Homeowners can protect themselves and their property with a few easy steps:

Review your insurance coverage. Make sure you have the right amount and type of insurance.

Create a home inventory. Make a list of your possessions and their estimated value.

Protect your property. Stock plywood and materials you may need to board up windows. Move garbage cans and other large objects inside the house or garage. Secure boats and cars.

Have an evacuation plan. Before the hurricane, decide what you will do. Find out the location of evacuation shelters. Determine if you will ride out the storm in your home (if local authorities permit you to stay), or establish a safe place inland. Plan an escape route. Tell relatives where you will be.

Source: State Farm

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Turn Your Balcony into an Edible Garden

August 13, 2013 7:40 pm

Improvements in container gardening equipment and techniques have cleared the way for even the most “brown thumb” city dwellers, and anyone without a yard, to grow their own groceries.

“There’s nothing to stop anyone who wants a garden from having one,” says Roy Joulus, CEO of Greenbo. “Plants add a great deal to our quality of life – from cleaning the air we breathe to keeping us in touch with nature. Fresh, home-grown herbs and vegetables not only taste so much better than supermarket produce, they’re convenient, and you know exactly where they came from and what was used, or not used, on them.”

While hydroponic and vertical gardening systems have been developed to maximize the yield in small spaces, Joulus says starting a balcony garden needn’t cost much. Start with the right materials and choose plants that are right for your conditions, and you’ll soon be eating from the pots on your porch.

He offers these tips especially for balcony gardeners:

Plant the right plants for the amount of sunlight you have:

Most herbs and vegetables require six to eight hours of direct sunlight a day. So what do you do if you have just one balcony and it doesn’t get that much sun?

• Choose edibles that can take partial sun/shade (three to six hours of sun in the morning or early afternoon) or light shade (two to three hours of direct sun or lightly shaded all day.)
• Remember, pale-colored surfaces increase the light your plants receive. Plants in regions with short growing seasons usually need the full six to eight hours of light per day.

Choose the right pots:
• Bigger pots require less water and are less likely to blow over on high-rise balconies where the winds can be fierce. Terra cotta allows moisture to escape fairly quickly, which is helpful for people who like to water a lot. Non-porous plastic or glazed pots hold water longer and are better for windy balconies, where soil dries out quickly. Use brightly colored containers to add style and visual interest to your garden.
• Most vegetable plants require even watering – don’t let them dry out completely and don’t keep them soggy. Apply water directly to the soil.
• Make sure your containers have drainage holes or a drainage system. If they have an attached tray to catch excess water, don’t allow the plants’ roots to sit in the water, which promotes rot and fungus. Either empty the tray regularly, or use a design that holds the water away from the roots.

Use the right dirt:
• It’s important to use dirt that allows for good drainage. Most edible plants don’t like to sit in wet dirt, and soil without good drainage tends to become compacted – a difficult medium for plants that like to stretch their roots out. You can buy a sterile soilless potting mix, a soil-based potting mix, or mix up your own batch using one part compost, one part perlite and one part potting soil.
• Don’t use garden soil or top soil, which won’t allow adequate drainage.
• On windy balconies, top-dress your container with small rocks to keep the soil from drying out so quickly.

Joulus offers one more tip for high-rise dwellers: Rely on self-pollinating plants, or plants that don’t need pollination by insects, unless you’re willing to hand-pollinate.

“You likely won’t see many bees buzzing around the 40th story,” he says.

Don’t worry about pollination for root vegetables, like carrots and potatoes. Some self-pollinators include beans, peas, tomatoes and peppers.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Small Home Improvements That Save Big

August 13, 2013 7:40 pm

Home improvements almost always increase the value of your home. But you don’t necessarily have to spend a lot to get results that will save you big money in the long run.

U.S. News personal finance experts suggest eight budget-friendly but energy efficient fixes guaranteed to be worth more than what they cost:

• Low-flow fixtures – Easily installed low-flow showerheads, which cost as little as $20 at most home improvement stores, and other low-flow fixtures, can reduce your home water consumption by as much as 50 percent and save you up to $145 annually, according to Energy Star estimates.

• Programmable thermostats – Used properly, Energy Star reports, these energy-saving devices are more accurate and can save users up to $150 per year

• Weather stripping – Air escaping from under your doors can account for as much as 30 to 40 percent loss of heat and cooling. Up your comfort and save money with weather stripping materials that start at as little as $5.

• Ceiling fans – The average ceiling fan, at about $50 in cost, can help keep your home more comfortable while reducing your energy bill by about $15 per year.

• Insulation – Adding insulation, at about $15 per roll, can reduce energy costs by up to 20 percent, experts say, while keeping your home cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.

• Compact fluorescent light bulbs – The odd-looking bulbs cost a little more initially than standard bulbs. But they last up to 10 times longer and will save you approximately $6 per year.

• Tankless water heaters – Tankless options cost a bit more, but will allow users to cut 20 percent off their water bills. They will also last up to 10 years longer than traditional water heaters and will never run out of hot water. Bonus: According to Energy Star, you can get a federal tax rebate if you buy one.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Home Prices Pick Up Steam in Most Metro Areas during Second Quarter

August 13, 2013 7:40 pm

Median home prices continued to rise in the majority of metropolitan areas in the second quarter, with the national year-over-year price showing the strongest gain in seven-and-a-half years, according to the latest quarterly report by the National Association of REALTORS®.

Despite rising prices and higher mortgage interest rates, a companion breakout of income requirements to buy a median-priced home on a metro area basis shows most buyers remain well positioned to afford a home in their area.

The median existing single-family home price increased in 87 percent of measured markets, with 142 out of 163 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) showing gains based on closings in the second quarter compared with the second quarter of 2012. Fifty areas, 31 percent, had double-digit gains; one was unchanged and 20 had price declines.

Eight markets were added to the report in the latest quarter. In the second quarter of last year, 75 percent of all available areas showed price gains from a year earlier, and only 14 percent of markets rose by double-digit amounts.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said tight inventory is continuing to drive home prices. “There continue to be more buyers than sellers, and that is placing pressure on home prices, with multiple bids common in some areas of the country,” he said. “Higher interest rates are now causing sales to level out, but the tight supply conditions look to be with us for the balance of the year in most of the country. Areas with tighter supplies generally are seeing the strongest price growth, including markets such as Sacramento, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Naples, San Francisco and Los Angeles.”

The national median existing single-family home price was $203,500 in the second quarter, up 12.2 percent from $181,300 in the second quarter of 2012, which is the strongest year-over-year increase since the fourth quarter of 2005 when it surged 13.6 percent. In the first quarter the median price rose 11.3 percent from a year earlier.

The median price is where half of the homes sold for more and half sold for less. A shrinking market share of lower priced homes accounts for some of the price growth. Distressed homes2 – foreclosures and short sales generally sold at discount – accounted for 17 percent of second quarter sales, down from 26 percent a year ago.

Yun notes areas impacted by judicial foreclosure are seeing more modest price increases. “In areas where foreclosed inventory still looms because distressed properties are mired in a slow process, lender and market uncertainty are holding back price growth. This includes areas such as New York City; Hartford; Conn.; and some markets in New Jersey.”

At the end of the second quarter there were 2.19 million existing homes available for sale, which is 7.6 percent below the close of the second quarter of 2012, when 2.37 million homes were on the market. The average supply during the quarter was 5.1 months, compared with 6.4 months in the second quarter of 2012.

“Supplies in the low 5-month range can be expected for the foreseeable future,” Yun said. “Steady increases in new home construction will help to relieve shortage conditions going into 2014, which would moderate price growth.”

Total existing-home sales, including single-family and condo, rose 2.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.06 million in the second quarter from 4.94 million in the first quarter, and were 12.3 percent above the 4.51 million level during the second quarter of 2012. Sales were at the highest pace since the second quarter of 2007, when they hit 5.23 million.

According to Freddie Mac, the national commitment rate on a 30-year conventional fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.69 percent in the second quarter, up from 3.50 percent in the first quarter; it was 3.80 percent in the second quarter of 2012. Mortgage interest rates have trended higher in recent weeks.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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The Lifespan of an Appliance: How Long Should They Last?

August 13, 2013 7:40 pm

Maybe it’s not the eternal question, but I found myself asking it most recently as I was lying on the wet floor ratcheting the drive motor out of my seven-year-old front-loading washer. The question was: “How long is this appliance supposed to last, anyway?”

Sure, we all know the lifespan of any mechanical device depends on dozens, maybe even hundreds or thousands of factors over time from the original parts assembled in the factory, to the frequency of use (or abuse), we as owners exact on our mechanical servants.

But this time, it seems we have an answer to that vexing question thanks to a highly touted study called: ‘The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Bank of America Home Equity Study of the Life Expectancies of Home Components.’

Gopal Ahluwalia, staff vice president for Research and Surveys in NAHB’s Economics Group says, “…We learned that many home components are expected to last for the life of the house. Among them are toilets, wood floors, all types of insulation, and fiberglass, steel and wood exterior doors.

“On the other hand, some components have a much shorter life expectancy,” he adds. “Wood decks should last about 20 years, depending on climate, and kitchen faucets should last about 15 years. Linoleum floors have a life expectancy of about 25 years, and furnaces can be expected to last 15 to 20 years.”

Usage, weather and a number of other factors can influence life expectancy.

Moreover, homeowners often replace items long before the end of their expected life span due to personal preferences and changing trends.
“For example,” Ahluwalia says, “the practical life expectancy of kitchen cabinets is about 50 years. However, many people buying a 15- or 20-year-old house would make installing new, updated kitchen cabinets a priority. Likewise, some homeowners paint their homes every year or two, even though interior paint has a practical life expectancy of about 15 years.”

By the way, in consulting the report, I learned my washer in particular was expected to last about 10 years. That means with the extra wear and tear of handling greater than average load size and frequency during its 7-year life, I’m probably better off replacing it for around $600, than paying more than $200 for just a replacement motor.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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10 Money-Saving Tips to Turn Regular Back-to-School Shoppers into Savvy Consumers

August 13, 2013 7:40 pm

As parents and students prepare to shop for everything they need for the coming school year, PriceGrabber® offers ten money-saving tips you can use to save big.

According to a recent survey, 68 percent plan to spend up to $500 this back-to-school shopping season," said Sharon Banfield, director of public relations at PriceGrabber. "With a little homework, budgeting, and creativity, shoppers can easily reduce this number and get the most for their buck this year."

1. Take a household inventory. Scan the kitchen, office, bedrooms and the rest of the house for miscellaneous supplies. Take an inventory of the findings and then compare this to your kids' supply lists. The findings will most likely cover many items on the lists.

2. Make a list with a budget and stick to it. When planning a budget for this year's back-to-school shopping, start by making a list and separating "must-have" items from "wants." This doesn't mean you can't indulge in some trendy gear, just shop for necessities first. Take a look at how much you spent last year and challenge yourself to spend less this year.

3. Involve the (older) kids. Turn back-to-school shopping into a family activity by charting out the budget in a creative way with your children. This will help teach them to budget while you bond as a family. However, if you have young kids consider leaving them at home to avoid getting distracted from your shopping list.

4. Host a clothing exchange with other parents. Invite about 12 to 15 parents with children of similar ages, sizes and genders over to exchange kids' clothing. Have guests bring about 10 clean items in good condition so that they can leave with 10 different pieces in similar condition. Even if only a few items fit, everything was still free.

5. Shop online and look for free shipping. Skip the crowds and shop online. Comparison-shopping sites can save consumers money on popular back-to-school items like tablet computers, backpacks, dorm room furniture, and basic school supplies. Look for retailers offering free shipping to save even more.

6. Use your mobile device as a shopping aid. If shopping a brick-and-mortar store sale, use your smartphone to ensure the sale price is really the best deal in town.

7. Shop end-of-summer sales. Stock up on summer clothing which can be worn well into the fall. Sweaters and leggings can be paired with summer shirts and dresses for an easy transition into the cooler months. Microwaves, storage bins, tool kits and other dorm room must-haves are also a part of the summer clearance sales.

8. Follow your favorite shopping sites on social media. Be the first to know about special offers from your favorite retailers and shopping sites. Some retailers may offer exclusive back-to-school discount codes or coupons.

9. Buy in bulk. Pencils, markers, printer paper and other supplies are always in high demand. Spend a little more money now and buy large quantities, which will give you cheaper supplies needed later in the year.

10. Personalize. Jazz up inexpensive, plain school supplies such as notebooks and folders with stickers. Let your student get creative and personalize their items so they don't get mixed up with other students' supplies. There's a better chance you won't have to spend money on lost items later in the year.

Source: PriceGrabber®

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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