Friday, February 27, 2009

1st Time Homebuyers-Stimulus Tax Credit

* Qualifying taxpayers can claim 10 percent of the purchase price up to $8,000, or $4,000 for married individuals filing separately. The amount of the credit begins to phase out for taxpayers whose adjusted gross income is more than $75,000, or $150,000 for joint filers. The Housing and Economic Recovery Act defines (in part) a first-time homebuyer as one who has not owned a principal residence during a 3-year period prior to purchase. Qualification for tax credit based upon first-time homebuyer status, income, purchase price of home and other Act and IRS requirements. You must consult your tax professional for complete tax credit details. A summary of the tax credit, for general guidance only, is found at

Courtesy of Federal Housing

Thursday, February 26, 2009

How to Stay in Shape Like the 1st Family

(ARA) – The newly installed first family is young, vibrant and providing inspiration for millions of Americans to get active. What are some of the Obamas’ favorite fitness activities and how can you stay in shape like the newest residents of the White House?

The first, and perhaps biggest, step is to make time to get up and get moving. The president and first lady show that even with a very busy schedule, you can find the time to stay fit and healthy. Make a date on your calendar to work out and keep it. Participate in a variety of activities to keep it interesting and work out with a friend or family member so you can motivate each other.  

The President

He may be just about the busiest man on the planet, but President Barack Obama still makes time to stay in shape. He enjoys running, swimming and, most famously, playing basketball.

Running is great aerobic exercise that efficiently burns calories and boosts cardiovascular health. Whether you jog on a treadmill or enjoy running outdoors, make sure you have a pair of running shoes that fit properly. Before you begin running, it’s crucial to stretch and warm up properly to prevent any injuries.

Swimming is a great way to work the whole body, but is much more low-impact than running. While most people don’t have the benefit of an on-site pool like at the White House, the health benefits of swimming make it worth the trip to your local community pool. Swimming improves cardiovascular health, endurance and muscle strength and an hour in the pool burns about as many calories as running six miles.

If your goal is to shoot hoops with the president, you’ll have a lot of practicing to do, but you’ll certainly get in shape in the process. In addition to burning hundreds of calories, a game of basketball with friends or family is a great way to have fun.

The First Lady

Michelle Obama has become a style icon and a role model for women worldwide. She makes it a priority to go to the gym to swim and use free weights and makes sure to use time with daughters Malia and Sasha to stay active. Her friends have said she is a motivated and accurate rope-jumper, an activity that can burn 100 to 200 calories in just 10 minutes.

The first lady has also been known to pick up a hula hoop and strut her stuff. Her husband told “People Magazine” that Mrs. Obama is, “The best hula-hooper I know.” Hula hooping is a low-impact exercise and, according to the American Council on Exercise, burns up to 200 calories when you work out for 30 minutes. You can burn even more calories and trim up to 2-inches from your waist if you use a piece of equipment such as a Sports Hoop -- a weighted hoop you swivel for just 10 to 15 minutes to tone muscles and burn calories and fat ( It’s a workout that is fun and so easy the entire family can hoop together, even the kids.

One of the most important fitness items Michelle Obama says she keeps on hand is a positive body image. When you feel good about yourself and keep a positive attitude, you’re more likely to stick to healthy behaviors and habits.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Does Moving Up Make Sense?

These questions will help you decide whether you’re ready for a home that’s larger or in a more desirable location. If you answer yes to most of the questions, it’s a sign that you may be ready to move.

1. Have you built substantial equity in your current home? Look at your annual mortgage statement or call your lender to find out. Usually, you don’t build up much equity in the first few years of your mortgage, as monthly payments are mostly interest, but if you’ve owned your home for five or more years, you may have significant, unrealized gains.

2. Has your income or financial situation improved? If you’re making more money, you may be able to afford higher mortgage payments and cover the costs of moving.

3. Have you outgrown your neighborhood? The neighborhood you pick for your first home might not be the same neighborhood you want to settle down in for good. For example, you may have realized that you’d like to be closer to your job or live in a better school district.

4. Are there reasons why you can’t remodel or add on? Sometimes you can create a bigger home by adding a new room or building up. But if your property isn’t large enough, your municipality doesn’t allow it, or you’re simply not interested in remodeling, then moving to a bigger home may be your best option.

5. Are you comfortable moving in the current housing market? If your market is hot, your home may sell quickly and for top dollar, but the home you buy also will be more expensive. If your market is slow, finding a buyer may take longer, but you’ll have more selection and better pricing as you seek your new home.

6. Are interest rates attractive? A low rate not only helps you buy a larger home, but also makes it easier to find a buyer.

Courtesy of

Friday, February 13, 2009

Top Spring Projects for your Lawn and Garden

(ARA) - With the weather beginning to warm across the country, many people are venturing out into their yards to begin the process of turning what was once a winter wonderland into a lush green escape. The task might look overwhelming at first, but with a little help from the experts, you can have a fresh-looking lawn and garden in no time.

According to Lou Manfredini, Ace’s “Helpful Hardware Man,” there are three projects that every homeowner should do to spruce up your lawn and garden: Prune your shrubs and trees, grow new grass and plant brightly colored flowers.  “The best part about these projects,” says Manfredini “is that anyone can do them, and once they are finished they make a big difference."


Pruning works by cutting away the excess growth and dead weight that keeps your shrubs and trees from filling out. By trimming this away, more buds will be able to show, allowing you to cultivate a stronger, more vibrant plant.

“One thing to remember is not to over-prune,” says Manfredini. “Too much pruning will shock your plant and could inhibit growth.” To avoid this, hold out your first two fingers; if these were stems on a plant you would never want to cut below your first knuckle.

As with most home improvement projects, it’s very important to have the right tools on hand. Certain pruners, such as rose pruners, are made specifically for roses, while head shears can be used on most heavy-duty pruning projects.  Make sure you purchase pruners that are sturdy enough to do the job and feel comfortable and manageable in your hand. If you already have pruners, consider having them sharpened at your local hardware store before you begin working.  You’ll notice the difference immediately.

Grow New Grass

After lying dormant for a few months, your grass might need a little coaxing to get it to its pre-winter state. To prepare your lawn, thatch it by lightly running a rake across the top to pick up any sticks, leaves, debris or dead grass.

Next you will need to purchase grass seed that is indigenous to your area and that will grow with the amount of shade your lawn has. You’ll need to purchase between 2 to 4 pounds of seed for every 1,000 feet you are planting. Spread the seed either by hand or with a mechanical spreader that you can rent at your local hardware store, but be sure to keep it even.

Once your seed is down, it’s a good idea to lay fertilizer and water the entire lawn. In the weeks and months to come, be sure your lawn gets at least 1 or 2 inches of water a week, either naturally or from a sprinkler.

Plant Flowers

Flowers can spruce up any landscape design. Consider adding them around the base of a tree or on either side of your walkway.

“Consider purchasing established plants rather than seeds as they are easier to grow,” explains Manfredini. “And look for bright colored plants like impatiens or black-eyed Susans.”

Before planting, you’ll need to make sure your soil is prepared. Loosen the soil in the area where you plan on planting and add an organic matter like peat moss to help give the plant more nutrients.

Next, dig a small hole, just deep enough to fit the roots of your plant and place the plant inside. Once the plant is in the hole, fill it in with dirt and lightly pack it down. Don’t forget to water and fertilize the plant regularly and you’ll have gorgeous flowers for months to come.

For more lawn and garden tips and advice, visit

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Monday, February 9, 2009

Simple Steps to Achieve a Better Credit Score

(ARA) – Americans are dealing with the credit crunch by keeping cash on hand. In the process, however, the average consumer is paying 2.6 bills late every month, according to the Western Union Payment Services Money Mindset Index.

Unfortunately, late fees and additional unnecessary charges can stack up quickly, depleting your cash flow and harming your credit score. Here’s how it works:

The longer you maintain a track record of paying your bills on time, the better your credit score, according to the Fair Isaac Corporation, which created the FICO score, more commonly known as a credit score. Your bill payment history accounts for 35 percent of your credit score, which is used to determine your eligibility for mortgages, auto loans, credit cards and other financing.  

However, late fees can lower your credit score -- and there’s no quick fix. When you apply for a loan, a low score may hinder your efforts to secure funds.  

“Managing your finances can feel like a juggling act that won’t end,” says David Shapiro, senior vice president of Western Union. “Flexible payment plans can help consumers keep their cash flow strong by timing the paying of bills to when they get their paychecks. This allows you to avoid late charges and risking credit standing. Over time, consumers can build a strong credit history, allowing them to finance a car or a home when they are ready.”  

In tough economic times, Shapiro and other experts say, lenders will scrutinize your credit score even more. Many credit offerings and debt consolidation loans may seem advantageous, but can actually lead to debt disaster. Here are simple tips for avoiding unnecessary fees and maintaining a good credit score:


* Avoid credit agencies that charge fees to improve your credit score. You can go online to reputable sites such as or and receive free advice.

* Research flexible payment plans that allow you to make smaller, more frequent affordable payments, such as paying a bill twice a month, but at smaller increments that suit your monthly budget.  

* Pay off credit card debt. Maintaining low balances can show your ability to manage bills and can increase your credit score over time. Once you pay it off, try to only carry a balance that you can pay off in a month. Paying off your balance each month in full can help your credit score.

*  Consider same-day payments. You can maximize cash flow by paying your bill the same day it is due. For example, you can make an in-person cash payment at more than 45,000 Western Union Agent locations, and receive proof of payment within minutes. Visit to find the closest agent near you.

* Check your credit report. You can get a free report at or by calling (877) 322-8228. If you see a mistake, take necessary steps to get the mistake corrected as soon as possible.

* Learn more about credit scores. Download a free educational brochure from Fair Isaac Corporation’s Web site,

Just a few simple steps can make a big difference in managing your finances. Once you have a plan in place, what seems like a juggling act will turn into a smooth transition.  

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Simple Tips to "Green" Your Yard & Your Pocket

(ARA) – It’s never too early to get a jumpstart on planning a more beautiful backyard. Maybe you are looking forward to inhaling the perfume of flowers wafting through the air, clipping buds from your prize-winning rose bushes, or simply enjoying the beauty of a lusher, more verdant backyard oasis this year.

Here are some tips to help you to make that dream a reality, in a "greener," more cost-conscious way:

* Switch over to a push lawn mower or electric mower this year. Overall they're traditionally lower in price, save you money at the gas pump and also provide you with healthy exercise.

* Use a landscape fabric like Weed-X  or Weed Shield to protect your investment in expensive perennial and annual plants. Unlike other landscape fabrics or simple black plastic, these fabrics are the only products proven to prevent weed roots from penetrating the soil from above, and prevent existing weeds from growing up through the fabric. Also, since these landscape fabrics help soil retain its moisture, thereby conserving water, and eliminate the need for toxic or harmful chemical weed killers, you’ll save yourself time, money and help contribute to conserving our Earth’s resources. The fabrics are guaranteed to work for 20 years, reducing the amount of waste you create.

* Decorate your yard with carriage and porch lights, but install them on an "as needed basis" with a motion detector light system. This way you can still enjoy your landscaping after dark, but don't need to worry about wasted electricity or unnecessarily large utility bills.

* Build or purchase a rain barrel to capture water draining from your gutters and downspouts. These barrels work to provide you with fresh water for your plants in between showers, but also prevent soil runoff from where the spouts dump water in your grass.

* If you are dealing with hungry critters in your yard, avoid using expensive toxic chemical pesticides which can be dangerous for pets and children. Instead install a scarecrow device, like Dalen's Rotating Head Owl or their Holographic Scaretape. These scarecrows effectively and humanely deter destructive yard pests like rabbits, birds, squirrels and gophers while depending on wind and sun for movement, eliminating the need for electricity or batteries.

Visit for more ways to save money and keep your garden even "greener" this summer and for years to come.

Courtesy of ARAcontent