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7 Classic Super Bowl Party Recipes

by Alexandra Zega

These classic game-day recipes are sure to score high points at your Super Bowl party, no matter who you're rooting for!

1. Pigs In a Blanket



Nothing will get the crowd going louder than this all-star appetizer. Use frozen pastry dough and all-beef hot dogs for these mouth-watering bites.

Get the recipe: Pigs in a Blanket »


2. Mini Portobello Burgers


Grilled mini portobello burgers offer vegetarians a savory option. But you might want to make extra - they look so good that meat lovers might snag one, too!

Get the recipe: Mini Portobello Burgers »


3. Crunchy Rosemary Potato Chips


Don't get stuck with the last bag of crumpled chips from the grocery store. Just one teaspoon of chopped fresh rosemary lends explosive flavor to these quick-frying potato chips.

Get the recipe: Crunchy Rosemary Potato Chips »


4. Chicken Fingers


Cut the fat from these irresistibly crispy chicken fingers by baking them in the oven instead of deep frying - your guests will never know the difference.

Get the recipe: Crispy Chicken Fingers »


5. Bacon Dip



This flavor-loaded dip is blasted with tomatoes, bacon, and scallions that will have veggies - and taste buds - dancing.

Get the recipe: Bacon Dip »

6. Cowboy Chili


For something a bit heartier, try this classic chili recipe, which was first concocted in Texas by - you guessed it - cowboys passing through on cattle drives.

Get the recipe: Cowboy Chili »

7. Soft Pretzel



Enjoy this stadium staple fresh from the oven with cheese and mustard dipping sauce.

Get the recipes:
Hot Soft Pretzels »
Cheese and Mustard Dipping Sauce »


 

12 Things to Keep in a Safe at Home, Not at a Bank

by Alexandra Zega

(c) Financially Fit, 


Many folks believe that the safest place to store valuable items is in a bank safe deposit box. After all, banks have the best 24 hour security and alarm systems.
But the contents of a safe deposit box are rarely insured, while items in your home are typically covered by your homeowner's or renter's insurance policy.

Also, don't think your cash in a safe deposit box is covered under FDIC insurance. The FDIC only insures the deposits in accounts held in banks, but not the contents of their safe deposit boxes.

Finally, it's not a good idea to store original copies of documents that you require immediate access to, such as passports, spare keys, wills, funerary directives, etc. in a safe deposit box. Bank safe deposit boxes are only accessible during branch operating hours and the boxes are typically sealed when the bank receives a death notice. To open a sealed safe deposit box, estate representatives are required to provide court papers to the bank.

For these reasons it's good idea to buy a fireproof safe in your home. What should you keep in it? Here are a dozen suggestions:

1. Property insurance policies and agent contact information. You'll need this information right away if your house suffers damage and you need to know how to file a claim.

2. Passports and original birth certificates. These can be a hassle to replace and will come in handy to establish identity when traveling with children.

3. A list of family doctors, prescription medications, and contact information for all pharmacies you use. You may need these to get new supplies of medications you use on a regular basis.

4. CDs or an external hard drive containing digital copies of all family photos. It's a good idea to scan all older family photos and keep a digital copy of them as well. Your family memories in photographs are irreplaceable.

5. Safe deposit box keys. If you store valuables in a bank safe deposit box, you'll want to make sure you keep the keys to it in a safe place.

6. Important papers related to investments, retirement plans, bank accounts, and associated contact information. You may also want to keep some cash on hand for ready access in an emergency.

7. Information on your outstanding debts, due dates, and contact information. It's important to keep tabs on your finances and protect your credit, in the event you're displaced by a fire.

8. Original Social Security cards. These can take time to replace and may be needed to establish eligibility for benefits.

9. Copies of your important legal documents, including powers of attorney, living wills, and health care proxies — both for yourself and for anyone else for whom you are designated attorney-in-fact or health care surrogate. Having access to these can help ensure the protection they were created to provide.

10. Copy of wills and all wills in which you are designated the executor. It's important to have access to these as safe deposit boxes are typically sealed upon notification of the box owner's death.

11. Valuables: Jewelry, coins, cash, etc. that you may want access to from time to time.

12. Spare Keys and titles to all vehicles. It helps to know where copies are in the case that you need them.

Of course, exactly what you choose to store in your fireproof safe will depend on your personal circumstances and the size and location of the safe.

 

Don't Let Foreclosed Homes Ruin Your Neighborhood

by Alexandra Zega

 


The Danger of Doing Nothing
According to NeighborWorks America, a national nonprofit providing financial support, technical assistance and training for community-based revitalization efforts, vacant homes take an economic, physical and social toll on a neighborhood. Empty houses tend to attract trespassers and squatters, as well as becoming a haven for illegal and dangerous activities. It's possible to prevent these problems by taking steps to safeguard and invest in your neighborhood.

What Occurs to Neighborhoods
The 2007 mortgage crisis provides some important clues as to how your neighborhood could be affected by empty homes. Many properties sat empty for more than a year because the foreclosure process was delayed. Banks were overwhelmed by the number of troubled homeowners. Some properties were bought by investors with the intention of flipping them for a profit, meaning these residences were vacant to begin with, and have remained vacant since.

No Longer a Piggy Bank
In early 2011, RealityTrac Inc. reported that 27% of home sales in foreclosure or "short sales" were sold at an average discount 27%. According to the Center of Responsible Lending, an estimated 69.5 million homes nearby foreclosures saw a price drop of $7,200 per home in 2009. This led to a $502 billion total decline in property values in the same year. Also, this would all cause the tax base to become smaller. Low home values mean less equity. People depending on the value of their home to achieve investment goals, such as retirement or college, have seen those goals delayed.

Encouraging Crime
Crime is a major concern with these vacant homes. Unkempt lawns and dilapidated roofs advertise to thieves that the home is empty. Many of these opportunists will rob the home of copper pipes, copper wiring, appliances and fixtures. The vacant home can also become a magnet for vandalism, drug dealers, prostitution and violent crimes. Minority and poor communities are especially hard hit because they have fewer resources to make improvements compared to residents of more affluent areas.

The vacant homes also lead to increased municipal costs because of the need for more services, such as police, fire and code enforcement. Funding these services can take away from property tax revenue.

What You Can Do
Take measures to stabilize your neighborhood before your home loses value. Organize or host foreclosure-prevention workshops. Request a community-based organization to come to your neighborhood and hold a meeting. Contact local lenders, loan servicers and housing counselors to find out whether they are able to hold a workshop at your home or local community center. The workshops could give your quietly struggling neighbors the assistance they need.

When you notice a property going astray - such as grass height not meeting the appropriate community standards or obvious damage - locate the owners of the property so they can immediately handle the situation and reduce the financial loss. To find out who owns the home, you can contact the homeowners association, community managers or your local housing and inspections department. Call the realtor who is listing the property with your concerns if the home is up for sale.

Some More Tips
Organizing a neighborhood watch is a great way to prevent crime and vandalism. Try to learn who's moving in and who's leaving so you know which homes are at risk. Identify block captains to monitor these homes until the situation is resolved. It helps to create a checklist for housing issues such as:

  • signs of running water
  • lights left on
  • trash, debris and other items left outside
  • broken doors or windows
  • graffiti
  • structural damages

Some active measures suggested by NeighborWorks include:

  • parking cars in the driveways of vacant homes to give the appearance that the home is occupied
  • maintaining the lawn
  • painting the boards to look like doors and windows
  • clearing trash and organizing neighborhood clean-up projects

Other creative techniques for you to try include:

  • hanging curtains and blinds in the windows
  • using deadbolts for the locks
  • using baby monitors
  • installing motion detectors, flood lights and cameras to catch burglars

Before you attempt any of these more creative options, make sure you talk to the owner or a representative of the bank holding the property title. Making alterations to a property, even positive ones, can be construed as trespassing.

Additional community efforts can involve grass roots strategies, such as pooling funds from community groups and local government to buy foreclosed properties, renovate the homes or tear them down to create community spaces. Some mortgage companies may hire a property preservation company to check in on and handle the maintenance of a foreclosed home. The company may contact you to let you know that they are checking on the home and may ask you to contact them if a situation arises. The company sticker will usually be placed on the door of the home indicating that it is frequently being looked after.

The Bottom Line
When foreclosed homes are left unattended it affects you and your community. They lower property value, invite crime and create health hazards. It's important that the owners of the property are held accountable if the property is not looked after. Take action early to stop problems from occurring or keep them from getting any worse. Help a financially troubled neighbor by holding a foreclosure prevention workshop. Organize a neighborhood watch. Take active and creative measures to preserve the property's aesthetics and prevent crime. Report any suspicious activity or code issues to the proper authorities, such as local law enforcement or community government.

The following organizations can provide some additional informative resources and help: the National Housing Institute, National Vacant Properties Campaign and Neighborhood Works America. Remember that by taking active steps to protect the value of foreclosed properties, you are actually protecting your own home's value too.



(c) Brigitte Yuille | Investopedia

 

What's in store for the Housing Market in 2012?

by Alexandra Zega
 
It's been a pretty long ride down from the meteoric highs the housing market hit in the boom years. Who knew more than five years later, Americans would still be trying to shake off the one of the worst financial hangovers the country has ever known.

Millions of homes have been foreclosed on and millions more Americans have underwater mortgages, the lasting legacy of the housing bubble that grossly overinflated home values. Now, living in homes they can't sell, Americans today are "stuck." Stuck financially, stuck in their homes, and stuck wondering when things will get better.

Is 2012 the year the housing market turns around? Of course, no one can say for sure, but plenty of economists say signals are pointing in the right direction.

"It has become increasingly apparent that the pieces for a housing rebound next year are beginning to fall into place," wrote Barclays Capital analyst Stephen Kim in a recent report.

Still, obstacles remain for the housing market. Here's look at what to expect in 2012:

Home prices bottom out. Nationally, home prices have plummeted almost 24 percent off of their peak, and most economists expect prices to continue to decline as much as 4 or 5 percent before leveling out in late 2012.

While experts don't expect a rapid conclusion to the saga of ever-declining home prices, "the trend of eroding expectations for the housing market recovery has come to a halt," said Terry Loebs, founder of Pulsenomics, in a release.

Nationally, prices could start seeing a modest bump in 2013, but some markets are already recovering. "These national indexes mask the sizable variation in local house-price performance," Frank Nothaft, chief economist at Freddie Mac, wrote in a recent report. "Some markets have appreciated over the past year and are likely to gain further in 2012, while those markets with higher vacancy rates and relatively large distressed sales will continue to see downward price pressure over the next year."

More foreclosures. Foreclosure filings have edged downward over the past few months, suggesting improvement in clearing the gigantic inventory of distressed properties in the United States. But according to a recent report from Realty Trac, a new wave of foreclosures could hit the market in early 2012.

Foreclosures have fallen near the end of this year due to eviction moratoriums during the holiday season and continued hold-ups in the legal process as states attorneys negotiate with mortgage servicers over foreclosure practices.

Clarity on that issue should restart the process and begin flushing homes through the foreclosure pipeline. That's likely to contribute to further prices declines in some markets, particularly those affected by the foreclosure epidemic.

Low mortgage rates. Rock-bottom low mortgage rates are likely here to stay, at least through the first half of 2012, in large part due to the Fed's commitment to keep interest rates low to spur borrowing.

All bets are off, though, if politicians come to a decision on the qualified residential mortgage measure included in the Dodd-Frank financial reform act. "One of the most substantial things that will impact the market will be the definition of the qualified residential mortgage," says Cameron Findlay, chief economist at LendingTree. "That has the potential of entirely changing the way mortgage rates are offered to consumers and it has the risk of raising rates by about 1.25 percent."

As it stands now, the qualified residential mortgage (QRM), could require prospective homebuyers to have at least a 20 percent down payment and face more stringent debt-to-income ratio standards to qualify for mortgages with the best interest rates.

"There's a real potential there for rising rates in the early part of the year," Findlay adds.

Rising rents. The foreclosure crisis has converted millions of previous homeowners to renters and many would-be homebuyers have continued to stay on the sidelines and rent, waiting for prices to "hit bottom" before jumping into the housing market fray.

With more demand comes rising rents, a trend already being seen in many metro areas across the nation. Ultimately that can be a good thing for the housing market, since it generally tips more people into buying homes.

"Rising rents have traditionally been a good factor for home sales," says Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors.

Also, with rental demand heightened, real estate investors' ears have perked up. With prices in many metro areas at historic lows, investors are taking advantage and scooping up properties to convert into rentals, Yun says.

Home sales pick up. The end sum of all these factors is an expected uptick in existing and new home sales next year. "There are so many improving factors that support home sales that we are calling for about a 5 percent increase in [existing] home sales in 2012 over 2011," Yun says.

New home sales should also see an even bigger bump between 10 and 15 percent, Yun says, because the inventory of new constructions is so low. "The builders will be ramping up production," he says.

(c) mhandley@usnews

 

Displaying blog entries 1-4 of 4

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