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Breaking News: Senate Plans to Extend and Expand Tax Credit

by Alexandra Zega

 

senate_10 30 The Senate has reached a compromise on extending and expanding the $8,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers, a boost the housing industry believes will help it pull out of its two-year-old downturn. 

While its passage remains uncertain, the agreement would extend the existing credit for first-time homebuyers, worth up to $8,000, while offering a new credit of up to $6,500 for some existing homeowners, Senate aides said. The reduced credit would be available to all homebuyers who have been in their current residence for a consecutive five-year period in the past eight years. Lawmakers in Washington also raised the qualifying income limits to $125,000 for single taxpayers and $250,000 for joint taxpayers, from the current $75,000 and $150,000, housing-industry sources said. Under the Senate compromise, buyers must have sales agreements in hand by April 30, but they will have until June 30 to go to settlement, said the sources. The measure still faces votes in the full Senate and the House. 

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan are in full support of the Senate’s proposal to both extend and expand the first-time homebuyer tax credit and called on Congress to approve key housing measures that include the tax credit. “We welcome efforts taken by Congress to extend the First-Time Homebuyer Tax Credit for a limited period. This credit has brought new families into the housing market and contributed to three consecutive months of rising home prices nationwide,” said Secretaries Geithner and Donovan. “In extending the credit, we urge Congress to include strict measures to combat tax fraud and protect responsible homeowners.” 

The current tax credit did little for the new-home market in September, the Commerce Department recently reported—news that took many industry analysts by surprise. Sales fell 3.6% from August and 7.8% from September 2008. Industry observers had expected a fifth consecutive monthly increase in new-home sales, believing that the tax incentive for qualified first-time buyers—credited with 357,000 sales of previously owned homes so far this year—would do the trick. Instead, sales of typically more expensive newly built houses slipped. “The decline in new-home sales seems to us to be more a function of the attractive pricing available on resales in the current environment than a reflection of weakening demand,” said Michael Feder, president of Radar Logic in New York, which tracks the market. 

“Since hitting rock bottom in March, demand is up 20 percent,” said Joel L. Naroff of Naroff Economic Advisers in Holland, Pa. For Naroff, the robust rise in existing-home purchases—9.2% year over year in September—indicated that the housing market was not faltering. “Maybe the issue is supply, which fell to its lowest level in 27 years,” he said. “Builders, at least those left standing, have been making sure they don’t have any houses sitting around, and they have been very successful in controlling inventories.” 

IHS Global Insight economist Patrick Newport echoed that, noting new-home inventories “sank for the 29th straight month to their lowest level since November 1982.” Naroff maintained housing has recovered enough to stand without the tax credit, but Newport said that if the credit were not extended and expanded, housing demand would take a hit, and home sales would drop. 

The new provisions are aimed at broadening availability of the credit beyond first-time buyers and giving the weakened real estate market a bigger boost while preventing real estate investors from benefitting. While Senate lawmakers appear to have reached a deal on the substance of the tax credit, they are still at odds over how it would be brought to the Senate floor. 

(c) 2009, By Alan J. Heavens, Corey Boles, John D. McKinnon -The Philadelphia Inquirer.


First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credit Fraud

by Alexandra Zega

The General Accountability Office has reportedly frozen more than 110,000 first-time home buyer tax credit refunds pending civil or criminal examinations due to allegations of fraud. The main concerns are whether or not a home purchase actually took place and if the home buyer claiming the credit is technically a first-time home buyer as defined by the IRS. 

In another article about the possible first-time home buyer tax credit fraud, reporter Dawn Kopecki reports that children as young as four years old have improperly received the first-time home buyer tax credit. And, according to the Treasury’s J. Russel George, who testified before Congress recently: “They [IRS] also found that 580 taxpayers under 18 years old and therefore ineligible to buy a home claimed almost $4 million in tax credits.” 

The first-time home buyer tax credit ends Nov. 30, 2009. Here are a few resources on Zillow.com that may help you if you are still trying to use the credit and want to learn more: 

$8,000 First-time Home Buyer Tax Credit Ends Soon–Better Get Moving!
New Widget: Do You Qualify for the $8,000 First-time Home Buyer Tax Credit?
Rules and Forms in Place for $8,000 First-time Home Buyer Tax Credit

 

Around the Home – 8 Cheap and Easy Costume Ideas

by Alexandra Zega

pirate

This Halloween, the only thing scarier than ghouls, ghosts and goblins is the economic forecast. Finances are tight this fall, which means less money for freaky festivities and expensive store-bought costumes. Luckily, a spooky solution may be as close as your own closet.

Homemade Halloween costumes are cheap, easy and eco-friendly, since they often feature recycled clothes, props and accessories. Plus, most of the materials for the perfect costume can be found around the house or at your local thrift store. 

Here are some frighteningly fun costumes that simply scream “Happy Halloween!” Although none of them require sewing or heavy lifting, little witches and warlocks may need adult supervision. 

Fairy
You’ll need: a prom dress with a full, poofy skirt (look for formal dresses with lots of layers of tulle and netting); artificial flowers, feathers, beads, ribbon, etc. and fairy wings 

This sweet, simple costume is perfect for full-size fairies and petite pixies alike.

Using large, sharp scissors, cut through all the layers of the dress at or just below knee level. Now use your scissors to create a zigzag edge along the bottom of the dress. For best results, cut one layer at a time. (For a more modest look, keep the bottom hem past the knee. Flirty fairies can go shorter). 

Attach artificial flowers and other embellishments to the top layer of fabric with needle-and-thread or glue. You can purchase wings or make your own using wire hangers and pantyhose. 

Pirate
Men will need: a loose button-up shirt, preferably white; black or brown trousers; belt; bandanna and an eye patch. Women will need: loose, ruffled blouse, preferably white; long, full skirt; shawl and/or bandanna; belt and boots. Get ready to sail the high seas in a swashbuckling outfit inspired by “Pirates of the Caribbean.” 

Guys can channel their inner buccaneer with homemade pirate pants. Using large, sharp scissors, cut pant legs just below the knee. Make small cuts at 1-inch intervals. Then rip the bottom of the pants into strips about four to five inches deep. Pair your pirate pants and shirt with a long vest or make your own by cutting the sleeves and collar off an old shirt. A wide leather belt, bandanna and eye patch complete the look. 

For women, becoming a pirate is as easy as donning a ruffled blouse, long skirt, wide belt and boots. Tie a shawl over one hip and accessorize with hoop earrings, gold necklaces and rings. 

Swords, daggers and stuffed parrot toys make great accessories. 

Vampire
You’ll need: black clothing; a cape and vampire teeth. Vampires are hot this Halloween, thanks to the popularity of “Twilight” and “True Blood.” The possibilities for vampires are practically endless. 

Gals, choose dark-colored clothing with a Gothic feel. Velvet, satin and lace are a plus. Guys, channel your inner Dracula with a tuxedo-style suit and cape or go for a more romantic look with a loose, button-up black shirt and pants. 

Mimic vampires’ deathly pallor with pale makeup and a trickle of fake blood. You can purchase fake vampire teeth at most costume shops and drug stores. 

Five more easy-to-make costumes
-G.I. Joe and Jane: Military surplus stores are a great source for camouflage clothing, uniforms and more.
-Harry Potter: Dress up as everyone’s favorite wizard with an old black graduation robe, a white button-up shirt, black pants and a gold-and-red striped necktie. Wear glasses and use makeup to draw a lightning-shaped “scar” on your forehead.
-Princess: Pair a prom dress with a toy tiara and scepter. Or add a sash to become a beauty pageant winner.
-Witch: Already have a black outfit? Add a witch hat and collect your Halloween candy in a cauldron.
-Zombie: Take any outfit- an old suit, a Western shirt and Wrangler jeans, a Hawaiian shirt and board shorts- and destroy it. Rip out seams. Fray hems.
Finish with fake blood and ghoulish makeup. 

(c) 2009, By Sarah Linn,The Tribune, San Luis Obispo, Calif.

 

Decorate Your Pumpkin in Style This Season

by Alexandra Zega

pumpkin

The art of pumpkin carving is a centuries-old tradition, dating back to an ancient Celtic holiday called Samhain, meaning summer’s end. Over time, the tradition has evolved and the carved pumpkin (or Jack-o-Lantern) has become one of the most prominent symbols of Halloween. 

While each Jack-o-Lantern is different with its own unique size and style, they all share one thing in common – on November 1, the carved pumpkin is immediately out-of-season and soon replaced by fall and Thanksgiving decor. Many people even wait until the last minute to do their carving to help ensure their pumpkin stays as fresh as possible for Halloween. 

If you are looking to prolong the life of your pumpkin this year, you may want to think about using duct tape instead of the traditional carving method. Using duct tape as a decorative element for your pumpkin allows you to start on your design earlier, then change or remove it completely after Halloween, making it versatile enough to use throughout the fall. And styling your pumpkin in duct tape will eliminate the mess left behind from carving, while allowing you to be creative and colorful all at the same time. 

Here are a few examples of how you can use duct tape to decorate: 
Deck it out. Make an entire costume for your pumpkin. If you’re crafty and have some time, turn your pumpkin into a witch with a duct tape cape, hat and broom. For a quick and easy look, wrap your pumpkin in white duct tape for the perfect mummy motif.

Show your pride. With so many colors to choose from, it’s easy to pick a theme or use your pumpkin’s design to demonstrate your patriotism, celebrate your favorite sports team or pay tribute to your alma mater.

Go abstract. Step away from the traditional Halloween look- choose your favorite combination of duct tape colors and cover your pumpkin with some bright stripes, zigzags or polka dots.

Be a little two-faced. Can’t decide on a favorite design? You don’t have to- decorate both sides of your pumpkin and rotate it throughout the Halloween season. Try playing off dueling themes for inspiration, such as comedy and tragedy, day and night or cats and dogs.

Stuck on the Jack-o-Lantern face? Use pre-made stencils or make your own to use as guides to create the eyes, nose and mouth of your pumpkin’s unique expression. 

A little imagination and a few rolls of duct tape are all you need to make your pumpkin stick out from the rest this Halloween. Using duct tape is a fun and creative project for the whole family, resulting in a one-of-a-kind decoration that will last throughout the season. 

For more information, visit www.duckproducts.com. 

 

Two Flu Vaccines, Twice the Number of Questions

by Alexandra Zega

vaccineThe annual ritual of fending off the flu is more complicated than usual this fall as Americans weigh the opportunity to receive two vaccines to protect against different types of influenza. 

The vaccine to fight seasonal flu is already widely available to people of all ages and health conditions, although some areas have reported supply delays or shortages. But a new vaccine to protect against the H1N1 virus, commonly known as swine flu, is just starting to make its way to schools, public health departments and doctors’ offices. Because of an initial limited supply, the first doses of swine flu vaccine are earmarked for people at high risk of serious complications from swine flu and those at risk of spreading it to them. States have ordered about 8 million doses so far, with the potential for up to 250 million total doses, depending on demand, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Public health officials say everyone who wants a swine flu vaccine eventually will be able to get one as more come on line. 

The first question many people are asking is if they need one or both of the vaccines. Nearly all Americans, or 88% of the population fall into a group that’s recommended to receive the seasonal flu vaccine, said CDC spokesman Tom Skinner. About half the population fits into a category deemed high priority for the swine flu vaccine. “People who are recommended to get those vaccines need to plan to get both of them,” Skinner said. 

While some flu cases involve only several days of misery, others go on to become life-threatening or even fatal. Since the swine flu emerged in the U.S. in April, more than 800 people with flu symptoms have died, including 28 pregnant women and 86 children. Most of those children had an underlying condition, but 20% to 30% of them were otherwise healthy. The seasonal flu sends an average of 200,000 Americans to the hospital and kills 36,000 of them every year. People who’ve come down with a flu-like illness recently may think they had swine flu and that they no longer need a vaccine to prevent it. 

But there are hundreds of other respiratory viruses circulating with symptoms that often overlap, and people with mild cases of suspected flu aren’t sent for laboratory confirmation of the H1N1 virus, making it impossible to know for sure if they’ve built immunity, said Dr. Greg Poland, director of the Vaccine Research Group at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. “Because there’s no harm in getting the vaccine even if you think you had swine flu, we err on the side of caution and say you should get the vaccine,” Poland said. 

While vaccination doesn’t confer 100% protection against the flu, it’s still the most effective way to prevent it or mitigate its harm to the body, according to the CDC.

Clinical trials of the H1N1 vaccine showed it has many of the same side effects as the seasonal variety, chiefly a sore arm at the injection site. People with a known allergy to chicken eggs and those with suppressed immune systems should talk to their doctor about whether flu vaccination is an option for them. 

The swine flu vaccine is manufactured the same way as its seasonal counterpart, and the H1N1 strain may have been included in this year’s seasonal vaccine had the virus emerged a few months earlier when planning for the seasonal vaccine was under way, said Dr. Paul Offit, chief of infectious disease at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. 

The seasonal flu vaccine has been used for decades in formulations that change every year to reflect the three most dominant strains of virus that scientists believe will be circulating when the vaccine goes into production in the spring. The swine flu virus makes up the vast majority of flu bugs now going around and people in high-risk groups are urged to get a swine flu vaccine as soon as they become available. The groups who are first priority are pregnant women, children and young adults age 6 months to 24 years old, people who are around children too young to be immunized, those age 25 to 64 who have underlying chronic medical conditions such as diabetes or asthma, and health care workers. 

More people are recommended to be vaccinated against seasonal flu since, unlike swine flu, it tends to hit the elderly hard as well. About 82 million doses of that vaccine have shipped, and manufacturers are expected to produce about 114 million doses total this year. 

“The reason to get both is you want to be protected from the strains most likely to circulate,” Offit said. People who want one or both vaccines may have to be patient until more supply arrives, and they’re wise to call ahead to see if the vaccines they want are available. They also should ask about price and insurance coverage. Some employers and health insurers offer discounts or full reimbursement for flu vaccines. Medicare beneficiaries can receive both vaccines free of charge after satisfying their Part B deductible. The swine flu vaccine is free for anyone who wants it, though health care providers may charge an administration fee. Uninsured and underinsured children may receive free vaccines through the government’s Vaccines for Children Program. There is high demand for seasonal flu vaccine at Walgreens stores around the country, said company spokesman Jim Cohn in Deerfield, Ill. This year Walgreens is offering the seasonal flu vaccine seven days a week either by appointment or on a walk-in basis. The cost without Medicare or private insurance is $24.99 for the shot and $29.99 for the nasal-spray version. 

“I would strongly encourage people interested in getting a seasonal vaccine to do so as soon as possible because we’re hearing about shortages or locations that are out of the vaccine already,” Cohn said. 

“We now have the industrial capacity to make a lot of vaccine efficiently and quickly, and that’s good,” Offit said. “But what we don’t have yet is the distribution method to allow for easy, quick and efficient vaccination.” 

For people who choose to get either or both flu vaccines, the next questions are often what form they should pick—the shot or the nasal spray—and how far apart the immunizations should be if they get both the regular and swine flu vaccines.

Only healthy people ages 2 to 49 who aren’t pregnant can receive the nasal-spray versions. People who fit that criteria and are looking to avoid needles for both flu vaccines need to wait four weeks between the two nasal-spray versions, said the CDC’s Skinner. Children ages 6 months to 9 years who have never received a flu vaccine before are recommended to receive two doses of both the H1N1 and seasonal flu vaccine about a month apart, Offit said. People age 10 and older need only one dose of swine flu vaccine, according to the CDC. 

 

(c) By Kristen Gerencher, 2009, MarketWatch.com Inc.

 

Americans Playing Tricks with Treats This Halloween

by Alexandra Zega

Trick_or_treat Trick-or-treaters beware; adults are stashing sweets for themselves this year. According to the National Confectioners Association’s (NCA) 2009 Halloween Survey, four in ten adults admit that they purposely keep treats behind, instead of giving all the loot away to revelers. In fact, nearly one third (30%) of adults admit that they will pocket at least a handful or more of goodies from the treat bowl to savor for themselves. 

“This Halloween, adults are looking to share the sweetness of the holiday by giving out, and in many cases saving for themselves, their personal favorite treats,” said NCA Vice President of Communications Susan Whiteside. “And, with the holiday falling on a Saturday, we anticipate seeing even more Americans celebrating in heightened style this year, as compared to years past, by trick-or-treating, attending festive parties and enjoying delicious seasonal candy sweets.” 

Treats and Traditions
Nearly one-in-five adults say that a Halloween celebration without candy would be the spookiest thing of all this October. Savoring the classics, chocolate treats and traditional sweets will dominate trick-or-treaters’ selections. In fact, the majority of Americans (52%) report that they will be handing out chocolate on October 31. Joining chocolate in the top five treats to be found in trick-or-treaters’ loot this year, adults say they plan to also give: 

-Hard candy and lollipops (30%)
-Chewy or gummy candy (19%)
-Chewing or bubble gum (16%)
-Caramel treats (14%) 

Proving revelers are never too old to dress-up for Halloween, the national survey also demonstrates the popularity of getting into festive attire. Forty-three percent of celebrants cite costumes as one of the most indispensable parts of the holiday; alongside candy as a critical must-have on Halloween night. Added Whiteside, “a night of fun and fantasy for kids and kids at heart, candy and costumes are the cornerstones of time-honored Halloween traditions.” That’s why 38% of respondents admitted that rain on Halloween night would be too scary to bear, as it would undoubtedly dampen Halloween spirits and trick-or-treating traditions. 

Tips for Treats
With loot to boot, little ghosts and goblins will be looking to taste test their rewards after a night of trick-or-treating. To help families enjoy a happy, healthy Halloween, NCA provides parents with tips to help their kids enjoy candy in moderation and ideas to help the sweets last past October 31. 

Tips for a Happy, Healthy Halloween
Eat before treat. Serve a healthy and nutritious dinner before your children head out to collect candy. Your kids will be happier and full, which will help reduce the temptation to eat candy at each trick-or-treat stop.

Sort and save. Allow your kids to enjoy some of their Halloween bounty on trick-or-treat night. Then work with them to portion out two or three treats into separate small bags to be enjoyed beyond October 31.

Make it or break it. Most candies are now available in snack size portions. For the ones that aren’t, break them into sections and store those separately to make your own fun sizes. 

Tricks for Storing Treats
Chocolate. Dark chocolate can be kept for one to two years if wrapped in foil and stored in a cool, dark and dry place. Milk and white chocolate have a more limited storage time-no more than eight to 10 months.

Hard candy (lollipops, hard mints, butterscotches). Hard candies can last up to a year when stored at room temperature in a cool, dry location.

Soft candies (gum drops, jellied candies). If the packaging has been opened, soft candies should be covered away from heat and light at room temperature. Stored in this manner, the candy should last six to nine months. If the packaging has not been opened, soft sweets will last approximately 12 months.

Candy corn. If opened, candy corn should be stored under the same conditions as soft candies and will last approximately three to six months. Unopened, packages will last about nine months. 

 

For more information, visit www.candyusa.com. 

 

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – How to Get Rid of Hard-to-Recycle Items

by Alexandra Zega

recycle You’re committed to curbside recycling. Now how do you tackle the tough stuff? Check out these solutions for seven hard-to-recycle items. 

1. Appliances - Most appliances can be tricky to dispose of. Refrigerators and freezers in particular are required by law to be properly recycled due to their hazardous components. 

Best Steps: If you’re replacing an old refrigerator, first check with your local utility. Just by getting rid of an inefficient but functioning model, you may qualify for a rebate and free removal. If your refrigerator doesn’t work, contact your local waste management facility to have it picked up, usually for a fee. Another option: When you buy a new refrigerator or other appliance, some retailers will haul away your old one and send it to a recycling facility. 

2. Tires – Piles of tires can pose problems from excessive landfill consumption to mosquito breeding grounds. 

Best Steps: Ask about recycling when you replace your old tires. Regulations in all but two states (Delaware and Alaska) keep scrap tires out of the landfill, so it’s common for retailers to contract with recyclers. They’ll turn tires into rubber crumbs that become new products such as outdoor surfacing. If you have a tire at home, contact your local waste management service. Be prepared to take it to a disposal facility and pay a fee. 

3. Electronics - Unwanted TVs, computers, and other common electronics (known as E-waste) are perhaps today’s biggest concern because of the increasing volume and limitations. Metal and glass pieces can be removed, but what’s left piles up in landfills and leeches toxins into the ground. 

Best Steps: Now required in some states, some manufacturers and retailers have mail-in or drop-off programs for their own products. The best course for a newer computer is to donate it for refurbishing. 

4. Mattresses - With only a few mattress recycling facilities in the U.S., this is one of the more problematic categories. Springs are recyclable, but there’s not a big market for the other components. The store where you purchase your new mattress may offer to take your old one, but it could still go to the landfill. 

Best Steps: You may be able to donate your old mattress to a shelter, but probably not a charity that handles resale, such as Goodwill or Salvation Army. Consider giving it one last shot at being used through reecycle.org — an online exchange that offers a variety of items, all for free. 

5. Carpet - The mix of materials in carpet makes it difficult and costly to separate in the recycling process, but the desire to address the problem is evident. More than 243 million pounds of carpet were recycled last year, according to the Carpet America Recovery Effort or CARE. 

Best Steps: Currently, carpet recycling is handled commercially, so ask your local retailer if your old carpet will be recycled when your new flooring is installed. 

6. Toilets – Water-guzzling toilets threaten the environment even after they’ve been replaced with new efficient models when they’re sent to the landfill. 

Best Steps: Though available only in limited areas, independent recyclers salvage old toilets for their replacement parts (such as lids) and crush the leftovers. Porcelain chips can be used for road paving; they’ve also found their way into composite countertops. Eventually, toilet recycling is sure to become widespread; for now, check with your local waste management division for disposal procedures. 

7. Shoes- One old pair of athletic shoes may be the least of your recycling worries. But if you could help keep millions of pairs out of the landfill, wouldn’t it be worth the effort? 

Best Steps: Donate wearable shoes of any kind to a local charity or to an organization such as soles4souls.org. Take worn-out athletic shoes (any brand) to a Nike store or one of its other collection sites. Nike’s Reuse-a-Shoe program is responsible for recycling the rubber, foam, and fabric from more than 23 million pairs of shoes into various types of surfacing, such as playground material. 

Label lessons for new purchases
When you buy carpet made from plastic bottles or doormats made from tires, you’re helping “close the loop” on waste. Look for labels that indicate a product contains recycled content. Post-consumer content (materials that otherwise would have been thrown away) is thought to be greener than preconsumer content, which refers to waste collected during manufacturing. Products labeled recyclable have the most meaning when they’re necessary purchases or have a short life span. For example, it’s more important to be able to recycle a glass food jar than a vase. 

 

(c) 2009, Better Homes and Gardens.


Ice Rink at Rockefeller Center Kicks Off 2009-10 Season

by Alexandra Zega

38365101cent_20010711_04575.jpg

The Ice Rink at Rockefeller Center will open today, October 12th 2009, to kick off the 2009-10 winter season. It is the world’s most famous ice skating rink, with more than one-quarter-of-a-million skaters visiting each year between October and April. The Rink opening marks the traditional beginning of the festivities leading up to the annual lighting of the beloved Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. 

The Rink will open this year with an exhibition from Ice Theater skaters. Honoring Columbus Day, a skater portraying Christopher Columbus will perform and offer complimentary Italian flag cookies to all visitors on opening day. The skater will perform for the public from 9 am-4 pm, and a press reception will be held from 10 a.m.- noon. 

Additionally, anyone with the name “Christopher” will receive 1/2 off on skating on Columbus Day, and anyone named “Christopher Columbus” will receive a complimentary skating on opening day. 

“Attracting skaters of all ages and levels, The Ice Rink is a tradition we are proud to be a part of,” said Nick Valenti, CEO of Patina Restaurant Group, which operates The Rink and its surrounding restaurants, The Sea Grill and Rock Center Cafe. “Visiting The Ice Rink and the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree has spanned generations and lasted throughout the decades, with more memorable years to come.” 

The Rink first opened on Christmas Day in 1936 as the premier artificial outdoor skating pond built in New York City, complete with modern amenities: night skating, a heated house for changing skates, piped-in music and rink-side dining. Over the past 73 years, The Rink has become one of the most visited sites in NYC—and even the world. 

The perfect destination for both families and lovebirds, The Ice Rink has several programs planned for the upcoming skating season: “Engagement on Ice” will be available throughout the season, which offers couples private time to propose marriage on the Ice Rink, followed by a champagne toast at Rock Center Cafe. “Breakfast with Santa” will begin in late November and last through Christmas Eve for children to spend quality time with St. Nick, enjoy a delicious breakfast at Rock Center Cafe and partake in a skate session. For those looking for a unique morning workout, Olympic gold medalist Jojo Starbuck hosts a morning “Cool Workout Sessions” program. Finally, back by popular demand, “Skate-a-Date” will begin January 2010. The program includes dinner for two at Rock Center Cafe and VIP skating on The Rink. 

courtesy of patinagroup.com


seniors_10 08

Abuses and abusers from the subprime mortgage market have begun showing up in the reverse mortgage market, putting at risk the equity and savings of millions of seniors. 

That’s the main finding of “Subprime Revisited: How the Rise of the Reverse Mortgage Lending Industry Puts Older Homeowners at Risk,” a report issued recently by the National Consumer Law Center. 

“In the reverse mortgage market, seniors face some of the same aggressive lending practices that were common in the subprime lending boom,” said Tara Twomey, an NCLC attorney and author of the report. “Well-funded marketing campaigns and perverse incentives to brokers are targeting seniors’ home equity and using reverse mortgages as their tools.” 

As the new NCLC report notes: “Many of the same players that fueled the subprime mortgage boom—ultimately with disastrous consequences—have turned their attention to the reverse market. Lenders, including some of the nation’s largest banks, view that market as a source of profits that have dried up elsewhere. Mortgage brokers see it as a new source of rich fees. Predators who once reaped profits from exotic loans have now focused on wresting more wealth from vulnerable seniors. And securitization, which allowed subprime loan originators to disassociate themselves from the downside risks of abusive lending, is becoming commonplace in the reverse mortgage industry.” 

U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill said this report validates the need for regulatory improvements in this industry in order to protect America’s seniors as well as our tax dollars. “We’ve seen this movie before and it didn’t have a pretty ending. Abuses in the subprime lending market almost brought down our economy. Now we’re seeing similar abuses with reverse mortgage lending–something needs to be done before more lifesavings are depleted and more tax dollars are drained,” McCaskill said. 

This report describes the growth of an aggressive and dangerous reverse mortgage sales culture that has outstripped the limited resources and uncertain funding for the counseling agencies that current laws rely on to prevent reverse mortgage abuses. 

“We urgently need stronger protections for reverse mortgage borrowers, especially a suitability standard that obligates those who arrange and profit from reverse mortgage deals to seek to avoid harming the financial interests of elderly clients,” Twomey said. 

The report also calls for the extension of reverse mortgage protections to all equity conversion products aimed at seniors, a prohibition on yield spread premiums and other perverse incentives in the reverse mortgage market and better data collection by lenders. 

“Reverse mortgages are complicated and expensive financial products that must be used wisely and regulated carefully, or profit and volume driven sales efforts can open the door to abuses and fraud,” said Odette Williamson, an NCLC attorney. 

The report also highlights the danger of predators who use reverse mortgages as tools in schemes to steal the home equity of unsuspecting seniors, or to fund the purchase of expensive insurance and financial products that pay high commissions. 

For more information, visit http://www.consumerlaw.org


 

ghost Our nation’s capitol can be a scary place sometimes, but it recently became even more frightening when a gang of ghouls and goblins led by Steven Silverstein, president of Spirit Halloween costume stores, descended on Capitol Hill to rally in support of Silverstein’s movement to permanently move Halloween from Oct. 31st to the last Saturday in October – every year. 

“Friends, fright-lovers and fellow trick-or-treaters, we need Halloween, and today, Halloween needs us,” Silverstein urged in a video shot on Capitol Hill just released last week on YouTube and Silverstein’s “Support Halloweekend” petition website. “For too long Halloween has been a holiday without a certain home. For too long, Halloween has floated from one week day to the next. Do you really think we’re giving Halloween the quality time it deserves?” 

“What about our needs?” he continues, as concerned trick-or-treaters cheer and nod heads in agreement. “Are we really content squeezing in a few black and orange cupcakes in the office? That’s not a celebration! The time has come to make the world a better place for ghouls and goblins of every size, creed and color across this great land!” 

The crowd rallies, as Silverstein urges, “Saturday Halloween is safer. The kids can trick or treat before dark. Let’s make Halloween the last Saturday in October every year. It’s time to make Halloween, Halloweekend! 

As a mock rendition of “Stars and Stripes Forever” begins to play, Silverstein hops off his “soapbox,” (a small podium decorated as a giant bar of soap), distributes candy to children and hi-fives supporters. The video ends with Silverstein and a few of the goblins patting each other on the back for a rally well-done. “You know, I think that Halloweekend thing really worked,” Silverstein says. 

The Halloweekend website has several more facts supporting the cause; here are a few:
-Halloween is now the third-largest party day in the U.S., behind New Year’s Eve and the Super Bowl.
-Halloween is the second-largest holiday in home décor (inside and outside), behind Christmas
-It’s not just for kids anymore. Last year the National Retail Federation estimated that nearly 65% of adults celebrate Halloween and that the average consumer spends more than $66 on costumes, candy, decorations and greeting cards. 

Saturday Halloween “makes good sense”
-Saturday Halloween is more fun for friends and family. Parties last longer, families spend more quality time together —the world is a little happier.
-Saturday Halloween is unrushed. The kids can trick or treat before dark and parents don’t have to race home from work or worry about bedtimes.
-Saturday Halloween is better for the economy. Halloween-related retail sales are as much as 30% higher when Halloween falls on the weekend versus a weekday. And that means more jobs and better paychecks. Let’s put America back to work—let’s end this recession now! 

To view the video on YouTube, click here. To learn more or join the movement to make Halloween the last Saturday in October every year, click here

For more information about Spirit Halloween costume stores, click here

 

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