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Why Leaves Change Colors

by Alexandra Zega

Every autumn we revel in the beauty of the fall colors. The mixture of red, purple, orange and yellow is the result of chemical processes that take place in the tree as the seasons change from summer to winter.  

During the spring and summer the leaves have served as factories where most of the foods necessary for the tree's growth are manufactured. This food-making process takes place in the leaf in numerous cells containing chlorophyll, which gives the leaf its green color. This extraordinary chemical absorbs from sunlight the energy that is used in transforming carbon dioxide and water to carbohydrates, such as sugars and starch.

Along with the green pigment are yellow to orange pigments, carotenes and xanthophyll pigments which, for example, give the orange color to a carrot. Most of the year these colors are masked by great amounts of green coloring.

Chlorophyll Breaks Down

But in the fall, because of changes in the length of daylight and changes in temperature, the leaves stop their food-making process. The chlorophyll breaks down, the green color disappears, and the yellow to orange colors become visible and give the leaves part of their fall splendor.  

At the same time, other chemical changes may occur, which form additional colors through the development of red anthocyanin pigments. Some mixtures give rise to the reddish and purplish fall colors of trees such as dogwoods and sumacs, while others give the sugar maple its brilliant orange.

The autumn foliage of some trees shows only yellow colors. Others, like many oaks, display mostly browns. All these colors are due to the mixing of varying amounts of the chlorophyll residue and other pigments in the leaf during the fall season.

Other Changes Take Place

As the fall colors appear, other changes are taking place. At the point where the stem of the leaf is attached to the tree, a special layer of cells develops and gradually severs the tissues that support the leaf. At the same time, the tree seals the cut, so that when the leaf is finally blown off by the wind or falls from its own weight, it leaves behind a leaf scar.  

Most of the broad-leaved trees in the North shed their leaves in the fall. However, the dead brown leaves of the oaks and a few other species may stay on the tree until growth starts again in the spring. In the South, where the winters are mild, some of the broad-leaved trees are evergreen; that is, the leaves stay on the trees during winter and keep their green color.

Only Some Trees Lose Leaves

Most of the conifers -- pines, spruces, firs, hemlocks, cedars, etc. -- are evergreen in both the North and South. The needle- or scale-like leaves remain green or greenish the year round, and individual leaves may stay on for two to four years or more.

Weather Affects Color Intensity

Temperature, light, and water supply have an influence on the degree and the duration of fall color. Low temperatures above freezing will favor anthocyanin formation, producing bright reds in maples. However, early frost will weaken the brilliant red color. Rainy and/or overcast days tend to increase the intensity of fall colors. The best time to enjoy the autumn color would be on a clear, dry and cool (not freezing) day.

Enjoy the color; it only occurs for a brief period each fall.

Fall Foliage Features


Courtesy of SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Text prepared by Carl E. Palm, Jr., Instructional Support Specialist, Faculty of Environmental and Forest Biology

First Time Homebuyer Credit - Scenarios

by Alexandra Zega

Here are some interesting scenarios that can be found on the IRS website relating to the first time homebuyer credit and who qualifies.

For example:


S1. If a single person (Taxpayer A) qualifies as a first-time homebuyer at the time he/she purchases a home with someone (Taxpayer B) that is not a first-time homebuyer and then later that year they marry each other, is the credit still allowed?

A. Eligibility for the first-time homebuyer credit is determined on the date of purchase. If Taxpayer A, a first-time homebuyer, buys a house and then later that year marries Taxpayer B, not a first-time homebuyer, the credit is allowable to Taxpayer A. Taxpayer A may take the maximum credit.

S2. Taxpayer A is a single first-time home buyer. Taxpayer B (parent) cosigns for A and does not qualify. Both names are on the mortgage. Can Taxpayer A claim the credit and, if so, how much? 

A. Yes. Taxpayer B is not a first-time homebuyer and cannot claim any portion of the credit, but A may claim the entire credit ($7,500 for purchase in 2008; $8,000 for purchase in 2009), if the home was purchased as Taxpayer A's primary residence.

S3. A taxpayer owned her principal residence. Several years ago, she decided to relocate to a rented apartment, but did not sell the former residence. Instead, she rented it out to tenants. Now the taxpayer plans to buy another house and make it her new principal residence. Does she qualify for the first-time homebuyer credit?

A. A taxpayer who owned rental property within the past three years is still eligible for the credit. The taxpayer cannot have owned and used a home as his or her principal residence within the last three years.

S4. If husband and wife wanted to sell the home that the wife owned when they got married, and the husband had not owned a home within the past three years, could he qualify as a first-time homebuyer for the credit even though the wife would not qualify?

A. No. The purchase date determines whether a taxpayer is a first-time homebuyer. Since the wife had ownership interest in a principal residence within the prior three years, neither taxpayer may take the first-time homebuyer credit. Section 36(c)(1) of the Internal Revenue Code requires that the taxpayer and the taxpayer's spouse not have an ownership interest in a principal residence within the prior three years from the date of purchase. The husband may not take the credit even if he filed on a separate return.

S5. Taxpayer purchased a home on April 24, 2008, while she was separated from her husband. Later in the year, they reconciled and were living together at the end of 2008. She has not owned a home since 2004 but he owned one which he sold in 2006. They remained married the entire time. Is the taxpayer eligible for the first-time homebuyer credit?

A. No. The purchase date determines whether a taxpayer is a first-time homebuyer. Since the husband had ownership interest in a principal residence within the prior three years, and the taxpayers were legally married, neither taxpayer may take the first-time homebuyer credit. Section 36(c)(1) requires that the taxpayer and the taxpayer's spouse not have an ownership interest in a principal residence within the prior three years from the date of purchase. While individuals do not have to be married to get the credit, marriage (and legal separation) imputes ownership of a previous home upon the other spouse. The wife may not take the credit even if she filed on a separate return.

S6. I have been estranged from my spouse for over three years and file married filing separate. I don’t know if my spouse has owned a main home in the last three years, but I have not. If I buy a house in 2009 that otherwise qualifies for the first-time homebuyer credit, can I claim the credit?

A. Section 36(c)(1) requires that the taxpayer and the taxpayer's spouse not have an ownership interest in a principal residence within the three years prior to the date of purchase. While individuals do not have to be married to get the credit, marriage (and legal separation) imputes ownership of a previous home upon the other spouse. If your spouse has not owned a main home in the last three years, then you may claim the credit.

S7. I am separated from my spouse and considered unmarried, and qualify for the unmarried head of household filing status. My spouse has owned a main home in the last three years, but I have not. If I buy a home on May 1, 2009, that otherwise qualifies, can I claim the first-time homebuyer credit?

A. No. Section 36(c)(1) requires that the taxpayer and the taxpayer's spouse not have an ownership interest in a principal residence within the three years prior to the date of purchase. While individuals do not have to be married to get the credit, marriage (and legal separation) imputes ownership of a previous home upon the other spouse. The taxpayer may not take the credit even if filed on a separate return.

S8. A qualifying taxpayer bought a home in August 2008 that needed a lot of work before occupying. They finished the renovations and moved in the home in January 2009. Can they claim the $8,000, since they did not occupy the home until 2009?

A. No. Taxpayers who purchase an existing home and renovate the property before moving in are eligible for the first-time homebuyer credit based on the date of purchase, not the date of occupancy.    


For more information go to:,,id=206294,00.html

Lose Your Job, Keep Your Home – Ask for Help Before it’s Too Late

by Alexandra Zega

home web Few words sting like the ones that inform you that you’re being laid off — especially today, with jobs so hard to come by. If you’re a homeowner, the blow of a job loss can be even worse. In households with more than one wage earner, halving the monthly income can severely stretch a budget. And in households where there’s one breadwinner, having zero income can be devastating. A rainy day fund helps, but it’s important to craft a plan early about how you’re going to get through the rough patch. More people are facing this nightmare today: While the volume of subprime mortgages headed to foreclosure is falling, the volume of prime, fixed-rate mortgages defaulting is on the rise, according to statistics from the Mortgage Bankers Association. The MBA’s chief economist said that’s a result of rising unemployment.

“If you don’t have the prescribed three to six months income in the bank (now eight to 12 months due to how long it takes to replace that job), you’re really in deep trouble with some troubling decisions to make,” said Gail Cunningham, vice president of public relations for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, in an e-mail. The NFCC is a national, nonprofit credit-counseling network. “We always advise people to pay their living expenses in full (this includes the house payment), followed by any secured debt (usually the car payment), and then the creditors. This will keep a roof over your head, food on the table, utilities paid, medicine in the cabinet, the kids at day care, etc. Once the money runs out, no one beneath that line gets paid. However, this assumes that there’s either some savings to fall back on or another income source,” she said.

Between programs offered by the government and loan servicers, there are additional options available for today’s homeowners before they slip into foreclosure — if they speak up and ask for help. Or maybe the best answer is to start over again by cutting your losses and selling your home or pursuing a short sale if you owe more on your mortgage than your home is worth, those in the industry say.

Whichever road you choose, it’s important to make contact with the lender or servicer as early as you know you could have a problem on your hands — and before you get behind on your payments. The MBA has a listing of contact information for lenders and servicers, including links to Web sites that give consumers a glimpse of some of the help that is offered.

“A lot of customers call us very late in the process, and it becomes extremely difficult for us to explain everything in one shot and to resolve everything to their satisfaction,” said Sanjiv Das, CEO of CitiMortgage.

Early communication is also stressed at Chase, said Christine Holevas, a bank spokeswoman. Remember also to be open and honest about your financial situation. You may think you’re bettering your chances for help by fudging on income information, for example, but it will in fact slow the process down; when income is verified and is found to be false, you’ll have to start over again, she said.

For help, there are counselors who will sit down with you and sort through options and paperwork. Chase, for example, has counselors at 27 homeownership centers throughout the country to assist its borrowers, Holevas said. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has a list of approved housing counselors, or homeowners can connect with a counselor through the NFCC site.

The solution that has gotten some of the most press this year has been the government’s Home Affordable Modification Program, which lowers monthly payments for borrowers based on debt-to-income ratios. Borrowers have to successfully complete a three-month trial period before the modification is finalized. Some homeowners are still confused about who is eligible, said Greg Hebner, president of MOS Group, a loss-mitigation service provider that works with lenders and servicers. For one, the program “requires a hardship, but does not require you to be delinquent,” Hebner said. “That is an important consumer misconception—if I’m still making my payments there is no help for me.”

But what the government does require is some amount of monthly income within the household, said Drew Kessler, director of sales for Rand Mortgage, in New City, N.Y. In a dual-income household, for example, if one person loses his or her job, a modification is a possibility. With one breadwinner, it probably isn’t. “There has to be some viable source of income,” Kessler said. “If they lost wages, or found a new job, the banks will work with them.” Kessler’s advice: It might be best to accept a job that pays less instead of holding out for one that is best suited to your salary history in order to qualify for the adjustment.

A borrower also has to be in danger of imminent default to be eligible, Holevas said. “They’re going to take a look at what your liquid assets are,” she said. If a borrower has more than seven months worth of payments in savings, he or she is not yet in imminent danger of falling behind and likely won’t be able to modify, she said. If you do qualify, it’s important to submit complete and accurate information in order for the application to move through the process without hiccups, Holevas added. If you don’t, “the back and forth tends to really slow things down,” she said.

Remember, if you don’t qualify for the government’s program, many mortgage servicers have their own modification plans, Holevas said. All options can be examined if you start early enough. “Contact your lender when you think you’re going to have a problem,” she said, even if you’re a couple of months out from not being able to make your payment.

For some homeowners, however, it might make more sense to sell their home and start fresh. Home sales are up recently in many markets, and if you’re living in a home that would be attractive to a first-time buyer eligible for the government’s first-time buyer tax credit, you might be able to take advantage and make a sale before the credit expires at the end of November, Kessler said.

“Maybe sell now and get yourself in a smaller property, a less costly property,” he said.

For homeowners who owe more on their mortgages than their homes are currently worth, short sales can be a viable option. In a short sale, the home is sold for less than the mortgage amount — with approval from the lender — and the difference is forgiven. Short sales usually take longer than a traditional sale, so borrowers might want to seek out a real-estate agent who is a certified default property expert in order to expedite the process, said Rich Rollins, president of National Quick Sale, a firm that works with the mortgage industry to get short-sale offers processed. His firm also helps match up investors with distressed properties, working out deals that allow the homeowners to give up ownership but rent their home, with the potential for them to “rent to re-own,” he said.

He warns, however, to be careful of unsolicited offers of help from people claiming they can save your home, he said.

“Be very wary of people who approach you for a profit or fee upfront,” Rollins said. “You’ve got to be diligent because there are people out there trying to steal your money,” he said. “You’re already in a precarious position. Don’t let people take advantage and take the money that you do have.”

(c) 2009, By Amy Hoak, Inc.


homespun web The good news is that Americans recognize that good hygiene is an effective line of defense against the H1N1 virus (previously known as Swine Flu). The bad news: the awareness has not driven a change in how frequently people wash their hands or clean surfaces that they touch all the time, which are important, effective behaviors for avoiding the flu.

In a nationwide survey of 888 adults conducted on behalf of The Soap and Detergent Association, respondents were asked about their level of concern about the virus; how that concern has changed their hygiene habits; and whether they believed implementing steps such as good hygiene can help avoid the spread of H1N1.

Among the key survey findings:

-Nearly two-thirds of households surveyed (65%) expressed concern about H1N1 flu (women more than men: 72%, 57%, respectively).

-More than nine out of ten (93%) believe that steps such as good hygiene will help limit its spread.

-Only one-third of respondents said they changed their overall hygiene habits in response to the growing concerns about H1N1.

Health authorities, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), say that the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus is the predominant influenza virus in circulation worldwide. Consequently, CDC states that H1N1 poses the potential to cause significant illness with associated hospitalizations and deaths during the U.S. influenza season.

“Simple but effective, everyday practices can help protect public health and guard against colds, flu and the H1N1 virus,” said Nancy Bock, SDA Vice President of Education. “We can combat H1N1 at home, in schools and the workplace if everyone does their part. Preventative health care is literally in our hands. Common sense hand hygiene and surface cleaning and disinfection practices will play an important role this year during the cold and flu season to help keep people healthy.”

SDA recommends taking the following steps at home, work and school:

-Wash your hands with soap for a minimum of 15-20 seconds routinely, particularly after coughing, sneezing, using the restroom and before eating meals.

-Have all family members carry a portable hand sanitizer product when access to soap and water is potentially inaccessible.

-Routinely clean and disinfect home and office surfaces, including countertops, desks, keyboards, telephones and doorknobs and handles.

For more information, visit

colorado_homespun With fall just around the corner, now is the time to experience Colorado during one of the state’s best kept secrets, autumn. 

Mother Nature has blessed the state with unrivaled beauty, especially during the fall months when the mountains shimmer with golden aspen tree leaves. There’s a variety of fun festivals, harvest celebrations and great vacation packages to be had. Below are a few ideas to inspire ‘leaf peepers’ looking for a picture perfect, affordable Colorado vacation. 

Wine Away the Weekend. Celebrate Colorado wine and food at the annual Colorado Mountain Winefest. Enjoy wine maker’s dinners, wine pairing courses, a variety of seminars and tastings and much more. One of the highlights of the weekend is sure to be the 16th Annual Tour de Vineyards, a scenic bike ride through Colorado’s wine country beginning in Grand Junction, September 19th. 

Your Way or the Byway. Hit the road on one of Colorado’s 25 Scenic and Historic Byways. Try the West Elk Loop, where you can soak in the brilliant foliage over Kebler Pass, enjoy farm fresh cherries and apples in Hotchkiss and explore the quaint Victorian-era mountain town of Crested Butte. Or, cruise along the Collegiate Peaks Byway and check out Colorado’s highest concentration of towering “fourteeners” (14,000-foot peaks). 

Zip the Day Away. Head to Durango in Southwest Colorado and delight in the fall colors while soaring through the forest canopy on a zip line with Soaring Treetop Adventures. Your guided adventure includes first-class train transportation in new private luxury cars aboard the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, a full day of Soaring , a four-course lunch served on an elevated platform overlooking the surrounding scenery. 

Flaunt Aspen’s Gold. The hip Sky Hotel in Aspen is offering the Aspen Gold foliage package, which includes a 15% discount on accommodations, complimentary valet parking, and a $25 gas card. 

Once Upon a Llama. Enjoy majestic Rocky Mountain National Park with llama pack trips with Kirk’s Fly Shop in Estes Park. Check out the foliage and cool Colorado wildlife while taking a guided llama ride.

Enjoy the Gold, Save Some Green in Breckenridge. Groups of four can stay in Breckenridge for four nights, enjoy a two-hour ATV tour to view the colors of the Ten Mile Range, ride through the fall foliage during a 1.5 hour horseback ride, or on a bike ride down Vail Pass.

Haute Air Balloon Ride Over the Rockies. Treat yourself and someone special to a spectacular flight in a hot air balloon, a great way to enjoy the changing of the leaves. The Millennium Harvest House in Boulder’s Hot Air Balloon over the Rockies package includes overnight accommodations for two adults, breakfast for two adults at Thyme on the Creek Restaurant, transportation to and from the launch site and a 1-hour Sunrise Flight with champagne toast. 

For more information, visit


New Credit Scoring Model May Boost Some Borrowers’ Scores

by Alexandra Zega

 credit cards web

(c) 2009, By Amy Hoak, Inc.

September 1, 2009 - Even the most responsible borrowers slip up sometimes. Maybe a utility bill went unpaid after you moved and the missed payment went into collections. Or, perhaps there are unpaid library fines or parking tickets in collections that are hanging onto your credit history and affecting your FICO credit score, which is widely used by lenders to evaluate your ability to repay a debt. With the newest version of the FICO credit-scoring system, however, minor delinquencies are now overlooked in calculating creditworthiness. Under the updated scoring model, called FICO 08, small, missed payments lingering in collections with original amounts of $100 or less will no longer do damage to your credit score. Consumers also are less likely to be penalized for any single delinquency if it occurred two or more years ago—and if their credit history is otherwise unblemished, says FICO, formerly Fair Isaac Corp., which developed the FICO scoring system.

“There’s more flexibility with missing a payment,” said Careen Foster, director of global scoring product management for FICO. “If you have a more habitual pattern of paying accounts late, you’re more likely to get penalized for that.” If a consumer’s credit usage is high, that will be more likely to hurt his or her score with FICO 08. But getting close to your credit-card limits—even if you always pay on time—is penalized in some way in every FICO score, not only the recent edition, Foster said.

The new system has been available at all three credit bureaus—Experian, TransUnion and Equifax—since last month. The changes were made to provide lenders with a better risk assessment of borrowers, said John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education for, a consumer education and advocacy site. FICO decided that one small library fine didn’t really predict whether a consumer was likely to default, for example.

With the changes, individuals who pose a low credit risk will probably see their scores rise a bit, and those who are high risk could see their scores drop, he adds.

FICO 08 also addresses “piggybacking,” a practice used by credit-repair companies to help people improve their scores, Ulzheimer said. In piggybacking, an individual pays to become an authorized user on a stranger’s account. The account holder gets paid for allowing the person to be associated with the account, and the new authorized user is able to improve his or her credit score.

“It was a practice to misrepresent what your credit looks like to your bank,” Foster said. FICO 08 aims to single out individuals who are named as authorized sources through deceptive means, Ulzheimer said. Those people won’t see their credit scores rise as a result. But the scores of legitimate authorized users will be treated as they always have been.

Borrowers shouldn’t expect their credit to be graded by this new scale on every loan they now apply for. Not all lenders have adopted the new model, though more than 400 lenders are using or testing FICO 08, the company said. In a statement, Equifax said, “Currently, many lenders and businesses are validating the new score within their systems, and adoption will vary by financial institution based on business requirements and market need.”

Many credit-card companies, auto lenders, regional banks and credit unions may have already adopted FICO 08, Ulzheimer said. But for mortgages, lenders doing traditional conforming loans backed by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae likely haven’t made the move yet, he said. That’s because they’re waiting for Freddie and Fannie to approve its use. Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae “are essentially the lender, they’re the ones that set the underwriting criteria,” he said. Ulzheimer said he expects Freddie and Fannie to adopt FICO 08 by the end of the year. Fannie declined to comment on FICO 08; Freddie wasn’t able to provide a comment prior to publication.

While FICO 08 will help consumers’ credit scores in some cases, people still should take steps to improve their credit. Granted, it’s impossible for consumers to calculate their FICO scores themselves, said Rodney Anderson, of Rodney Anderson Lending Services in Plano, Texas. “It’s almost like the Coca-Cola formula. No one has access to the Coca-Cola formula, no one has access to the FICO formula,” he said. But by being proactive, you can start to work toward a higher score, something that will serve you well every time you apply for a loan.

Some suggestions for improving your credit score:

-Monitor your credit reports and correct errors. Look not only for negative events on your record, but also examine the credit limits to make sure they’re accurate. If the credit limits appear lower on the report than they actually are, that has the potential to hurt your score.

-Pay bills on time and keep card balances low. Your payment history, and the amount you owe on your accounts as a ratio of the amount of credit you have access to, are important components of your score. FICO 08 is more sensitive to high credit usage, and consumers may see a lower score if their reported balance on one or more cards is near the account’s limit.

-Take on new credit only when you need it. Some credit cards come with great offers, including a percentage off your bill if you sign up for one at the cash register. If you accept, make sure you’re getting a big enough benefit to make it worthwhile—taking on additional credit could end up dinging your score.




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