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Here are the alternative routes to approval.

For many homebuyers, establishing credit came naturally once they began working, applied for a credit card, took out a car loan or paid back student loans. But what about potential homebuyers who don’t have a credit score, either because they are averse to credit cards or have yet to build up a substantive credit history? Can they still apply for a mortgage?

The answer is yes, but “it’s exceedingly difficult to obtain a mortgage without a credit score,” says Tim Ross, president and CEO of Ross Mortgage Corp. in Royal Oak, Mich. “Lenders use automated underwriting systems that base a loan decision on certain criteria, including a credit score. But there are some nontraditional sources that can be used for credit verification.”

Mortgage lenders typically require a credit score of at least 620 or 640 to even consider an applicant for a loan.

Whether you prefer not to use credit cards, are new to this country or are simply a younger borrower who hasn’t built up enough credit history, there are some alternative sources that mortgage lenders can use to determine your credit risk.

While most lenders require three or more sources of credit, Clint Madison, a senior mortgage banker with Envoy Mortgage in Walnut Creek, Calif., says, “I’ve worked with borrowers who have a slim credit file and been able to get them approved for a loan. The first thing we look for would be 12 to 24 months of canceled checks or verification from a landlord of on-time rent payments.”

Alternative sources of credit
Here are several other items that can be used for nontraditional credit verification, Ross says:

  • Utility bills for gas, electricity or water, as long as they are paid separately from your monthly rent.
  • Phone and cable bills.
  • Car insurance, renters insurance, life insurance or medical insurance payments, if they are not paid by payroll deduction.
  • Child care or school tuition payments.

The more evidence you can provide that indicates a history of on-time payments, the greater your chances of qualifying.

“You need at least 12 months and sometimes as many as 24 months of payments to prove your creditworthiness,” Ross says. “A bigger down payment offsets your credit risk, and so does your job stability, your cash reserves and a high income in relation to your debts.”

Credit history matters
The reason for your lack of credit history will also affect your ability to qualify for a loan.

“If you’re living with your parents and have yet to establish any credit, it’s pretty much impossible to get a loan unless your parents are willing to co-sign for you,” Madison says. “The parents will need a credit score at a minimum of 660, and you’ll need to have at least two months, or maybe as much as six months, of principal, interest, taxes and insurance payments in cash reserves in the bank.”

Borrowers who are new to the United States may have a credit report from another country. Ross says those credit reports can be used to create a record of bill payments for a loan application.

You may not know your true credit score
Even consumers who have a credit history long enough to produce a score still need alternative sources of credit when applying for a loan. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently released a study that showed there are often discrepancies between the credit score given to a consumer and one reported to a lender.

“This study highlights the complexities consumers face in the credit-scoring market,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a news release. “When consumers buy a credit score, they should be aware that a lender may be using a very different score in making a credit decision.”

The problem, Madison says, is that borrowers are set up for false expectations.

“They may either be expecting to qualify for a better rate than they do, or they may lose out on opportunities for which they don’t believe they will qualify, when in reality they can,” he says. This is why having alternative sources of credit, which can help prove your ability to repay a loan, is important.

Establishing credit
Ross says it takes just six months of credit-card usage to generate a credit score, but lenders would also need other sources of credit in addition to your six-month-old score.

“Using alternative credit doesn’t change someone’s credit score, so if your score is low, all you can do is let time pass while you do the right thing over and over again,” Madison says.

It’s especially important that prospective buyers with thin credit consult with a mortgage lender, Ross says. A lender can provide them with a plan to follow to improve their chances of qualifying for a mortgage.

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original article by: Michele Lerner of HSH.com

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Outside, you’ll need to check gutters and problem tree limbs. Indoors, you’ll want to tend to your large appliances and tackle overflowing closets.

November is a good month to move some maintenance efforts indoors. This month also provides an opportunity to see if your hard work during earlier months paid off — nothing tests waterproofing efforts like a hard November rain.

Maintain large appliances
As the holiday season begins, make sure your appliances are prepared for the demands you will place on them.

Pull your refrigerator from the wall and clean the condenser coils in back with a vacuum cleaner with a brush attachment. Also, vacuum dust from the front lower grille and clean the drip pan and the drain leading to it, if your unit has one.

Clean the oven and stove drip pans on your electric range. Clean the surface burner on your gas stove to ensure proper flame level.

De-stench your in-sink garbage disposal by packing it with ice cubes and 1/4 cup of baking soda; then turn it on. After the ice-grinding noise stops, pour a kettle full of boiling water into the sink.

Check the dishwasher strainer and washer arm; clean if necessary.

Clean and maintain closets
Go to your closets and perform these two simple tests: Can you see floor space, and can you easily close the door? If the answer to either one of these questions is no, clean your closet. Cramped closets can provide haven for pests, too-full racks can break free from walls, and sliding doors can be derailed by too much stuff. Add compartments and hanging racks at different levels to make better use of space.

Maintain woodwork
November is a good month to repair and reglue woodwork, because indoor air is at its driest. If you are regluing wobbly dining room chairs, clamp during drying by wrapping a rope tightly around the perimeter of the legs. Be sure to protect wood surfaces with cardboard before tightening rope. Try using toothpaste on white water stains on wood surfaces. Once the stain is removed, polish with furniture polish. Use paste wax and elbow grease to put a new sheen on wood furniture.

Clear leaves from gutters
Cleaning gutters is a slimy job, but the task will protect your siding and basement from expensive water damage. Don long rubber gloves, grab a gallon bucket and scoop leaves into the bucket by hand. Trying to use a garden trowel or other device just makes the task more cumbersome and can damage gutters. Blast the scum from the bottom of the gutter with a hose equipped with a pressure nozzle. If it doesn’t drain well, feed your running hose up the pipe to knock loose the clog. Dump the contents of the bucket on your compost pile and pat yourself on the back for a dirty job well done.

Speaking of leaves …
Check some other places where accumulated leaves can be a problem. If leaves are piled in the valleys of your roof, they can retain water and initiate leaks. Walk your property with a shovel and clear drainage ditches and culverts of leaf buildup. Also, a moderate amount of leaves on a lawn can provide a natural mulch, but if large amounts are left to soak up winter rains, they will smother the grass beneath them.

Have problem trees trimmed
Now that you’ve cleaned your gutters, you know which trees are dumping leaves on your roof, shading it enough to encourage moss, and close enough to cause serious damage should they lose a branch in a storm. Trees are dormant this time of the year and can withstand extensive pruning. Decide which ones need cutting back and hire a professional to do the job. This is not a do-it-yourself task if the trees you are looking at are high enough to affect your roof. Trimming large trees is a dangerous job that should be left to an expert.

Maintain moisture
Heaters, especially forced air and wood stoves, can rob a home of humidity. A touch of moisture in the air makes heated air feel warmer, so you can keep the heat at a slightly lower temperature if your humidity is balanced. If your woodwork is cracking or your skin seems excessively dry, you need more moisture in your home. A furnace-mounted humidifier is likely the answer if your home has central forced-air heat and other measures don’t moisten things up. If you have a wood stove, put a nonwhistling teakettle on it and add water regularly (check it daily to make sure the water hasn’t evaporated). If you prefer not to go by feel, buy an inexpensive instrument called a hygrometer that measures humidity.

Maintain pools down south
For most of the country, pools are out of sight and out of mind during November. But if you live in sunny southern climes, this month marks the beginning of the dry season and the time to begin any pool maintenance job that requires emptying the pool. If a pool is emptied when groundwater levels are high, it can “float” and damage itself. So if you’re fortunate enough to live in a place where you can actually enjoy your pool in December, consider having major maintenance like replastering done this time of year.

Check your sump pump
Some unfinished basements in wet areas have sump pumps installed. These pumps switch on automatically when groundwater levels rise, eliminating basement water before it becomes a problem. If you have one, make sure it is in good working order before the rainy season starts.

Buy foam-cup covers for outdoor faucets
Be prepared to protect your spigots when the weather gets chilly and flirts with going below the freezing level. The foam cups are commonly sold at hardware stores and provide a cheap insurance policy that will help keep exposed pipes from freezing.

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: Anne Erickson of MSN Real Estate

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You might see some holiday deals on these items, but you’ll likely get much better prices if you wait a bit.

 

With all the Black Friday ad leaks and sneak peeks unearthed in the past few weeks, this season’s shopping extravaganza is looking ripe with deals and discounts for all. But even though many product categories will see new all-time low prices, not everything will be a good purchase on Black Friday.

In some cases, you would be better off skipping certain deals and waiting for a better offer later on. Here are 10 items that are not worth buying this Black Friday.

Toys

We’ve said it many times already, and we’ll say it once more: Black Friday is not the best time to buy toys for the holidays. Many will likely still be discounted for Black Friday, and it may feel pretty good to get your shopping done early, but you won’t love that sinking feeling you’ll get when you see bigger discounts on those toys about two weeks before Christmas.

Game consoles without a bundled item

Speaking of toys, if you’re looking to buy any of the major video game consoles this holiday, you’re likely to get more bang for your buck by opting for one that comes with a few extras. While we’ve already seen a few choice Xbox deals in the leaked Black Friday ads, in years past the vast majority of Editors’ Choice console deals went to holiday bundles that included premium accessories and two or three game titles. These were frequently discounted 30% to 40% off their retail prices.

Brand-name HDTVs

Black Friday is an excellent time to invest in a new HDTV, as we predict a variety of size categories will hit their lowest price points. But don’t expect the best deals to be tagged with name brands. Typically, the rock-bottom prices will mostly apply to third-tier manufacturers. Instead, brand-name TVs tend to see their best price of the year in January and February as manufacturers look to clear stock in preparation for new models in the spring.

The latest digital cameras

There’s no shortage of digital camera deals around Black Friday, but keep in mind that the premium current-generation models are just a few months away from being replaced by a new line of 2013 options. If you’re eying a brand-new digital SLR, we recommend waiting until February or later when it becomes an “old model,” resulting in more aggressive discounts from retailers.

Christmas decorations

While not typically on anyone’s “To Buy on Black Friday” list, Christmas decor tends to end up in-cart as impulse buys. Sure, that string of lights or holiday wreath might be on sale, but deals on Christmas items get better the closer we get to the holiday itself — and of course are the best after the holiday.

Office supplies

For some, it may seem silly to advise against office supply deals on Black Friday, as it’s not typically a category associated with the shopping event. But for several years running, office supply stores like Office Depot and OfficeMax have released Black Friday ads in the hopes of encouraging an uptick in business. Unfortunately, these deals are generally no better than those we see throughout the rest of the year. In fact, during the entire Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday stretch in 2011, we only found a measly three Editors’ Choice deals in this category.

Jewelry and watches

We’re flagging this accessories category “do not buy” for the entire holiday season. Much like Christmas items, there will be lots of sales advertising shiny, metallic objects perfect for him or her. But the discounts on jewelry around the winter holidays are no better than those around Valentine’s Day, when baubles are at peak demand. And instead of buying a watch now, consider holding off until the spring and summer when we see more Editors’ Choice deals.

Winter apparel

During Black Friday, we’ll likely see some of the best apparel coupons of the year from a variety of retailers. However, if winter apparel is on your list, it’s smarter to hold off until January, when those items are added to clearance sales that take much deeper base discounts. We will inevitably find additional stacking coupons then too, to make those stronger sales even better for your wallet.

Apple iPad Mini

The long-awaited iPad Mini will set you back at least $329, and if it follows the price pattern of its distant predecessor, the first generation iPad, it won’t see a discount until several months from now. While there’s an off-chance that an attention-seeking retailer could offer an iPad Mini promotion — the latest full-size iPad is included in the Target Black Friday ad, after all — the bottom line is this: The iPad Mini features essentially the same innards as the iPad 2, and we’re predicting that the latter will fall to $299 this Black Friday. Therefore, the iPad 2 will offer more screen real estate at a lower price.

While we advise against purchasing the above products around Black Friday, keep in mind that nothing is written in stone, and we may still see some stellar deals within these categories. However, it’s more likely that we’ll encounter so-so offers, so it’s best to temper your expectations.

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: MSN Money partner

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Life insurance is complex, and there is no one-size-fits-all advice. Don’t let misunderstandings stop you from choosing the right coverage.

 

Life insurance is not a simple product. Even term life policies have many elements that must be considered carefully in order to arrive at the proper type and amount of coverage. But the technical aspects of life insurance are far less difficult for most people to deal with than trying to get a handle on how much coverage they need and why. Here are 10 misconceptions surrounding life insurance (and the realities):

Myth No. 1: If I’m single and don’t have dependents, I don’t need coverage.

Even single people should have at least enough life insurance to cover the costs of personal debts, medical and funeral bills. If you are uninsured, you may leave a legacy of unpaid expenses for your family or executor to deal with. Plus, this can be a good way for low-income singles to leave a legacy to a favorite charity or other cause.

Myth No. 2: My life insurance coverage needs to be twice my annual salary.

The amount of life insurance you need depends on your specific situation. There are many factors to consider. In addition to paying medical and funeral bills, you may need to pay off your mortgage and provide for your family for several years. A cash-flow analysis can help determine the amount of insurance you need.

Myth No. 3: My term life insurance coverage at work is sufficient.

Maybe, maybe not. For a single person of modest means, employer-paid or -provided term coverage may actually be enough. But if you have a spouse or dependents, or know that you will need coverage upon your death to pay estate taxes, then additional coverage may be necessary.

Myth No. 4: My premiums are tax-deductible.

That’s not true, at least in most cases. The cost of personal life insurance is not deductible unless the policyholder is self-employed and the coverage is used as asset protection for the business owner. Then the premiums are deductible on the Schedule C of the Form 1040.

Myth No. 5: Life insurance is a must for everyone.

It is certainly true that most people need life insurance. However, people with sizable assets and no debt or dependents may be better off self-insuring. If you have medical and funeral costs covered, then life insurance coverage may be optional.

Myth No. 6: It is always smarter to buy term coverage and invest the difference.

Not necessarily. There are distinct differences between term and permanent life insurance, and the cost of term life coverage can become prohibitively high as you age. Therefore, those who feel certain that they must be covered at death should consider permanent coverage. Further, while a term policy may appear more expensive, premiums for permanent coverage could go on for many more years.

There is also the risk of becoming uninsurable, which could be disastrous for those who may have estate-tax issues and need life insurance to pay them. But this risk can be avoided with permanent coverage, whichremains in force until death.

Myth No. 7: Variable universal life policies are better than regular universal life policies.

Many universal policies pay competitive interest rates, and variable universal life policies contain several layers of fees relating to both the insurance and securities elements present in the policy. Therefore, if the variable subaccounts within the policy do not perform well, the policyholder may well see a lower cash value than someone with a straight universal life policy.

Poor market performance can even generate substantial cash calls inside variable policies that require additional premiums in order to keep the policy in force.

Myth No. 8: Only breadwinners need life insurance coverage.

Nonsense. The cost of replacing the services formerly provided by a deceased homemaker can be higher than you think, and insuring against the loss of a homemaker may make sense, to compensate for cleaning and child-care costs.

Myth No. 9: I should purchase the return-of-premium rider on any term policy.

There are usually different levels of return-of-premium riders available for policies that offer this feature. Many financial planners will tell you that this rider is not cost-effective and should be avoided. Whether you include this rider will depend on your risk tolerance and investment objectives.

A cash-flow analysis will reveal whether you could come out ahead by investing the additional amount of the rider elsewhere versus including it in the policy.

Myth No. 10: I’m better off investing my money than buying life insurance.

Hogwash. Until the value of your assets exceeds your debt, you need life coverage of some sort. Once you amass $1 million of liquid assets, you can consider discontinuing (or at least reducing) your million-dollar policy. But you take a big chance when you depend solely on your investments in the early years of your adult life, especially if you have dependents. If you die without coverage, there may be no means to provide for them after your current assets are depleted.

The bottom line

These are just some of the misunderstandings about life insurance. The key concept to understand is that you shouldn’t leave life insurance out of your budget unless you have enough assets to cover expenses after you’re gone. For more information, consult your life insurance agent or financial adviser.

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: Mark P. Cussen, Investopedia

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There were likely cries of joy from students (and maybe a few parents) at Gaithersburg Elementary School in Maryland when Principal Stephanie Brant announced a radical new experiment: no more traditional homework.

Instead, students are asked to read about 30 minutes a night from a book of their choosing.

Over the past few years, Brant and her staff evaluated what teachers were sending students home with and found they were asking students to complete a lot of worksheets.

“The worksheets didn’t match what we were doing instructionally in the classroom,” Brant said in a news story on MyFoxDC.com. “We were giving students something because we felt we have to give them something.”

Parents appear to support the change, and Brant hopes it will prove motivational for her students.

Unlike most elementary schools, students at Gaithersburg are allowed to go to the library every day instead of just once a week as a class. The school believes this will strengthen reading habits and result in the students consuming more books at their own pace.

According to MyFoxDC.com, the new policy seems to be paying off. Fifth graders at Gaithersburg Elementary School scored around 72 percent proficiency in math and about 81 percent proficiency in reading in the last round of standardized test scores.

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: MSN Living Editor – Rebekah Schilperoort

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Please take a moment to check out my listing at 4102 Peck Avenue. Located in the heart of Austin, this beautiful home is within minutes of The University of Texas, Downtown Austin, Handcock Golf Course, and Hyde Park Bar & Grille. Currently offered at $425,000.

 

Best,

Martha

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How parents can help teach their kids reform math, math reasoning and inquiry-based math.

 

Back in the day (you know, the ’80s), most of us were taught there was one way to add, one way to subtract, one way to multiply, and one way to divide. You sat at your desk, listened to the teacher, and did worksheet after worksheet till those formulas were drilled into your brain. There was no “creativity.” Usually, there was no context (how many times did you ask “Why do I need to know this?”). Your parents could be relied upon to help you at least until middle school. And there were definitely no calculators. Um, that was what we called cheating.

Oh, how the times have changed. Just check out this snapshot of math in Terri Gratz’s fourth-grade class at Meadowbrook Elementary School, in Golden Valley, MN: After the kids pull out blue calculators and their student reference books, Gratz says, “Raise your hand if you know which country has the biggest land mass.”

“Russia!” one boy announces.

“Which country has the most people?” asks Gratz.

A girl half raises her hand. “Either India or China?”

“China, right,” Gratz says. “So, how do we figure out what percent of the world’s population lives in China? Which two numbers do we need?”

It’s a tough question, but the class is up to the task: They soon figure out that they need to know how many people live in China compared with the rest of the world. Then they turn to their book to find a population chart. The world’s total population at that time, they learn, is 6,378,000,000. Gratz wants to know if the students think that’s the exact number. The kids smile and roll their eyes. As if! Then they look again to find China’s population: 1,298,840,000.

Throughout the lesson, Gratz and the students have been cheerfully lobbing questions and answers, and she’s clearly delighted that her class enjoys the give-and-take. Soon 28 sets of hands furiously punch numbers into the calculators, and then the first kid gets the answer: about 20 percent. Gratz asks her to come to the front of the class to show how she solved it.

Welcome to the world of “reform math” (the experts call it “inquiry-based math”), a catchall phrase for a group of new methodologies that aim to teach students how to reason their way through a problem instead of simply regurgitating a set of facts and formulas to get the answer (which is how most of us learned). If you have a child in elementary school, she’s probably learning under one of these programs. Think of it this way: If traditional math is a paint-by-numbers replica of the Mona Lisa, reform mathematics is more like performance art, where the audience is invited to paint the canvas. The goal is to engage, excite, experiment, and find creative solutions. Because when kids care about math and understand how it works in real life, experts say, they’ll be more likely to stick with it. More important, that ability to think outside the formula, so to speak, will be absolutely critical when they have to compete in the global economy. (And, given that ranking, the U.S. can use all the edge it can get.)

Now you’re probably thinking “Great! Fabulous! We’re raising the next generation of innovators!” That is, until you actually have to help your child with her homework and find yourself questioning whether you really know how to divide. Their new math looks and sounds very different from ours, and after you get over the shock that many actually get to use calculators, you’ll likely be faced with accusations like “You’re doing it wrong! That’s not how we do it in class!” Elaine Replogle, a mom of three in Eugene, OR, is all too familiar with this kind of frustration: “Because my husband and I don’t know the same methods or terms, the kids tell us we know nothing. And we both have Ph.D.’s!” To banish the frustration, we talked to teachers around the country to get a handle on the basic philosophies of the most widely used math programs so you can feel more prepared and, let’s face it, a little less clueless.

New Math Mission #1: Emphasize the process, not the solution.

This is a tenet that programs like Investigations in Number, Data, and Space as well as Everyday Mathematics share. (Don’t know the name of the method your school uses? None of the parents we spoke to for this article did, either! But a call to the teacher can fix that.)

This doesn’t mean the kids don’t have to get the correct answer. Instead, the goal is to teach them to understand how numbers interact, how to recognize patterns, and to experiment with different ways to get there. “Students are more comfortable switching strategies and exploring ways to find the answer,” says Jennifer Scoggin, who used Everyday Mathematics when she taught second grade at a New York City public school.

So take adding: When we learned how to add 349 + 175, we stacked up the numbers, added the ones, carried the tens, added those, and so on in order to get the answer (524). With Investigations, third-graders, for instance, explore different methods for arriving at the answer. They may add the hundreds, tens, and ones separately (300 + 100, 40 + 70, 9 + 5) or break the numbers into rounded chunks (350 + 175 = 525 – 1 = 524).

New Math Mission #2: Help kids “see” math.

This goes right along with the idea of providing different learners with different ways of understanding. In lower grades, students might use objects like cubes or tiles (known as manipulatives) during a subtraction lesson, or they might use the hundreds board, a grid with 100 numbered squares, to figure out the answer to a problem like 41 – 29: The kids put a finger on 41 and then count back to 29. “They can count by tens, by ones, or count forward from twenty-nine to forty-one,” says Scoggin, now a consultant. “It’s fun — like counting spaces on a board game.”

Keith Kinney, a fifth-grade teacher at the Parker Middle School, in Chelmsford, MA, uses the reform program Math Expressions and shares how it uses visuals to teach: When we learned to calculate the area of a rectangle, we memorized the formula: length x width = area. But Kinney’s fifth-graders draw a rectangle on graph paper; they can then simply count the squares to calculate. This process can help students internalize the formula (they’re seeing it and doing it on their own), teach them about geometry and algebra, and reinforce their multiplication skills. They then discuss the various solutions as a group.

New Math Mission #3: Introduce concepts — then introduce them again.

This technique is called spiraling, and it’s used in Everyday Mathematics, as well as in the Saxon method. Whereas we might have had our fractions lessons in one solid block, teachers now often circle back to concepts again and again to reinforce the skills.

Ruth Nettelhorst, a third-grade teacher at the Nancy Cory elementary school, in Lancaster, CA, describes it like this: “Saxon introduces concepts in a way that builds upon the previously learned skills. It moves them from the concrete to the abstract in a very logical, methodical way.” And that makes sense to us.

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: Elizabeth Foy Larsen and Linda Rodgers

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