Fixing Credit Report Errors


Good credit is an important part of your overall financial well-being. It can impact everything from the interest rates you'll pay to being a prerequisite for employment. As a result, you'll want to try to fix any errors on your credit report and have them removed as soon as possible.

Your first step should be to contact the credit reporting agency in writing to indicate that you are disputing the information contained on your credit report. The credit reporting agency usually has 30 days to complete an investigation of the disputed information. Once the credit reporting agency investigation is complete, they must provide you with written results of their investigation. 
If, during its investigation, the credit reporting agency confirms that your credit report does contain errors, the information on your report either must be removed or corrected. 
If the investigation does not resolve the issue, you still have a couple of options. First, you can try to mitigate the disputed information by adding a 100-word consumer statement to your credit bureau file. Even though consumer statements are often dismissed or ignored by potential creditors, it can at least provide you with a chance to tell your side of the story. You can also try to resolve the issue with the creditor that submitted the inaccurate information in the first place. The creditor will be obligated to investigate the disputed issue and notify you of its findings. 
If you believe that the error is the result of identity theft, you may need to take additional steps to try and resolve the issue, such as placing a fraud alert or security freeze on your credit report. You can visit the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website at www.ftc.gov for more information on the various identity theft protections that might be available to you. 
Finally, due to the amount of paperwork and steps involved, fixing a credit report error can often be a time-consuming and emotionally draining process. If at any time you believe that your credit reporting rights are being violated, you can file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) at www.consumerfinance.gov.
Source:  Sean A. Henderson, Financial Advisor - Waddell & Reed 
For more details he can be reached at 210-826-0685 ext: 140 or
cell: 210-784-6952 or email at shenderson@wradvisors.com

Coordinating Social Security Benefits with Other Retirement Assets

Social Security provides retirement income you can't outlive. And, in addition to your own benefit, your spouse may be eligible to receive benefits based on your earnings record in the form of spousal benefits and survivor's benefits. So, it's easy to see why, with all of these potential benefit options, Social Security is an important source of retirement income. But, according to the Social Security Administration, only about 40% of an average worker's preretirement income is replaced by Social Security (Source: SSA Publication No. 05-10035, July 2012). 
When trying to figure out how you'll meet your retirement income needs, you'll probably have to coordinate your Social Security benefits with other retirement income sources such as pensions, qualified retirement accounts (e.g., 401(k), IRA), and other personal savings.

Factors to consider

How you incorporate Social Security benefits into your total retirement income plan may depend on a number of factors, including whether you're married, your health and life expectancy, whether you (or your spouse) will work during retirement, the amount of your Social Security benefit (and that of your spouse, if applicable), other sources of retirement income (e.g., pension), how much retirement savings you have, and, of course, your retirement income needs of you and your spouse, including the income need of your spouse after your death.
A factor to consider is that Social Security has a "built-in" protection against longevity risk. Benefits increase each year you delay starting benefits through age 69 (benefits do not increase past age 70), so the later you start receiving benefits, the greater the benefit amount. In addition, Social Security benefits are inflation-protected, and may increase with annual cost-of-living adjustments based on increases in the Consumer Price Index.
How much you may pay in income tax may also factor into your retirement income plan. For example, distributions from tax-qualified accounts (e.g., 401(k)s, IRAs, but not including Roth IRAs) are generally taxed as ordinary income. Up to 85% of your Social Security benefits may also be taxed, depending on your modified adjusted gross income and tax filing status. Tax issues are complex, so you should talk to a tax advisor to understand your options and the tax consequences.

Pensions

If you're lucky enough to have a traditional employer pension available, that's another reliable source of income. You'll want to be sure that you effectively coordinate your Social Security benefit with pension income. Your pension may increase in value based on your age and years of employment, but it may not include cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). As mentioned earlier, Social Security not only increases the longer you delay taking benefits, but it may increase with COLAs.
If your pension benefit increases past the age at which you retire, you might consider waiting to take your pension (either single or joint and survivor with your spouse) in order to maximize your pension benefit amount. Depending on your income needs, you could start Social Security benefits earlier to provide income. Or, if you've already reached your maximum pension benefit, you could start your pension first, and defer Social Security in order to receive an increased monthly benefit later. Your decision depends on your individual situation, including your pension benefit amount and whether it increases in value after you retire, and the pension options that are available to you (e.g., single life, qualified joint and survivor). You can get an explanation of your pension options prior to retirement from your pension plan, including the relative values of any optional forms of benefit available to you.

Personal savings

Prior to retirement, when it came to personal savings, your focus was probably on accumulation--building as large a nest egg as possible. As you transition into retirement, that focus changes. Rather than concentrating on accumulation, you're going to need to look at your personal savings in terms of distribution and income potential. Your savings potentially can provide a source of income to help you bridge any gap between the time you begin retirement (if you've stopped working) and the time you wait to begin taking Social Security benefits.
One option you might consider, depending on the amount of retirement savings you have and your income needs, is taking some of your savings and purchasing an immediate annuity, which will provide a guaranteed (based on the claims-paying ability of the annuity issuer) income stream. In this way, your remaining savings may have a chance to increase in value, while delaying Social Security benefits increases your annual benefit as well.
Incorporating Social Security into your retirement income plan involves several other important factors. Talk to your financial professional for help in developing the best plan for you.
Source: Sean A. Henderson, Financial Advisor - Waddell & Reed 
for more details he can be reached at 210-826-0685 ext: 140 or
cell: 210-784-6952 or email at shenderson@wradvisors.com

Special rules for government pensions

If your pension is from a job where you did not pay Social Security taxes (such as certain government jobs), two special provisions may apply. If you're entitled to receive a government pension as well as Social Security spousal retirement or survivor's benefits based on your spouse's (or former spouse's) earnings, the government pension offset (GPO) may apply. Under this provision, your spousal or survivor's benefit may be reduced by two-thirds of your government pension (some exceptions apply).
The windfall elimination provision (WEP) affects how your Social Security retirement or disability benefit is figured if you receive a pension from work not covered by Social Security. The formula used to figure your benefit is modified, resulting in a lower So

The Key to Finding Your Dream Home

You're ready to buy a home, but not just any home. This home needs to fit your unique style and needs. But you also have to be realistic, it has to fit your budget. You probably won't win the lottery next week so let's start with a point by point plan to find your special home.

These list below will help you prioritize the features, elements, and amenities you’re looking for in your new home. Some are non-negotiable must haves, others are more on a wish list if price allows, and lastly you'll see some that you may not have considered but not realize their importance.

 Price -- Knowing ahead of time how much you can afford and what you are able to spend immediately enables us to narrow down the vast market of homes to about 10 percent of what’s currently on the market.

Property Type -- Are you looking for a house, town home, condo, co-op, or multi-unit home?

Condition of property -- New or old? How much sweat equity do you want to put into the property? Do you want to pay a little less and invest time and money to improve the house yourself, or do you want to buy a house that’s ready to move into?

Must-haves -- What do you absolutely need? An office? A room for the new baby?

Wish list -- Separate from the must have. You may only need a 3 bedroom home but a 4th would be nice Or perhaps you'd like a pool or space to park your boat. These extra features cost more money. Can you go up in your sales price? Or maybe you can get yourself established in this house and then later move-up the home that has all your extras when your income allows it to be a reality.

Separating Your Wishes from Your Needs -- This is a key element to house shopping. It will help you sort through all the properties on the market quickly and easily, focus on those that are in your price range and worth your time and energy to view and inspect. As you start viewing homes, you will begin to separate your needs from your wishes and decide where you can compromise to meet your budget goals.

Location -- Where do you want to live? If you’re like most home buyers, you have a basic idea of where you want to live. Proximity to family, friends and/or work plays a significant part in where you ultimately want to put down roots. However, there is a lot of leeway within these parameters – neighborhoods and communities within the same distance often vary quite a lot.


If you are ready to start the process, give me a call. I'd love to work together with you to find the right home that you'll love coming home to each night!

When Should You Be Concerned About Termites?

Why worry about termites? Because termites cause billions of dollars in damage to homes each year. While buildings may become infested at any time, being aware of termite infestations is of particular importance when buying or selling a home since a termite inspection report is normally a condition of sale. Aside from the monetary impact, having thousands of winged termites emerge inside your home can be emotionally trying, as is the thought of termites silently feasting on your largest investment.
 

Spring is typically when large numbers of winged termites, known as "swarmers," emerge inside homes. In nature, termites swarm to disperse and start new colonies. Triggered by warmer temperatures and rainfall, the winged termites emerge from the colony and fly into the air. The swarmers then drop to the ground, shed their wings, pair off with a mate, and attempt to begin new colonies in the soil. Few swarmers emerging outdoors survive to start new colonies. Swarmers emerging indoors are incapable of eating wood, seldom survive, and are best removed with a vacuum. They do, however, indicate that an infestation is present.
 

People often confuse winged termites with ants, which often swarm at the same time of year. Termites can be differentiated by their straight antennae, uniform waist, and wings of equal size. Ants have elbowed antennae, constricted waists, and forewings that are longer than the hind wings. Swarmers are attracted to light and are often seen around windows and doors. Termite swarmers emerging from tree stumps, woodpiles, and other locations out in the yard are not necessarily cause for concern, and do not necessarily mean that the house is infested.

On the other hand, if winged termites are seen emerging from the base of a foundation wall or adjoining porch or patio, there's a good chance the house is infested and treatment may be warranted. Other signs of infestation are earthen or mud tubes extending over foundation walls, support piers, sill plates, floor joists, etc. The tubes are typically about the diameter of a pencil, but sometimes can be thicker. Termites construct these tubes for shelter as they travel between their underground colonies and the structure. To help determine if an infestation is active, the tubes may be broken open and checked for the presence of small, creamy-white worker termites. If a tube happens to be vacant, it does not necessarily mean that the infestation is inactive as termites often abandon sections of tubes while foraging elsewhere in the structure. Occasionally termites bore tiny holes through plaster or drywall, accompanied by bits of soil around the margin.
 

Ridding a home of termites requires special skills. A knowledge of building construction is needed to identify the critical areas where termites are likely to enter. Many of these areas are hidden and difficult to access. Termite control also demands specialized equipment such as masonry drills, pumps, large capacity tanks, and soil treatment rods. Liquid pesticide, known as termiticides, are injected into the ground alongside the foundation, or beneath concrete slabs, and within foundation walls. In short, a termite treatment is a job for professionals. Do-it-yourself products sold to homeowners at retail stores or bought over the internet seldom eradicate an existing termite problem.

All liquid termiticides are supposed to control termites for at least five years when applied according to label directions. The actual length of control on a given structure will depend on such factors as the thoroughness of application, environmental conditions, and density of termites in the area. If termites swarm again and continue to be a problem the year following treatment, it's usually not from degradation of the termiticide, but because termites have found an untreated gap in the chemical barrier. The key is to hire a reputable pest control firm employing experienced, conscientious technicians. Most companies will return and retreat affected area(s) at no additional charge provided a service agreement is purchased and maintained.


Source: Jim Hailey - Finley Termite & Pest Control Inc.

Getting Ready for Back to School

Here's some helpful hints for back to school...


Bringing Your Air Conditioning Unit Up-to-Date

Making the Switch from Freon to Puron: Why it Needs to be Replaced 

What is a refrigerant? In the simplest terms, refrigerants are gases that remove heat from surrounding sources through a continuous cycle of being compressed into liquid and then being released back into a gaseous state. As pressure is removed and the liquid returns to gas, the increasingly active molecules whisk away heat from available heat sources, leaving cooler temperatures behind. In a controlled environment, such as a refrigerator or air conditioning unit, the refrigerant is focused on a heat source through the use of coils, removing heat from your food or the air in your home. The most efficient refrigerants are those that take less pressure to compress into liquid and that have the highest heat absorption rate when returning to gas.

In the late 1920's, two General Motors (GM) scientists working for GM's Frigidaire subsidiary developed a chemical substance to replace existing chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) refrigerants. Previous CFC refrigerants had proven exceedingly hazardous because they were toxic, corrosive, and/or flammable.

The advantage to Freon's cooling process—in addition to being safer than previous refrigerants—was the relative low pressure needed to condense the gas into liquid. This meant that smaller compressor motors were needed, offering greater portability and energy efficiency. Today, in the air conditioning industry, Freon takes on the form of R-22 or HCFC-22 (different monikers for the same substance).

In the 1970's, a link was discovered between CFC's such as Freon and the depletion of the ozone layer. Under the Clean Air Act of 1990, R-22 Freon is being phased out and must be replaced with R-410A or another EPA approved refrigerant. R-410A (also known by the brand name Puron) does not contribute to ozone depletion. As well as being nonflammable, noncorrosive, and neutral to the environment, R-410A is also widely touted as being more energy efficient than its R-22 predecessor. If early statistics prove true, the environment wins on two fronts, as R-410A systems should use less energy than previous systems.

Should You Replace Your Old R-22 System Now?

The greatest cost in repairing existing R-22 systems is in the cost of the R-22 itself. As manufacturing of R-22 slows to convert to R-410A and aging systems increase the demand, prices for R-22 refrigerant are skyrocketing. Over the last few years, from 2010 to 2012, we've seen R-22 prices nearly triple, as government imposed limits on manufacturing have created a perceived shortage in the industry.

The choice to replace an old R-22 air conditioning system is really one of economics. If a system is not malfunctioning, there is no need to replace it now. You may get several more seasons out of your air conditioners before you need to make the switch. However, if you continue to have problems such as slow refrigerant leaks that require adding R-22, they may want to consider an upgrade. Topping off the R-22, while much less expensive than replacing an entire air conditioning system, may become exceedingly expensive as prices continue to rise.

Homeowners can expect to pay anywhere from about $40 to $50 per pound for R-22 Freon if a repair is needed. A slow leak may require 2 to 4 pounds of refrigerant plus the cost of finding and repairing the leak. In other words, what once might have been a relatively inexpensive repair may now cost $350 or more. A complete system replacement could cost $5,000 or more, depending on the size/capacity of the system, but it may not be worth it to continue plugging money into a system if it will fail sooner rather than later. Only you the homeowner can decide.


Source: Old Republic Home Protections

Why Global Buyers Choose the U.S.

What drives international buyers to the U.S. real estate market? Is the prospect of a great return what drives all investors? When the investment is real estate, this is certainly one important factor, but far from the complete story. Like other major life decisions, people enter real estate transactions with their own unique set of needs and wants. Here are some of the major factors driving today’s global transactions.

Global investors often look for more than an investment vehicle when choosing a destination for their money. The right to stay and travel in a country for extended periods is a powerful motivator for certain individuals. Many countries recognize this and have created visa programs that offer additional benefits to foreigners investing in properties or businesses in their countries.

Many foreign-born investors would like to live and travel in the U.S. for extended periods, but can’t because of visa restrictions. The EB-5 visa is a powerful tool for attracting foreign-born entrepreneurs and investors who are looking for a fast path toward U.S. citizenship and the ability to live here on a conditional permanent basis.

The program’s central focus is job creation. Foreign-born individuals who can invest $1 million, or as little as $500,000 in some instances, in commercial enterprises that generate at least 10 American jobs over two years can receive a green card. In addition to job creation, the program benefits the U.S. real estate market because EB-5 card holders must maintain a U.S. residence. (For more details on the EB-5, review the April 2011 issue of Global Perspectives.)

Many other countries also offer visas designed to woo international investors. Some programs are structured to attract specific types of investors, for example entrepreneurs, while others seek cash flow into sectors the government most wants to encourage. Countries may require applicants to meet net worth requirements, others require certain standards of language proficiency and management experience.

A particularly attractive incentive in many Eurozone countries is the ability to travel freely in the Schengen Area, created in 1995 under an agreement signed in Schengen, Luxembourg. Twenty-six European Union countries function as a single country for international travel purposes, creating open common borders. Of the Eurozone countries, only the U.K. and Ireland have opted out of the agreement.
Comparing Investment Visa Requirements
Country Required Investment Visa Rights
United States £300,000 new business or £750,000 government bond
  • 3-year residency
  • No Schengen rights
Ireland €500,000 contribution to a public project, or at least €1,000,000 in bond or business investment
  • 5-year residency
  • No Schengen rights
Latvia €150,000 property purchase in city or €72,000 property purchase in other areas
  • 5-year residency
  • Work and travel in Schengen Area
Australia AU$1,500,000 government bond, net worth of AU$2,250,000, and management experience
  • 4-year residency
  • Must reside in Australia for two years after visa is issued
Several European nations seeking international investment in their depressed property markets have leveraged their rights under the Schengen Agreement to attract global funds. Latvia, Spain and Portugal, for example, either have or are in the process of announcing programs that dictate minimum investments in residential properties for attainment of a visa good throughout the Schengen Area.
Other countries maintain higher requirements in return for fewer benefits. For example, to earn an Irish visa you must contribute to a public project benefiting the arts, sports, health or education; or invest in a new or existing Irish business; or invest in a low-return five-year immigrant bond; or in residential property and a government bond. However, because Ireland is not part of the Schengen Agreement its visa only offers travel to Ireland and the U.K.

Australia’s investor visa program is more similar to the U.S. model. In return for a sizable investment in the nation’s economic growth, investors gain residency so they can enjoy the Australian lifestyle and quality of life.

Most investors expect to achieve some level of return on the money they commit. For some, realizing the greatest return for their risk preference is the primary purchase driver. Markets across the globe offer many choices.

ROI-driven buyers often look for opportunities in residential properties they can rent year-round including single family homes, condos and townhomes. They may be interested in properties in distressed markets which provide appreciation over short- or medium-term timeframes. Commercial office or retail space in hot or up-and-coming urban areas can offer great returns. Hotels and restaurants may appeal to investors with deeper pockets.

Wealthy buyers may decide to invest in areas where they would like their children to go to school. For example, buying a house or a condo for four or more years in the depressed American market could be a smart move for the parents of an international student. They may save on boarding expenses while also expecting the property’s value to appreciate.

“U.S. universities and colleges are considered among the best in the world,” says Jahnke. “Additionally, the current weakness in the dollar may make schools in the U.S. more attractive to some buyers.”

However, price may not even be a consideration for high net worth individuals (HNWIs). Families with several generations of wealth may prefer one school over another simply based on family tradition. Status is another factor. HNWIs may want their sons or daughters to attend one of the world’s most prestigious universities to help establish their connections within the upper tiers of international society. (For more on international investment in university areas, watch for the August 2013 issue of Global Perspectives.)

Factors that make life more enjoyable, safer and more stable can be primary motivations for selecting an international destination, particularly during certain stages of life. For example, middle-class families looking for holiday and second homes might be driven by climate, proximity to nice beaches, availability of shopping, entertainment and restaurants, the cost of living, a clean environment and low crime rates.


Retirees around the world are motivated by quality of life factors. They may be searching for a location with good weather, services and transportation for older adults, a reasonable cost of living, recreation suitable to a less active lifestyle, safe and secure properties, and the availability of health care. “Medical costs in the U.S. are driving retirees to Mexico where they can find great hospitals and quality medical services at affordable prices,” says Linda Neil, ABR, PIC, President’s Liaison to Mexico, and co-founder of Mexico’s first escrow provider The Settlement Company® in Michoacan, Mexico.

Prestige of location and/or size of property may be more important to some buyers than ROI. Especially where luxury residences are concerned, international buyers are a significant portion of the market.

Properties in New York and London provide cases in point. The most expensive resale property sold in New York last year went to an international buyer for the full asking price of $88 million. London’s highest price topped New York at $121 million, also paid by an overseas buyer.
Trophy properties in major international cities continue to rise in price even when other parts of those markets fall in value. The luxury residential real estate market has followed trends in the luxury goods market, which emerged from the global recession largely unscathed and reaching new heights.

There is strong demand for and a scarcity of high-end inventory in the most attractive international cities, the largest of which tend to be at the crossroads of capital, technology and culture. HNWIs buy in these locations for cultural and leisure purposes, not appreciation when the property is sold.
Status at an Affordable Price Immensely popular in the early-2000s, fractional ownership programs reached a peak of $2.3 billion in 2007 but were hit hard by the recession. Since then investment has migrated to the top end of the market toward luxury and resort ownership.

For a relatively small investment, a buyer purchases title to a fraction of the ownership in a luxury hotel, resort or development for a fixed time. The buyer is part owner of a company which owns the property. Under the fractional ownership agreement, investors can also use the property annually for vacations, rent out their share of time, and can sell their share of ownership at any time.

“It’s a different concept than a timeshare,” says developer Robin Barrasford of Barrasford and Bird Worldwide. “The buyer actually purchases and has title to bricks and mortar. They are not buying the right to stay in a property for fixed time periods over a given number of years.”


Who is Buying Now - A Look at Foreign Investors in the Residential Market

Mexico ranked third, after Canada and China,  in international purchases of U.S. residential real estate in the year through March 2013, according to the National Association of Realtors. The report,  2013 Profile of International Home Buying Activity, an analysis of data gathered from realtors,  reports that nearly 50% of purchases by Mexicans in the U.S. were in suburban areas and about 30% in resort areas. The vast majority,  91%, were residential purchases of detached single-family homes. The average price was $156,250 and 48% of the purchases were made with cash. California and Texas  accounted for 62% of all Mexican purchases;  San Diego, El Paso, Laredo, San Antonio, and Las Vegas, were Mexican buyers’ preferred cities.

The United States’ proximity and security are the most attractive features for Mexicans when it comes to buying residential real estate. Asked if there were other factors,  Sergio Aguayo, a political scientist with the Colegio de Mexico, explained that Mexico has a large number of millionaires. According to WealthInsight, at the end of 2012, there were approximately 145,000 individuals with $1 million or more in assets, whose total combined wealth was $736 billion which equals to 43% of total individual wealth held in Mexico. Other reasons, Aguayo said, “are the American cultural attraction and the Mexicanization of large parts of the U.S.”

In the 12 month period ending March 2013, five countries accounted for the bulk of the international purchases: Canada (23%), China (12%) and Mexico (8%), followed by India and the United Kingdom, with 5% each.  In 2007, Mexico was leading international purchases, accounting for 13% of all, but the increase in real estate prices and the weakening of the Mexican peso against the dollar, plus the strength of the Chinese Yuan, contributed to Mexico dropping to third place.

International buyers fall into two different categories. The first are foreign citizens with permanent residence outside the U.S. These people typically purchase property for investments, vacations, or visits to the U.S. The second category are recent or temporary visa holders. For the 12 months covered in the NAR’s report, the total sales volume to international clients is estimated  at $68.2 billion, 6.3% of the total homes sales market of $1.08 trillion for the same period. The main factors influencing the decision to purchase in the U.S. are profitability and security.

The types of homes purchased by international buyers are different from  homes purchased by domestic buyers. The international non-resident is likely to be substantially wealthier than the average domestic buyer and may be looking for a trophy property. They are more affluent than most buyers, looking for properties in specialized niches, such as a large estate suitable for multi-generational living, or a property that establishes the individual’s presence and standing in the community.

Source: Forbes Magazine

Sales Tax Holiday Tax-Free Weekend

Plan ahead for August 9th-11th, 2013

Texas shoppers get a break from state and local sales taxes on August 9th, 10th and 11th - the state's annual tax holiday. Lay-away plans can be used again this year to take advantage of the sales tax holiday.

As in previous years, the law exempts most clothing and footwear priced under $100 from sales and use taxes, which could save shoppers about $8 on every $100 they spend. Backpacks under $100 and used by elementary and secondary students are also exempt. A backpack is a pack with straps one wears on the back. The exemption during the sales tax holiday includes backpacks with wheels, provided they can also be worn on the back like a traditional backpack, and messenger bags. The exemption does not include items that are reasonably defined as luggage, briefcases, athletic/duffle/gym bags, computer bags, purses or framed backpacks. Ten or fewer backpacks can be purchased tax-free at one time without providing an exemption certificate to the seller.

• List of Qualifying Clothing, Footwear and Other Items - click here

• List of Qualifying School Supplies - click here

• Frequently Asked Questions - click here

• Rule 3.365, Sales Tax Holiday--Clothing, Shoes & School Supplies
   - click here

This update came to me from Independence Title and I thought it would be great to pass along!