Things to Avoid When Buying a Home

Even though fall is here, and there may be fewer listings, those homes that are on the market are being sold by motivated buyers who intend to keep their property on the market even through the holidays. It is worth having a list of things to avoid when looking for a new home.

Buying a home on a slope may give you a great view, but it’s worth being cautious and investing in a geotechnical survey just in case there is a risk of a landslide. It would be a truly tragic moment to see your investment wander down the hillside.

Some homes built in the 80s and 90s can have faulty siding problems, where it can absorb or trap water, leading to rot. One sign that something could be amiss is at home that looks as if it has been painted several times or is in need of a new coat of paint.

Why Now Is a Good Time to Assess Your Savings Strategy

Recent declines in the stock market serve as a timely reminder to utilize bank accounts as part of a personal savings strategy to ensure steady and secure growth for that important nest egg. While this may not sound like the most fun use for your hard-earned dollars, a survey by Ally Bank last year found compelling evidence linking the amount of money people have in savings to how happy they feel.

We like to call these people purposeful savers because they understand the importance of setting aside a portion of their income for their overall financial health and well-being. Think of it as the flip side of retail therapy, minus the aftershock once the cumulative cost becomes apparent when balancing the monthly budget.

The good news is anyone can be a purposeful saver. Regardless of whether you start off slowly with small amounts or develop an aggressive savings strategy, everyone has an equal opportunity to grow their savings steadily and securely with competitive interest rates, compound interest and FDIC insurance.

Following are some key benefits to savings accounts and tips for choosing the right account for you:

FDIC Insurance
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. insures money in savings accounts, checking accounts, certificates of deposit (CDs) and money market deposit accounts up to $250,000 per depositor, per insured bank or institution. Your funds couldnt be safer: the FDIC says no depositor has lost a penny of FDIC-insured funds since it was established in 1933.

Secure, steady growth
Its hard to beat the security and stability of a savings deposit account. Youll never lose money, and with competitive rates and compound interest – which provides interest on the total account balance not just what you have deposited – your funds are sure to grow. And many banks now compound interest daily, which helps your savings grow even faster.

Savings or CDs?
In general, CDs offer better interest rates for a set term. If you are fairly certain you wont need the money for six months or more, you may want to consider a high yield CD, which offers a better interest rate for committing to leaving your money in a bank for a longer term.

Some banks offer flexibility in CDs through no penalty CDs, or bump up CDs, which allow consumers to take advantage of a higher rate if the institutions rates rise during the CDs term. If you want the benefits of a longer term, high yield CD, but arent sure if youll need to access the money in the short term, try a CD ladder.

Savings and Money Market Accounts are also a good bet. They are relatively immune to dramatic interest fluctuations, and offer greater flexibility for savers who might need to access their cash.

Convenience and accessibility
It is fairly easy to open an account at an online bank, and they frequently offer great rates since there are no branches to maintain. Most bank accounts are now electronically accessible and allow customers to deposit, withdraw or transfer money online or via a mobile app. A good strategy is to set it and forget it, by using direct deposit or recurring transfers to automate your savings.

Consumers we surveyed say the effect savings has on happiness continues to grow as savings accumulate, so the sooner you get started, the better off youll be financially, and perhaps emotionally as well.

CFPB announces new Project Catalyst project

The CFPB has announced a new project as part of its Project Catalyst initiative, which the CFPB describes as designed to encourage consumer-friendly developments in markets for consumer financial products and services.The new project is a research pilot to examine the effectiveness of early intervention credit counseling for consumers who are at risk of default on their credit card debt. Project Catalyst was launched in November 2012, at which time the CFPB discussed its plans to use the initiative to establish lines of communication with innovators who may be affected by the CFPBs regulations, understand new and emerging products to be prepared to make necessary regulatory changes, and engage with innovators to better understand which existing laws work and do not work for innovators.

According to the CFPB, as part of the new project, two institutions, one described as a global credit card issuerand the other as a consumer credit counseling service provider based in Philadelphia, have agreed to share insights with the CFPB from a credit card credit counseling trial project that will offer early-intervention credit counseling to consumers at risk of defaulting on their credit card debt. The CFPB indicates that this research may also help inform whether similar strategies could be effective for consumers facing default on other products such as home, auto or other loans.The CFPB states that it plans to de-identify the information shared by the two institutions and take appropriate precautionshellip; to ensure that individual consumers cannot be identified through the data. The CFPBs research questions and goals are set forth in a summary that accompanied the CFPBs announcment.

TFSAs Spur Canada Savings Revolution

CHRIS EDWARDS, CATO INSTITUTE

A tax reform is spurring a savings revolution in Canada. Amity Shlaes and I wrote about Canada’s Tax-Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs) in the Wall Street Journal in August. We think that such accounts would be a fantastic policy reform for America. They would simplify the taxation of savings, encourage families to save more, and spur stronger economic growth.

Toronto firm, Investor Economics, has released new data confirming the popularity of TFSAs. In just the past year, TFSA account assets increased 34 percent, and the number of accounts increased 16 percent. In June 2014, 13 million Canadians held $132 billion in TFSA assets. Given that the US population is about 10 times that of Canada, it would be like 130 million Americans pouring $1.3 trillion into a new personal savings vehicle.

The chart shows the rapid growth of TFSAs since they were introduced in 2009:

There are 27.7 million Canadian adults, so about 47 percent of them own a TFSA, according to the data from Investor Economics. A 2013 survey by a bank found a similar figure of 48 percent. In just five years, TFSAs have become the most popular savings vehicle in Canada, outstripping the Canadian version of 401(k)s. TFSA growth is expected to continue, and the accounts may soon play a central role in virtually every family’s financial planning.

The American vehicle most similar to the TFSA is the Roth Individual Retirement Account (IRA). But Roths are far inferior, and thus just 16 percent of US households own them. Indeed, just 38 percent of US households hold any type of IRA, even though these accounts have been around a lot longer than TFSAs.

TFSAs are like supercharged Roth IRAs. Here are some of the key features:

  • Individuals can deposit up to $5,500 after-tax each year. Annual contribution limits accumulate if you do not use them. So if you contribute $2,000 this year, you will be able to put away $9,000 next year ($3,500+$5,500).
  • All account earnings and withdrawals are tax-free.
  • Withdrawals can be made at any time for any reason with no penalties or taxes. That greatly simplifies the accounts and increases liquidity, both of which encourage added savings.
  • There are no income limits and no withdrawal requirements. All Canadian adults can contribute and withdraw at any time during their lives.
  • TFSAs can be opened at any bank branch or online. They can hold bank deposits, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and other types of assets.
  • TFSAs are great for all types of saving, including saving to buy a home, a car, or to start a business, and saving for health expenses, unemployment, or retirement.

Why are we letting Canadians have all the fun? Everyone agrees that Americans don’t save enough, so why don’t we kick-start a home-grown savings revolution with a US version of TFSAs? Former Treasury official Ernest Christian has long championed similar accounts, which he and I call “Universal Savings Accounts (USAs). Canada has now run the real-world experiment on such accounts, and it has succeeded brilliantly.

TFSAs, or USAs, are a better way to handle savings in the tax code. Currently, many people are scared off by the complexity of US savings vehicles and by the lack of liquidity in retirement accounts. TFSAs solve these problems. Members of Congress and presidential aspirants for 2016 who are interested in a popular, pro-growth, and pro-family reform to champion–this is what you are looking for.

Malden man’s 3D-printing studio aims to let you create your own ‘mini-me’

As the popularity of 3D printing booms, one Malden man wants to use the technology to offer consumers a mini-version of themselves in figurine form.

Yifei Zhang, a 28-year-old native of China, will soon open a studio called 3D Bean that uses patent-pending, high-definition 3D scanning to photograph people from multiple perspectives and turn their image into a sandstone replica of themselves.

After scanning, some manual post-processing is needed to clean up every 3D model, said Zhang in an email. Then the model files will be sent to 3D printers for full-color figurine production.

Pricing starts at $319 for one 4-inch-tall figurine.

Zhangs background is in mechanical engineering. He went to Nottingham University Malaysia Campus for his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering. He then received his masters degree from Northeastern University.

Zhang is currently renting temporary office space in Malden as the studios initial research and development phase is winding down, but hes currently looking for a larger space — potentially in Boston or the Assembly Row shopping center in Somerville. By early next year, he hopes a retail location to be officially open to the public.

Zhang said 3D Beans funding has mostly come from personal savings and a loan from family, but he recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to try to raise $20,000 to hire staff, develop packaging for the figurines and further develop the 3D Bean website.

Heres a conversation I had with Zhang via email about 3D Bean:

Q: Why did you decide to develop the studio?

Two main reasons:

A. I love photography — have been a self-taught photographer since the age of 14. I love it because it helps us to capture and save so many beautiful moments in everyones life that have gone forever and impossible to reproduce. As time fades, so do our memories, and thats where photographs play such a vital role in taking us back to that day and time. They are priceless to me.

Japan Aug current account surplus rises on investment income

TOKYO, Oct 8 (Reuters) – Japans current account surplus
grew in August, Ministry of Finance data showed on Wednesday, as
income from investments overseas bolstered the balance of
payments.
The surplus stood at 287.1 billion yen ($2.7 billion),
against a median forecast for a 198.0 billion yen surplus in a
Reuters poll of economists. The surplus in August was up 82.7
percent from the same period a year earlier.
The surplus in the income balance was 1.5 trillion yen, up
20.6 percent from a year earlier.
For the full tables, see the MOFs website of at:
http://www.mof.go.jp/english/international_policy/reference/balance_of_payments/release_date.htm

(1 US dollar = 107.9600 Japanese yen)

(Reporting by Stanley White; Editing by Chris Gallagher)

Higher investment income powers Travelers profit beat

(Adds details)

n>Oct 21 (Reuters) – Property and casualty insurer Travelers
Cos Inc reported a better-than-expected rise in
quarterly operating profit, helped by higher net investment
income and a fall in disaster-related losses.

Travelers shares rose 2 percent to $94.99 in premarket
trading.

Operating earnings of $2.61 per share in the third quarter
ended Sept. 30 handily beat the average analyst estimate of
$2.27, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Our results were driven by strong underwriting performance
across all of our business segments…and higher investment
returns driven by private equity performance, Chief Executive
Jay Fishman said in a statement on Tuesday.

The companys business and international insurance unit
posted a 10 percent jump in net written premiums, as it managed
to hold on to clients while increasing rates. The unit
contributes more than half of the companys written premiums.

Travelers has been aggressively raising rates during the past
two years to offset the impact of low interest rates on
fixed-income investments.

The companys combined ratio, the percentage of premium
revenue an insurer has to pay out in claims, rose to 90 percent
in the quarter from 88.9 percent. A combined ratio of under 100
indicates an underwriting profit.

Travelers, a Dow Jones Industrial Average component,
said net income rose to $919 million, or $2.69 per share, from
$864 million, or $2.30 per share, a year earlier.

Revenue rose 7 percent to $6.89 billion.

Pre-tax catastrophe losses, net of reinsurance, fell to $83
million from $99 million, while net investment income rose 9.4
percent to $719 million.

As one of the first insurers to report results, Travelers
earnings are often seen as an industry bellwether.

The companys shares had risen about 3 percent since the
start of the year to Mondays close, compared to a 1 percent
drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average Index.

(Reporting By Neha Dimri in Bangalore; Editing by Sriraj
Kalluvila)

Strategic Global Income Fund, Inc. – Reports Earnings

NEW YORK Strategic Global Income Fund, Inc. (the #x201C;Fund#x201D;) (NYSE:SGL), a non-diversified, closed-end management investment company seeking high current income and secondarily, capital appreciation through investments in US and foreign debt securities, today announced its performance for the third quarter and fiscal year-to-date ended August 31, 2014.

For the third quarter ended August 31, 2014, the Funds earnings from net investment income (excluding short-term capital gains) were $2,113,022, equal to $0.12 per share. During this period, the Fund paid monthly distributions (which may be comprised of net investment income, net realized capital gains, and/or return of capital) of $2,421,121, equal to $0.13 per share. Total net realized and unrealized gains from investment activities were $223,092, equal to $0.01 per share, for the third quarter ended August 31, 2014. This compares to earnings from net investment income (excluding short-term capital gains) of $2,301,216, equal to $0.13 per share; monthly distributions paid (which were comprised of net investment income and return of capital) of $2,925,065, equal to $0.16 per share; and total net realized and unrealized losses from investment activities of $(12,740,344), equal to $(0.70) per share, for the third quarter ended August 31, 2013.

For the nine months ended August 31, 2014, the Fund#x2019;s earnings from net investment income (excluding short-term capital gains) were $5,738,255, equal to $0.31 per share. During this period, the Fund paid monthly distributions (which may be comprised of net investment income, net realized capital gains and/or return of capital) of $8,169,000, equal to $0.45 per share. Total net realized and unrealized gains from investment activities were $6,090,601, equal to $0.33 per share, for the nine months ended August 31, 2014. This compares to earnings from net investment income (excluding short-term capital gains) of $7,003,478, equal to $0.38 per share; monthly distributions paid (which were comprised of net investment income and return of capital) of $9,259,052, equal to $0.51 per share; and total net realized and unrealized losses from investment activities of $(19,529,163), equal to $(1.07) per share, for the nine months ended August 31, 2013. Additionally, in December 2012, the Fund paid year-end distributions of long-term capital gains of $2,083,332, equal to $0.11 per share.

On August 31, 2014, total net assets of the Fund were $193,844,781. The net asset value per share was $10.62, based on 18,258,828 shares outstanding, which represents an increase of 2.21% from the net asset value per share of $10.39, ($189,741,274 attributable to 18,258,828 shares outstanding) on August 31, 2013.

The Fund adopted a managed distribution policy (#x201C;Policy#x201D;) in May 1998. Pursuant to the policy as currently in effect, the Fund makes regular monthly distributions at an annualized rate equal to 5% of the Fund#x2019;s net asset value, determined as of the last day on which the New York Stock Exchange is open for trading during the first week of that month. (Pursuant to the Policy with respect to distributions paid from June 2011 through the monthly distribution for May 2014, the annualized rate had been 6%, which, consistent with the policy, in any given month may have been comprised of a combination of net investment income, capital gains, and/or a return of capital.) An investor should not draw any conclusions about the Fund#x2019;s investment performance from the amount of the monthly distribution or from the terms of the Fund#x2019;s managed distribution policy.

To the extent that the Fund#x2019;s taxable income in any fiscal year exceeds the aggregate amount distributed based on a fixed percentage of its net asset value, the Fund would make an additional distribution in the amount of that excess near the end of the fiscal year. To the extent that the aggregate amount distributed by the Fund based on a fixed percentage of its net asset value exceeds its current and accumulated earnings and profits, the amount of that excess would constitute a return of capital or net realized capital gains for tax purposes. A return of capital may occur, for example, when some or all of the money that shareholders invested in the Fund is deemed to be paid back to shareholders. A return of capital distribution does not necessarily reflect the Fund#x2019;s investment performance and should not be confused with #x201C;yield#x201D; or #x201C;income.#x201D;

The Fund periodically issues notices to shareholders and press releases estimating the source characteristics of its monthly distributions. The amounts and sources reported are only estimates and are not being provided for tax reporting purposes. The actual amounts and sources of the amounts for accounting and tax reporting purposes will depend upon the Fund#x2019;s investment experience during the remainder of its fiscal year and may be subject to retroactive changes based on tax regulations. The actual sources of the Fund#x2019;s regular monthly distributions may be net investment income, net realized capital gains, return of capital or a combination of the foregoing. The Fund sends shareholders a Form 1099-DIV (or a financial intermediary should provide a shareholder with similar information) for the calendar year that will tell shareholders how to report these distributions for federal income tax purposes.

Monthly distributions based on a fixed percentage of the Fund#x2019;s net asset value may require the Fund to make multiple distributions of long-term capital gains during a single fiscal year. The Fund has received exemptive relief from the Securities and Exchange Commission that enables it to do so. The Fund#x2019;s Board receives recommendations from UBS Global Asset Management (Americas) Inc., the Fund#x2019;s investment advisor, periodically and no less frequently than annually will reassess the annualized percentage of net assets at which the Fund#x2019;s monthly distributions will be made. The Fund#x2019;s Board may change or terminate the managed distribution policy at any time without prior notice to Fund shareholders; any such change or termination may have an adverse effect on the market price for the Fund#x2019;s shares.

Any performance information reflects the deduction of the Fund#x2019;s fees and expenses, as indicated in its shareholder reports, such as investment advisory and administration fees, custody fees, exchange listing fees, etc. It does not reflect any transaction charges that a shareholder may incur when (s)he buys or sells shares (eg, a shareholder#x2019;s brokerage commissions).

Investing in the Fund entails specific risks, such as interest rate, credit and the risks associated with investing in the securities of non-US issuers, including those located in emerging market countries. The value of the Fund#x2019;s investments in foreign securities may fall due to adverse political, social and economic developments abroad and due to decreases in foreign currency values relative to the US dollar. Further detailed information regarding the Fund, including a discussion of principal objectives, principal investment strategies and principal risks, may be found in the fund overview located at http://www.ubs.com/closedendfundsinfo. You may also request copies of the fund overview by calling the Closed-End Funds Desk at 888-793-8637.

#xA9;UBS 2014. All rights reserved.

The key symbol and UBS are among the registered and unregistered trademarks of UBS.

Clark Howard: Refinance student loans at a lower rate

The private student loan market is opening up with the first real chance of offering refinances, or consolidation as it’s commonly called, that I’ve seen in about 10 years.

Earlier this year, The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported a company called Charter One has been advertising an Education Refinance Loan with fixed rates as low as 4.74 percent and a variable rate of 2.31 percent above the one-month LIBOR rate.

Those low rates are contingent on two things: A good credit score and a co-signer. So this offer is of no help if you’re falling behind on debts and your credit is shot.

You can refinance anywhere from $10,000 to $170,000 in private student loans with 15- or 20-year repayment options. Federal student loans are not eligible for this refinance offer. [EDITORS NOTE: A representative from Charter One emailed noting that as of September, they do refinance Federal Student Loans].

Private student loans should still be avoided at all costs. But this option may help you if you’re already stuck in one. Now there’s a new option for refinancing your private student loans from a consortium of credit unions. Visit CUStudentLoans.com and see what’s available.

When borrowing, be sure to first max out whatever federal loans you’re offered. Should your college expenses exceed your level of federal loans, consider going to a cheaper school, picking up extra work, or whatever else you have to do to avoid private student loans.

Additionally, your borrowing for a four-year degree should never exceed your expected first year’s earnings after you start working.

Finally, I always recommend that you start your degree out at a community college and then transfer to a “name school” where you plan to get your degree. You can effectively cut the cost of a college education in half by doing it that way.

Consumer expert Clark Howard’s column appears here each Thursday in conjunction with Deal Spotter, a weekly print section in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Find more answers to your consumer questions at Clark’s website.

– Clark Howard — Save More, Spend Less, Avoid Rip-offs — for the Atlanta Bargain Hunter blog

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