Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Are You Planning For Your Retirement Or Are You A Retirement Ostrich?

OstrichImage by Ginger Me via FlickrIn an age of faltering retirement plans and a Social Security system that is becoming insolvent, American are waking up to a new paradigm. In the old days, your savings, Social Security, and a part time job was all you needed. Today, some Americans don't give their retirement a lot of thought. They are dependent on Social Security and don't worry. They don't pay attention to their retirement because they think Social Security will always be there to take care of them.

When you feel someone is going to take care of you, you lose the ability or need to take care of yourself. A survey sponsored by ING, reveals that 55% of Americans do not know how to achieve their retirement goal.

Americans are realizing the fact that they are responsible and accountable for providing for their retirement. The stakes are higher today, retirees are facing a perfect storm of a faltering retirement systems, rising prices, a world recession, and global instability. We can no longer bury are heads in the sand any more.

According to a survey by HSBC, there are four categories of financial preparedness:

  • Disengaged non-planners (35 per cent of the population) who are doing nothing, with the primary reason being a belief that they lack the necessary income.
  • Advice-seeking non-planners (25 per cent) do not have a plan but do take occasional financial advice.
  • Self-guided planners (13 per cent) have a plan in place but do not seek professional advice. Tend to be younger, mid to high income and internet savvy.
  • Advice-seeking planners (26 per cent) have a plan and take professional advice to help manage their finances.

The worse off and most in need of help is the "Disengaged non-planners". They definitely believe they lack the money to prepare for retirement. They live paycheck to paycheck and are on a collision course with their retirement years. For them most of their working life is concerned for the present day. By choice or lack of money they will never attain a comfortable retirement.

The "Advice-seeking non-planners" are a lot better off. They are doing something for their retirement and do take financial advice. They have retirement accounts, though smaller than needed, it is still a good start. This group is able to improve their situation and address their future needs.

The "Self-guided planners" have a plan but do things on their own without professional advice. They are more aware of their future retirement needs and are taking action. They do their own investment planning and educate themselves to the financial world.

The "Advice-seeking planners" have a plan and seek professional help to help implement it. This group is the best of the 4 groups because they have the money, knowledge, and professional help to succeed.

If you are one of those that know they need to plan and save for retirement, yet are not turning this knowledge into action, you are part of the "Ostrich Generation". People need to look around and take stock of what they need to do; they can no longer rely on the state or their employers to provide for them. It's all part of taking resposibility for yourself.

The ING survey also reveals that 48% of non-planners associate retirement with financial hardship. While 23% of planners say this is a concern. Peace of mind is a side effect of proper retirement planning

Monday, May 30, 2011

Debit Cards Vs. Credit Cards - How do They Compare?

Visa Debit card from Bank of AmericaImage by MoneyBlogNewz via FlickrGetting and staying out of debt requires you to stop using your credit cards. You are so determined to avoid credit card debt, you have cut up your credit cards and have gone to exclusively using a debit card instead. You feel good about not using the credit card anymore. All is well.

But wait are there any downsides to using your debit card as your exclusive plastic? It's time to find out what's the difference between a credit card and a debit card.

Lets say your debit card number is used for some fraudulent transactions. A bad guy buys himself a nice new Rolex with your debit card number. This transaction wipes out your bank account. Your checks bounce because there isn't enough money in your checking account. By the time you find out about the illegal charges your money is gone, you have over draft fees, your bills have late fees now because the checks bounced, and your money is gone.

What can you do about all this. Does your bank take off these extra charges.? Will they put your money back into your account? How long will all this take for your account to be put back in order? What are the responsibilities of the bank? Whats the time frame for the money being put back?

Here are a few Debit card facts:

  •  With a credit card, your maximum liability guaranteed under federal law in case of fraud or errors is limited to $50 if you notify the card issuer within 60 days after the statement listing the transaction is mailed. With a debit card, the $50 liability limit expires two days after the fraud, and then your liability goes up to $500. And you don't necessarily have protection against errors.
  • Banks' "zero liability" promises are voluntary and squishy; they're not the law and they're not immediate.
  • If you use a debit card and a fraudulent charge or a billing error causes other payments to bounce (like your mortgage or cell phone payment), you will be hit with hefty overdraft fees and will probably have difficulty getting the fees refunded.
  • Credit cards offer protection under the federal Fair Credit Billing Act, meaning you can refuse to pay for products or services that you didn't get or are defective. There's no such protection with a debit card.
  • Debit card authorizations can tie up your money. A merchant such as a gas station or hotel may put a three-day hold on more money than you're spending. You won't be able to use that money until the hold ends. That could cause other payments to bounce even though you have enough money in your account.
  • If you buy something with a credit card and the merchant makes a mistake, say by billing you twice, the bank will fix it.
  • With a debit card, however, banks are really sketchy about what protection they offer if the merchant goofs. You're protected against "unauthorized use," but many banks don't consider errors to be "unauthorized use." They say because you authorized the merchant to debit your checking account, the matter is a "billing dispute" that you need to work out with the merchant.
  • If you do have a problem with a credit card transaction, you don't have to pay the amount in dispute while it's being investigated. With a debit card, the money is already gone.

If money is stolen from your checking account by the use a stolen debit card number it can take up to 2 weeks to be put back. This is frustrating for the consumer and this would not happen with a credit card.

But if it is your choice to use a debit card and not a credit card. To be on the safe side it's not smart to have a debit card linked with an account that has a lot of money in it. Or get just an ATM card with no charge card features.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memorial Day - The Day We Remember Our Fallen Soldiers

Picture of graves decorated with flags at Arli...Image via Wikipedia
Today, Memorial Day, we take time to remember the soldiers that gave the ultimate sacrifice in American wars. Millions of families will gather together to eat a meal and spend some time together. Yet many families will have an empty chair at their table because their loved one sacrificed for our country. We can 't ever forget these men and women who left friends and family behind and never returned. Let's also keep in our hearts and prayers the families that must go on in anguish because of their loss.

Here are 10 facts about the last Monday in May.

10. Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day.

9. It was first widely observed on May 30, 1868.

8. Originally, the day was to honor soldiers killed in the Civil War.

7. After World War I, people began to observe and honor those who were killed in all of America's wars.

6. The day was declared a national holiday by Congress in 1971.

5. The birthplace of Memorial Day is Waterloo, New York. The town first celebrated the day on May 5, 1866, by closing businesses, and residents decorated soldiers' graves with flowers.

4. Waterloo was declared Memorial Day's birthplace by President Lyndon Johnson.

3. About 5,000 people attend the Memorial Day ceremony every year at Arlington National Cemetery.

2. Some southern states set aside a special day for honoring the Confederate dead. It's known as (surprise) Confederate Memorial Day.

1. On Memorial Day, a wreath is typically laid at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the president or vice president.

A video tribute to the fallen heroes:

Today we will be enjoying the freedom that has been paid for in the blood of our fallen sons and daughters. Let's remember them today and everyday.

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Flood Of Financial Risk For Homeowners

A guest post by Mike Bowman of TheQuarterRoll.com

When you review your monthly budget you may be putting money aside for items such as groceries, rent, clothing, and your gym membership, but have you ever listed flood damage on your budget? According to a spring 2010 edition of the Western Pennsylvania AAA Motorist magazine, flooding is the most prevalent natural disaster and you are 3 times more likely to be affected by flooding then fire. We certainly hear about the overwhelming flooding troubles in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Mississippi, but flooding comes in all sorts of intensities.

Except for vehicles with "comprehensive" insurance in their policy, flood damage is not part of any typical insurance coverage, and everyone is at some level of risk of financial loss due to flood damage. You can be the most financially conservative person, but one flash flood could severely harm you, financially speaking, when you consider that the average flood damage claim is $33,000.00. Most people will not have that much money set aside, even before a natural disaster hits. Also, nearly all disaster relief money is considered a loan and must be paid back to the issuing authority. Flood insurance, purchased through the National Flood Insurance Program is one of the best ways to insure yourself against the financial risk that flooding presents.

Why should you be concerned about flooding? Here are facts found from FEMA's and the CDC's websites:

-Only flood insurance will cover flood damage.

-25% of all flooding claims come from moderate to low risk areas.

-You do not need to be next to a body of water for flooding to occur on your property.

-Melting snow / poor drainage / deteriorating natural or man-made barriers are just a few of the least expected sources of flooding.

-All 50 states have been affected by flooding.

-While risks vary, we all live in a flood zone, according to www.FloodSmart.gov.

Considering buying flood insurance? Keep an eye on what is going on with this program. Flood insurance is issued by the National Flood Insurance Program and funding must be approved by Congress. Currently, funding for the National Flood Insurance Program is scheduled to stop in September 2011.

From the Insurance Information Institute

In the absence of any legislative agreement between the House and the Senate on funding the program for the long term, the NFIP was reauthorized for short periods of time under a series of continuing resolutions that extended funding for many different programs. After allowing the program to lapse four times, during which new policies could not be issued, leaving homeowners without the option of buying coverage and delaying thousands of real estate closing per day in flood-prone regions, in September 2010, as the last extension was close to its expiration date, both the House and the Senate extended the program for one year to September 30, 2011. Insurers hope that during this longer extension period Congress will take time to make significant and long-term changes in the program. http://www.iii.org/issues_updates/flood-insurance.html

About The Quarter Roll

Mike Bowman writes for TheQuarterRoll.com, whose website and magazine help readers get a quarter more for every dollar by providing personal finance tips, advice, and stories in an easy to understand and entertaining format. The tips and stories found in TheQuarterRoll.com are designed to give readers the ability to earn more, save more, and get more value for their money.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What Are The Different Types Of Mortgage Loans

Logo of the Federal Housing Administration.Image via WikipediaIf your about to make a home purchase, the biggest factor in the process is finding financing. There are a large number of possible choices in the financial market today. You need to know as a consumer what they are and how they work. So you can find the best possible loan for your circumstances.

Basic Home Mortgage.

The most popular home financing option is the fixed rate mortgage. Nearly 70 percent of people chose this type of loan. Why people like this type of loan is that it is stable. Every month you make the same payment. It never changes. Also the interest rate will never change, it will always remain the same.

Adjustable Rate Mortgages.

Adjustable rate mortgages are a popular choice among home buyers. Their interest rate is tied to an index that change according to prevailing market rates. The intervals are specified in the mortgage documents and the interval of adjustment can be anywhere from one year to seven years. When the adjustment time arrives, according to the prevailing market rate, your payment will rise or fall. This doesn't happen once, it happens again when the interval comes around again.

Government Guaranteed Mortgage Loans.

The FHA loan is a fixed rate mortgage that is designed for the first time home buyer of moderate or low income. Guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration, these loans can be easier to qualify for than a traditional FRM and allow a smaller down payment than most other home loans, generally about 3 percent. Interest rate are usually lower than standard fixed rate loans, and programs are available for the purchase of single family homes or multi family ones, as long as they are to be owner occupied.

Veterans Administration Loans(VA).

VA loans are another government guaranteed mortgage. To be eligible for a VA loan, one must have a history of active military service or be the surviving spouse of an active service member. Often, a veteran can obtain a VA loan with little or no down payment, but must demonstrate the ability to make monthly payments.

USDA Rural Development Guaranteed Housing Loan.

The USDA Rural Development Guaranteed Housing Loan is another government guaranteed home loan option. This type of home mortgage loan is provided to low and moderate income individuals who are purchasing a home in an area designated as a Rural Development eligible area. No down payment or mortgage insurance is required with this loan program, and qualification can be much easier than your average home loan, allowing consumers with less than perfect credit to obtain financing for home purchases.

Option ARMs

Also referred to as flexible payment ARMs, Option adjustable rate loans have an interest rate that adjusts every month with no adjustment caps. These loans allow borrowers to make very low mortgage payments initially, but these monthly payments will rise over time, often quite steeply.

Balloon Mortgages

Balloon mortgages are structured with a payment schedule similar to that of a thirty year fixed rate loan, although the term of the balloon loan is shorter, most often spanning five to seven years. At the end of the loan term, the outstanding balance must be paid in one lump sum, either out of pocket or by refinancing the home.

Interest Only Mortgages

Interest only mortgages are loans that allow the borrower to pay only the interest on the loan for a predetermined period of time. The principle of the loan is not paid down during this period at all, leaving the homeowner a lower monthly payment to meet over the short term. However, once this initial interest only period expires the payments increase to include repayment of the principle and are steeper than a standard loan, as the principle must be paid over a shorter time period. The longer the interest only period, the higher the payments will rise after its expiration.

Biweekly Mortgages

Biweekly mortgages are loans in which the borrower makes payments every two weeks instead of the typical monthly payment arrangement. The result of this practice is a slightly shorter repayment term. Paying biweekly results in 26 payments a year, which is equivalent to thirteen monthly payments, rather than the twelve payments made with a standard monthly mortgage payment.

Bimonthly Mortgages

Bimonthly mortgage plans do not require any extra payments, but save slightly on interest by advancing the payment by half the month. On average, these types of arrangements only shorten the loan term by approximately one month on a thirty year mortgage.

While each option may prove itself best for a segment of loan seeking consumers, none will be a perfect fit for everyone. Depending upon personal finances, the length of time one intends to reside in the home to be purchased, and many other factors, the perfect home loan option will vary widely from one consumer to another.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Big Bird Wants To Teach Your Children About Money

Big BirdImage by LR_PTY via FlickrBecause of our current economic climate, financial literacy, or lack of it, is in the forefront. Teaching of these vital skills have been put on the back burner at many schools. Researchers and educators think it's time to bring financial education back to the schools and even to the very youngest of children. Even without a basic organized education, children are being educated by their parents whenever Mom and Dad use a credit card or use an ATM. Through observation of their parents behaviors in life, children are learning behaviors, both good and bad.

There is a lack of educational materials to help teachers in the classroom. To combat this lack of educational materials for children to use to learn about money, Sesame Workshop has started a program called "For Me, for You, for Later: First Steps to Spending, Sharing, and Saving". With a 100 million dollar program, over a ten year period, Sesame Workshop has developed a learning experience for children. This program is being paid for by PNC Bank.

All this is happening at sesamestreet.org/save and pncgrowupgreat.com. Also more video content is available at Itunes and Amazon.com VOD. The titles to search for are called "Learn Along with Sesame".

At Sesamestreet.org/save there is a large amount of teaching materials amount money lessons. There are games to play, videos to watch, and printable items for fun and learning. All the Sesame characters are used in the videos to teach about money and the proper ways to use your money.

What's Being Taught?

The foundational teaching is concerned with showing the children to properly use their personal money. They are taught that you divide your money up three ways. In three separate piggy bank jars you label each jar "Saving, Giving, and Spending". The saving jar is to teach how you must save for future wants and needs. The Spending jar is for current purchases, and the giving jar is used to help others. In the videos, children are shown with their parents shopping with their spending jar, at the toy store. Also the children use their savings jar to save money to buy a more expensive item, sometime in the future. There are videos showing how the giving jar is used to buy cat food for abandoned cats at a shelter.

These videos are at the perfect level for small children. There are no religious subjects mentioned. Also purchases by a small child is are mainly things a 8 year old would like to buy. All the materials are politically correct and do not step on anyones toes. It's nice to see how basic moral values could be taught without bringing in any specific religion.

The website has many things to explore. Your child's favorite characters like the Count, Elmo, Cookie Monster, and others also appear. There is a mobile site if needed. Also there are parent-educator materials to help in implementing the great content. Also on the site are more links to Sesame Streets interesting educational websites.

I liked the idea of using Sesame Streets well known characters to teach a basic foundation on money. The three jar system is a great stepping stone to more mature teachings in the future. I was surprised at the section on the teaching of "Giving". That was the hook that got me interested in the program. They could of just of taught about saving and spending, but the giving part, helps you teach on being unselfish. A hard concept for to teach a 5 year old. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

How To Save $1000 Per Year On Groceries Without Clipping A Single Coupon

In their unconscious state, those with NSRED a...Image via WikipediaThe cost of food and gasoline has been rising at a disturbing rate for a long time now. The rising prices at the supermarket can sometimes make a big impact on the families budget. Finding ways to save money on food is especially important, today.

The cost of food and beverages has jumped 3.5% in the last year according to the Consumer Price Index that the US Bureau of Labor Statistics compiles. This percentage seems to low according to my own shopping experience.

Researchers have found consumers waste about 15 percent of their food every year. That amounts to about $1500 of wasted food for each household. On average, an American households that earns $52,000, spends 20% of their income on food purchases. Also according to the USDA a family of four spends between $611 to $1,200 on food every month. So reducing 20% of that waste can amount to a savings of $1000.

Prepare only the amount of food you will actually eat or store it in the refrigerator to eat the next day. My biggest beef is that people throw away good food after they have made too much for a meal. If there is food leftover, store it in the refrigerator for a left-over meals later in the week.

For one week a month, eat only what is in your house, so you can clear out your pantry. If you revolt at eating asparagus soup, well, you know never to waste your money again. You can sometimes extend this technique for a longer time period depending on the amount of food you have. Out of habit we tend to keep our refrigerators full like the apocylype is going to come and the stores will be closed for months. Don't fall for this, some people have a discomfort upon seeing a half empty refrigerator. Our they thinking they are Mother Hubbard and the cupboards are bare.

Don’t shop when you are hungry. Studies show consumers buy more on an empty stomach — including items you end up throwing away. This a big one for me and it's so true. You start to get a taste for a particular item and it's usually an expensive one.

Buy only the fresh fruit and vegetables you know you will eat before they rot. If you buy three bananas, for example, plan on eating one a day. Bananas and tomatoes are the worse offenders. Before you know it they are to over ripe to eat. Don't purchase any fruit or vegetables without having them incorporated into you meal plan.

Don’t let coupons and buy-one get-one offers lure you into buying more than you can use. The thrill of a bargain isn’t worth dollars wasted in never eating the food. This is where people waste money. The thrill of the deal does not last very long when you have bought something you rarely use or need.

Have a plan to consume the food you buy. Don’t impulsively pickup groceries that may sit on your pantry shelves. Remember, even cake mixes have a shelf life. Food can be frozen for about three months before it risks losing taste or absorbing aromas from other items.

Take home a doggie bag when eating out. Even the free bread and chips and salsa can be taken home. Don't feal bad, the restaurant just throws it away. My wife has made this into an art form. She can make one restaurant meal last for days. We take home the bread, extra dressings and everything we can scrape up.

Pull the plug on that second refrigerator. There are some homes that keep an extra refrigerator in the garage. This only encourages buying more food to fill it. When we had 6 kids in the house we needed it because we went through 4 gallons of milk per week. I suggest to pull the plug on it and just use the kitchen refrigerator. Putting all your food in the one refrigerator, makes it look like you have plenty, filling it up will keep you from thinking you need to go shopping.

Saving money on food isn't hard, it takes planning and paying attention. When you see the rising prices on bread, milk, eggs and juices everyday it can be very motivating to have a  plan and save some cash.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The New Google Advisor Is Your One-Stop Source For Financial Products.

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...Image via CrunchBaseGoogle has launched a website where you can get information on mortgage, credit card, CD, or checking and savings accounts. This type of information has been the life blood of many personal finance blogs for many years. Now here is a one stop place to get all types of financial products.

We’ve all experienced the hit and miss associated with comparing financial products such as mortgages or credit cards. Often information is presented in an incomplete or otherwise opaque manner, and comparison between businesses and offers is confusing. Google has taken up the challenge of simplifying the process by creating a new service, Google Advisor, that makes it easy for users to compare products side by side.

Quote from the Official Google Blog

Financial decisions may be some of the most difficult decisions we face—whether it’s finding the right credit card or understanding the impact of paying an extra point on a mortgage. And these days, it seems like we have more financial options than ever.To help solve these problems, we began testing a mortgage comparison tool in 2009 and have added other financial products such as credit cards, CDs, checking, and savings accounts. Today, we’re rolling these tools into one place: Google Advisor, a site designed to help you quickly find relevant financial products from many providers and compare them side-by-side. Google Advisor is currently only available in the U.S.
Mortgage Results Page

I tried out the Mortgage function by entering my information. I clicked on refinance. Then value of the home, mortgage balance, cash out, loan type, and points. My state, county, home type was already entered magically. I was given 21 results. The list consisted of mortgage lender, interest rate, APR, Fees, points, and Contact details. As I enter different details the page updated dynamically. If I found one I wanted to pursue the contact details had links to email or phone numbers, and hours of operation. Overall a very thorough and well laid out page.

Credit Card
 Results Page

The Credit Card section results was divided by balance transferred, Intro purchase APR, Cash back, Air Miles, And Points. There was a total of 87 credit cards offered on this page. It states on the page that Google receives no commission from when you click on an offer. Also that the credit card information is updated twice a week for accuracy. The credit card results page can be sorted by intro APR, Ongoing APR, Annual Fee, and Reward Type.

 Results Page

The CD section results allows you to enter the amount to deposit, maximum term,and account type. Whether it's a regular account or an IRA. The results page is divided up into columns APY, Minimum Opening Balance, Term Length, Actual interest earned for the term, Early Withdrawal penalty, and Apply details. There is a link to apply online.

 Results Page

The Savings Section asks for savings amount, regular savings or money market, and zip code. The results are displayed by name of institution, APY, Minimum to open, Monthly fee, Interest earned, and details with a link to apply online.

Checking Results Page

The Checking Section wants your initial deposit, a check box for no monthly fee and interest checking, and zip code. There is a check box if you want to exclude Internet only banks. The results give you Bank name, APY, Minimum, monthly fee and details with an apply online link. In the checking and Savings account section you can also search by a specific bank.

Again, Google is saying they receive no compensation on the credit card, CD's, checking, and savings applications. But on the mortgage page, Google does admit they get paid when you contact a lender through the site.

I like the overall experience of Google Advisor. It's laid out well for navigation. The search results are many. I also especially like the link to apply for the products, it takes you to the actual site to make an online application, making the application progress almost painless.

The only other competition to Google Advisor is Bankrate.com. Bankrate.com has more bells and whistles than Google. But I'll have to give it to Google for an easier to navigate interface. Bankrate's interface is a little dated and could use a little modifying.

Give Google Advisor a try. advisor.google.com

Friday, May 20, 2011

Drinking Coffee Is Now Good For You

Cup of Costa coffee.Image via WikipediaGood news today on the health front. Coffee drinking is now a healthy thing to do. A leading study out of the Harvard School of Public Health claims drinking one to 3 cups of coffee per day lowers your risk of prostate cancer by 30%.

Also other findings state.
  • Men who consumed the most coffee (six or more cups daily) had nearly a 20 percent lower risk of developing any form of prostate cancer.
  • The inverse association with coffee was even stronger for aggressive prostate cancer. Men who drank the most coffee [six or more cups!] had a 60 percent lower risk of developing lethal prostate cancer.

This study followed 48,000 Boston men for 12 years and found that those who drank six or more cups a day reduced their risk of developing aggressive prostate cancer by 60 percent and of developing any form of the cancer by 20 percent. The study even found a risk reduction in men who drank about three cups a day.

More Studies.

Another study followed 5,929 Swedish women, half of whom had breast cancer, and found that those who drank more than five cups of coffee a day reduced their risk of developing estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer (a particularly aggressive type of the disease) by 33 to 57 percent compared to those who drank less than a cup.

Caffeine is credited with a host of health benefits, including cutting the odds of asthma, Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis. But in this case, the researchers believe that other plant chemicals in coffee are behind the benefits. They think compounds such as anti-oxidants may cut the odds of prostate cancer and reduce the likelihood of deadly tumors by altering levels of sex hormones, regulating blood sugar levels and cutting inflammation.

Be Skeptical

I am always skeptical of such conclusions from these studies. Remember, 30 years ago Harvard had another study that claimed too much coffee increases the risk of pancreatic cancer among men and woman. Ooops!

All this medical information neither sways or encourages coffee drinking. People who do or don't will continue with their opinions.

Coffee drinking is a part of our culture. Coffee is the way we start our day. It's the same with everything in life, if done in moderation you will be fine.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

5 Costs Homeowners Pay That Renters Don't

:oImage by GreyArea via FlickrThe debate over Renting vs. Home Ownership goes on. The common advice is "Don't waste your money on rent, invest in a House." With the many costs of home ownership, renting is starting to look a lot better. Lets start with the down payment. Renters don't have to pay that big up front expense. The home owner has the pleasure to also have a nice mortgage payment to make every month for thirty years. That's quite a long lease. Plus if home owners don't pay they get foreclosed on, renters are just evicted.

Property Taxes

These are the taxes paid to your local and state governments for salaries and services of government. It's a never ending expense that just goes up as the value of your home appreciates. They vary according to region. Looking at the property taxes for the home is important when your purchasing. Sometimes living in a different county can sometimes lower your taxes because of differing assessments.

Home Maintenance.
Renters are lucky because when the water heater breaks they just have to call their friendly landlord to fix it free. The home owner has to go through the expense of buying and paying to install a new one. Maintenance is a big factor in home ownership. The rule of thumb is to set aside 1% of your homes value for yearly repairs. On a $200,000 home, you will need $2,000 per year. I believe this is a low figure. I would estimate that 4% is the necessary amount needed for home maintenance, at least $8,000 per year for a $200,000 home.

Mortgage Interest.
Again renters win. Over the duration of a 30 year $200,000 mortgage at 5%, the home owner gets the privilege of paying over $200,000 in interest. The amount of interest depends on your interest rate and your duration of the loan. The benefit of paying interest is home owners receive a mortgage interest deduction on their tax return to ease the pain a little.

Homeowners Insurance.
Renters don't have to pay this expense, but they should carry renters insurance. Renters insurance covers the contents of the apartment. Home Insurance covers the structure itself and sometimes the mortgage payoff amount. If your home is lost to fire, flood or other disaster home owners insurance comes in to save the day and puts everything right again. Homeowners should yearly check their policies to see if they have replacement cost on their insurance, not just current value. The average insurance is $950. But if your living in a hurricane, tornado, or flood plane your insurance can be substantially higher.

Real Estate and Legal Fees.
When you rent you just leave a deposit and first months rent and you then get the keys. A home owner has to pay real estate agent fees, lawyer fees, title transfer fees, and closing costs when purchasing and selling a home, renters don't have any of these expenses.

It's understood that landlords pass on these fees to their tenants who rent. Yet landlords get the profit that comes when a home is sold. Even though a mortgage payment can be lower than a rental amount, many other things go into the finances of home ownership.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Your Perception Is Always 20-20 But Your Looking In The Wrong Direction

A tilia on a little hill in the valley of KesselImage via WikipediaIf you watch the TV on a regular basis, listen to the radio, or surf the Web you will hear and see that the economy is on the brink of collapse. Bad news seems to be in an ever abundance these days. From the tsunami in Japan, European economies on the brink, Medicare and Social Security in danger of failing, and our incredible debt; it can keep you up at night. Bring it down to your own situation. How's your personal economy?

We all are on different points on our life's path. Some are doing better than others. Personally, times our a little tough. My income is down and my expenses are continually rising. But for some, things are looking pretty good.

A friend of mine, ten years older than me, has recently retired. He has a pension from the state, a sizable investment portfolio, Social Security and Medicare. With all that, he lives very comfortably. His house and car are paid off and he has no debt. But the icing on the cake is he has been hired part time at $45 per hour in the same type of job he had before; and he can set his own schedule to work only when he wishes to. Not bad!

If I ask my friend how the economy is, he responds, "Pretty Good!". When we think about our personal economy we judge it by how well we are doing financially in our own lives. Our neighbor can be out of work and in foreclosure and it won't effect our perception. The neighbor's perception of the economy is that it's in the toilet and that he will be standing in a soup kitchen line any day now.

Perception is key here. It's hard to feel the pain of others, but easy to feel our own. What we all need to do is turn off the news and Internet. Get out a book, watch sports, go on a picnic, or just take a walk. Look around you and see a wonderful world. Visit your kids and shut the noise out. Get a hobby or just spend time with family. Soon you will see that your perception will change. You will see that things are not so bad and you will have the energy again to work through your problems.

In life, we walk a path of hills and valleys. For most now we are in a pretty deep valley. Valleys in the world usually never continue forever. By definition valleys are surrounded by hills and mountains. Soon we will be approaching the hills again, followed by mountains. It's going to take a while though.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

PerkStreet Financial Review - 2% Cash Back Debit Card with Free Checking

It"s tough these days to get a debit card with decent cash back. Many credit cards have great cash back reward programs but try to find that in a debit card. I try to avoid using a credit card usually. I would like to find a debit card that will satisfy the reward need. I have discovered that PerkStreet Financial can do just that.

How Does it Work?

You apply online and setup an initial transfer of funds from your bank account or credit card. Within a 2 weeks you receive your checks and ATM card. You can withdraw money at ATM's and write checks. To deposit money you can use the U.S. mail with free postage paid envelopes or use free overnight delivery by UPS Stores. You can also deposit funds electronically thorough direct deposit or online transfers. Also you can even deposit cash at 18,000 Moneygram ExpressPayment locations free of charge.

Do They Have ATM's?

PerkStreet has a network of over 37,000 ATM's. They have an online ATM locator. I found within a five mile radius of my home are 28 ATM's. They are located in Walgreens, Winn Dixies, 7-elevens or gas stations. I know these location and they are safe and most are open 24-hours a day. Compared to my bank that has only 4 ATM's within 5 miles.

Who Is PerkStreet Financial For?

  • People who like to pay for things with a debit card
  • They want to get the most rewards from a debit card
  • They prefer to bank online and the phone
  • They don't have the need to go to a brick and mortar building
  • They want the most free ATM's

What Are The Rewards?

1% cash back on all non-PIN* purchases if your checking balance is less than $5,000 at the start of the day.
2% cash back on all non-PIN* purchases if your checking balance is $5,000 or more at the start of the day.
5% cash back (called PowerPerks) on all non-PIN* purchases when you shop at select retailers announced on PerkStreet’s blog.
How can they afford to give such large rewards?

Because they spend no money maintaining physical branches they can pass the savings on to their customers. With no company owned ATM's they save even more money. Without spending money on buildings, large advertising campaigns and

Any Negatives?

If your account is inactive for 1 month there is a $4.50 charge per month.
The normal fees if you are over drawn or a returned item are the industry standard

Remember PerkStreet Financial accounts are FDIC insured up to $250,000 through Bancorp Bank, it's banking service provider.

How do I Contact PerkStreet Financial?

Email: support@myperkstreet.com
Telephone: 866.792.2834
Website: www.perkstreet.com
U.S. Mail: Customer Service Center
409 Silverside Road
Suite 105
Wilmington, DE 19809

Improve your financial life with the PerkStreet FinancialSM Debit MasterCard®. Save money, have fun and stay on budget with the only unlimited 2% cash back debit card. Don't miss out. Sign up today.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Need Help Paying For College, Try FastWeb.com They Will Help You Find A Scholarship

College tuition has just gotten more expensive for me. My daughter is currently starting her third year of college. She is studying Psychology and really likes it. I have been paying for it through FASFA, my money and the help from a grandparent. My problem is the grandparent has dropped out because of financial difficulties. To fill in the gap I started to look into scholarships. I never went down the road to scholarships before, but that's all changed now.

I came across a website called FastWeb.com. FastWeb.com has listings for 1.3 million scholarships worth over $3 billion. Before you can see the list of scholarships, you need to register. You are asked a lot of questions so you won't waste your time on scholarships that don't apply to you. You give them your email address the student's age, year in school, GPA, college major among other things and more.

This FastWeb.com service is provided to you free. The way they make their money is through advertising. While you fill out the information forms you are offered advertising for many non-academic sources like credit cards and contests. Ignore all that and press on. It will take you 10 to 15 minutes to complete the profile, but this will help you get better search results.

Once you finish registration, the website presents you with a list of scholarships that match your profile. The list contains the name of the scholarship, the amount, the deadline, type(whether they are scholarships, contests or require an essay). You can save your selections or mark those you don't want. 

FastWeb.com provided me with 25 potential scholarships. Some were straight scholarships, some were contests, promotions, grants, and essay contests. 

Fastweb.com list of features are:
  • Search for local, national and college-specific scholarships.
  • Personalized matching service.
  • Search and compare your options.
  • Tools and tips to help pay for college.
  • Jobs and internships for students.
  • Resources: articles and information.
  • College search.
  • For parents, students and educators.

There is a thorough customer service section which includes a FAQ. There is also an email address for questions.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Vanguard Lowers Minimum Initial Investment On Target Retirement Funds

Bogle on the cover of Common Sense on Mutual FundsImage via WikipediaVanguard Group Inc. has lowered the minimum initial investment for it's popular Target Retirement Fund series from $3,000 to $1,000, effective immediately. This is great news to the many people who have been held back from investing with Vanguard because of their $3,000 minimums. Previously only the Vanguard Star Fund had a $1,000 minimum.

Also Vanguard is standardizing the minimum investment for all it's Investor Shares funds to $3,000. Before the fund minimums ran from $3,000 to $25,000. This affects the minimums investment for 15 Vanguard funds, including Wellington Fund, Windsor Fund, and the Health Care Fund.

The problem I saw with Vanguard is that if you wanted to create your own balanced Index Fund portfolio with it's mutual funds, you need an initial investment of $3,000 for each fund. My suggested portfolio of Vanguard funds is a good balance for someone my age.

  • Vanguard's Total Stock Market Index 50%
  • Vanguard's Total Bond Index 20%
  • Vanguard's Total International Stock Index 30%

If I started from scratch I would need $9,000 to get started. A $3,000 minimum for each fund. The high minimums hold a lot of people back.

With the new lower minimum of only $1,000 I can buy the Vanguard Target Retirement 2025 Fund and get the same allocation and get started with only $1,000. Vanguard has made real progress with lowering the minimums on it's Target Retirement Funds. Many new and old investors will now not be held back and can now invest with Vanguard.

Here is a list of the funds with $1,000 minimum investments:

Vanguard Target Retirement 2010 Fund (VTENX)
Vanguard Target Retirement 2015 Fund (VTXVX)
Vanguard Target Retirement 2020 Fund (VTWNX)
Vanguard Target Retirement 2025 Fund (VTTVX)
Vanguard Target Retirement 2030 Fund (VTHRX)
Vanguard Target Retirement 2035 Fund (VTTHX)
Vanguard Target Retirement 2040 Fund (VFORX)
Vanguard Target Retirement 2045 Fund (VTIVX) 
Vanguard Target Retirement 2050 Fund (VFIFX)
Vanguard Target Retirement 2055 Fund (VFFVX)

Click Here To Go To Vanguard Target Retirement Funds

These Retirement funds are an easy way for new investors to get started in index mutual funds. Even seasoned investors will love the set it and forget it way Vanguard does the heavy lifting on asset allocation and rebalancing. With expense ratios being critical to a long term investment strategy, Vanguard comes through with expense ratios between 0.16% and 0.19%.

Vanguard, in reducing it's minimums, has improved it's prospects of attracting new investors who used to be unable to meet the higher minimums to start investing. But with a larger number of smaller accounts, it could be setting itself up for higher costs and turnarounds. That's why investors with larger accounts are charged lower fees.

This is the second major change in Vanguard's fee structure. In October, the company reduced fees for customers by lowering investment minimums needed to qualify for its lowest cost Admiral shares of mutual funds. The minimum for Admiral Shares dropped from $100,000 to $10,000.

These kind of changes do not effect your upper level investors. Both these changes by Vanguard are a benefit to the small and beginner investor. These customers are the ones that need this help. I'll be watching Vanguard for further innovative changes in the future.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

How To Avoid The Dreaded 6% Real Estate Commission

Picture of the "Gingerbread House" i...Image via WikipediaThe prices of homes may rise and fall, and housing bubbles may grow and and bust, but one little number continues to live on, the 6 percent real estate commission.

I grew up in the real estate and home building business and I have heard many, many times the irritation the 6% commission can cause. I would hear my father and grandfather complain every time they had to pay this fee. Whether the home sold for $25,000 or $250,000, it didn't matter.

It's a lot of money to pay for a service when margins can be very slim. Over the years there has been many negotiations, with brokers, to try and get it lowered. Some agents remain firm in their belief that the 6% commission is fair and well earned compensation for providing a necessary service. Real Estate offices have expenses and overhead. They pay for promotion and advertising. The legwork, phone calls, paper work, and negotiations use up a lot of time and money. Still, there are alternatives.
  • Before settling in on an agent ask if they will accept a lower commission, maybe 3 or 4 percent. Even a reduction to 5% would save you a lot of money.
  • If the buyer does not have an agent, your selling agent does not have to split the commission, so they may be more inclined to reduce their commission. Of course, negotiate this point before hand.
  • If the agent that sells your home will also help you find another home to purchase you will be able to negotiate a even lower commission because of two home sales.
  • Most real estate offices are quite large and must split the commission with the broker or even a home office, in case of it being a large franchise company. So it would be a good idea to find a smaller real estate company that would be more willing to take a reduced commission.
  • Find a real estate office that will list your home for a flat rate. If your willing to do all the work in selling your home you could find a company that will just put your home listing in a multiple listing service. Companies that offer fewer services may just be willing to charge you a couple hundred dollars for using the Multiple Listing Service(MLS).
  • If you have a real estate license for your state, whether you are buying or selling, you are entitled to half the commission. Check this for your own state. 
  • Sometimes the negotiation process is at an impasse, it may break the impasse if the broker takes a percent off his commission to entice the seller to close the deal. 

There are many ways to get around the 6% commission. There are many real estate offices willing because of the tough times to take a cut in commission just to make a sale. The way to get this right is to shop around until you find a broker willing to take a reduced commission.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Proposed Changes to the Mortgage Interest Deduction - Can You Live Without It?

Sign of a mortgage centre in East LondonImage via WikipediaOur friends in Washington are talking about limiting or eliminating the mortgage interest deductions. This could be disastrous to people who bought a house counting on using that deduction. This would change the equation for many families who would have to pay much more in taxes. What would be the affect on the already down housing market, would it send it even further downward?

I don't think the politicians would have the courage or political will to eliminate a deduction most home owners count on. The mortgage interest deduction is the largest deductions that people use on their tax return. But I think they will do a little tinkering with it in the years to come.

I believe the congress does feel safe to cut the deductions on the extremely rich. Today, the deduction does have limits. You only can clain mortgage deductions on mortgages up to $1,000,000. It's proposed to move that limit down to $500,000. In most of the U.S. the average house sells for $200,000, so the change wouldn't effect many people. But on the West Coast, the average house price is $600,000, so many non-rich families would be effected.

Still another proposal would eliminate the deduction all together and just issue mortgage holders a tax credit.

What To Do?

If you have a mortgage of $500,000, it looks like your safe. The deduction probably won't change but if it does, it will probably turn into some type of credit.

If you have a mortgage of more than $500,000 you may lose some of your normal deductions. You may be wise to pay down your mortgage to get you under the upper limit. On the bright side, this changing of the deduction might encourage homeowners to buy a less expensive home so as to live more within their means.

Will Renters Be effected?

If the mortgage deduction is reduced will landlords pass on the extra taxes paid, onto the tenants? Here the congress has a way to fix that problem and that is to pay the renter a renters credit to off set the additional rent charge. But hopefully the coming changes would not effect investment property.

My normal interest paid on my mortgage comes to $10,000 per year. It's my largest deduction and any change would increase how much taxes I pay.

Who Is Pushing the Hardest Against This Change?

The "NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTOR" is up in arms concerning this proposal. They claim it will drive down home prices by 15%. This drop in home values will also cause a drop in property taxes collected, thus harming local and state services. So even non-home owners will suffer from this reduction in the deduction.

We all are used to this healthy tax deduction. We all save quite a bit of money every year. The deduction is a great incentive to buying a home and even a second or vacation home. But reducing it seems to be the wave of the future. I remember when they eliminated the credit card interest deduction. The sky was supposed to fall then, it didn't. We survived and don't even miss it now or remember it. This is what will happen with the mortgage deduction, we will survive.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Toyota Giving College Graduates $1,000 Rebate On New Toyota Lease Or Purchase

NEW YORK - JANUARY 21:  A Toyota logo sign is ...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeIt's that time of year again when we are seeing many students graduating from college. As the new graduates enter the real world, a world where they are starting new jobs and money is tight. They are being offered a little extra help from our friends over at Toyota Motor Sales. Toyota Motor Sales is offering qualified college graduates a $1,000 rebate toward the purchase or lease of a new Toyota vehicle. The vehicles include the Corolla, Matrix, RAV4, Camry (excludes Camry hybrid), Tacoma and Yaris and all new Scion models when financed or leased through a participating Toyota dealer.

This promotion is being coupled with the College Graduate Finance Program (applicable for all new Toyota/Lexus/Scion models) which offers highly competitive APR/lease terms and features. The features included with this deal are: 

  • No money down and no monthly payments for the first 90 days on select finance programs
  • Security deposit waiver for lease
  • Toyota Care: a 2-year/25,000 mile complimentary maintenance plan with roadside assistance
  • The College Graduate Rebate Program for Toyota and Scion vehicles ends Jan. 3, 2012 and is available to qualified customers who graduated within the last two years, or will graduate within the next six months

What are the Conditions to qualify?

  • Get that degree! To take advantage of the program you must:
  • Have graduated from an accredited four-year college, university, or registered nursing degree program during the last two years or graduate from such a school/program within the next six months, or
  • Have graduated from an accredited two-year college during the last two years, or
  • Be enrolled in an accredited graduate degree program or have received a degree from an accredited graduate program during the last two years, or
  • Have graduated during the last two years from the two-year Toyota Technical Education Network (T-TEN) Program or any other two-year post secondary automotive program accredited by the NATEF, or
  • Have completed an electrician apprenticeship/cert. program during the last two years through NJATC and IBEW.
  • Get a job! Show proof of present employment, or future employment with a start date within 120 days of your purchase contract date. TFS must deem your salary sufficient to cover living expenses and vehicle payments.
  • Minor credit lapses allowed! All obligations paid within 60 days or less of the due date and cannot have charge-offs totaling more than $1,000 in the past 24 months.
  • On approved credit through participating Toyota dealers and Toyota Financial Services. Not all applicants will qualify. Terms, conditions and restrictions apply.
This sounds like a major good deal for the new graduates to take advantage of. There are a lot of hoops to jump through but it seems like a good incentive. Remember, this deal is on top of whatever initial deal you make with the dealer.

To find a dealer or to learn more, visit www.toyotafinancial.com/collegegrad or www.scion.com/college.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Credit Sesame Review: A Better Way

I like to check my credit score on line several times during the year. I usually go through the free website AnnualCreditReport.Com. The three main credit reporting companies Experion, Equifax and Transunion are accessible from the web site. Every 4 months I stop by and get my credit report, using a different company. This is great for getting your credit report but not getting your credit score. These companies will give you your credit score but it's not free, there is an additional charge.
I have been reading about a new website that can give you your credit score for free it's a site called CreditSesame.com. I went over and I signed up. Signing up is not hard at all. You enter some simple personal information and also your social security number. They access your credit file and ask some basic questions to verify you and your information.

After you sign up you will get your free credit score from Experian. It's not your FICO score, it's Experian's own "National Equivalency Score". It' is usually within a few points of your actual FICO score.

What Else Can Credit Sesame Do For You?

By using your credit score they can match you up with loans you can qualify for. Using other services will also give a list of loans you can apply for, but Credit Sesame will only offer you loans you will qualify for according to your credit profile. The idea being that a lower interest loan will help you pay off debt faster. Even over time, if you want, Credit Sesame will monitor your credit score and send you more information about loans when it becomes available. If you own a home it keeps tabs on its appraisal value to better match you up with refinance offers.

In the goals section your profile is used to help you minimalize your costs for your debts. If your goal is to save money Credit Sesame will offer alternate ways to pay your debt or refinance it.

In the Advice section, Credit Sesame will give you a range of scenarios on how paying your debts and loans will shorten the duration and costs of repayment. All to save you money.

How does Credit Sesame make any money if they are not charging me a fee?

In the About Section, they say that they are paid a fee if I use their site to apply for a loan and that they will not offer me any loans I can not qualify for.

What I like About Credit Sesame.

I like to stay on top of my finances and at Credit Sesame you can see all your loans, credit and debt in one place. Plus you get your credit score for free. It may not be my FICO score but it is better than paying a monthly fee for it. It's a good tool and it gives you a snapshot of your credit rating and debt. Even if you don’t end up getting a new loan, it’s a good overview and a free credit score, so check it out.

Click Here To Sign Up For Your Free Credit Sesame Account Today

Friday, May 6, 2011

TV Watching Choices Are Changing

Image representing Netflix as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBaseIf you can remember the days of 3 networks and black & white TV you are old. Before the days of the remote control, TV viewing choices were few. I remember those were the days where you watch one channel all night. There wasn't anything like channel surfing like we have today. If you were like me, you were to lazy to get up to change the channel. That's all over today.

Today our TV watching choices are throught he roof. We have DVR's, DVD's, Blue-Ray, HBO, TNT, ESPN, OnDemand, Pay-Per-View, HULU, and YouTube. We have more channels and more content to keep us busy. The delivery systems for all this content are also changing to. We can record TV for watching at a more convient time. We have web services that allow us to watch new network programing on demand whenever we want. We aren't forced to show up at a certain time to catch our favorite show.

As time goes by, everyones love for TV continues to grow. They love it. It's their companion, advisor, time killer, necessity, educator, social life enabler, child-minder, boredom-buster, stress-fighter, lullaby, and low-maintenance friend, among other things. It is little wonder that even in the era of the PC and the cell phone, the TV is one of the first pieces of technology most consumers purchase. Each year 1.3 billion households (source: Euromonitor) around the world watch an estimated 2,464 hours of television (source: Nielsen). This equates to a total of 3.9 trillion hours of television viewing each year! Significantly, the total time spent watching TV is still 25-times greater than the 156 billion hours people spent using the Internet in 2007 (source: Comscore 2007).

In the near future, traditional video and broadcast TV programming will begin to share screen space with a spectrum of personalized information, entertainment and social networking services, in addition to original content such as family videos and photos. The arrival of Internet-based programming and interactive IP-based services on TV will challenge the industry to find new ways to blend novel Internet-based usages into a seamless whole with traditional TV. Moreover, models of interaction must be transparent, with push-button ease-of-use.

With all these TV choices 2 candidates stand out. Hulu Plus and Netflix. First Netflix.


Netflix completely revolutionized the DVD rental space when it debuted more than a decade ago. Over the last few years, the company has exerted more of its energies and resources into becoming the most visible subscription streaming service.

Featuring one of the largest streaming content libraries and capturing subscribers by the millions, Netflix is one of the big players in the streaming media space.

PC/Mac Access: Yes, using a web browser (requires Microsoft Silverlight), Windows 7 Media Center, Plex, orBoxee.

Mobile Device Support: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad and Windows Phone 7. Android is coming soon.

Connected Device Support: Roku, TiVo, the new Apple TV, Google TV, PS3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii and countless HDTV sets, Blu-ray players and other devices.

Price: Streaming only plans start at $7.99 a month

Selection: Netflix has an ever-expanding selection of TV shows and movies and the company has made it clear it isn’t afraid to open up its wallet to bring more streaming content to its compatible devices.

Our Take: At this point, one has to make an effort to find a new TV, Blu-ray player or set-top box that doesn't support Netflix. This, coupled with the new low-cost streaming only plan and the ever-increasing content library makes Netflix a winner. HD quality isn’t as sharp as on some other services and title availability can change without notice, but for catalog TV titles and a good selection of new and old films, Netflix is a winner.


When Hulu first hit the scene back in 2007, many scoffed at the idea that streaming TV shows in a web browser could work. If you ask Hulu’s backers — News Corp., NBC Universal, Disney and Providence Equity Partners — it’s possible Hulu has worked too well.

Hulu Plus was conceived as a way to not only monetize Hulu, but also provide a better selection of catalog content and official support for mobile devices, televisions and set-top boxes.

Hulu Plus only officially launched a few months ago, but already the company says it is having a positive impact on its bottom line.

PC/Mac Access: Yes, via Hulu.com and the Hulu Desktop application.

Mobile Device Support: iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. Android support for select Android 2.2 devices is coming soon.

Connected Device Support: Roku, PlayStation 3, TiVo Premiere (soon), Xbox 360 (soon) and select HDTV and Blu-ray players from Vizio, LG, Panasonic, Sony, Haier and Samsung.

Price: $7.99 a month.

Selection: Good selection of current TV shows and some movies. Hulu Plus doesn’t feature every title from the regular Hulu.com, but it does feature more episodes of certain series, full back catalogs for some classic shows and offers users access to 720p streaming content for compatible programming. Many (but not all) Hulu Plus programs are served ad free.

My Take: Hulu Plus is a great choice for users who watch a lot of television, especially current shows. There is a significant amount of overlap between the content offered by Hulu Plus and Netflix, but Hulu wins for current episodes of hit TV shows. The iPad and iPhone apps are great and a growing number of devices are gaining Hulu Plus support. It’s worth checking out on your PC or Mac and is a good feature to look for when buying a connected TV, Blu-ray player or set-top box.

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