How to Achieve a More Meaningful Retirement

June is International Childhood Cancer Awareness Month – a designation for most people to, if nothing else, take stock in the good fortune they and their families have enjoyed, and consider contributing something for charitable purposes.

“It’s a news story that never gets old: the little kid suffering from cancer who runs in a touchdown and gets a standing ovation, or is recognized by an entire city as Batman for a day, or the little girls who dress up for prom night because, tragically, they may not make it to high school,’’ says independent retirement advisor Gary Marriage, Jr.

“Retirees, who’ve lived full, mostly blessed lives, often wish they could do something for these children or another cause that touches their heart.”

Marriage, CEO of Nature Coast Financial Advisors (www.naturecoastfinancial.com), which specializes in maximizing retirees’ finances, says charitable efforts can provide a powerful sense of purpose and meaning to life – whether they come in retirement or during the working years. Marriage, for instance, is founder of Operation: Veteran Aid, which helps veterans and their surviving spouses with long-term care expenses by qualifying them with the Department of Veteran Affairs’ Aid and Attendance benefit.

He reviews four reasons why retirees should explore charitable giving.

•  Voluntary vs. involuntary philanthropy: At the federal level, you can zero out your estate taxes by diverting what would have gone to the government in favor of your chosen cause. In a real sense, the government is a sort of charity; Through taxes, a citizen’s money goes into the social capital funnel. If you’re worried your tax money isn’t being spent wisely, consider a legitimate charity that you would like to support. There are legal leveraging techniques that can be used to make your taxed income skew more voluntary than involuntary.

•  Smart from the heart giving: Each year, Americans give about $300 billion to charity. Like any investment, carefully consider to whom you’re giving; ask plenty of questions. Also, think about giving to underfunded charities. Finally, make your money go further by donating your time and skills to the charity. You’ll likely experience even greater satisfaction when you combine a donation of money and effort.

•  The rewarding knowledge of your will: Only about 40 percent of Americans have this important legal document, which covers your estate’s executor, guardians for children and how to distribute your estate. A fourth component is gifts, which enables you to identify people or organizations to whom you wish to give gifts of money or specific possessions, such as jewelry or a car.

•  Perspective on your money: Many people say, “…but I’m not Bill Gates or Warren Buffett – let those guys give their money away.” In fact, there are many “middle-class millionaires” – those who live modestly in middle-income neighborhoods, who have a net worth of $1 million or more. “These folks have saved money their entire lives, and they don’t donate money easily,” Marriage says. “However, others in their same situation have donated some of their estate and found it among the most rewarding acts they’ve ever done.”

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2014. All rights reserved.

Top Kitchen Design Tips

Kitchens remain a top remodeling project in 2014, according to the Member Profile Study done by the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI), in time for National Home Improvement Month this May. Eighty-two percent of NARI members identify kitchens as its No. 1 service.

This year, the association’s 2014 CotY Awards program, which recognizes top projects in 25 categories, totaled nearly $73 million worth of remodeling projects and identified national trends emerging, especially in the areas of kitchen updates.

“Consumers want practical, comfortable kitchens that are efficient to use and easy to live in.” says Tom O’Grady, CR, CKBR, chairman of NARI’s Strategic Planning. “Bigger isn’t better, but homeowners still want a feeling of space, and open concept and islands are still part of kitchen trends in 2014.”

Improving the overall look and feel of the kitchen was most often cited as the main motivating factor by homeowners for remodeling, followed by improving function on the CotY entries.

Lighting:
The continuing trend of fewer upper cabinets in the kitchen creates more space for decorative task lighting, often on adjustable arms that gives the option to have the light directed where it is needed most. Decorative task fixtures in black, iron and aged brass finishes make a statement. Other trends include:

  • Pendant lights over kitchen islands continue to be a great opportunity to bring style into the mix.
  • Chandeliers in kitchens add a pretty and an unexpected sparkle and can soften up the hard lines and smooth surfaces of appliances and countertops below.
  • An oversized lightening fixture becomes a focal point in an otherwise plain room.
  • Under cabinet lights, controlled by a dimmer, provide ambiance.

Built-in cabinetry that looks like furniture

Mixing and layering finishes and woods to create a custom look is another key trend, as is built-in accent cabinets that act as framework for the rest of the cabinetry.  These cabinets, often designed tall and narrow with glass fronts provide the look of a built-in china cabinet to showcase collectables. In general, upper cabinets are less popular because they stop the line of sight, especially to backyard garden views.

  • Appliances are subtly hidden behind the cabinetry for a clean, streamlined appearance.
  • Colorful kitchen cabinetry has made a big comeback. Palettes using and mixing blues,
  • orange, browns or greens countering neutral white, wood or dark finishes are providing
  • kitchen flair.
  • Dramatic contrasts of light cabinets and dark countertops provide visual impact.

Wine storage

  • With the explosion in the wine market over the past few decades, wine is becoming more of a lifestyle choice and factoring into kitchen designs.
  • Dedicated “butler” areas for entertaining, sampling and sharing wine with guests are very popular, allowing the cook the opportunity to socialize while doing food prep.
  • Integrated wine coolers, an answer to tight kitchen spaces, are nestled into cabinetry along with wine racks to showcase a homeowners’ collection.

If you’re planning a home renovation project this year, consider incorporating some of these trends to update your kitchen. Before construction gets under way, consult with a professional remodeler about the renovation projects you have planned.

Source: http://www.NARI.org

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2014. All rights reserved.

Fixed Mortgage Rates Hold Near Record Lows

Freddie Mac recently released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing average fixed mortgage rates down slightly and hovering just above their record lows as markets waited for the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy announcement. The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.88 percent and has been below 4 percent all but one week in 2012. The 15-year fixed, a popular refinancing choice, averaged 3.12 percent.

Additional details from the PMMS include:
-30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.88 percent with an average 0.7 point for the week ending April 26, 2012, down from last week when it averaged 3.90 percent. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.78 percent.
-15-year FRM this week averaged 3.12 percent with an average 0.6 point, down from last week when it averaged 3.13 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.97 percent.
-5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.85 percent this week, with an average 0.6 point, up from last week when it averaged 2.78 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.51 percent.
-1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.74 percent this week with an average 0.6 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.81 percent. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 3.15 percent.

Source: Freddie Mac

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The Home Team

Air Travel on the Rise in 2012 as Americans Flock to the Skies

TripAdvisor®, one of the world’s largest travel sites, recently announced the results of its annual air travel survey of more than 1,000 U.S. respondents. Americans are flocking to the skies this year as 91 percent of respondents said they plan to fly domestically in 2012, compared to 84 percent that did last year. International flights are also on the rise, with 65 percent planning a flight out of the country, up from 55 percent in 2011.

Mobile Use Takes Off
There has been a significant increase in mobile device usage for air travel among survey respondents.

-Nearly half of all fliers now use a smartphone to check flight status, up from 30 percent in last year’s survey.
-30 percent report using a device to check-in to a flight, up from 17 percent.
-Use of tablets and iPads in-flight are up 15 percent, with more than one in four travelers now calling theirs a carry-on essential.

Fliers seem skeptical about the need to shut off their beloved mobile devices.

-58 percent question whether shutting off electronic devices during takeoff and landing is really necessary.
-40 percent can remember a time when they’ve left their devices on during flight (accidentally or intentionally).

Anti-social in the Air
When it comes to flying, the majority of travelers have no interest in socializing.

-76 percent of travelers prefer to keep to themselves while in-flight.
-Only 9 percent expressed interest in trying a “social seating” program that allows fliers to choose a seatmate based on social network profiles.
-40 percent would pay extra to sit in a designated “quiet” section of the plane.

Not even a presidential candidate could get some fliers to come out of their shell: 33 percent would not choose to sit next to Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, or Newt Gingrich, if given the opportunity.

Calling for More Comfort
Twenty-two percent of survey participants don’t enjoy a single thing about air travel, and most travelers cite legroom and seat comfort (or lack thereof) as their biggest complaint.

-41 percent believe that more legroom is the biggest improvement airlines can make, with 30 percent citing more comfortable seating. However, 71 percent aren’t willing to pay for extra legroom on domestic flights less than four hours long.
-On flights longer than four hours, however, 35 percent would shell out $25 for more legroom.

Frequent Flier Favorites
Travelers like their frequent flier programs and, when it comes to booking, brand does matter.

-52 percent subscribe to frequent flier programs and find them valuable.
-58 percent say the brand of airline is important when considering which flight to book.
-15 percent say that racking up frequent flier miles is the most enjoyable thing about air travel.
-Of the 20 percent of fliers who order an alcoholic drink on-board, 42 percent favor wine.
-Singapore Airlines tops most people’s wish lists, with 17 percent saying they haven’t yet flown with this global carrier but would like to.

Top 5 Favorite U.S. Airports:
1. Orlando International Airport, Fla.
2. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Ga.
3. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Texas
4. San Francisco International Airport, Calif.
5. Charlotte Douglas International Airport, N.C.

Additional Air Travel Tidbits
-More than half plan to participate in TSA’s pre-check program.
-The three most popular months for air travel this year are May, October and September.
-27 percent would choose one airline over another if the flight offered Wi-Fi.
-45 percent are concerned that rising gas prices will cause air fares to increase, so they plan to book travel plans early.
-43 percent consider airplanes to be the most germ-laden travel location, more so than hotel rooms and public transportation.

“As air travel becomes more stressful, fliers flock to mobile technology,” says Bryan Saltzburg, general manager of TripAdvisor Flights. “In-flight Wi-Fi, powerful new mobile devices and other tech carry-on essentials allow fliers to create a more relaxing and enjoyable flying experience.”

Source: TripAdvisor

Survey Shows Consumer Attitudes More Positive

A new survey shows that Americans’ concerns about key economic and housing issues are beginning to subside. Fannie Mae’s February 2012 National Housing Survey shows that consumer attitudes have stabilized across most indicators—including personal finances, housing, and employment—compared to late summer and fall of 2011. The survey polls 1,003 Americans via telephone interview to assess their attitudes toward owning and renting a home, mortgage rates, homeownership distress, the economy, household finances, and overall consumer confidence. Homeowners and renters are asked more than 100 questions used to track attitudinal shifts.

 

The survey shows that the most dramatic change revolves around the economy—35 percent of Americans now feel that the economy is on the right track, up 19 percentage points since November, and 57 percent think the economy is on the wrong track, down 18 percentage points since November.

 

Americans’ confidence about personal financial situations, household income, and household expenses, as well as attitudes about homeownership and renting is holding at steady levels. Also important to note, Americans’ concerns about losing their job in the next 12 months has stabilized since the late fall, with 76 percent of Americans saying they are not concerned in February 2012, compared to 70 percent in November 2011. Fannie Mae believes that the recent pick-up in the pace of hiring over the past few months is directly responsible for alleviating consumer concerns about unemployment.

 

Here are some additional highlights from this important survey:

Only 12 percent of respondents believe that their personal financial situation will worsen in the next 12 months, a 3 percentage point drop from January and the lowest value in over a year.

33 percent say their expenses have increased significantly over the past 12 months, a 3 percentage point decrease from last month and the lowest level in the past 12 months.

28 percent of respondents expect home prices to increase over the next 12 months (consistent with last month), while 15 percent say they expect home prices to decline (down 1 percentage point since last month).

10 percent of Americans say that mortgage rates will go down in the next 12 months, a 2 percentage point increase from last month.

The percentage of respondents who say it is a good time to sell rose by 3 percentage points to 13 percent, the highest level in over a year.

45 percent of respondents think that home rental prices will go up, a 2 percentage point increase from last month.

 

Published with permission from RISMedia.