Kerry Ziegler
Phone:  215-679-6877Office:  215-679-9797
Email:  kzhomes@comcast.netFax:  267-354-6922
Kerry Ziegler
Kerry Ziegler

My Blog

Growing Credit Card Debt Encouraging for Economy

August 7, 2015 2:01 am

Americans are showing signs of recovery from the Great Recession by steadily increasing their credit card debt, according to data from a recent National Consumer Credit Trends report released by Equifax. The rate of growth for credit card debt more than doubled year-over-year in many of the metro areas hit hardest by the housing market crash, and more than tripled in other less affected cities. Total credit card debt jumped five percent to $634 billion.

“Every major market has seen increases in credit card debt, even those cities where the housing market issues are not completely resolved,” says Assad Lazarus, interim unit leader of Equifax Personal Information Solutions. “This shows that American consumers are more confident about their financial futures, and that means the U.S. economy has entered an expansion mode.”

Source: Equifax

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Mortgage Rates Trickle Down

August 7, 2015 2:01 am

As uncertainty about the economy pushes Treasury yields lower, average fixed mortgage rates have moved down for the third week in a row, according to the recent Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®). Dipping just below four percent, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.91 percent with an average 0.6 point. The 15-year FRM averaged 3.13 percent, also with an average 0.6 point.

In addition, the 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.95 percent with an average 0.4 point. The 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.54 percent with an average 0.3 point.

Source: Freddie Mac

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Home Damaged by Flood? Test for Airborne Pollutants

August 7, 2015 2:01 am

Homes damaged by floodwaters can present issues long after storms end. Depending on the extent of flooding, homes can be left with damp floors, walls or even ceilings containing potentially harmful pollutants and microorganisms, say the experts at indoor environmental quality firm Pure Air Control Services.

“Receding floodwaters are typically tainted with sewage and other toxins, which can contain a number of harmful microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria, protozoa, molds and other detrimental pollutants,” says Pure Air Control Services’ Francisco Aguirre. “Mold and bacteria can begin growing within 24 to 48 hours following flood and rainwater damage.”

Even structures that appear unaffected by floodwaters could contain microorganisms that have propagated in small spaces invisible to the naked eye. Microbial remediation may be required if the flood has caused discoloration in the walls or behind flooring or carpets, says Aguirre. Environmental concerns associated with this damage include E. coli, salmonella, listeria, fungi and bacteria – all of which can be carried through the air in the home.

To determine the presence of harmful pollutants following a flood, residents and property owners should have a professional perform a health check. The specialist will conduct an assessment to detect elevated moisture levels, humidity, temperatures and microbial count.

Another option is purchasing an at-home do-it-yourself indoor environmental air quality test kit, like those available through IndoorAirTest.com.

"At-home test kits that are evaluated in a laboratory can help individuals assess flood damage to their home or business, as well as the potential health risks that may be lurking in their walls, flooring, cabinetry or carpets," says Aguirre. "This is a small price to pay for peace of mind, and a safe and healthy environment."

Source: Pure Air Control Services

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10 Ways to Take the Stress Out of Back-to-School Shopping

August 6, 2015 12:00 am

(Family Features) For busy families, back-to-school season is not without its share of stressors. Ease the back-to-school burden on your household with these shopping tips designed to simplify the year ahead.

1. Take stock of your inventory. School lists often carry over each school year, so make sure you aren't buying multiples of things you already own. Some supplies are more exciting when refreshed every year, but buying the same ruler year after year is simply a waste of money.

2. Make a list with your children.
Put everything you need on that list, and be clear that once the list is done, it's done. Having everyone on the same page with a complete list helps ensure nothing vital is forgotten, and the list can serve as a handy tool to keep your budget in check.

3. Begin shopping as early as possible.
Hunt bargains before the traditional back-to-school season to get the best deals. Not only will you save some cash, you will have a wider selection to choose from. Spreading the shopping over several weeks also allows you to distribute the expense across several pay periods, lessening the chance of blowing your monthly budget.

4. Shop online.
Sign up for email alerts from your go-to retailers so you'll be in the know when the best deals hit. Many stores now offer online-only specials, so watch ads closely to know when you're better served making purchases in-store or online. Keep an eye out for free or reduced shipping for extra savings. You might also rely on social media to follow back-to-school offers and hashtags.

5. Put quality ahead of price.
While it's tempting to go for cheap when your list is long, remember that sometimes quality buys actually save more in the long run. You can buy a ton of cheap pens that skip, or simply stop working, for example, when you’ll be better served buying ones of higher quality.

6. Make your children shopping buddies.
Involve your kids in the back-to-school shopping process by giving them a budget. Help them allocate money for all the expenses, including clothing, school supplies, shoes and more. Use the opportunity to talk about how shopping smart for the necessities can leave room for some fun buys, too.

7. Reduce and reuse.
Save plastic and money by encouraging kids to embrace reusable items, such as lunch bags in place of paper sacks and plastic containers instead of sandwich bags. If water bottles are allowed at school, look for a durable, refillable option that can be used again and again.

8. Make the old new again.
Turn barely used items into something new. Keep leftover supplies on hand to revive your child’s enthusiasm with fresh designs at the end of the quarter or semester.

9. Swap with other parents.
Make back-to-school time more fun by hosting a swap event with other parents for clothing, backpacks, shoes, etc.

10. Create a back-up bin at home.
You may find your kids consistently run out of certain items midyear. Devote a special area of your home to keep extras in stock, and take advantage of sales during back-to-school season or buy in bulk to get a better price.

Source: ZebraPen.com

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The Longevity of Home Systems and Appliances

August 6, 2015 12:00 am

Beyond sale price, there are many factors to consider when purchasing an existing home. One of the most important considerations for homebuyers of existing homes is the cost of maintenance, repair and replacement of major home systems and appliances, according to the National Home Service Contract Association (NHSCA).

Take for example an air conditioning system. Most A/C systems have a life expectancy of 10 to 15 years. If you are considering the purchase of a home that is over 15 years old, with the original system, you could be living on borrowed time.

The following is a list of average life spans for many of the home systems and appliances in your home:

• Tankless Water Heater – 20 years
• Heat Pumps – 16 years
• HVAC System – 15 to 20 years
• Furnace – 15 to 20 years
• Gas Ranges – 15 years
• Dryers – 13 years
• Refrigerators – 13 years
• Air Conditioning – 10 to 15 years
• Garage Doors – 10 to 15 years
• Washers – 10 years
• Dishwashers – 9 years
• Microwave Ovens – 9 years
• Compactors – 6 years

Many of these major systems can be covered by home service contracts that provide repair or even replacement. At an average range of $350 to $500 for a 12-month period, these contracts typically cover items such as heating systems, interior plumbing, electrical systems, water heaters, dishwashers and garbage disposals. Other items such as pools, spas and septic tanks may be added at an additional fee.

Source: NHSCA

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5 Reasons to Buy a Prefab Home

August 6, 2015 12:00 am

Prefabricated by skilled craftspeople in an efficient, controlled setting, systems-built homes can offer numerous benefits to homeowners. According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), systems-built homes include modular, panelized, concrete, log and timber homes, and can save homeowners a significant amount of time and money on construction.

Not convinced? Here, the NAHB outlines five reasons to buy prefab.

1. Building homes in a factory setting allows for more consistent quality due to uniform construction processes, training techniques and inspections. Homes are built in a controlled factory environment, making weather delays an all but eliminated thing of the past, which saves the owner both time and money. In fact, custom modular homes are often move-in ready in about two-thirds the time needed for a comparable custom site-built home.

2. Prefab houses are extremely strong. Because they have to withstand the rigors of transporting the home from the factory to the onsite location, they are often built with materials above and beyond what's mandated for site construction. This added strength translates into a solid structure once assembled and a home that's more likely to withstand a natural disaster.

3. Systems-built homes are often more tightly built and thus more energy-efficient, which can result in lower heating and cooling costs for the home owner.

4. Systems-built homes score high on the green-building scale because material waste is significantly reduced both in the factory and the job site. Assembly in an enclosed indoor environment allows them to fulfill some key components of green building certifications, including the ICC 700 National Green Building Standard.

5. While most manufacturers have a portfolio of home plans to choose from, computer-assisted design (CAD) allows limitless design and customization possibilities when planning your new systems-built home.

Source: NAHB

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Think Twice about Vacation Spending

August 5, 2015 1:57 am

Credit cards are taking a backseat to other preferable forms of payment this summer, especially when it comes to financing a vacation. According to a recent National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®) poll, more people prefer to enjoy a vacation with their own cash or debit cards – not credit.

“It is natural to be concerned about overspending when planning a vacation,” says NFCC Vice President of Public Relations and External Affairs Bruce McClary. “While using cash or a debit card is a great way to avoid going into debt, there are some additional considerations that should be made before making them the only options for travel.”



While many banks and credit unions have improved security options for debit cards, the fact remains that lost or stolen cards can give thieves access to drain checking and savings accounts quickly. Liability for charges depends on when the card is reported lost or stolen, and can vary depending on the card issuer. For example, maximum cardholder liability for reporting three days after learning about a card loss or theft can be $500.

There is also the matter of how long it takes the financial institution to replace the money that was used for unauthorized charges. If vacationing with a debit card, it is best to have fast access to the card issuer’s fraud center and a very secure place to store the card.

Traveling with cash is an even riskier proposition, since the stakes get higher as the amount carried increased. Most would have better luck winning the lottery than recovering stolen cash while far from home. If having cash in hand is necessary, avoid withdrawing large sums at a single time and be conservative about the amount carried when out on the town.



Using a debit card to withdraw cash from an ATM can come at a high premium when traveling. Transactions that are conducted outside of the issuer’s network can be expensive. Although the average transaction fee is over $4, these can be higher or lower depending on the location. The best way to avoid these extra charges is to check with the card issuer to see if there are any low or no cost options for withdrawing cash at your destination. They may have an arrangement with other teller machine networks for free and convenient withdrawals. If there are no ways around the ATM fees, cut costs by limiting the number of withdrawals.



If using a debit card to reserve hotel rooms or refuel the camper van, be aware that there could be a hold placed on the card beyond the amount of the purchase. If the balance of the debit card is not enough to accommodate the hold, it could result in overdraft fees or possible point of sale rejection.



There are also problems that may arise when using a debit card to book a rental car, since many companies will only accept credit as a form of payment. Those that do accept a debit card may require customers to authorize a credit check and may also place a hold on the debit card being used.



With these points in mind, it may be worth taking a credit card along for the ride in case there are times when it would be a better payment option. The key to staying out of the red is to pay all charges as soon as possible, preferably before the end of the current billing cycle.



Responsible use of a credit card while traveling can reward users in many ways, with redeemable points for purchases and possibly a few points toward a better credit rating.



Source: NFCC

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Home Improvement Spending Picking Up

August 5, 2015 1:57 am

With the economy looking up, recent LIRA projections anticipate more homeowners will spend on remodeling projects through early next year, with growth accelerating four percent. LIRA, or the Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity, is released by the Remodeling Futures Program at the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.

“A major driver of the anticipated growth in remodeling spending is the recent pick-up in home sales activity,” says Joint Center Managing Director Chris Herbert. “Recent homebuyers typically spend about a third more on home improvements than non-movers, even after controlling for any age or income differences, so increasing sales this year should translate to stronger improvement spending gains next year.”

“Other signals of strengthening remodeling activity include sustained growth in retail sales of home improvement products and ongoing gains in house prices across much of the country,” explains Abbe Will, a research analyst in the Remodeling Futures Program. “Rising home prices means rising home equity, which should encourage improvement spending by a growing number of owners.”

Source: Joint Center for Housing Studies

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Splurge vs. Save: Designing a High-End Kitchen

August 5, 2015 1:57 am

(BPT) – It’s no secret good design can enhance your daily life, especially in the heart of the home: your kitchen. In fact, 98 percent of respondents to a recent Dwell survey were willing to pay more for premium items that bring a high-end, functional kitchen design vision to life. But choosing between splurging on those items and saving money on the backend can be challenging. Where do you draw the line?

In conceptualizing and creating a high-end kitchen, renowned designer Nate Berkus recommends dishing on a well-made marble countertop.

“It’s such a classic piece but also very durable, meaning it will still look great for years to come, which is what a forever kitchen is all about,” Berkus explains.

Lighting, on the other hand, is an opportunity to save.

“The trick is to take the time to shop for vintage sconces and light fixtures,” says Berkus. “They will add loads of character to your home but don’t have to cost a lot."

Another way to add character to your kitchen is flooring. Think vintage wood flooring – it’s a splurge, but so worth it. You can then save on new cabinetry by painting the existing ones in a black lacquer or gray.

“I’ve done this in my own home renovations and for clients. The effect is so great, no one will know you didn’t spend a fortune on new cabinets,” Berkus adds.

When it comes to appliances, look for premium stainless models at the best you can afford. Hardworking appliances that can go the distance are worth every cent.

When dressing up your kitchen, shop your home and use things you already own. Objects from your travels, framed photographs, ceramic bowls or hand-woven baskets are all things that personalize a space and make it feel layered.

“I love the idea of doing something unexpected in the kitchen, like creating a seating area in your kitchen space,” says Berkus. Shop your weekend flea market or online for a vintage sofa and coffee table and set up an area for your family to relax in.

“It’s all about creating moments like these that help you live more beautifully,” Berkus says.

It’s important to remember the goal is always to design a kitchen that won’t feel dated in one year, or even five years. Every elements of your kitchen needs to go the distance, whether you splurge or save on those desired elements that bring your personal style to life.

“When designing a high-end space, it’s important to remember that you’re shaping more than just a living environment; you’re laying the foundation for a future community of friends and family,” says Dwell President and CEO Michela O’Connor Abrams. “Design elements that marry beautiful aesthetics, intuitive technology and functionality – and are reflective of your authentic taste and personal style – should always rise to the top when deciding which products to introduce into your home.”

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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4 Tax Benefits for People with Disabilities

August 4, 2015 1:54 am

Now 25 years old, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) continues to provide assistance to people with disabilities, including help in the form of tax benefits and services. According to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS), people with disabilities can benefit from the following.

1. ABLE Accounts – A newer program, tax-favored ABLE accounts are designed to enable people who became disabled before age 26 and their families to save for and pay for disability-related expenses. Any state can offer its residents the option of setting up an account, or can contract with another state that offers such accounts.

Contributions totaling up to the annual gift tax exclusion amount, currently $14,000, can be made to an ABLE account each year, and distributions are tax-free if used to pay qualified disability expenses.

2. Tax Credits – Low-and moderate-income workers and working families often qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a refundable credit that varies by income, filing status and family size. Although many eligible taxpayers with disabilities get the EITC, the IRS estimates as many as 1.5 million others miss out on it each year because they fail to file a federal income tax return.

Generally, eligible taxpayers can still file a return claiming the credit for tax year 2012, 2013 or 2014. People can see if they qualify by visiting IRS.gov.

The credit for child and dependent care expenses can also help working taxpayers paying the cost of caring for a spouse or dependent who is physically or mentally unable to care for themselves. To claim the credit, use Form 2441. Publication 503 contains further details.

3. Deductions
– Taxpayers with disabilities can deduct various impairment-related work expenses on their federal income tax return. Both employees and self-employed individuals may qualify.

In addition, various unreimbursed disability-related expenses qualify as deductible medical expenses. However, to get a tax benefit, an eligible taxpayer must itemize their deductions on Schedule A, and their total medical expenses must exceed 10 percent of their adjusted gross income (7.5 percent for taxpayers who are at least age 65). Eligible expenses include:

• Artificial limbs, contact lenses, eyeglasses and hearing aids

• Cost and repair of special telephone equipment for people who are deaf or hard of hearing

• Cost and maintenance of a wheelchair

• Cost and care of a guide dog or service animal

• Within limits, premiums for qualified long-term care insurance

For a detailed list of qualifying medical expenses, see Publication 502.

4. Tax Help – Publication 907, available on IRS.gov, highlights these and other tax benefits for people with disabilities, including special rules for reporting disability income. During the tax-filing season, trained community volunteers prepare tax returns for low-and moderate-income taxpayers, including many people with disabilities, at thousands of neighborhood tax help sites nationwide through the IRS-sponsored Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs.

Year round, the IRS also offers a variety of helpful resources through the Accessibility link on IRS.gov. These include accessible IRS forms, instructions and publications that can be downloaded or viewed online in text-only format, Braille-ready files, browser-friendly HTML, accessible PDF, large print and ePub for mobile devices. The IRS has also produced 100 YouTube videos in American Sign Language on topics ranging from the Taxpayer Bill of Rights to the EITC.

In addition, taxpayers can request reasonable accommodations for services in any federally funded or federally assisted tax program or facility.

Source: IRS.gov

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