Homeowners get them all the time in the mail. So it came as no surprise when the latest postcard with the smiling face of a local realtor arrived, boasting about a recent sale down the block from my house at the New Jersey shore. But the realtor really didn't have any bragging rights. The pictured waterfront home sold for a paltry $155,000, compared to a few years ago before Superstorm Sandy, when these properties were assessed at $350,000, and often sold for much more. Down for the count Times have changed, and while Sandy delivered the first crippling blow, the knockout punch came from, of all places, the federal government, in the form of 10-fold flood insurance price increases. Those of us who live on the Jersey shore have been told in no uncertain terms that flood insurance to cover small homes like mine could cost up to $31,000 a year. Even health insurers wouldn't -- and couldn't -- do this kind of damage without facing retribution from regulators and voters. But there is strong support in Congress, and by lobbying groups, to raise rates to the point where they literally wipe out middle-class coastal homeowners. Stronger than the storm?… (continue reading......)
Since North Dakota adopted its law in 2012, every state now requires a graduated driver license (GDL) program for any teenager to get behind the wheel of a car. And from what I've seen, there is significant evidence that these programs, which compel teens to go through an extensive and lengthy "drill" before graduating to full driver’s licenses, work. From 1996 -- when Florida passed the first GDL program -- to 2010, the death rate for 16-year-old drivers fell 68 percent, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. And 17-, 18- and 19-year-old drivers also had significantly fewer road fatalities. The Centers for Disease Control said in 2010 that the number of fatal crashes involving 16- and 17-year-olds dropped by more than a third, due in part to GDLs. And in the mountainous, winding road state of Colorado, officials cited GDLs for having reduced teenage road deaths by 60 percent in five years. Safer but still costly Auto insurers are quick to cite these statistics when it comes to encouraging state legislatures to adopt even tougher laws controlling teenage drivers. Among the restrictions they want enforced: no less than 65 hours of supervised practice, no other teens in the… (continue reading......)
Interested in buying a home? Then your first question should be: Is it a good investment? And right now the answer is probably yes. Housing values are soaring, up as much as 50 percent in parts of the Sunbelt. Buyers are competing with hedge funds to purchase the home of their dreams, and often are outbid by these "flippers" whose game plan is to sell in another year or two at a higher price. Use caution If this sounds all too familiar, it is. This scenario could be a retread of 2006, just before the overheated real estate market crashed and burned. And that is why many sadder and wiser heads are sounding a note of caution: Don't jump in too soon … or at too high a price. But the real question is: Where is the smart money going? And the answer is: Wall Street is pumping billions of dollars into mortgage insurers, which means that The Street expects the housing market upturn to continue. Here's some background. A mortgage insurer guarantees that when you get a home mortgage, you pay it back. If you were to die, become disabled or lose your job and be forced into foreclosure,… (continue reading......)
Wall Street's greatest talent is to make money with your money. And while Wall Street usually succeeds, you may not. So if your financial advisor, or someone wanting to be your financial advisor, contacts you about investing your Health Savings Account (HSA) somewhere other than in a Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) bank account, take a close, hard look at what you are really being offered. Next financial frontier Recent stories show that Wall Street views HSAs as the next financial frontier, since it has already tapped into our 401ks and IRAs. That's because they can count how much we've socked away in these accounts. Americans now have $18 billion in HSAs, according to the Employee Benefits Research Institute, a non-partisan group that studies workers' benefits. And that amount could double by 2015, says one consulting firm, as more and more employers shift employees into them. HSAs are one of the few useful ideas Congress has come up with. It allows pre-tax money to be put aside and spent by those who earned it for their own medical care. It supplements high-deductible health insurance plans by allowing account holders to pay for deductibles and co-pays, medicine and other health care-related… (continue reading......)
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