12 Top Remodeling Trends for 2011

New year, new list of remodeling projects to start around the house. At least that’s what remodelers and contractors are hoping.

So, what remodeling projects are on top of everyone’s list?

The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) conducted an exclusive poll of their top builders and developers for us and found that while most people are not starting major renovation projects due to the economy, now is the time to take care of the smaller jobs around your home.

Call it the over-arching remodeling trend for 2011: Tackling small projects while you wait to do the really big remodeling project that’s on your list.


65% of Internet Users Bought Something Online

About 65% of Internet users have paid for some kind of online content, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center.

Pew found that digital music and software are the two most common purchases, yet almost half of the users have only bought one or two kinds of content, and most have only used one method of access, such as streaming or downloading.

Of the 1,003 people surveyed, 75% were Internet users, which is consistent with the general proportion of Internet use in the U.S.

While previous surveys had looked at online purchases in general, the goal of this one was to isolate purchases of content only, rather than physical items. Of the people who where online, less than two thirds had ever used it to buy some kind of content.

33% of those who bought online content had gotten either digital music or software, and 21% had bought apps for cell phones or tablet PCs.

More findings:

In this survey we asked the following question: “Please tell me if you have ever paid to access or to download any of the following types of online content?” The findings show that:

* 33% of internet users have paid for digital music online.
* 33% have paid for software.
* 21% have paid for apps for their cell phones or tablet computers.
* 19% have paid for digital games.
* 18% have paid for digital newspaper, magazine or journal articles or reports.
* 16% have paid for videos, movies or TV shows.
* 15% have paid for ringtones.
* 12% have paid for digital photos.
* 11% have paid for members-only premium content from a website that has other free material on it.
* 10% have paid for e-books.
* 7% have paid for podcasts.
* 5% have paid for tools or materials to use in video or computer games.
* 5% have paid for "cheats or codes" to help them in video games.
* 5% have paid to access particular websites such as online dating sites or services.
* 2% have paid for adult content.

And 6% of internet users said they had paid for another kind of content not mentioned in the list of 15 the survey offered.

READ MORE on PewResearch.org

READ MORE on CNN: 65% Internet Users Bought Online

US Mortgage Rates Rise This Week

McLean, VA – Freddie Mac (OTC: FMCC) today released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), which found that both fixed-rate mortgage rates eased slightly this week. The 5-year hybrid ARM dropped back slightly, but the 1-year ARM rates were up.

30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 4.81 percent with an average 0.7 point for the week ending December 23, 2010, down from last week when it averaged 4.83 percent. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 5.05 percent.

15-year FRM this week averaged 4.15 percent with an average 0.7 point, down from last week when it averaged 4.17 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 4.45 percent.

5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 3.75 percent this week, with an average 0.6 point, down from last week when it averaged 3.77 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 4.40 percent.

1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 3.40 percent this week with an average 0.7 point, up from last week when it averaged 3.35 percent. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 4.38 percent.

According to Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist, Freddie Mac, “Mortgage rates were little changed this week following significant increases over the prior several weeks. Economic reports in December have suggested the economy began regaining momentum towards the end of the year, with consumer spending, industrial production and exports all posting solid gains. Treasury yields backed up as this stronger growth outlook caused an improvement in risk appetites and the likelihood of deflation to recede further.”

“Rates remain low, however, despite the recent rise, and are still well below where they began the year. Low mortgage rates are an important factor in housing affordability, which in October was the highest on record, according to the National Association of Realtors® . These conditions are conducive to improving housing market conditions, and indeed, sales of existing single-family homes rose 6.7 percent in November to the strongest pace since June, according to the Realtors. In addition, the median sales price rose 1.2 percent over November 2009, which represented the first 12-month increase since August and largest gain since April. Finally, new construction on one-family homes in November rose to the strongest rate since April, based on figures released by the Census Bureau,” he said.

READ MORE from Freddie Mac: US Mortgage Rates Rise This Week

Jobless Claims Hit Lowest Level Since July 2008

The number of U.S. workers filing new claims for jobless benefits slid last week to the lowest level in nearly two and a half years, indicating that labor-market conditions continue to improve.

Initial unemployment claims declined by 34,000 to 388,000 in the week ended Dec. 25, the first time the figure has dropped below 400,000 since July 2008, the Labor Department said Thursday in its weekly report. The previous week’s figures were revised up slightly to 422,000 from 420,000.

Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had expected claims would fall by just 2,000.

The number of U.S. workers filing new claims for jobless benefits slid last week to the lowest level in more than two years, indicating the labor market may be improving. The four-week average of new claims, which aims to smooth volatility in the data, also fell to its lowest point since July 2008. That more closely watched figure decreased by 12,500 to 414,000. While seasonal layoffs often pick up in the week before Christmas, a Labor Department economist said there is nothing unusual about the figures reported by individual states.

READ MORE on WSJ.com: Jobless Claims Hit Lowest Level Since July 2008

Flea Market Fakes

Used to be, if you wanted a knockoff handbag or fake fragrance, Lower Manhattan’s Canal Street was a mecca.

But with flea markets across the country now carrying the same kind of counterfeit products with poser trademarks, authorities warn that shoppers may get more than they bargain for in poor quality and safety risks while helping fund criminal syndicates in some cases.

“If the price is too good, you have to think about it,” said Lt. Mike McDonnell with the New Jersey State Police cargo theft unit. “If you see it at a flea market and it’s half the price of normal, you have to think there’s something wrong.”

The unit earlier this month seized more than 5,000 pieces of counterfeit product at a flea market in Springfield, including fake Estee Lauder and MAC cosmetics that retail for more than $300,000.

The safety risks of buying fake goods are real, experts say.

Counterfeit goods are different than so-called knockdowns, or cheaper brands. Knockdowns, like items sold by Wal-Mart, Target and other major retailers are required to undergo safety checks. Fakes usually are smuggled into the country and unregulated.

Safety risks include fake batteries that contain mercury, electrical products that don’t meet safety standards, perfumes found to contain urine and high alcohol content, and clothing made with toxic dyes and flammable materials.

READ MORE on NPR: Flea Market Fakes

Last Minute Things You Can Do To Lower Your Tax Bill in 2011

My friend and Equifax Personal Finance Blog colleague Eva Rosenberg (an Enrolled Agent also known as “Taxmama”), has some easy things you can do to lower your tax bill next April. But the kicker is, you have to get it done before the end of the year.

She suggests that you start by doing a quick estimate to see if you’re going to owe taxes next year. You can use TurboTax’s TaxCaster or H&R Block’s Tax Estimator.

If you’re going to owe money next April, here are some things you can do to beef up your deductions:

  1. You paid the first installment of your property taxes earlier this month. Pay the next installment before December 31.

  2. Around December 28–31, pay your January mortgage payment. By then, you will have accrued nearly a whole month’s interest. You’ll be able to claim the deduction in 2010.

  3. Clean out your closets and attics. Make a complete list of the good, usable things you find and no longer need and donate these books, toys, electronics, pieces of furniture, etc., to your favorite charity. See my blog earlier this month for specifics.

  4. If you can afford it, increase your retirement plan contributions. That will reduce your taxable wages for this year.

If you don’t itemize because you don’t have a mortgage or deductible expenses, what can you do? You can use credits. See if you still have time to score some of these energy credits or child-friendly credits.

You may qualify for an IRA deduction. And if you do, the good news is you can wait until April 18 to fund it.


Need Help With Your Mortgage? Try These Resources

Office of Thrift Supervision

FDIC Consumer Complaint Form

Making Home Affordable HAMP

File A Complaint With The OCC – HelpWithMyBank.gov

Call Of The Day

Will is thankful that he has a job and he wants to feed people. I recommended that he work with these two organizations, so that his money will go as far as possible to feed as many people as possible:

Atlanta Community Food Bank

Hosea Feed The Hungry And Homeless

Suggestion from a listener:

A resource for North Fulton Residents is the North Fulton Community Charities. They have a food bank that serves the entire large N. Fulton area.

Address:11270 Elkins Rd., Roswell, Georgia 30076 [Map]

Tel: 770-640-0399 Fax: 770-640-9220

Email: info@nfcchelp.org.

Website: www.nfcchelp.org

Please add your suggestions to the blog via comments.