Foaming Your Home Can Help You Save
(NAPSI)—The use of energy-efficient and environmentally responsible building materials is an important consideration for homeowners, developers, architects and contractors. Spray polyurethane foam (SPF) is a wise choice for insulating homes and structures as it can help lower energy use and bills. Lower energy use means that less greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, are being produced in the generation of electricity or other fuels that power our buildings.
In California, which ranks among the most expensive states in terms of energy prices, SPF insulation can help homeowners save about $900 annually on their heating and cooling costs. Additionally, these energy savings mean homes insulated with SPF can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the state’s air by 800,000 metric tons, the equivalent of removing 2,700 cars from the roads there each year.
And these savings aren’t limited to California. In Minneapolis, with its cold and long winters, a home with SPF insulation can save the equivalent of 2,400 barrels of oil over a 60-year period. A home in Houston, with its hot and long summers, can save the equivalent of 500 barrels of oil during that same period. And all these savings translate to less greenhouse gases being pumped into the environment.
SPF produces these energy-efficiency benefits through its high R-value, which is the measure of the insulation’s ability to resist heat flow. The higher the R-value, the greater the insulating power. SPF can also act as an air barrier and sealant for cracks and gaps. This is important, as air leaks in a home can waste up to 40 percent of the energy used to heat and cool it.
Whether your goals are energy efficiency, environmental stewardship or both, SPF offers a versatile product that can meet all your needs.
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Learn To Understand Gunshot Wound Evidence
(NAPSI)—If the idea of preserving justice appeals to you or someone you know, a new educational opportunity may be just what you need.
That’s because the nation’s first Forensic Gunshot Wound Evaluation Program is now available through the Galen Center for Professional Development. Many would say it’s about time. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, nearly half a million Americans are victims of a crime committed with firearms every year.
The course, endorsed by the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN), was developed by renowned forensic science expert Dr. Bill Smock. The IAFN is offering continuing education credits to nurses who participate in the program.
“In untrained hands, evidence can be inadvertently destroyed, lost or misinterpreted,” explained Dr. Smock. “From this course, participants will learn not only how to apply clinical forensic medicine to the evaluation of gunshot wounds, but the importance of it for victims of gun violence and the communities in which they occur.”
Studies have indicated a critical need for training and education of trauma personnel in an effort to improve outcomes of evidence collection in health care facilities and other settings. These misinterpretations and misclassifications—often due to poor documentation or mishandling of evidence—can have a devastating domino effect in legal proceedings.
The course is designed for law enforcement personnel and nurses, but can be a critical resource for emergency medicine and trauma physicians, prosecutors, crime scene investigators, coroners, firefighters and EMTs/paramedics. The program can help participants develop an increased understanding of the importance of recognizing and preserving evidence on emergency room patients, determining entrance and exit wounds and range of fire, learning the latest techniques for investigating officer-involved shootings, and understanding wound ballistics and wound patterns.
Participants will be better able to recognize evidence and work in conjunction with law enforcement officials.
“This expertise is imperative not only to preserve the judicial integrity of evidence to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in the legal systems of our cities and states, but in the delivery of justice,” said Dr. Smock.
Called Clinical Forensic Evaluation of Gunshot Wounds, the course offers a unique 40-hour educational experience in two parts: a 24-hour self-paced online course and a two-day lab practicum at the Galen College of Nursing’s state-of-the-art, high-fidelity simulation center in Kentucky. Together, they cover evidence recognition, collection and preservation protocols, wound documentation, shell casing and bullet comparisons, exit and entrance wound examination, trajectory determination, gunshot wounds in domestic violence and more.
Learn more at www.galencenterpd.com.
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Five Tips On Making College Affordable
(NAPSI)—When it comes to college, many economists say, you can’t afford not to go. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, over a working life, high school graduates can expect to earn, on average, $1.2 million; those with a bachelor’s degree, $2.1 million; and people with a master’s degree, $2.5 million.
As many students and their families know, however, that doesn’t make scraping together the resources for a college education any easier. One of the best ways to do that is to be aware of the numerous resources available to you for funding your college education and to know how to use them to your advantage.
“There are a lot of great financial resources available to help make a college education a reality for a lot of people,” said Johnna Martinez, manager of Bellevue University’s Scholarships and Grants. “Early research and planning, and completion of the FAFSA [Free Application for Federal Student Aid], are important steps in the process.”
Where To Get Money For School
Scholarships, loans and tuition remission are just a few of the ways you can fund your college education. Here are a few tips to help you get started:
1. Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at https://fafsa.ed.gov/. The form can generally be finished in under an hour if your income taxes have already been filed from the previous year. The FAFSA helps determine eligibility for federal and state student aid including Pell Grants. Most schools have a financial aid counselor available to you to help you determine which types of aid you are eligible for and the amount you may need in order to pay for your college expenses.
2. Look for scholarship and grant opportunities both at the institution you plan to attend and beyond. Many civic organizations support scholarships and may be looking for a student with your unique qualifications. There are a number of online resources that can assist with your scholarship search, including www.fastweb.com and www.scholarships.com.
3. Don’t pay for classes and credits you’ve already taken. Look for a school with a liberal credit transfer policy. This will save you not only money but also time. You’ll be able to graduate sooner and get out into the workforce with your newly earned degree. In some instances, schools will even award credit for life or work experience.
4. Many employers offer a tuition remission program in which they pay for all or part of an employee’s tuition. Touch base with your human resources office to see what benefits may be available to you.
5. Information is your ally. Make sure you understand what resources are available to you and what the true cost of attending is for your school of choice. Many schools provide resources such as a net price calculator or informational videos like those found at www.financialaidtv.com.
“We really strive to get students the information they need and to make sure they understand all the options available to them,” Martinez said. “A college education is still the best path to a successful career.”
For further information about how you can take advantage of scholarship, grant and financial aid opportunities to fund your college career, visit www.bellevue.edu/financial-services or call (800) 756-7920. You can also follow Bellevue University on Twitter @BellevueU.
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Live Long And Prosper? Yes, It’s Possible
(NAPSI)—Life expectancy in the United States is increasing. According to government data, today’s 65-year-old will likely live beyond age 85, and a little more for women, who tend to live longer than men. By 2040, 79 million Americans will be 65 or older, nearly double the size of that age group today.
One problem is that expenses are keeping pace with the uptick in longevity. The realities of inflation, climbing health care costs and insufficient savings are putting a damper on the prospect of a longer life for a good number of Americans. In fact, Northwestern Mutual’s 2014 Planning & Progress Study found a full third of Americans do not feel financially prepared to live until the age of 85-which may help explain why one in three adults does not think he or she will ever retire.
The good news is that it is never too late—or early—to overcome the financial security fear factor. Here are some ideas on building a financial foundation that can help extend your lifestyle through your life span.
• Fail to plan, plan to fail—Nowhere is that saying more valid than with financial matters. Northwestern Mutual’s 2014 Planning & Progress Study also found that disciplined planners feel significantly more financially secure and happy in retirement. In addition, the lack of effective planning was one of the top reasons cited for why some Americans feel they are “playing catch-up” with savings and investments.
• Silence is not golden—While conversations about money can be difficult, they are essential. Since partners and, in some cases, adult children have a stake in financial decision making, it is important to work collaboratively on refining financial priorities and accountabilities. Long-term care is one example of a planning consideration that tends to impact the entire family.
• Don’t go it alone—An overwhelming majority of Americans do not have a financial adviser even though research suggests there is a correlation between professional guidance and financial security. An expert can take an objective look at your resources and goals, counsel you on the merits of various risk and investment solutions, and devise a strategy to meet immediate and future needs.
To learn more about how you can secure your financial future, talk to an experienced adviser or visit the Northwestern Mutual Online Learning Center on www.nm.com for a wide range of information and resources.
Note to Editors: This topic is particularly timely and relevant for readers as October is National Financial Planning Month.
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Millennial Mortgage Myths Debunked: A New Light On Homeownership
(NAPSI)—The American Dream may have looked like more of a nightmare to the millions of millennials who entered the workforce in recent years—but there could be good news.
This generation, born between 1981 and the early 2000s, has a desire to pursue passion over traditional expectations. Dreams of white picket fences have been replaced by a strong desire to invest in the future. This shift, however, means many millennials pay rent instead of a mortgage.
“Millennials have been swayed to believe that homeownership means a financial burden and stress,” said mortgage lender Joel Gurman. “The reality is our current housing market, paired with the financial opportunities made possible by generationally low interest rates, have opened up homeownership to many people and have actually proven renting to be an expensive and unnecessary burden.”
Here are five mortgage myths and actualities for millennials:
1. Buying a home is more expensive than renting: Unlike rent money, a mortgage payment goes toward ownership. Home prices have stabilized recently and rates remain near record lows, making payments quite affordable while gaining valuable equity.
2. I need a larger payment: Millennials often assume their limited years’ worth of savings won’t equal a large enough down payment on a home. The reality is, with standard Fannie Mae- and Freddie Mac-insured loans, a down payment as low as 5 percent is enough, while FHA-insured loans only require 3.5 percent.
3. My credit score is too low: With the stresses of credit card debt and student loans, millennials often struggle to maintain a desirable credit score. Fortunately, several programs, including the FHA mortgage, offer favorable credit score minimums.
4. The process is complicated and confusing: With their busy lives, millennials often assume the process of buying a home is too burdensome. Mortgage lenders today are making it as seamless as possible through technology, accessibility and mobile apps such as MyQL by Quicken Loans, the nation’s second largest retail mortgage lender, which allows clients to upload supporting documents and check the status of their loan online, anytime.
5. Homeowners must take on a 30-year payment: Thirty years can seem overwhelming for the millennial with a lifestyle fueled by the ability to be free. In reality, many lenders offer terms ranging from eight to 30 years, for as much flexibility as desired.
Of the positive outlook for millennials, Gurman adds, “The future of our housing economy looks bright for millennials looking to re-evaluate their current financial hopes and dreams.”
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Alerting Struggling Homeowners To Mortgage Resources
(NAPSI)—There’s good news for homeowners who are having a tough time making their mortgage payments. There is a free federal program that just may have the solution, even if you’re not behind on your mortgage.
The program—Making Home Affordable, or MHA—launched in 2009 and is a critical part of the administration’s strategy to help homeowners avoid foreclosure, stabilize the country’s housing market and improve the nation’s economy.
A Range Of Solutions
MHA offers a range of solutions, including lower monthly mortgage payments for struggling homeowners, as well as options for unemployed or underemployed homeowners and those who owe more than their homes are worth. To date, it has helped more than 1.5 million families nationwide.
Unfortunately, there is evidence that there is still a need for the program, which was recently extended through at least December 31, 2016. Nearly one in 17 homeowners has fallen behind on his or her mortgage. There is speculation that many of these homeowners may be unaware that MHA has expanded its options.
In an effort to increase awareness of MHA’s free resources and assistance for struggling homeowners, the U.S. Department of the Treasury (Treasury), the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the Ad Council have launched a new series of public service advertisements (PSAs) as part of their Foreclosure Prevention Assistance campaign.
Help Is Available
Said Treasury’s Deputy Secretary Sarah Bloom Raskin, “This new PSA campaign is our latest effort to raise awareness of the free government resources available through Making Home Affordable to assist struggling homeowners in avoiding foreclosure.”
“Although the housing market and economy are making a steady recovery, many struggling homeowners would still benefit from the one-on-one counseling services a HUD-approved housing agency can provide them,” said Federal Housing Administration Commissioner Carol Galante. “We hope this effort to educate homeowners will lead to many more families using these free services and getting the help they need to stay in their homes.”
Reaching Those In Need
“While MHA has already helped so many across the country, our research shows that many families continue to rebalance their finances to meet their mortgage payments. They know they need help but don’t know where to find it,” said Peggy Conlon, president and CEO of the Ad Council. “We hope the advertising will reach those in need, letting them know they don’t have to face this problem alone and inspiring them to reach out for help.”
With that in mind, Chicago-based advertising agency Schafer Condon Carter (SCC) created the new TV, print, radio, outdoor and digital PSAs pro bono, to strongly encourage homeowners not to give up hope and remind them that there are free resources available to help.
“This new campaign will broaden the reach of MHA and extend the message of its benefits to more Americans who are struggling every day to meet the financial demands of their mortgages,” said David Selby, president and managing partner of SCC. “The advertising seeks to resonate with these homeowners by acknowledging the commitment they make to keep their homes while letting them know that there is additional help available.”
The PSAs, which are available in English and Spanish, direct homeowners to call 888-995-HOPE (4673) to speak one on one with experts at HUD-approved housing counseling agencies about solutions based on each family’s individual circumstances.
The hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Additionally, the campaign drives homeowners to MakingHomeAffordable.gov for program eligibility and information. Since the campaign was launched in 2010, media outlets have donated over $135 million in airtime and space.
To learn more, visit www.makinghomeaffordable.gov/about-mha.
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What To Do With An Old 401(k)
by Judith Ward
(NAPSI)—When you change jobs or retire, one thing to think about is what happens to your 401(k) account.
Generally, it’s best to preserve your money’s tax-advantaged status. Depending on your personal financial circumstances, this may substantially improve your ability to build wealth over the long term.
Handling Your 401(k) Assets
Here are a few ways to do so.
• If allowed by the plan, leave the assets in your old employer’s 401(k). This may be your best option if you’re retiring early and need access to your savings.
Employees who leave the workforce after age 55 can typically make penalty-free withdrawals from their 401(k) accounts (income taxes still apply)-an option not permitted until age 591/2 through an individual retirement account (IRA). Also, if you like the plan, there may be no reason to change. Find out if you must maintain a minimum balance or if there are any fees and be familiar with the plan’s distribution provisions.
• If you’re changing jobs, you may be able to roll your account assets into your new employer’s plan. This maintains the tax-advantaged status. If you’re still saving for retirement, it may be convenient to consolidate your 401(k) assets into the new plan. Find out if your new plan accepts rollovers and if there’s a waiting period to move the money.
• Consider rolling your 401(k) into an IRA if you’re looking for a wider variety of investment options, the potential for tax-advantaged growth and greater flexibility over access to your savings (though income taxes may apply, in addition to early-withdrawal penalties if you’re under age 591/2 and wish to take a distribution from the IRA). This can allow for easier management of your retirement assets. Review the differences in investment options and fees between the employer plans and IRAs.
• Another option, though one that may have significant financial consequences, is to cash out your 401(k). Not only will you owe immediate income tax on those assets but you may also be subject to a 10 percent early-withdrawal tax penalty if you’re under age 591/2 (see exception above if you leave employment after age 55). In addition, the amounts you withdraw will lose the potential for tax-deferred growth.
You can find further facts about your options at www.troweprice.com/rollover.
Options for Your Previous 401(k)
While there are several actions you can take with your former workplace retirement plan, the right one for you depends in large part on your personal circumstances and long-term financial goals. As you compare the following options, keep in mind that tax-deferred growth potential may be the greatest benefit for your retirement assets. Preserving that tax advantage can substantially improve your ability to build wealth over time.
• Roll it into an IRA. This usually offers access to a wider range of investment options (as compared with keeping the assets in an employer-sponsored plan), making it easier to create an appropriate investment portfolio. However, be aware of the different investment classes and associated fees between institutional and retail investments. Also, it allows you access to your money at any time (early-withdrawal penalties may apply.)
• Roll it into your new employer’s plan. This may offer lower-cost investment options and potential access to investment services. Your new plan may also permit loans, depending on plan provisions.
• Leave it with your previous employer’s plan, if permitted. Your previous plan has familiar, potentially lower-cost investment options, and it may provide access to investment services.
• Cash it out. You’ll owe income tax on the distribution and, if you’re younger than age 591/2, you’re likely to have to pay a 10 percent early-withdrawal penalty (exceptions may apply). The high cost of cashing out makes it an option to be chosen only in the case of a financial emergency. “A lot of people see the transition to a new job as an opportunity to get a windfall from their old plan,” Ward says. “But unless you absolutely need the money now, you’re likely to be better off if you preserve the assets’ tax-advantaged growth potential.” Cashing out your old workplace 401(k) will subject your savings to taxes and penalties and will significantly diminish your long-term savings potential, shown above.
• Ms. Ward is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and senior financial planner with T. Rowe Price.
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What You Need To Know About Taxes And Health Insurance
(NAPSI)—In the first year that most Americans were required to have health insurance, more than 8 million individuals got insurance through the federal or a state-sponsored marketplace.
If you can count yourself among those 8 million plus with marketplace insurance for any part of 2014, you’re required to file a federal income tax return and report some simple information on your return.
“Your marketplace will send you Form 1095-A, Health Insurance Marketplace Statement, by January 31, 2015,” said Jessi Dolmage of TaxACT. “When your tax program asks for it, simply enter the information on the form. The program will do the necessary calculations and complete your tax forms.”
In addition to the health insurance mandate, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act enacted a premium tax credit for individuals purchasing insurance through a government-sponsored marketplace.
The credit amount is awarded on a sliding scale based on your household size and income. Generally, the lower your household income, the higher your premium tax credit to help cover the cost of marketplace health insurance.
Requirements for the credit include:
• You are ineligible for such government programs as Medicare, Medicaid or CHIP.
• You do not have employer-sponsored insurance or the lowest-priced, self-covered plan meeting minimum essential requirements offered by your employer costs more than 9.5 percent of your annual household income.
• Your annual household income is 100 to 400 percent of the federal poverty level. For the 2014 credit, that’s $11,490 to $45,960 for an individual. (Hawaii and Alaska residents are subject to different amounts.)
• You cannot be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return.
• Your filing status generally cannot be “married filing separately.”
If qualified, you had the option of receiving some or all of the credit in advance, with payment sent directly to your insurance company, thereby reducing your monthly premiums.
Alternatively, you could pay for your marketplace insurance throughout the year, then claim the credit on your tax return, either reducing your federal tax owed or increasing your refund amount.
Regardless of your choice, whether you qualified for the credit and how much credit you received were based on your best estimate of your 2014 household income and family size at the time you applied for marketplace insurance.
If your actual household income was more than the estimated amount, you may need to pay some of the credit back. If your income was less than estimated, you may qualify for a higher credit amount and therefore receive a larger refund.
“Everyone who received the advanced credit or plans to claim the credit can still do their own taxes,” said Dolmage. “All you have to do is answer simple questions. The tax program will complete the calculations and tax forms to reconcile your income and family information with the premium credit to make sure you get every dollar you deserve.”
If you reported all income and family changes to your marketplace as they happened in 2014, your tax liability or refund amount is less likely to be affected by your premium credit.
Dolmage recommends doing your 2014 taxes beforehand to help estimate your 2015 income if you plan to apply for marketplace insurance and the premium credit during the next enrollment period, November 15, 2014 through February 15, 2015.
Learn more about the premium tax credit at www.irs.gov and www.healthcareact.com. To file your federal taxes free with TaxACT Free Edition, go to www.taxact.com.
Note to Editors: Please publish before April 15, 2015.
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