Renting Your First Place

Milestones in life are usually limited to big things like graduation, marriage, and the birth of a child.  However, there are other milestones that can be just as important to the individual. One of these is renting your first home.  Whether you’re a college student looking for an off-campus apartment, a young couple getting their first place together, or someone looking to move out of their parent’s house now that they have a steady job.

Planning is Important

moving inThe first rule of real estate may be location, but for your first place, planning actually comes first. Before you even start looking through listings, you need to have a plan.  Here’s a few things to consider.

  1. How much rent can you pay? — a good rule of thumb is to allocate no more than 1/3 of your take home pay towards rent. If a high-cost area you may need more, but budget carefully or consider getting a roommate.
  2. What other budget do you need? — utilities, renter’s insurance, and alarm, HOA, or condo fees may be involved in certain rental units.  Make sure you know how much you can afford to spend on these.
  3. What do you need and want? — Make a list of the features you absolutely need in a home and those things that you really like but can live without.  Some things to consider, parking, air conditioning, pet policies, type of cable/internet service available, laundry facilities, and security.  Square footage, location, number of bathrooms and the existence of a yard or balcony may also be deal breakers.
  4. Do you have move in costs? — you will not be able to move in until you have money for deposits. These may include deposits to utility companies, security or cleaning deposits to the landlord, and pet deposits. You may also need to factor in the purchase of furnishings and housewares that you do not own — even furnished apartments don’t have everything — or the rental of a moving van.

Let the Search Begin

There are any number of ways to search for available apartments and rental houses.  Start with sites like craigslist and, but also check the classified ads of your local newspaper (online or in the print version). You can also get the word out to friends and family that you are looking as they may know of available homes.  Another option is to drive through neighborhoods to spot “for rent” signs that look like they meet your rental criteria.

It is a bad idea to rent a property without first taking a tour.  If it’s an apartment complex, you will want to inspect all the facilities.  Make an appointment with the rental agent and be sure to have a list of questions to ask.  It is also a good idea to ask a friend or relative to go with you as they may think of questions you forget or notice issues with the property that you don’t.

If you find a place that you like, you will probably have to pay an application fee and possibly pay a fee for a credit or background check.  Just remember that while the landlord is assessing your worthiness as a tenant, you have the right to do your own research into the rental agent and to inspect the house or apartment one more time making note of any items that need to be cleaned or fixed before you move in.

If both sides are satisfied, then you will find yourself signing a lease and paying any required deposits.  Then it’s a matter of setting a move in date, arranging for utilities and insurance, and paying your first month’s rent.

There are resources here for teachers who want to teach the basic math and life skills that students will need when they are ready to go out in the world.

Funding Home Renovations

Home ownership. It’s a large part of the American dream.  The stability that comes with having a place to call your own, a refuge from the stress and competitiveness the world creates.  When you own your own home you can design it and renovate it to fit your own needs and wants.

Before you begin your home renovation you first have to determine how you’re going to pay for it.  The most affordable option is to pay for it out of pocket.  No paperwork, no need for loan approval, and no interest are great benefits; however, if you are planning a room addition or other large scale project it may take a while to save the required funds.  For many this is a more realistic option for single room remodels  or finishing work.

renovationFor projects that need to be done quickly there are several financing options.  Traditionally home owners took out a second mortgage or line of credit for home renovations.  But since the housing market took such a hit during the recession those loans are harder to come by.  An option that has been available for years but rarely used until recently is a home renovation mortgage—the FHA’s 203(k) and Fannie Mae’s Homestyle program.  Buyers are able to get a mortgage based on what the projected worth of the house will be after is renovated.  This has been a popular choice for many since there are still a large number of foreclosed homes on the market, many of which need a lot of work.

The requirements and process for each program vary slightly.  Homestyle requires borrowers to have a minimum credit score of 680 and a minimum of 5% down.  The requirements for the 203(k) are less stringent however the insurance premiums are higher for those who put less down.  Any funds borrowed through either of these programs must be used towards the house.  Homestyle requires an initial and final inspection. On the other hand the 203(k) requires much closer monitoring. An inspection is made every time there is a draw from the account, there is a maximum of 5 draws, and the money can’t be used on luxury items such as pools.  The maximum amount that you can borrow is set by the area in which you live but also can’t be more than 110% of the projected value of the house.

Embarking on the journey of home renovations is a big step.  Weighing all of the options of payment and deciding which home projects to pursue and which to hold off on requires a lot of time and consideration.  In most cases it won’t be a fast process but the end result will be worth the wait.

Liza Stevenson writes about mortgages, lending, and other financial matters for money management sites.

Advantages to Cities with Race Tracks

Ask any race fan and they will be sure to site many benefits to having a race track in their city, the most important one being quick and easy access to the races.  While that is definitely true, that may not be enough to impress city leadership.  Race fan or not, there are a lot advantages to cities with race tracks.

NHRA Auburn, WashingtonFinancially it costs cities a lot of money to put in a race track of any kind, especially the larger tracks needed for the highly popular NASCAR Sprint Cup Races, American Le Mans Series or NHRA events.  Although the initial cost is high, once the track in built it can be a great financial asset to the city.  The revenue brought in by races both large and small will help cover the cost and eventually bring in additional revenue to the city.  It will provide more jobs to the people of the city as they help keep the track up and running.

Building a race track can provide a new entertainment venue for events apart from racing.  Concerts and shows can be booked throughout the year that will help bring in additional revenue as well as provide entertainment for local citizens and out of town guests.

Bringing in more tourists is the desire of most cities.  The additional revenue that is brought in from car rentals, hotels, and restaurants is often an essential part of a city’s budget.  Some auto races and auto racers have dedicated fans across the country.  Hosting an auto race could bring in a wealth of new tourists and fans looking forward to visiting the latest race track or watching Matt Kenseth, Scott Tucker, or Danica Patrick.  While many cities across the country are home to smaller, amateur race tracks, there aren’t as many large professional tracks.  For the millions of racing fans nationwide, these are real points of interests that they are willing to go out of their way to visit.

For any city deciding whether or not to build a race track depends on the money.  Will the benefits of the track outweigh the cost of building it?  It’s ultimately a decision that each city has to decide for itself; but it’s hard to deny all of the advantages and potential that could be waiting right around the corner.

Mark Lane  is a guest blogger whose posts about auto racing and American racing champions are popular with race fans all over the world.  His writing can be found on blogs and racing sites.

Drug Use in Mexican Prisons

It is no secret that the Mexican prison system could use some major improvement.  With roughly 200,000 inmates currently behind bars, over-crowding is a main problem and the need for more room is urgent.  It seems that on an almost monthly basis, there are new reports of prison riots and inmates dead or injured.  While there are 12 new maximum security prisons presently being built and should be ready for use by 2011, one has to wonder if space is the only issue.

The vast majority of inmates currently being held in a Mexican prison has been charged with drug use or drug trafficking.  Even more are affiliated with a gang.  Most of the violence and riots that we hear about are a result of gang warfare.  Once inside gang members are able to easily gain access to weapons, drugs, prostitutes and even cell phones.  Officials were surprised at the ease in which drug lords, kidnappers, and other criminals were able to continue their businesses while supposedly locked up.  While prison wardens in the past would overlook drug use in an effort to keep the peace, that is becoming increasingly difficult as drug use and violence continues to rise.  Approximately four out five inmates who did not use drugs before their incarceration, do so now. If you need treatment in us check here for options.

While the country would like to adopt an approach that is more centered on addiction treatment, getting arrested is far from a alcohol drug intervention and prison is no drug rehab when you are surrounded by drugs that put you there.  Until Mexico can honestly and strictly enforce what goes in and out of their prisons, as well as further separate the gangs that continually perpetuate violence, these new facilities will only serve as extra space for the new users and sellers that are being born inside their walls.


What You Need to Know About Cash Advance Loans

moneyThere have been a lot of commercials on television lately about cash advance loans, which got me wondering, is there a reason cash advance loans are better than other loans? There are a few reasons why, and they mostly have to do with the speed and convenience of a cash advance loan. When you take out a cash advance loan, you are borrowing against your next paycheck. Most loan agreements will show this by making the due date on the loan a day or two after you are due to be paid. As long as you do not take out too big a loan this can take the pressure off you for a week or so and let you get back up on your feet. This also means that you do not have any collateral you have to put up for the loan, so if something happens the loan company can not take your house or your car. These loans only work however if they are paid back and they don’t insist on collateral as a sign of good faith, not to say that you can borrow money from them and walk away.

These loans are fast. If you get on the internet and find a cash advance loan today , you can have the money in your bank account tomorrow. This means that when you don’t have the money to pay the bills or if a financial emergency comes up, you can have the money right away to buy what you need to survive. Sometimes these emergencies seem small at first but become larger as you understand the consequences better, like the possibility of overdraft fees that when added all together cost over $300. These emergencies can also be big, such as a storm wrecking the roof of your house. These loans are designed just for these types of hard times and can literally keep a roof over your head by giving you the money fast so someone can fix the roof.

What you will need to know before applying for the loan is that you must be eighteen or older to take out these loans, and you must have a job making $800 or more per month. There may also be some other restrictions depending on state and company you go with. You may want to ask further questions or look into other sites such as Money Mutual to find out more about these loans.

Affording a Down Payment

Mortgage has been identified as a popular mode of gaining ownership of a house or property whereby timely principle repayments and interest payments result in the transfer of ownership at the end of the mortgage period. Mortgage usually involves payment of an initial deposit at the start of the contract which due to recessionary phase has been significantly increased by the banks making it difficult for potential property owners to get a mortgage.

Credit Crunch 2008

The credit crunch that hit the American financial institutions in 2008 ultimately led to the crash of mortgage market whereby the dream of Americans to home their own home rapidly evaporated. It was held that the credit crunch arose as a result of weak mortgage policy used by the financial institutions whereby the banks failed to take into account credit history of customers. This ultimately led to large scale defaults that resulted in the house market to crash as the supply of real estate rose rapidly. The recession that soon hit USA is now on its road to recovery and real estate market is now stabilizing albeit at a slow rate.

house on moneyConditions for Getting a Mortgage

The credit crunch has resulted in stricter terms and conditions to be adopted by the financial institutions and they have now significantly increased the percentage of down payment required. Furthermore, banks now grant mortgages to those that have an excellent credit history and low probability of default. Although the recovery of housing market has resulted in an increase in demand for real estate, the initial deposit required poses a hindrance in obtaining a mortgage.

Financing a Down Payment

There are different ways through which a person can arrange money for making a down payment such as savings and retirement accounts. A person is likely to have savings in form of current account or emergency account or retirement account and this money can be invested towards making a down payment. Furthermore, a person can also borrow from friends and family with an agreement to return the money in the foreseeable future. Conversely, a person might have certain investments in term of shares or mutual funds and these can be withdrawn to finance the down payment. A person can combine funds from various sources to make a down payment. However, realizing investments should not harm or deteriorate a person’s financial position and the benefits of gaining a mortgage must be contrasted to the costs of realizing an investment.

Guest post by Sean Oakes.  Oakes is a real estate columnist and frequent guest blogger. He writes about real estate, money management, and topics like Money Mutual for established investment and financial news sites like

Water is a Great Way to DeStress

waterOne of the bad things about stress is that it always seems to get worse when the temperature rises. Hot, humid weather makes the body work overtime to cool itself and the uncomfortable feelings make people short tempered and even anxious. Stress alone is an ongoing problem for everyone, but it just gets worse when the summer arrives in places like Texas.

Water is a great solution. Not only can jumping in a swimming pool instantly cool off your body, it provides plenty of opportunities for you to de-stress. Splashing around and playing games with your family is a great way to release stress and relax. If you’re alone, swimming laps or engaging in some form of water workout is also a great stress-buster. There’s a reason that people who exercise regularly have lower stress levels than those who don’t.

There is even scientific evidence to suggest that the mere presence of water is soothing to the human mind. Sitting by a pool can provide some of the same calming effects as gazing at a lake or watching ocean waves. If summer stress is a habitual problem for you, consider calling a few swimming pool care companies and figure out if you can afford your own backyard stress reliever.

photo by: aguscr

Best Cities for Car Owners

If you have been considering moving you have likely been considering a variety of qualities to determine which city would be best for you and your family. These probably include things like the schools that are available, the career opportunities, the cost of housing and the landscape of the city. What you may not be thinking about is how car-friendly the city may be. This is an important consideration for any car owner who wants to protect his vehicle’s condition for the long term. There are several characteristics that can make a city car-friendly, including:

Ample Parking

Knowing that there is a safe place to park your car wherever you go is comforting both in that you know your car will be secure and you will be able to get where you need to go without having to walk for an extended period of time. This is often a challenge in metropolitan areas where public transportation is more popular.

traffic jamLighter Commutes

Heavy traffic and long commutes are difficult on your car. A city that offers direct routes to your chosen career or lighter traffic will be easier on your car, and on you. You will save gas and keep your brakes in better condition when you are not facing gridlock on a daily basis.

Good Road Conditions

The conditions of the road that you are driving your car on make tremendous difference in the long term condition of your vehicle. Rough road conditions are very hard on your car’s suspension, brakes and tires and will require that you bring your vehicle in for routine maintenance more often.

Skilled Mechanics

If you own a car, you will need a mechanic at some point. A car is a machine and all machines need maintenance on a regular basis in order to continue operating properly. You want to make sure that the city you are living in has skilled mechanics that will take care of your car to the highest degree of quality.

Ample Gas Stations

You will get better gas mileage and your car will run better if you don’t let the fuel tank get close to empty. A car-friendly city will have plenty of access to fuel stations. Preferably these stations will also have air for tires and a vacuum so that you can take care of your car in one central location.

Nate Connors is a car lover who loves to blog about cars, driving, and even car repair.  As a guest blogger he has reviewed new car models, the new ford expedition repair manual, and car shows for lifestyle, news and car blogs.



A Dream House Includes a Garden Spot

If you are in the market for a new home, you will likely start with the house itself in your thought process. Sit down together first to figure out what is most important to you and your family. Perhaps the person who does most of the cooking is dreaming of a big kitchen with stainless steel appliances and oak flooring. A view of the Rockies in the living room’s picture window might be important to someone else. House plans and activity level can be important if you are planning to retire there in a few years. Does the neighborhood seem safe and friendly?  How about the school system if you have children?

A Broader Perspective

But when buying a house, try to broaden your perspective by shifting it to the outside. As retirement beckons, some couples want to turn their attention to gardening. Plans for growing asparagus and strawberries, along with several varieties of corn, will require space for a vegetable plot. A flower garden will provide gracious bouquets inside and stunning color combinations outside when planted en masse.  Shade trees can provide welcome relief in hotter areas of the country.

Practical Aspects

Keeping all the various needs in mind, look for a yard that is big enough for all these dreams and needs. A yard might be ideal that has a garden spot with strong light for growing vegetables, and another area for shade-loving beauties like hostas and begonias. Proper irrigation is a common need for consistent, frequent watering, so ask if a sprinkling system has been installed.

You should also consider the soil itself. If the area you want to live in is known to have soil with a high clay density, for example, you might have to spend a lot of time tilling and amending the soil. Ask if the previous owner has already done so.

The right garden space and surrounding landscaping is a picture frame for the house itself. When talking to your real estate agent, be sure to mention the importance of a garden spot if that interests you. Lovely landscaping, mature trees in front, and a sunny back yard would appeal to many home buyers.

Lionel Redmon is a columnist and blogger who writes about real estate, gardening, and home improvement for popular blogs and webpages about health like this page.


What it Takes to be an Expert Witness on Accounting

An expert witness is one who, by virtue of education training, skill or occupation in a specific field is considered to be more knowledgeable in a particular area than the average person. Respected for their knowledge, these ‘experts’ may be called upon from time to time to offer their unbiased, yet expert opinion in court cases, both criminal and civil. They are called upon for the very reason they can give unbiased testimony based upon evidence, compiled by facts and the natural conditions as a result thereof.

Forensic Accountants Need to Pass an Exam

Expert witnesses on accounting are integral to a case by providing the attorney with information and recommendations as to which questions to ask. The forensic accountant will review evidence and testimony and provide the attorney with further information needed in order to prove a case. In addition to data analysis, investigative abilities are necessary in this field. A forensic accountant must first pass the Certified Public Accountant exam and many are now earning a Masters degree.

This post addresses the role of forensic accounting and expert accounting testimonies as they relate to cases brought before the courts in litigation. To clarify, the term ‘forensic’ pertains to information usable in a court of law. Many of your larger accounting firms will have those who specialize in various fields such as, insurance claims, personal injury, fraud, construction claims and royalty audits. Expert accounting witnesses may be called to testify as to the financial impact resultant from fraud, embezzlement and business disputes. A forensic accountant may appear in civil cases such as distribution of property in a divorce settlement or allegations of negligence.

An Expert Witness

When an expert witness on accounting is called to action, typically they offer reports containing financial data, economic theories and accounting and auditing standard procedures. In civil cases such as divorce proceedings where property and/or child support is involved, the forensic accountant will analyze lifestyle, financial liabilities and assets in order for the judge to determine division of property and to set child support.

Civil Cases

In other civil cases such as personal injury or breach of contract, the forensic accountant will calculate the resulting economic loss of the claimant as evidence in his or her testimony.

Criminal Cases

In criminal cases, such as business fraud, forensic accounting is used to analyze financial documents, financial reporting and the accounting system in place. It is their role to determine the accuracy of the information provided. The expert witness on accounting will be able to determine if any tampering with the numbers has occurred and how, when and where any embezzled funds were procured.

Forensic Accounting is an Exciting Field

The exciting field of forensic accounting is growing more and more in today’s economic environment. Not only are forensic accountants called upon as expert witnesses in court proceedings, but many large businesses employ the services of companies like in the areas of fraud prevention, risk reduction and ensuring accurate accounting procedures are in place. Additionally, forensic accountants create business valuations which are becoming more and more necessary in the areas of mergers and acquisitions, sale and purchase of companies, resolving shareholder disputes and even setting employee stock option plans.

A forensic accountant’s skills go far beyond those of traditional accountants. In addition to solid accounting acumen, good communication skills, simplicity of terminology, analytical and investigative skills are necessary traits. When the need for an expert arises, make sure the accountant specializes in forensics.