If you owe more than your home is worth, you may finally be able to refinance into a lower rate thanks to the government’s HARP refinancing program.
The details: You can take advantage of historically low interest rates by using the latest version of the Home Affordable Refinance Program, which removed a previous cap on how far below your mortgage your home value can be. The HARP program even works if you’ve been hit by the economic double-whammy of a falling family income and a falling home price. You qualify for a HARP refinance if:
• You have income coming in.
• You’ve made your mortgage payments on time every month for the past six months and have no more than one late payment in the past year.
1. Refinance with new FHA fees : In a nutshell: FHA raised insurance premiums for new borrowers, while lowering fees for some existing customers who refinance, making comparison shopping with private mortgage insurance worthwhile. Mortgage insurance covers the lender against losses caused when borrowers stop making payments.
The details: FHA’s new insurance premium rates include a great deal for existing FHA borrowers — you can refinance by paying a miniscule .01% upfront fee and an annual premium of just .55% starting June 11.
The catch: The deal is only for home owners who got their FHA mortgage on or before May 31, 2009. The latest FHA deal for new FHA customers buying homes isn’t nearly as sweet. You’ll pay a whopping 1.75% upfront fee and an annual premium of 1.25%. For a $200,000 loan, that’s $3,500 for the upfront premium payment and $2,500 for the annual premium. Go on the internet and use the mortgage calculators (MGIC, Genworth Financial) to check how your payment would change if you have a smaller or larger down payment. Private mortgage insurance is based on the size of your down payment (5% is typically the minimum).
Does “natural” mean organic? Should you buy anything labeled “non-toxic”? Here are the truth and eco-facts about many of the green terms you find on product labels. What’s really green? Soon you’ll have a little more confidence about green product marketing claims, such as “biodegradable” and “recyclable”: The Federal Trade Commission, which sets standards for the use of environmental claims in its Green Guides, is getting tougher on green terms.
1. “Organic”: a green term that really means something: Organic is the one term in our list that’s federally regulated — by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to be specific. Product makers making this claim must prove their stuff is “produced without antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, irradiation, or bioengineering.” Period.
FTC is cracking down on these terms
2. “Recyclable.” After the new guidelines are adopted, a manufacturer can use this term without a caveat only if a substantial majority of communities nationwide have facilities that can actually recycle its product. Before you buy, do your homework to see what you’re able to recycle locally. Also, take a closer look when a product claims to be “recycled”
3. “Biodegradable.” When you see this term, you think, “Great, I don’t need to worry about throwing this away; it’ll break down naturally.” But many products labeled biodegradable need ideal composting conditions to break down — and some won’t degrade even then.
The FTC’s new guidelines require that products or packaging labeled “degradable” break down within a year in normal disposal conditions. That means the term likely won’t apply to anything you’d throw in the trash, because items simply don’t degrade in landfills. It’s far better to reduce waste in the first place than to expect it to disappear.
4. “Compostable.” In the future, products with this claim shouldn’t take any longer to break down than the rest of your compost pile.
5. “Non-toxic.” The FTC’s new guidelines say that non-toxic claims should mean the product isn’t harmful to humans and safe for the environment. But research the product online if the label is vague. And definitely don’t assume kids or pets can ingest it safely.
The fuzziest green term of all
6. “Natural” is unregulated by the government. It’s not interchangeable with organic or healthy, although manufacturers want you to think if it’s natural, it has to be good for you, right? Not so much. Take ammonia. It’s a naturally occurring compound, but it’s also a toxic pollutant. Without context, the word natural doesn’t mean much.
A label to help you decide: When you’re just not sure about a product’s claims, look for certification by a reputable third party — like Scientific Certification Systems. Its green-and-blue SCS label provides some reassurance that a product lives up to its claims. SCS sets tough standards for the terms biodegradable and recycled content.
Some SCS guidelines: SCS only certifies liquid products as biodegradable — cleaners, detergents, and soaps that break down completely in natural conditions in 28 days; Recycled products include a wide array of building products — windows, doors, insulation, carpets, tiles, and more — so seek them out. (Houselogic 5/7/12)
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The Federal Emergency Management Agency on Wednesday stepped up pressure on Congress to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program. The program is set to expire at the end of May, and FEMA warned that after that time NFIP won’t be able to issue new policies. The program is seen as key for limiting the costs of natural disasters. The House and Senate were unable to agree on a NFIP reauthorization last year, and extended the program without changes until May 31. (Houselogic 5/3/12)
How much are you polluting the air? Here are 6 easy ways to cut the pollution your life produces and improve air quality. We all know our cars contribute to air pollution, but did you know that every time you turn on a light, mow the lawn, or put a soda can in the garbage, you’re polluting the air? It’s Air Quality Awareness Week, so try one or all of these six ways you can personally create less air pollution and help improve air quality:
1. Use compact fluorescent lights: They use less electricity than incandescent bulbs. About 40% of the electricity we use comes from coal-burning power plants.
2. Use a push lawn mower: Your power lawn mower running for an hour produces as much pollution as six to ten cars. If your lawn makes using a push mower impractical, keep your mower in tune and be super careful when you put gasoline in your mower. Even small spills evaporate and pollute the air.
3. Carefully store household paints, solvents, and pesticides: Use airtight containers, and dispose of them properly when you’re done with them.
4. Maintain your fireplace and chimney: A well-maintained fireplace or wood stove will burn more efficiently and keep furnace-fueled heat from escaping your home, as well as cutting down on soot and smoke.
5. Use low-VOC paints: Or zero-VOC paint, if possible. Make sure to paint with a brush, rather than a sprayer. Better yet, reduce your use of all VOC products in your home.
6. Recycle and reuse: Recycle paper, plastic, glass bottles, cardboard, and aluminum cans, and reuse salvaged building materials to conserve energy and reduce production emissions. (Houselogic 4/30/12)