Asians are the fastest-growing, most educated and highest-earning population in the U.S., according to a new report. on.wsj.com/NO6IG5 (are you not surprised, the US does not consider education a top priority, it’s under funded, and the first area to receive cuts.)
All posts for the month June, 2012
The US Supreme Court has said President Barack Obama’s landmark healthcare reform act is constitutional.
The court upheld a core requirement known as the “individual mandate” that Americans buy insurance or pay a fine.
Challengers said Congress could not force people to buy goods from private companies. The government said health insurance was unlike any other product.
Healthcare is a deeply polarising issue in the US and Republicans strongly opposed Mr Obama’s legislation.
BBC © 2012
Q. Which tax provision do home owners often overlook?
A. You can deduct mortgage insurance premiums [or PMI] if you were required to get PMI as a condition of receiving financing on your home. Some people will overlook that, although it’s typically disclosed on the 1099 that you receive from the bank, along with all the deductible information you need (Houselogic 3/27/12)
Enter the Responsible Home Owner Refinancing Act (S. 3085), authored by senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), which would eliminate some restrictions in Fannie and Freddie guidelines that have impeded underwater home owners. Among the provisions in the bill is a proposal to eliminate appraisal costs and some upfront fees for home owners who wish to refinance; so-called risk-based fees could cost a borrower up to $4,000 on a $200,000 loan. What’s more, the bill would offer the chance to refinance into a lower rate to home owners who continue to make their monthly mortgage payments on time, even though they owe more to their lenders than their homes are currently worth. Lenders typically don’t green light such loans for a refi.
Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics and one of the most respected voices in housing policy, says that more than two-thirds of American home mortgages are now financed at APRs of 5% or higher — significantly above current rates. Removing barriers to refinancing would help more home owners continue to stay current on their mortgage payments.
The NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® reports that the bill would help 3 million home owners refinance their homes, and save the average borrower about $2,800 per year. That’s money that would help spur consumer spending as well as pay down family debt, both essential to long-term sustained growth. In addition, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that a program like this one might help more than 110,000 home owners save their homes from default. (Houselogic 6/19/12)
“With a pivotal presidential election just six months away, we must do all we can to ensure free and fair elections and that everyone can vote.” – Voter Empowerment Act fact sheet
JUNE 20, 2012 – Thanks to rising citizen outrage and efforts like the National Urban League’s “Occupy the Vote” campaign, the voter suppression movement is facing mounting resistance. As we reported several weeks ago, voter suppression laws in Florida designed to purge voter rolls and make it more difficult to register voters, have now been challenged by the Justice Department. There is also a new bill in the U.S. House of Representatives which takes direct aim at some of the most egregious voter suppression tactics being employed or considered in dozens of states throughout the nation. These tactics include elimination of Election Day and same-day registration, reductions in early voting periods and absentee voting opportunities, and new restrictions on voter registration drives. These measures could prevent millions of eligible voters from exercising their constitutional right to vote and they disproportionately affect our service members, people with disabilities, minorities, young people, seniors and low income Americans.
As we approach the 2012 presidential election, we should be encouraging more, not less voting by the American people. In the 2008 presidential election about three million Americans were turned away from the polls due to voter registration problems. And an estimated 51 million Americans eligible to vote are not registered. Still there are those who are determined to keep even more people from voting. This is a travesty, it’s un-American and it dis-honors the sacrifice of generations of voting rights foot soldiers who fought and died to guarantee every citizen the right to vote.
Sponsored by Representatives John Lewis (GA), John Conyers (MI), Steny Hoyer (MD), James Clyburn (SC), and Robert Brady (PA), the Voter Empowerment Act (H.R. 5799), would fight back by ensuring equal access to the ballot box, protecting the integrity of voting systems and mandating accountability for fair elections. Among its provisions, the bill calls for
Modernizing the voter registration system, including allowing for on-line registration
Requiring universities that receive federal funds to encourage students to register
Setting standards for voting machines
Simplifying the registration process for overseas military service men and women
Authorizing same-day registration
Empowering the Election Assistance Commission to ensure high standards and fair elections
Removing barriers for people with disabilities
The Voter Empowerment Act is the most serious attempt to date by Congress to protect voters from the recent on-slaught of restrictive voting measures that make it harder for millions of eligible voters to register or vote. In describing the bill in a recent op-ed in the Hill newspaper, Congressmen Conyers and Brady write, “The bill declares that a voter shall not be denied the right to vote unless the challenge is corroborated by independent evidence, and it also prohibits persons other than election officials from challenging a voter’s eligibility based on voter caging and other questionable challenges.”
John Lewis, a veteran of the civil rights movement, who was beaten during the 1965 “Bloody Sunday” voting rights march in Selma, Alabama, added, “The ability to vote should be easy, accessible and simple . . . We should be moving toward a more inclusive democracy, not one that locks people out.” We agree. Occupy the Vote. Pass the Voter Empowerment Act now. ( re-posted from The New Orleans Agenda 6/20/12)
The presence of negative equity not only drives foreclosures, reduces the availability of purchase down payments and impedes refinances, but also restricts the ability of owners to list their homes for sale as the demand side of the market improves,” according to Corelogic. Because negative equity tends to be higher among homes with lower home values, supply also tends to be tighter, and that has spurred a rise in prices at the lower end of the price spectrum, the report said.
“Over the last two months, the prices of less expensive properties (those priced at less than 75 percent of the median) are up an average of 4.5 percent from a year ago, compared to 0.6 percent for higher-priced homes”, according to Corelogic. Despite this, statistics report the number of underwater properties decreasing during the month of April.
A surge of mortgage applications bodes well for the housing market. Could some of this activity be coming from the new generation of home buyers, or is the American dream being outsourced to foreign investors? While grateful to get some of our hard to sell properties off the market, the “lack” in our minority communities still exist. Tighter credit restraints now prevent most from becoming homeowners.
EDUCATION: Gov. Bobby Jindal won passage of an overhaul of public education in Louisiana. The changes will make it harder for teachers to gain tenure while establishing a statewide voucher program for private school tuition and multiplying the ways to create charter schools. The bills also lessen local school board authority in hiring and firing decisions while expanding the use of online schools.
However, parents and teachers may notice few immediate changes to the education system in the upcoming school year. Vouchers will be available to 5,000 students to attend private schools with public tax dollars in the fall. While new charter schools will take at least a year to get through the application and approval process. The earliest a teacher can lose tenure under the new evaluation system is spring 2014.
Legislators also approved a measure to create a new tax break program that will give rebates for donations to voucher programs that provide tuition for students to attend private schools. A $300 million annual cap on the rebates, sought by senators, was stripped from the final version, despite criticism the tax break could deepen the state’s financial problems.
On the other hand, Jindal vetoed a bill which would have established a tax rebate for those who give to low-performing public schools. The percentage of the donation that could be claimed as a rebate would have depended on the school’s letter grade, with donations to failing schools eligible for a rebate of 75 percent. The program would have been capped at $10 million
Congress needs to act, or forgiven mortgage debt won’t be forgiven next year. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac now require shorter short sales from lenders they work with — there’s Unless Congress acts this year, short sale sellers will be in for an income tax increase in 2013. Let’s say you owe $150,000 on your mortgage, but your REALTOR® finds a buyer willing to pay $120,000. The bank approves the short sale and forgives the $30,000 difference. If you don’t complete the sale by Dec. 31, 2012, as of Jan. 1, 2013, that $30,000 in forgiven mortgage debt will be considered taxable income by the IRS.
It hardly seems fair, given that that the reason the lender forgave the debt in the first place was to facilitate the short sale — and help an underwater home owner climb out of financial hardship. Now, those home owners will be responsible for paying a new tax on “phantom” income. And it’s not just debt forgiven in a short sale that would be affected: The same tax hike would apply to home owners who work with their lenders to restructure their mortgages if they’re granted debt relief. The IRS would once again require these families to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars in additional income tax when they sell or refinance their home. That’s just wrong.” There’s time yet for Congress to pass one of these bills. (Houselogic 6/8/12)
New building codes promise energy savings for home owners, which offset the homes’ often higher price tag. Would you buy a new or existing home? Several states recently have toughened up residential building codes to make new homes easier — and cheaper — to heat and cool. Experts say the Ohio rules will add about $1,200 to the cost of a new 1,800-square-foot home, but will provide at least $230 in annual energy savings over the life of the house. How does Ohio’s code compare with others? Corey Roblee, senior regional manager of the International Code Council, says Maryland, Missouri, and Washington lead the way when it comes to building codes for improved energy efficiency. And Ohio’s moving in the right direction. Other states following the trend include Texas, where a new residential building code that went into effect in January is estimated to cut the energy consumption of new homes by at least 15%.
Out West, The California Energy Commission recently approved upgraded energy-efficiency standards for windows, insulation, lighting, and air-conditioning systems. The new standards take effect in 2014 and are projected to reduce the state’s energy consumption by 25%. Although the regulations mean the average cost of a new Golden State house will rise about $11 per month, that same house will see energy savings of about $27 per month, based on a 30-year mortgage.
Regulations that affect the cost of construction are always hot-button issues, but California’s laws passed without too much wrangling. That’s because months of meetings and open-door discussions between home builders, energy experts, environmental groups, and utility companies produced an effective consensus on how to move forward. Would you buy a new, more-efficient, but possibly more expensive home, over an existing home that needs an energy retrofit? (houselogic, June 7/2012)