Sign up for the Self-Publishing Success Summit for FREE!

July 7, 2015 | Crystal Paine

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Sign up for the Self-Publishing Success Summit for FREE!

Have you ever considered writing a book? If so, you’ll want to sign up for the FREE Self-Publishing Success Online Summit being held July 12-23.

This Summit features interviews from 37 different authors and entrepreneurs and will give you lots of valuable information to help you write, market, and publish your book.

Here are the three main topics this online event covers:

Step 1 – Writing You Book – You’ll learn how to easily & effortlessly write your first book and how to overcome the doubts and fears that keep you from writing.

Step 2 – Marketing & Publishing – Learn how to successfully launch your book once it’s written…including revolutionary “outside of the box” tactics today’s top authors are using to sell more books.

Step 3 – Monetizing (Making Money) – Take your book to the bank. Speakers share their top strategies to build passive income, even a business, from your first book… including how to use a book to drive 1,000’s of leads & customers.

Sign up for this event for FREE here.

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Borrowers With Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac Mortgages Can Receive Up to 18 Months of Forbearance, Regulator Says

The Federal Housing Finance Agency will allow homeowners to receive an additional three months of forbearance as it extends the COVID-19 relief options available.

The agency announced Thursday that homeowners with loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac  can receive up to 18 months of payment relief. To be eligible for the extended forbearance, homeowners must already be signed up for a forbearance plan by the end of February.

The FHFA also amended its separate payment deferral option for homeowners so they can now miss up to 18 months of payments. Those missed payments can be repaid when the mortgage reaches maturity, when the home is sold or when the mortgage is refinanced.

Originally, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac instructed loan servicers that mortgage borrowers could request up to 12 months of forbearance on their mortgages as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. But earlier this month, the FHFA extended the forbearance period by an additional three months, for up to 15 months’ forbearance.

The new changes announced Thursday were made to bring the agency’s policies in line with the policies set forth by the Biden administration for loans backed by the federal government, including Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) mortgages.

Beyond extending forbearance, the FHFA also announced that it was extending its moratoriums on single-family foreclosures and real estate owned (REO) evictions until June 30. The moratoriums were previously set to expire at the end of March.

Source: realtor.com

Buying These 9 Reusable Products Can Help Save Money Over Time

We stitched thousands of product photos together to make this video comparing the prices of reusable and disposable products. The costs reflect 2019 prices. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Saving the planet doesn’t always come cheap.

Many of the disposable products we use and love are easier to buy at lower prices than their reusable counterparts.

But the convenience of disposable products often comes at a steep cost to the environment. Plastic bags and straws pollute the ocean and end up being ingested by sea animals. Disposable diapers take hundreds of years to decompose in landfills.

Reusable products often cost more up front, but you may be surprised to find out how soon they end up paying for themselves since you can use them again and again instead of buying more of the disposable versions.

9 Reusable Products That Will Save You Money Over Time

We took nine household products, searched for both reusable and disposable versions on Amazon and compared the costs. Here’s how they stacked up.

Editor’s note: The prices in this post are valid as of Jan. 29, 2021.

Straws

A stainless steel straw costing $0.50 (or $7.99 for a set of 16), is equal to the cost of about 8 disposable straws at 6 cents each. That means that after 8 uses, the reusable straw has essentially paid for itself — plus you’ve got 15 more left over.

Water Bottles

One reusable water bottle costing $16.30 is equal to the cost of about 25 single-use water bottles at 65 cents each.

Translation: Refill your bottle 25 times and then you’re done paying for water entirely.

Diapers

Diaper prices can vary widely. For example, cheap (read: leaky) store-brand diapers cost just a few cents each, while a box of Pampers can set you back nearly $25 a week. The same is true of cloth diapers.

For this comparison, take a cloth diaper costing $5 and a disposable diaper at 29 cents. The cloth diaper has paid for itself after 17 diaper changes.

Multiply that over two years of a child’s life before potty training, and there are major savings to be had by reusing cloth diapers — many of which are adjustable to keep up with your baby’s growth.

Sandwich Bags

This set of 15 reusable, resealable bags costs $11.99, while a box of 150 Ziploc bags runs about $12.99.

Think about it this way: Before you replace that box of disposable bags, you’ve already paid more than you did for your reusable set.

Paper Towels

One cloth kitchen towel at $1.58 is less than the cost of one family-sized roll of paper towels at a cost of $2.75 per roll. Enough said.

Dryer Balls

If you’ve never heard of dryer balls, they’re little wool balls about the size of a tennis ball that you throw in your dryer with your wet laundry in place of fabric-softening dryer sheets. Because the wool can absorb some moisture from your clothes, manufacturers claim they cut down on energy use and drying time.

They can also save you some pennies. A set of six reusable wool dryer balls costs $9.97, while a box of 240 disposable dryer sheets costs just about a dollar less — but you’ll have to restock once you use them all. This one’s a no-brainer.

K-Cups

Did you even know there was a reusable alternative to those little pods of delectable, life-giving coffee? There totally is!

While a box of 40 Starbucks K-Cups will set you back $33.37 (OUCH), a set of four reusable pods that you just refill with your favorite ground coffee runs $10.95.

Razors

Razors are synonymous with disposable. A package of 24 of the plastic ones: $18.99. A single chrome reusable safety razor (that will make you feel like Don Draper): $14.66.

You do have to replace the blade on the reusable one. Don’t worry, they’re cheap. A box of 100 is $9.88 — about 10 cents each.

Feminine Products

Listen up, gal pals. We’re here to tell you that you are not — we repeat, NOT — doomed to pay an exorbitant monthly fee for tampons and liners and pads (not to mention Midol) simply for the privilege of being female.

With a box of 40 tampons costing $12.25 and 66 pads ringing in at $6.38 times every month of your adult life, it’s … a lot. So consider this: One pair of Thinx period underwear is $23, and a Diva cup is $32.99.

That’s a considerable up-front cost, but these products — and really all reusable replacements — are all about long-term savings.

Not to mention tossing a little less waste in the landfill.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Senior editor Molly Moorhead contributed to this report.

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

U.S. Existing Home Sales Rise in January as Buyers ‘Snatch Up’ Any New Listings

The numbers: U.S. existing home sales inched up 0.6% to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 6.69 million, the National Association of Realtors said Friday. Compared with a year ago, home sales were up 23.7%.

Economists polled by The Wall Street Journal had forecast that existing home sales would fall to a median rate of 6.66 million.

What happened: The median existing-home price rose to $303,900 in January, up 14.1% from a year ago.

The inventory of homes for sale fell to a record low 1.04 million units by the end of January. That’s a 25.7% decline year-over-year. The market had a 1.9-month supply of homes for sales. A 6-month supply is considered a sign of a balanced market.

The South and the Midwest showed an increase in sales in January.

Big picture: Sales have been moving sideways since setting a cycle high in October. Economists think that low mortgage rates will continue to boost housing demand in coming months. Buyers are also looking for more room and more remote locations in the wake of the pandemic.

What the NAR said: “Home sales continue to ascend in the first month of the year, as buyers quickly snatched up virtually every new listing coming on the market. Sales easily could have been even 20% higher if there had been more inventory and more choices,” said said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist.

What economists are saying? “In general, record low mortgage rates and families fleeing more crowded living situations are fueling demand for single family homes in spite of ongoing turmoil in the labor market and higher home prices. Indeed, this is one sector which is coming out of the crisis stronger than it went into it,” said Josh Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at MFR Inc.

Market reaction: U.S. stocks opened higher Friday with the S&P 500 index up 12.48 points in mid-day trading after declining in the past three trading sessions.

Source: realtor.com

Veteran? Want to Buy a Home? Check out Veterans United Home Loans

There are roughly 18 million U.S. military veterans. Together, they make up about a seventh of the country.

That’s a lot of people. In fact, only four states have more people than that.

Most of those veterans will become homeowners at some point. However, a lot of vets are first-time homebuyers, and a surprising number of them don’t know about a huge benefit their service affords them: VA loans. Or, if they’ve heard of VA loans, they’re not totally familiar with what that means.

Why is this such a big deal? If you’re a veteran, a VA loan could buy a home with zero money down. Seriously. For most vets, there’s no need to wait until you’ve saved up a big 20% down payment. That’s a huge obstacle for many homebuyers.

If you’re a veteran, and you’re looking to buy a home, a company called Veterans United Home Loans could help you buy one — no down payment needed.

How You Could Buy a Home Without a Down Payment

Veterans United Home Loans is the single biggest lender for VA purchase loans in the country. It’s licensed in all 50 states, and in 2020 alone, it helped more than 86,000 service members, veterans and military families secure more than $23 billion in VA loans. Veterans United has been the nation’s No. 1 VA purchase lender since 2016.

Here’s why: Veterans United offers competitive, transparent rates. And it acts as a resource for military homebuyers and their families, offering 24/7 customer support over the phone.

Also, Veterans United just makes it really simple to apply for a VA loan. You can use its website to see if you’re eligible, and it’s easy to apply for a free quote.

You might be thinking this sounds complicated. But here’s the thing: Veterans United makes it easy. It handles all the hard parts for you, and its VA loan experts on staff know how to navigate the whole process quickly and easily. They know the benefits and processes inside and out, making sure you get every benefit you qualify for.

How to Get Started

So, you’re ready to buy a home. Veterans United makes it easy to get started and even pre-qualify for a loan online. Just click here to tell them about which branch you served in, where you want to shop for a home, your price range and some other basic info. It takes just a few minutes, then you can get started house-hunting.

Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He’s not a veteran, but he is a homeowner.

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

How to Prevent Identity Theft (From Someone Who’s Been Through It)

My name is Tiffani Sherman. The real Tiffani Sherman. Not the one who recently applied for unemployment benefits, an SBA COVID loan, five credit cards, a payday advance, two loans, and opened two bank accounts.

That wasn’t me.

It also wasn’t me back in early 2019 who ordered a bunch of expensive stuff online and then changed the shipping addresses, drained rewards points accounts to buy gift cards, hijacked Amazon and eBay accounts, and monitored and deleted emails for weeks.

For the second time in two years, I’m dealing with the fallout of identity theft.

Trust me, it isn’t fun.

I’m having to prove I didn’t apply for all of these things and that is taking a lot of my time and energy.

I’m not alone, which doesn’t make me feel all that much better.

Identity Theft Is Down, but the Damage Is Worse Than Ever

According to the The 2020 Identity Fraud Report by Javelin Strategy & Research released in May 2020, losses from identity fraud totaled $16.9 billion, which was up 15% from the year before.

According to the report, instances of fraud are falling but the damage they are doing is increasing. Thieves are shifting from fraudulent credit card changes to account takeovers. This kind of thing yields more, is more complex to prevent, and takes longer to fix.

Most of the damage happens within a short period of time. The Javelin research says 40% of the activity usually happens within a day.

With my latest go-around, all of the applications were completed within less than 72 hours.

“It’s a very rapid period of time because eventually they’re going to experience some friction,” said John Buzzard, fraud and security analyst for Javelin Strategy & Research. “They have a small working window of time to really do that total takeover.”

How Did Scammers Get My Data?

Almost everyone who heard about my ID theft problems asked me how people got my data.

I honestly don’t know. I do know I was part of several high profile data breaches, but who knows if that was it or not.

Scamicide founder Steven Weisman, a nationally recognized expert on identity theft, scams and cybersecurity, says most identity theft happens in one of two ways.

The first is when we accidentally give out our data. “We may have clicked on a link in a text message or an email that had keystroke logging malware that stole the information from our phone or our computer or we may have been tricked into giving personal information over the phone to someone,” he said.

We all get those calls and emails where the person says they work for a computer giant and noticed a problem with your computer, or they’re from the government and they need your Social Security number. Some of them can sound pretty ominous, so it’s easy to fall for them.

Also, think about how many places ask for information like your Social Security number and date of birth.

“Just because somebody asks you for information, that doesn’t mean you have to give it to them and that’s just something people don’t understand,” Buzzard said.

Recently, a grocery store employee asked for his Social Security number when he applied for a store rewards card. “I said, no, I’m sorry. You can have my cell phone number if you need an identifier. If you need a Social, we’re done here. You’re a grocery store, not exactly a high level security operation. The person folded, put in my cell, and off I went with my rewards card.”

The other way scammers get your data is through hackers.

“No matter how good you are at protecting your personal information we’re only as safe as the places with the weakest security,” Weisman said. “With so many people working remotely these days, people are going to be hacked at home and then through them, [hackers] will get at the networks of the companies for which they work. I think we’re going to have a massive amount of major data breaches.”

Then the information becomes like pieces of a puzzle.

“It’s like a patchwork quilt,” Buzzard said. “You pop somebody’s information in and you play around with it.”

A woman stands in her backyard with green plants around her and a white fence behind her.
Sherman doesn’t know how scammers got her data. Recommended ways to protect yourself from identity theft include setting up alerts, checking your monthly billing statements and using digital wallets. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

7 Ways to Make It Hard for Scammers to Use Your Data

Since much of this is basically out of our control, there are some things you can do to make it a bit more difficult for a scammer to use your data if and when they get it.

1. Protect Your Credit

Thieves make easy money with your credit either by charging things on existing cards or opening new credit cards. Either way, they charge a bunch and leave the unsuspecting victim with the bill and damage to their credit.

Even though you’re not responsible for fraudulent charges on your credit cards, the hassle you go through to remove the charges is worth taking steps to prevent it.

  • Check your bills: Look at monthly statements and report any charges you do not recognize.
  • Set up alerts: Most credit card companies let you set up text or email alerts whenever your card is used. If an alert every time is too much, you can often change the settings to let you know if a card is used without the physical card being present, or if a charge is higher than a certain amount. I’ve received several notifications that have let me know someone was up to no good, and I was able to quickly report it and cancel the cards.
  • Remove saved payment methods: I know it’s convenient to not have to type in your credit card every time you order something, but having a saved payment method makes it easy for someone who gains access to an online account to do a lot of damage very quickly. This is what burned me in 2019 when someone gained access to my Amazon, eBay and other accounts and bought several things using my card.
  • Use digital wallets: This type of technology uses encrypted and tokenized data so if someone steals it, it is worthless to them.

2. Freeze Your Credit

Both Weisman and Buzzard said the most important thing to do is freeze your credit. Doing this should stop anyone from opening credit accounts using your information.

When someone wants to open a credit card or get a loan, the institution needs to check the applicant’s credit history to know if they are worth the risk or not.

When you have a credit freeze, nobody can access your credit history, so financial institutions will not be able to get the information they need to open an account. This becomes important when a scammer tries to use your personal information to open a fraudulent account. The freeze will automatically stop the account from being opened.

If you want to legitimately open a line of credit, all you need to do is temporarily unfreeze your credit. Just remember to freeze it again.

Each bureau operates separately, so freezing one does not freeze them all, as I found out the hard way. After my issues in 2019, I thought I had frozen all of my credit, but it turns out everything was not frozen. That’s how the scammers were able to do so much damage this go-around.

I think it should be easier to freeze your credit and protect yourself from identity theft. Weisman agrees. However, the bureaus make money by gathering your information and selling it to lenders.

“If you freeze your credit, [the bureaus] can’t sell the access to your credit,” Weisman said. “Freezing your credit makes you less valuable to the credit reporting agencies.”

Since Equifax had a huge breach a few years ago, freezing and unfreezing credit is free.

Everyone’s credit is separate, so a couple needs to each freeze their credit individually. Freezing one does not freeze the other’s. Also, parents can freeze the credit of their minor children.

Even with your credit frozen, check each bureau’s credit reports periodically to make sure nothing has gotten through. Also, check to make sure everything is still frozen.

This illustration shows a woman typing in her saved password.
Getty Images

3. Protect Passwords and Personal Information

Part of my problem in 2019 was that someone got hold of several of my passwords, including the email account I used for most of my logins and online commerce. I admit, at the time I was less than vigilant about having a different password for anything and everything. Trust me, that has changed.

As I said, lots of my information including several website and password combinations were part of several well-known data breaches that have happened during the past few years. During these breaches, fraudsters hacked into databases and got the info.

Then they sold that information on the dark web or in other ways. One of those other methods is something called a combolist service (CaaS), which is increasing in popularity. People pay a monthly fee for lists of updated and stolen credentials and personal information that is accessible in the cloud.

I looked and lots of my information is unfortunately part of these combolists.

Once the information is out there, it’s impossible to remove it, so all you can really do is change your passwords and keep changing them regularly.

If you forget a password, you can usually reset it by answering some security questions. These present their own set of problems because often the answers are things people can easily find out about you.

“The easy way around this is there is absolutely no rule that says you have to answer your security questions honestly,” Weisman said. “You can have really what seems like vulnerable security question like my banks, which is what’s my mother’s maiden name, but I can put down that my mother’s maiden name was firetruck or grapefruit, or something equally ridiculous. And the good thing there is, you will remember that security question, because it’s just so ridiculous and no one is ever going to be able to crack that.”

As for those password vaults, security experts are mixed about them. One remediation expert I talked with to help me with my issues said she doesn’t like them because if someone breaches the vault, they have access to everything. Other people say they are a good way to make sure you have strong passwords for everything.

4. Don’t Give Out Information on Social Media

I just saw a post on a friend’s social media page saying the song that was most popular the week you turned 14 defines who you are. It also defines the year you were born to any online scammer who is looking for that important piece of information.

The same goes for quizzes that talk about favorite pets, first cars, favorite teachers, school mascots, etc. Seeing those types of things now makes me cringe. Many people are making it way too easy for scammers.

5. Enable Two-Factor Authentication

Enabling two-factor authentication is also important. If someone tries to log into your account, the vendor will send a one-time code either to the email address or phone number on file.

“Data breaches will happen,” Weisman said. “People will make mistakes and fall for a spear phishing email and suddenly they may have had their usernames and passwords turned over. So you always want to have dual factor authentication whenever you can so even if someone has your username and password, they can’t access your account.”

Just make sure you protect your phone also by enabling its security features.

To save you the hassle of having to receive a code each time you want to log into your own accounts, some websites will allow you to save devices so the next time you log in, it will remember that device’s IP address and allow the login without the extra security.

Be wary of any email, phone call, or text you receive saying something has been compromised and to click on a link or call a number to reset it. Instead of clicking on the link, go to the website or app itself and reset the password directly from there.

A man uses face recondition to get into his phone.
Getty Images

6. Secure Devices

We live for our devices. They’re our constant companion and contain our whole lives. Protect them.

  • Update operating systems and security software: Companies issue updates once they identify a vulnerability a hacker could exploit. Sadly, this isn’t always foolproof. “Even if you get the most up to date security software, it’s always going to be about a month behind the latest what we call zero date defects,” Weisman said.
  • Install malware protection: Malware is short for malicious software and it is basically anything that can harm or exploit a device. There are many different kinds. Often, it finds its way on to our devices because we click on a malicious link or open an attachment that unleashes the software. Don’t forget to protect your phone.
  • Secure Wi-Fi connections: Make sure you secure your wireless router and change the password on it.
  • Secure IoT items: It’s true. Your refrigerator may be spying on you. Many things in your home connect to the internet and can provide access to your network and other items on it which can contain personal information.

Weisman suggests taking one more step to secure your phone which is locking your number. This way, a scammer can’t transfer your phone number to another carrier.

Think about it. With many two-factor authentication codes coming to your phone, if someone had your personal information AND took control of your phone number, you wouldn’t get your codes. They would.

Locking my number was easy to do from my provider’s app. If I ever want to change cell providers, I can use the app to create a temporary  PIN to allow the change.

7. Don’t Rely on Protection Services

There are many services out there that say they will protect you from identity theft.

Weisman is not a huge fan because they don’t usually protect you. They just alert you sooner.

“I liken them to crossing a street and I get hit by a bus and someone runs out into the street and tells me, ‘Hey you just got hit by a bus,’” Weisman said. “That’s what the identity theft protection services are doing. They’re telling you sooner that you’ve been victimized. They don’t do anything to protect you from becoming a victim.”

Since most of the personal information out there comes from data breaches, phishing emails, etc., it isn’t possible to totally prevent the theft of personal information. The best we can do is attempt to control what the scammers can do once they get it.

My friends keep asking me if I stopped everything. Sadly, I cannot answer that question. The flurry of attempts to open new accounts seems to have calmed for now, but I’m waiting for the next round.

It’s a helpless feeling.

Tiffani Sherman is a Florida-based freelance reporter with more than 25 years of experience writing about finance, health, travel and other topics.

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Home Builder Confidence Improves, but High Construction Costs Remain a Concern

The numbers: The construction industry’s outlook improved in February amid better foot traffic from home buyers, even as the cost of building homes increased.

The National Association of Home Builders’ monthly confidence index rose one point to a reading of 84 in February, the trade group said this week. The modest increase comes after two consecutive months where the index has dropped.

Index readings over 50 are a sign of improving confidence. Last spring, the index dropped below 50 as concerns regarding the coronavirus pandemic grew, but the index rebounded and later hit a series of record highs in the fall.

What happened: The index that measures sentiment traffic of prospective buyers increased four points to 72. Comparatively, the outlook regarding current sales activity held steady between January and February, while the index of expectations for future sales over the next six months declined by three points to 80.

On a regional basis, builders’ confidence regarding the housing market in the Northeast improved dramatically, rising from 68 in January to 89 in February. Builders also grew more confident about the state of the market in the Midwest and maintained their positive outlook on the South. Confidence worsened slightly in the West, however.

The big picture: Demand for new homes remains extremely high. The lack of existing homes for sale, plus renewed interest in suburban living amid the pandemic, is pushing buyers further out from major cities and toward newly-constructed developments. But price pressures could begin to affect builders and buyers alike in the coming months.

“Lumber prices have been steadily rising this year and hit a record high in mid-February, adding thousands of dollars to the cost of a new home and causing some builders to abruptly halt projects at a time when inventories are already at all-time lows,” Chuck Fowke, who is the current chairman of the National Association of Home Builders and a custom home builder from Tampa, Fla., said in the report.

“Builders remain very focused on regulatory and other policy issues that could price out households seeking new homes in a tight market this year,” Fowke added.

What they’re saying: “Housing starts and permits should moderate, but from the highest levels since 2006, as building activity continues to be supported by strong demand for homes — especially single-family construction — and low inventories,” Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, wrote in a research note.

Market reaction: The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 index were both down slightly Wednesday morning.

Source: realtor.com