Voting is Worth the Wait

October 31, 2008

Once again a Letter to the Editor in the Washington Post struck me just right:

Friday, October 31, 2008

Looking at the Oct. 29 Metro headline “Never Seen Crowds Like This,” I felt a little disgusted — not because the lines for voting were so long; not because voters were being inconvenienced; and not because we all have busy lives. It was because it seems that our priorities are out of whack.

I wonder how long many of these “inconvenienced” voters have waited in line for tickets to big games, movies or concerts — three or four hours, maybe?

The last time I went out to eat on a busy weekend, I was told the wait would be between 45 and 70 minutes — and that was just for a seat. And what about the last time you or someone you know went to one of the more popular theme parks? I’ve heard of people waiting one, two or three hours per ride — yet theme park visitors go on three or four rides per day.

Truth is, voting isn’t an inconvenience. I don’t care how long it takes.

Five or 10 minutes is nice. That’s the norm. But take a book, perhaps one on American history, in case your wait is longer. What can you say about people who will wait several hours for a theme park ride or to see the celebrity du jour but can’t be bothered with a line on Election Day?

ROB KIRCHHOEFER

Mr. Kirchhoefer, however you may pronounce your name, you really hit the nail on the head. Very few countries in the world today – or at any time in history – see the regular peaceful transfer of power that is the election process we enjoy, that so many find “inconvenient” or ignore – only to bitch when those elected do something they don’t like (or do nothing at all).


What is “preapproval” and why do I need it?

October 31, 2008

Not many people have the cash to buy a home. If you do, you already know you don’t need a mortgage preapproval. But for the rest of us cash-poor mortals, mortgage preapproval (before you begin your house hunting) lets you know exactly how much you are qualified to borrow, and thus what you can spend on a home. What is the point of looking for a home until you know how much home you can afford?

Furthermore, when you decide on a home, the seller will want to know that you are able to pay what you are offering before he will consider your offer. Thus when you make an offer, you are expected to provide a letter from a reputable lender saying exactly that.



The lender wants to understand your personal financial picture, including savings, credit history and income. To help you get a quick idea of what you can afford – which they generally call a prequalification – they will usually run a credit check, and accept your word on your income and assets.

The next step involves having you provide bank statements and such to verify assets, and paystubs or other income verification documents. When they have seen these, they can provide you with a preapproval letter referencing your ability to borrow a specific amount. What is nice about all of this is that most good lenders don’t charge you anything for these services, nor do they require that you use them for your mortgage.

The keys to getting a solid preapproval are:

  • establish a consistent record of paying your bills on time, to keep your credit rating up;
  • aim for having enough savings to cover your down payment, closing costs if necessary (figure 2-3% of the sales price but often the seller will contribute this), and two month’s expenses in case of emergency. While you wouldn’t want to tap retirement savings for your down payment or other house purchase costs, they do represent reserves that help reassure the lender about your financial stability, so be sure to include these in your assets;

  • a stable employment history is important, but if you’ve recently completed college, or were in the military, you have good reason to have less work history. If you are a freelancer or do contract work, the lender will look for consistency in income over the last two years, so hang on to those tax returns.


It’s Only A Blip

October 25, 2008

I am sharing today a letter to the editor of the Washington Post from this morning’s edition. It rather neatly encompasses my views – namely, let’s get on with doing what we do:

Fearing Fear Itself

The Oct. 23 front-page article “Job Losses Accelerate, Signaling Deeper Distress” used words such as “hemorrhaging” and “long and painful recession.” While factual, I suppose, such reports can become self-fulfilling. Americans should take a breath and think about the “crisis” we are in.

There is no world war, no second Sept. 11, no spate of Hurricane Katrinas, no bird flu epidemic, no drought of biblical proportions, no locusts and certainly no massive slayings of firstborns. This economic crisis is man-made and is spread not through spores or other biological means. It persists because of fear itself, spread by our New Age circulatory system — the media and the Internet. Thus it can be stopped by man. People should be told that it will run its course and that things will then be better.

America is cheap now. It’s a good time to buy, not sell, stocks, homes and cars.

Someone asked me when this will be over. I said that it could be over by next Thursday if someone with credibility just said that it would be over and enough people believed it.

ROBERT J. BRUDNO

Thank you, Mr. Brudno. I don’t think I have the credibility needed, but I certainly agree with you.

Yesterday my younger son, he of the first job and fresh new 401-K, asked me, “This is good for people like me, right? Stock prices are low so that’s good?” I’m not certain of anything except that he has a lifetime ahead of him for his investments to mature, so I encouraged him to press on and keep at it. And, by the way, be sure to buy that first home before June 30 so you get the tax credit.


Facts About The $7500 Homebuyer Tax Credit

October 22, 2008

Yes, you can get $7,500 from the federal government to help you buy a house . . . for a limited time.

A tax credit of 10% of the purchase price up to $7,500 is available for any principal residence home purchase between April 9, 2008 and June 30, 2009. You must actually settle (close escrow) within that period. The credit is repayable over 15 years (making it, in effect, an interest free loan).

Eligibility:  Though it is called the “first-time homebuyer” credit, you are eligible if you (or your spouse) have not owned a home as a principal residence the past three years. Owning rental properties or vacation homes do not disqualify you. (Lucky you!)

Income Limits:  Single or Head-of-Household – $75,000 modified adjusted gross income for the maximum credit; up to $95,000 for a partial credit. Married filing jointly – $150,000 for the maximum credit; up to $170,000 for a partial credit.

Tax Years:  If you settle on your purchase in 2008, you must take the credit on your 2008 tax return. If you settle in 2009, you may use the credit on your 2008 or 2009 tax return. Obviously, if your income is expected to be over the limits in one year or the other, this provision helps.

Refundability:  The tax credit is refundable. That means even if you don’t owe any taxes (you lucky dog), you can take the amount of the credit as a tax refund. Woohoo!

Payback:  Normally, the credit will be repaid in 15 equal annual installments beginning with the second tax year after the year the credit is claimed. The repayment amount is included as an additional tax on the taxpayer’s income tax return for that year. For example, if you claim a $7,500 credit on your 2008 return, you will begin paying it back on your 2010 tax return. In this case, $500 will be due each year from 2010 to 2024.

If you sell your home, all remaining annual installments become due on the return for the year of sale. The repayment is limited to the amount of gain on the sale. If there is no gain, or if there is a loss on the sale, the remaining annual installments are forgiven.

If you die (ouch), any remaining annual installments are not due. If you filed a joint return and then you die, your surviving spouse would be required to repay his or her half of the remaining repayment amount on the same terms. If you transfer your home to your spouse, or, as part of a divorce settlement, to your former spouse, that person is responsible for making all subsequent installment payments.

For more details on the tax credit, see http://www.federalhousingtaxcredit.com/. As always, if your situation is unusual, consult your tax adviser.


Being Owned By A Cat

October 21, 2008

When you see me in a short-sleeved shirt and there are scratches on my arm, now you will know why . . .

Belly Rub Guide


A Good Time To Buy?

October 20, 2008

It depends. (How’s that for a no-nonsense opinion?) Are you looking to make a quick profit? Or do you want a nice home at a good price and low interest rate, to live in, get tax breaks, and maybe long-term appreciation? 

Heather Elias writes in Agent Genius:

So our clients are asking, “Is it a good time to buy?” How many times have you counseled your clients when they ask you that question? [Kim note: Always.] Of course, you then determine: do they have a house to sell, do they have good credit and adequate down payment. Somewhere in there comes the question: “How long do you plan on staying in this home?”

You’d better be thinking, “at least 5 years.” I used to say 3 years, but the times of quick profits are over. You will pay a little off each month building equity, and you should get some appreciation for sure – they still aren’t making any more land. A home is a long term investment; plan to stick around awhile when you buy. And don’t wait for the market to hit bottom, because by the time you find out it’s hit the bottom (if it hasn’t already), it’ll be six months later.

Geek Alert – Engadget has a post about Nintendo-based cufflinks for those of you who can’t get enough (and wearing these on your next foray into the singles bar, you probably won’t get any).


Stayin’ Alive

October 17, 2008

I knew there was a really good reason this song has been rolling around in my brain for 30+ years:

Disco tune “Stayin’ Alive” could save your life
Thu Oct 16, 3:27 pm ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. doctors have found the Bee Gees 1977 disco anthem “Stayin’ Alive” provides an ideal beat to follow while performing chest compressions as part of CPR on a heart attack victim.

The American Heart Association calls for chest compressions to be given at a rate of 100 per minute in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). “Stayin’ Alive” almost perfectly matches that, with 103 beats per minute.

CPR is a lifesaving technique involving chest compressions alone or with mouth-to-mouth rescue breathing. It is used in emergencies such as cardiac arrest in which a person’s breathing or heartbeat has stopped.

CPR can triple survival rates, but some people are reluctant to do it in part because they are unsure about the proper rhythm for chest compressions. But research has shown many people do chest compressions too slowly during CPR.

In a small study headed by Dr. David Matlock of the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria, listening to “Stayin’ Alive” helped 15 doctors and medical students to perform chest compressions on dummies at the proper speed.

Five weeks after practicing with the music playing, they were asked to perform CPR again on dummies by keeping the song in their minds, and again they kept up a good pace.

“The theme ‘Stayin’ Alive’ is very appropriate for the situation,” Matlock said in a telephone interview on Thursday. “Everybody’s heard it at some point in their life. People know the song and can keep it in their head.”