County government to undergo evaluation

The fiscally challenged Luzerne County government is about to undergo an evaluation aimed at finding inefficiencies and improving operations for the next five years.

The county has hired Public Financial Management, a nationwide financial advising firm, to conduct the assessment using a $147,000 grant from the Department of Community and Economic Development along with $20,000 in local match funding, county Manager Robert Lawton said during a public forum Tuesday evening.

The study is important now because the county is operating under a two-year-old home-rule charter and changes that might not have happened previously could be possible, he said.

Dean Kaplan, managing director at the firm, said “a lot has changed” since his firm completed previous studies in 2004 and 2009, and that by updating the county’s budget projections from 2015 through 2019, the firm hopes to make recommendations that could cut costs and improve efficiency.

Several members of the audience questioned the extent to which recommendations from the previous reports had been adopted and whether anything had changed.

“Clearly there were some very good suggestions that weren’t followed,” former Luzerne County controller Walter L. Griffith Jr. said.

Kaplan said one of the first things the firm intends to do is determine which previous recommendations were implemented. He also noted that the previous reports were completed under the commissioner form of government and that the county manager now has power over daily operations.

“You now have a manager with enhanced powers to do certain things,” Kaplan said.

The report will detail projected savings and costs, and that as a result it will be “self-enforcing,” Lawton said.

“If we don’t implement the recommendations, that’s where the accountability will be,” Lawton said. “I didn’t bring them in here to ignore them and put the report on the shelf.”

The report is expected to be finished early next year.

570-821-2058, @cvjimhalpin

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4 Tips for Navigating Open Enrollment for Insurance

When open enrollment season for insurance arrives, youll face a wider range of choices than ever before — especially with a second round of enrollment for the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchanges starting in November.

Heed this expert advice: Do your homework.

When shopping for a plan, start with the basics of what you’re looking for and what you’re willing to pay for, says Michael McMillan,Executive Director of Market and Network Services at Cleveland Clinic. Then make your selection carefully so you get what you’re paying for, he adds.

To help you navigate enrollment — either on health insurance exchanges or elsewhere — McMillan offers the following helpful tips:

1. Know what services are covered under a selected plan

Start by reviewing what each particular plan offers. For example, what does the network of care providers look like? What services are most important to you based on your particular health needs or conditions, and are they available within a plan’s coverage?

“This will be a period of great change, and consumers will have a lot of options they haven’t had before on the exchanges,” McMillan says. “It’s important to be clear on what’s available and what isn’t.”

2. Make sure your providers are part of the network

When choosing plans, this is a major factor. Look at any given plan to see if your doctors and hospitals you use regularly are listed as network providers.

One evolving trend has been for health plans to create narrow networks — smaller versions of their standard network that help them achieve a lower price. The bottom line: Not all providers are included in these limited networks, so it’s worth your effort to check first and make sure your new plan includes the doctors and other practitioners you see regularly, McMillan says.

Look at any given plan to see if your doctors and hospitals you use regularly are listed as network providers.

3. Know your out-of-pocket costs

These are costs associated with the care received. They include things such as deductibles — the amount you pay before coverage kicks in — as well as copays and coinsurance on services. Out-of-pocket costs vary by the “metal” level of plan you choose on a health insurance exchange. So, for example, you would pay 40 percent of costs of coinsurance in a bronze plan, and 30 percent for silver.

In some high-deductible health plans, the first several thousand dollars will be your responsibility, too. For your personal budgeting and planning, it’s critical to know how much money you’ll have to pull out of your pocket when you go to the doctor, to the hospital, to the medical lab or for any other health service, McMillan notes.

4. Understand how your monthly premium works

Premiums are the monthly payments you make for your insurance coverage. Because the benefits for most plans, both on and off the exchanges, have become standardized, it should be fairly easy to make apples-to-apples comparisons among plans.

“You should be able to compare premium amounts, how much you pay every month for the service,” McMillan advises. However, your personal premiums may vary depending on your own circumstances — including whether you’re single or married, a smoker or a nonsmoker, and other factors.

2015 open enrollment for health insurance exchanges starts Nov. 15, 2014 and lasts until Feb. 15, 2015. Open enrollment periods for insurance plans outside of exchanges vary. No matter which path you pursue, learn as much as possible about your plan options before you buy, and you’ll end up with coverage that suits your needs as a result. 

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Pam Gencarella: Context Is What’s Needed – Part I

This is the first in a two-part series OSTPA will present to provide context for two types of state-wide referenda that you will be voting on this November. Referendum questions are usually an after thought for many voters. It is our contention that the decision to further indebt our state or the decision to hold a Constitutional Convention should not be a vacuous check mark on the ballot, there must be a frame of reference when making these decisions. Make no mistake about it, they will affect your every day financial lives. Part I provides context for the bond referenda (questions #4 – #7). Part II will provide context for the Constitutional Convention referendum (question #3).

The Credit Card.

Have you received your Voter Information Handbook yet? It purports to be a guide to state referenda. The problem is, when it provides you with information regarding bond issues, there is no context. Virtually everyone knows that RIs economy is one of, if not, the worst in the country. But one might think that after reading the voter handbook, its okay because the government will issue more debt to make it better.

Did you realize that this will be the third election cycle where the state has asked you to approve over $300 million in additional debt (principal and interest)? In 2010, voters approved $309 million, in 2012 we approved another $308 million and this year, we are asked to approve another $370 million. That would be a total of $1 billion approved in just 5 short years! If you are game for more taxes or if you have no children or grandchildren living in the state, then you probably wont twitch at that number. But if you expect to be able to afford to live in this state or you want your children or grandchildren to have the opportunity to live here, you must recognize that, given the state of our economy, this additional debt would only ensure that our kids would either be saddled with significantly higher taxes or they will be forced to move out of this state.

So when you are standing there, all alone in your voting booth, trying to make a decision about whether you should approve the more than one-third of a billion dollars in debt that the state is asking from you this year, consider the following:

Our own government projects that RI does not have enough money to pay for things they have already approved. Its right there in black and white in our 5 year plan. Your elected officials have actually budgeted to be $1 billion in the red by the end of the next 5 years. Is that an indication that we should add more debt?

RIPEC (RI Public Expenditure Council) reports that as of 2014, RI ranked 10th highest in the country in per capita debt. But more telling is that, as a percent of personal income, RIs debt is nearly 70% higher than the US median.

You should also know that, according to RIPEC, RI ranks as the 3rd highest in spending on general debt interest (per $1,000 of income). No surprise there.

So What is the Government Asking of You?

Question #4 will ask you to approve $183 million more in debt to build an engineering school for URI. Now, who isnt proud of the wonderful flagship university in our state? But we need to decide if this debt issue is a lsquo;nice to have or a lsquo;necessity. You and I do that every day when we make our personal budgeting decisions. The Providence Business News talks about the inconvenience of students having to traipse across the campus to get from one building to another. Or that URI lost 2 faculty members to other universities because of better facilities. Sorry, but RI is kind of in a financial crisis right now and the cure to the inconvenience appears to be less important than our state remaining afloat.

To put this bond issue in context, is it right that there is no money to maintain our primary and secondary public schools where 142,000 children attend? Many schools are so dilapidated as to pose a health risk to the students and teachers. Yet, the state would pay a total of $183 million for improvements in efficiency for a handful of students, where potentially half of whom are from out of state and some number of those in-state students will leave to find jobs outside the state. A lsquo;nice to have or a lsquo;necessity?

Question #5 will ask you to approve $52 million for creative and cultural spending. Against a backdrop of $1 billion in deficits, a lsquo;nice to have or a lsquo;necessity?

Question # 6 will ask you to approve $52 million for mass transit hub infrastructure. Which would be great, if there were an economy to speak of and the demand to move people around in order to get back and forth to work were high. How about we consider that once unemployment reaches the middle of the pack in the country?

Question # 7 will ask you to approve clean water, open spaces and healthy community spending to the tune of $78 million. Juxtapose that against crumbling RI highways and bridges, unfunded expenses to maintain the new Sakonnet Bridge, and the debt the state has already racked up in past years to fund current expenses. Yet our elected officials are asking for local recreation grants and renovations at Roger Williams Zoo. Again, lsquo;nice to have or lsquo;necessity?

As RIPEC stated in its review of the states Budget Outlook, Debt Position, and 2014 Ballot Initiatives , unless the states structural deficit is resolved, the state will continue to have to choose between making investments in its future and relying on short-term financial fixes and one-time solutions. Nothing has changed. It is still the case today. The General Assembly continues to spend with impunity and burden its taxpayers with more debt.

Whats a Voter to do?

A Narragansett resident recently wrote an editorial in The Providence Journalon the issue of adding more debt. She summed it up perfectly. lsquo;Every year they spend more than they can collect in taxes requiring a continuous increase in taxes and fees. We have become accustomed to hearing that they need more money every year – something reminiscent of my kids in their teenage years. No one is even talking about stopping the financial madness. A no vote on the bonds is the only way we can show our displeasure at their financial mess; conversely, a yes vote condones their misbehavior.

Perhaps a 30,000 foot view would be that the money would be better spent investing in an economic plan, one that restructures our tax system to incentivize the creation of new businesses and the expansion of existing businesses. Consider whether generating new, permanent, good-paying jobs is a better approach to investing in RIs future over creating more debt for what might very well be considered luxuries in the current economic climate.

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Home Depot offers customers free credit monitoring in wake of data breach

PROVIDENCE, RI – Home Depot has offered to provide free identity protection services to customers who used a payment card at one of its US stores since April.

The company sent out an e-mail message to customers following a break-in to their computer network.

“On September 8, 2014, we confirmed that our payment data systems have been breached, which could potentially impact customers using payment cards at our US and Canadian stores,” the company said.

“On September 18, 2014, we confirmed that the malware used in the breach has been eliminated from our US and Canadian stores and that we have completed a major payment security project that provides enhanced encryption of payment data at point of sale throughout our US stores, offering significant new protection for customers. “

“There is no evidence that debit PIN numbers were compromised or that checks were impacted. Additionally, there is no evidence that the breach has impacted stores in Mexico or customers who shopped online at HomeDepot.com. “

The company said its offer of free identity protection services includes credit monitoring for up to one year. Customers can sign up here: https://homedepot.allclearid.com/

On Twitter:
@TimothyBarmann

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Why we all stand to benefit from the SEC lifting its gag order on financial …

While you might view this news only as a harbinger of increased volume in financial advisor ads and emails, the move actually has the potential to overhaul a traditionally treacherous consumer service for the better. By allowing financial advisors to engage with reviews, the SEC has essentially enabled reviews to gain traction in the industry.

There are a number of reasons why we stand to benefit from this new, more transparent landscape:

1. We aren’t too financially savvy

About 41 percent of us spend more than we make, 56 percent don’t have an emergency fund, and 30 percent borrow from non-bank lenders. The average household also has roughly $7,000 in credit card debt and one in 12 American households are unbanked. In short, we could all use some sound financial advice.

2. Not all financial advisors are trustworthy

Fraud is one of the most common types of consumer complaints levied with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and there are innumerable examples of shady financial advisors swindling customers. Without an active review community, it was difficult to distinguish trustworthy financial advisors from those with a checkered past.

3. We love reviews

About 64 percent of consumers search for reviews when shopping for a product or service, according to the e-commerce company Fortune3, and that number is even higher — 84 percent — among millennials. The ability to use tried-and-true comparison shopping techniques when searching for financial advisors will certainly lead to better outcomes.

Reviews also stand to benefit the best financial advisors a great deal. Not only will consumer feedback help distinguish the bad apples from the good, it will also boost the bottom lines of those who are well regarded by the people with whom they’ve worked.

For example, one study from Cornell University found that a hotel can increase prices by 11 percent and still retain all of its business if its average customer rating increases by one star. Another study from Harvard Business School discovered that a one-star increase in a restaurant’s Yelp rating increased its revenue by between 5 percent and 9 percent.

So at the end of the day we all benefit. Let us then raise a glass to the SEC for bringing transparency to the financial advising field and, hopefully, future prosperity to us all.

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Caliber Home Loans Set to Acquire Cobalt Mortgage

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FHA home loans play important role for buyers in local housing markets

An FHA home loan is a great option for buyers who need financing to purchase a home. In fact 1 in 5 buyers use FHA financing to purchase a home today. With its minimum down payment requirement of only 3.5%, easier qualifying rules, and flexible loan programs which also allow co-signers, FHA is helping many buyers finance a home who may have not been able to otherwise. Regular Union Tribune contributor and local mortgage specialist Michael Deery with Citywide Financial, explains the benefits of using FHA financing and answers some frequently asked questions.

What is the FHA?

FHA stands for Federal Housing Administration. The FHA is the largest insurer of mortgages in the world, insuring over 34 million properties since its inception in 1934. The FHA does not “make” the loan – it insures the loan for the lender.

What is FHA mortgage insurance?

FHA mortgage insurance premiums (MIP) are premiums you’ll pay at closing, and in the monthly mortgage payment, to insure your lender’s loan against default. The amount of FHA MIP paid is linked to the size of your down payment, and the length of your loan.

Homeowners making a down payment of 10% or more and financing with a 15-year mortgage pay the least amount of FHA MIP. Homeowners making the minimum down payment of 3.5% and using a 30-year loan, will pay the most FHA MIP. Under new FHA rules, if you put down less than 10%, you will pay FHA MIP for the life of the loan.

How do I cancel FHA mortgage insurance?

If you put down less than 10%, you will pay FHA MIP for the life of the loan, so the only way to cancel it would be to refinance out of the FHA and into a conventional loan. If you put down more than 10%, FHA MIP will cancel after 11 years.

What credit score is required for FHA?

Most lenders only require a credit score of 580 to qualify for a FHA loan. The FHA is not as credit score driven as conventional financing, so for example, a buyer with a credit score of 640 will usually qualify for the same mortgage rate as a buyer with a 700 credit score.

What down payment is required for an FHA loan?

Most FHA loans only require a 3.5% down payment. The 3.5% is calculated against your home’s purchase price. For example, if you purchase a home for $400,000, $14,000 is the minimum down payment due. TIP: We can also give a FHA buyer a 3% lender credit to cover ALL their closing costs. Make sure to ask me how you can qualify for this lender credit to help pay all your closing costs too.

Is there a maximum loan amount I can qualify for?

FHA offers financing based on county loan limits. For example, in San Diego, FHA buyers can get 3.5% down payment financing up to a loan of $546,250, or $625,000 in Los Angeles and Orange County, and $355,350 in Riverside and San Bernardino. Please note that interest rates are better for loans under $417k which are known as conforming loans, and rates are higher for loans >$417k, as these are considered FHA jumbo loans.

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Oprah’s Wealth-Building Secret Revealed

 

Oprah Winfrey at the 2011 Teen Choice Awards. Photo credit: Greg Hernandez. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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Investor home loans highest since 1990

GROWTH in loans to investors to buy houses and apartments has accelerated to a six-and-a-half year high, fanning fears of a Reserve Bank-led crackdown on destabilising, debt-fuelled property speculation.

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Next Generation Trust Services is Named a Pillar One Advisor by The Oxford …

ROSELAND, NJ, Sept. 29, 2014 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — via PRWEB – High-net-worth investors and entrepreneurs of The Oxford Club have a new resource available to them with the addition of Next Generation Trust Services to the private clubs roster of Pillar One Advisors. As a third-party administrator of self-directed retirement plans, Next Generation Trust Services will open up new investment horizons for Oxford Club members around the world who are interested in self-directing their retirement investments. The Oxford Club, based in Baltimore, Md. is an international network of investors and entrepreneurs, with a mission to grow and protect the wealth of its members. More than 70,000 members are located globally in 131 countries with an estimated combined wealth of about $14 billion.

As a Pillar One Advisor, Next Generation will share insights into self-direction as a retirement wealth-building strategy and provide opportunities for Oxford Club members to open new self-directed retirement plans. Next Generation provides comprehensive account maintenance and administration, and education to individuals interested in self-directing their retirement portfolios. The company holds the assets, expedites the transactions, manages all the paperwork and required filing, and answers questions about the diverse investment options available with self-directed IRAs.

Through self-direction, investors make all their own investment decisions, usually based on assets they already know and understand; these accounts allow for a broad array of alternative investment vehicles including real estate, loans, private placements, commodities, precious metals and much more.

Oxford Club members are an elite group of financially savvy investors who may already be investing in non-publicly traded alternative assets, noted Jaime Raskulinecz, founder and CEO of Next Generation Trust Services. We are pleased to offer additional guidance and support to those who wish to further diversify their retirement portfolios through self-direction.

Member benefits in The Oxford Club include access to its selected Pillar One Advisors, which run the gamut from travel and hospitality companies to financial services firms such as Next Generation.

Pillar One Advisors give Oxford Club Members exclusive access to special services designed to help them build and protect their wealth. Were pleased to announce the addition of Next Generation Trust Services, a company committed to providing members with the tools and support they need to invest in a self-directed retirement plan, said Julia C. Guth, executive director of The Oxford Club.

The Oxford Clubs leadership researches investment opportunities around the world which they share with members. The Oxford Clubs mission aligns strongly with ours at Next Generation Trust Services–to help individuals build a potentially more lucrative retirement portfolio through alternative investments, said Raskulinecz. As an introduction to Oxford Club members, Next Generation is offering a discount on its account opening fee and complimentary phone consultation regarding self-directed assets. Members may also request the firms white papers: Crowdfunding, Protecting Yourself from IRA Fraud and The Secrets to Retiring Rich.

For more information about self-direction as a retirement strategy or to open a new account, visit http://NextGenerationTrustServices.com or contact Next Generation at Info(at)NextGenerationTrust(dot)com or (888) 857-8058.

About Next Generation Trust Services

Next Generation Trust Services (NGTS), headquartered in Roseland, New Jersey, is a professional third-party administrator of self-directed retirement plans. NGTS provides education, administrative support, and account maintenance to individuals interested in self-directing their retirement portfolios with a wide variety of investments that are not typically found in an IRA, such as real estate, precious metals, notes and mortgages, private placements, accounts receivables, limited partnerships, hedge funds, and much more. Next Generation Trust Services serves clients globally via its website, http://www.NextGenerationTrust.com. For more information on self-directing a retirement plan, call 973-533-1880, 888-857-8058 (toll free), or e-mail Info@NextGenerationTrust.com.

About The Oxford Club

The Oxford Club is a private, international network of trustworthy and knowledgeable investors and entrepreneurs. The organization has over 70,000 members worldwide in 131 countries with an estimated combined wealth of about $14 billion. The Clubs mission is to grow and protect the wealth of its members. It was founded as the Passport Club in 1989 by William Bonner, founder of Agora Inc., and became The Oxford Club in 1991. For more information, visit http://oxfordclub.com.

This article was originally distributed on PRWeb. For the original version including any supplementary images or video, visit http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/09/prweb12206144.htm

Next Generation Trust Services
Jaime Raskulinecz

+1 973-533-1880 Ext: 113

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