Category Archives: Recession Tools

Foreclosure Blossom

Check out this interesting animated map showing how foreclosures exploded in the United States on a county-by-county basis. Interesting, but not surprising to folks in the Piedmont Triad, is the fact that the number of foreclosures in the area was already depressingly high in January '07, before the housing crisis hit most of the rest of the country. For instance in Forsyth County 1 in 837 homes was in foreclosure in January '07, and 1 in 549 in July '12. As you'll see when you look at the map, many other regions started out in better shape than the Triad, but quickly caught up as the economy tanked.

How to Get a $20,000 Loan You May Not Have to Pay Back in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County

I'm not sure if this made the local news and I just missed it, or if it's been flying under the radar, but there's a program in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County to help folks buy foreclosed properties.  Back in January I got an email from Sen. Burr's office about North Carolina receiving over $52 million for the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, but didn't really hear much after that.  Then today the following item from (nice URL huh?) showed up in my Google Reader:

Housing officials in Forsyth County and Winston-Salem, North Carolina have partnered with the Center for Homeownership and financial institutions to help eligible buyers purchase bank foreclosures for sale for less than the properties’ appraised value.

Under the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP), eligible homebuyers will be able to receive a maximum of $20,000 as deferred forgivable loan. The funds will be used by the eligible buyer as down payment for buying foreclosure houses, provided that the mortgage holders are willing to sell the properties for less than their assessed value…

Furthermore, the home buying assistance initiative is open to first time property buyers and families or individuals who have not purchased or owned a house for three years.

Eligible borrowers will not be required to pay back the loan under the NSP program if they opt to stay and live in the property for not less than 20 years. Additionally, homebuyers should have the properties under sales contract on or before July 18, 2010 in order to become eligible for the program.

Prospective buyers should have household earnings of equal to or not more than Forsyth County’s 120 percent median income which for a four-member family is $71,640. The median income restriction varies with the family size.

I'm not sold on this being a good idea.  Will this prompt people who may not be financially ready to buy a house and then, a year or two down the road, be in over their heads and threatened with foreclosure themselves?  Normally you might say that the banks wouldn't lend to risky buyers, but given what we've learned over the last two years do we really want to trust the banks with their own due diligence?

I appreciate what the program is aiming to do, but like I said I'm not sold on it's merits.

Here's the link to the county's page dedicated to the NSP.


Health Insurance Relief for Laid Off Workers Thanks to Stimulus Package

My wife Celeste is a bookkeeper by trade and as a result receives a lot of publications that, quite frankly, make my eyes gloss over.  However, today she forwarded me a newsletter from the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers that contained an article about "hidden traps" in the new stimulus law that definitely had my eyes wide open.  Here's part of what the article said:

The new law includes a 65% federally funded COBRA continuation subsidy that lasts up to 9 months for workers (and their families) involuntarily terminated from Sept. 1, 2008-Dec. 31, 2009. The subsidy terminates when the former employeeis offered employer-sponsored health care coverage by a new employer; orbecomes eligible for Medicare; or has COBRA coverage that has expired.  
Notify within 60 days of Feb. 17 former employees involuntarily separated between Sept. 1, 2008-Feb. 17, 2009. Notify those who elected COBRA that they are entitled to a lower premium starting in the first coverage period after Feb. 17. Notify those who rejected COBRA that they have 60 days to elect COBRA and receive the subsidy. You can let former employees choose a less expensive plan. No subsidy is available to former employees whose income is over $125,000 a year or a family income over $250,000 a year, but employers are not required to monitor for the income phaseout.

Later on the article mentions that the employers are responsible for paying 65% of the health benefits up front and then getting reimbursed by the federal government by reducing their federal income tax contributions.  If the amount of healthcare subsidies exceed what the company owes in taxes then the company will have to apply for a reimbursement from the US Treasure, and there's no telling how long that will take.  Can we say cash flow problems?  Also, the first subsidies can come due as soon as March 1, 2009 so companies literally need to move on this now.

If you've been laid off and are paying COBRA or paying for insurance as an individual this could save you some serious money.  For instance if you're using your employer's health plan via COBRA to cover your family, which means you're paying 100% of the cost, then you could easily be spending over $1,000 per month for your premiums.  With the government picking up 65% of the tab that payment drops to $350 which is some serious savings.

Keep an eye out for a notice from your former employer and if you don't get one within about 45 days then contact the human resources department or whoever at the company is responsible for administering benefits and ask them to send you more information.


Protect Yourself from the Credit Vultures

The blog "Get Rich Slowly" has a post on how to avoid five common credit card company "traps":

  1. "As low as 9.99% APR!"
  2. "Up to 5% Cash Back!"   
  3. "0% interest on balance transfers for 12 months!" 
  4. "Your card has a credit limit of $3,000" 
  5. "Any time for any reason" 

The post describes each of the traps and how to deal with them.  Believe me, this is really valuable information.  Most people have no idea how the terms on their credit cards can change and how what seems like a great deal can actually be the stinky end of the stick, at least until they grab the stick and it's too late.

Thriving on Less – Free eBook for Dealing with Tough Times

Leo Babauta has written a book titled The Power of Less and has also released a free companion ebook titled Thriving on Less. You can read about the ebook here and download the free version here.

I did a quick read of the 27-page ebook and it's chock full of common sense hints on simplifying your life and living frugally.  As you'd expect it's a teaser for the print book which the author recommends that you buy, but the ebook is of value in and of itself and is a good quick read for tips on simplifying your life.

Babauta also writes a blog at ZenHabits that you will probably enjoy if you like the book.  In these times I think we can all benefit from a little more simple living.

Staples Looking for Ten Thousand Winners

Staples is running a promotion called Gift It for Free that is a sweepstakes that will have 10,000 winners who can fill up a shopping cart and get all the items for free. The promotion is running until Christmas Eve so visit the site and enter to win.

The promotion came to my attention because a rep from one of their agencies emailed me about it and about their social media efforts for the promotion, including a Facebook fan page, a Twitter profile, and several YouTube videos.  They've created a character called Coach Tom who believes there should only be one winner in anything (a play on the 10,000 winners) and they have fun with that theme with the videos.  I've pasted one below and if you click through to YouTube you'll see that there's several videos and they're pretty good. 

Save Some Coin at K-Mart With Double Coupons

Celeste, my financial-genius wife, gave me a valuable tip today: K-Mart is doubling coupons, and doing it to a greater degree than the local grocery stores. The details:

  • You can use up to 75 coupons per trip
  • Maximum $2 face value on a coupon
  • Cannot be more than the cost of the item
  • One coupon per item

Celeste informs me that most grocery stores limit you to 25-ish coupons per trip and not many are doubling up to $2 face value.  In other words this is a very good money saving opportunity.  She also informs me that while K-Mart may not have the same food selection that Wal-Mart has, you can also buy things like cleaning supplies there.

Local K-Mart Locations

Recession Tools: Knit Caps and Ear Warmers 60% Off at Kohls

I hate shopping. I really do.  But when I'm facing a Saturday morning that will find me on a soccer field coaching my daughter's team in 20 degree weather and I can't seem to find a single winter hat in my house then I'm kind of forced to bite the bullet.  So today I headed on over to Kohl's on Hanes Mall Boulevard and found that they had their knit hats and ear warmers on sale for 60% off.  The hats are normally $10 and were selling for $4 and the ear warmers are normally $6 and were selling for $2.40.

Lots of other good sales going on, but I didn't stick around long enough to look them over.  I've one of those guys that goes in, finds what I'm looking for and then gets out of Dodge.

Recession Tools – PayPal’s Pay Later Service and Better Places Than the Mattress

I've added a new category to the blog called "Recession Tools" and hopefully won't have to update it to "Depression Tools".  Here you'll find little tid-bits of info I stumble across that might be helpful in surviving these tough economic times.  Today I have two items for you:

PayPal Introduces a Pay Later ServiceSaw this item in the Wall Street Journal this morning. Starting this Friday PayPal is going to test a service that offers an online line of credit that will allow online shoppers to delay payment.  It works like a store that offers you 0% financing for six months, and if you pay it off before the deadline then you've basically had six months of interest free financing.  Of course if you're not paid off by the deadline you'll pay interest on the entire amount.  PayPal members who are approved for the credit will have until April 1, 2009 to pay their bill.  Obviously PayPal wants to juice online purchases for the holidays, but as long as you pay your bill why not do your shopping from the comfort of your home?

Good Places to Stash Cash in Your House: The Consumer Reports blog has some tips on the best places to stash cash in your house.  Of course this assumes you have cash and that you think there's gonna be an apocalyptic sequence of events involving bank runs and the failure of the FDIC, but stranger things have happened right?  BTW, my personal favorite is in a plastic bag taped to the inside of the toilet tank.