The Lasting Pains Of Foreclosure


If you're lying awake at night, fretting about whether you'll lose your house to foreclosure, you may not be the only insomniac on your block.

More than 2.1 million Americans with home loans missed at least one payment last year, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Even more troubling, the rate of new foreclosures hit a record.

The problem is likely to get worse. As adjustable-rate mortgages adjust to higher rates, many borrowers are finding they can't afford their payments. And the collapse of the subprime market has made it harder for those with tarnished credit to refinance.

But be aware: Even if your mortgage has become an intolerable burden, letting the bank foreclose could lead to a lifetime of hurt. Losing your home is just the beginning. A foreclosure will wreck your credit report for years, making it impossible — or at least extremely expensive — to buy another home.

Many borrowers who lose their homes to foreclosure haven't tried to negotiate with their lenders. That's unfortunate, because lenders are usually willing to work with borrowers to avoid foreclosure, says John Lamb, co-author of "Solve Your Money Troubles." "Lenders are going to be more willing to work with people, because it doesn't do anybody good to have a glut of foreclosed houses on the market."

Ideally, you should call your lender before you miss your first payment, says Bob Walters, chief economist for Quicken Loans. If your payment is due on the first of the month, call before the 15th, which he says is usually when your lender will report the late payment to credit-reporting agencies. Once your loan is declared in default, typically after you've missed three or four payments, you're "past the point of no return," Walters says. Unless you can come up with the money to cover all your missed payments, plus any late fees, your lender will start foreclosure.

Avoiding default

If you're suffering a temporary financial setback, your lender may offer programs that will help you get back on track. They include:

# Forbearance. This is an agreement that lets borrowers make a reduced payment, or none, for a specific period. You might have to make larger payments once the crisis has passed. To qualify, you might need to show that you're expecting a bonus, a tax refund or other income that will let you catch up.

# Reinstatement. You agree to pay the full amount of your missed payments by a specific date. Reinstatement is sometimes combined with forbearance.

# Modification. Your lender agrees to change the terms of the loan to make payments more affordable. Your lender may agree to add missed payments to your loan balance or extend the term of your loan, reducing the size of your payments.

Before asking for forbearance or loan modification, be prepared to show that you are making a good-faith effort to pay your mortgage.

Moving on

If you're in a home you can't afford, loan forbearance won't help. But even if you have to move, you can take steps to avoid foreclosure:

# Put your home up for sale. This may be the best choice, Walters says, if you've been in your home for several years and have built up some equity. The proceeds from the sale might cover your mortgage and selling costs.

# If you have no equity or your local real estate market is depressed, ask your lender to consider a "short sale" where the lender agrees to accept the proceeds from the sale of your home, even if they don't cover the amount you owe.

# Ask your lender to accept a deed in lieu of foreclosure. If you can't sell, your lender may agree to take the deed to your home and cancel your debt.

There's one serious drawback to a short sale or a deed in lieu of foreclosure: You could find yourself stuck with a hefty tax bill. In most cases, debt forgiven by a lender is considered taxable income.

So why opt for a short sale or a title transfer instead of foreclosure? For one thing, foreclosure won't get you off the hook, either. If the lender sells your foreclosed house for less than you owe, it might sue you for the balance. And if the lender writes off the remaining debt, you could still end up with a tax bill, Roth says.

Though a short sale or a title transfer will hurt your credit report, you might still be able to work with your lender to reduce the damage — which isn't possible with a foreclosure, Lamb says.

Sphere: Related Content

Subprime Mortgage Sudden Collapse Open Doors To Careers

It's certainly not "business as usual" in the residential mortgage industry. For some time now, the pressure has been mounting in numerous ways. More brokers than ever are competing for fewer and fewer deals. Loan fees are getting squeezed. More and more borrowers are turning to online lenders who do loans very cheaply.

And now, to put the icing on the cake, there's the subprime implosion. Because of secondary market pressure, the most aggressive loan programs are already beginning to disappear - and more will certainly follow. Underwriting guidelines are tightening. Because of this, the pool of borrowers that qualify for loans will continue to shrink even further.

"One path that leads to increased income is the commercial mortgage business," says Joe Mardesich, president and CEO of Nationwide Commercial Funding, a national mortgage brokerage. "It is the ideal arena for accommodating the skills and experiences of residential mortgage brokers. There are numerous advantages for being in the commercial mortgage business and I have put together a list of those advantages."

The residential loan business is highly sensitive to interest rates. The higher rates, the lower will be the number of homeowners who refinance, take out equity loans, or consolidate debt. And though the purchase loan business is still available, it may eventually slow if rates rise to a point where fewer people will be able to qualify as home purchasers.
In the commercial mortgage sector, however, rising rates do not have the considerable negative impact that exists in the residential mortgage sector. Here is the reason: First, most commercial mortgages have balloon payments. Most commercial borrowers have no choice but to refinance or to sell, regardless of where rates may be every 5 to 10 years. Both selling and refinancing result in new loans, which - of course - mean income for the commercial broker! Second, commercial real estate owners and investors make their money by buying, selling, exchanging, developing and refinancing. They don't stop doing deals as rates move up or down. They find ways to have increased interest costs covered by their tenants or other end-users of their properties. Homeowners, by contrast, want to buy a place in which to live and must factor interest costs into their budgets. If interest rates put homeownership out of their reach, they will remain renters, tenants of those who utilize commercial mortgages!
Third, as indicated above, rising rates can actually increase rental demand and revenue for the owners of apartments, mobile home parks, and certain other types of properties. The beneficiary is not only the owner, the developer of apartments, and the developer/owner of mobile home parks, but also the mortgage brokers who help to finance those properties.

In the residential real estate market, more and more realtors are competing with mortgage brokers. The numbers increase daily. With the internet, people can shop online and have 5 or 6 lenders or brokers competing for their business with a mouse click. The loan products you and your competitors sell are all the same, because the secondary market is so consolidated in the residential industry. The residential mortgage business has become a frantic "commodity" business, providing revenue to the lowest bidder.

In the commercial mortgage business, the lowest bidder is not necessarily king. There is much less competition than in residential real estate. And there are many portfolio lenders who do not sell their loans to a consolidated secondary market, i.e. there are a great variety of available programs from one lender or broker to another. As a result, by specializing and developing a niche, you can develop a meaningful competitive edge.

The residential industry is chock full of rules and regulations. Brokers have to disclose every penny they make, even in a yield spread. The number of disclosures that borrowers must provide seems to increase daily. Furthermore, licensing laws and regulations restrict where a residential broker may do business.

On the other hand, in the commercial mortgage business, you don't have to worry about RESPA. There are no Good Faith Estimates. No TIL's. You can pay referral fees to anyone, regardless of the service they may perform. Yield spreads are generally not disclosed. Most states do not require any licensing for commercial mortgage brokers. (These are observations, not legal advice).

The rewards of the commercial mortgage business can be substantial, impacting income and lifestyle. Yet, comparatively few residential brokers are reaping the rewards that await them in the field of commercial mortgages."

As a consultant-coach, who has helped countless numbers of residential brokers successfully make the transition to commercial mortgage brokering, Joe was often puzzled by why so few made the transition.

"It is because most brokers begin their careers in the residential mortgage business and attempt to do the commercial business from a residential frame of reference," explains Mardesich. "Unfortunately, that doesn't work. In fact, the better a residential broker is, the harder it can be to make a successful transition. Some of the elements that go into making a successful residential broker are precisely those elements that will hamper a commercial broker. Does that mean all is lost if you started out as a residential broker? Not at all! A lot of residential brokerage skills are transferable. You simply need to learn which skills are and are not applicable, and be prepared to learn not just new program guidelines, but also the entire process and mindset for being a successful mortgage broker."

As a service, Mardesich prepared a free Tip Sheet on the key differences that should help residential brokers make the transition to commercial mortgage brokering.

One can obtain a free copy of it by sending an e-mail to

Nationwide Commercial Funding, Inc specializes in commercial owner and non-owner occupied loans nationwide. Its website is

Sphere: Related Content

New Refinancing Plan From Ohio For Distressed Home Owners

The Ohio Housing Finance Agency will issue $100 million in taxable municipal bonds in April as part of a refinancing program to help homeowners faced with foreclosure.

The program, offered through OHFA's 185 lending partners throughout the state, will provide 30-year fixed-rate loans for homeowners burdened by adjustable rate or interest-only mortgages or faced with circumstances like unemployment and divorce.

The bonds should provide assistance for about 1,000 loans (average loan amount is $100,000 per home) at about a 6.75 percent interest rate.

Loans are reserved for those residents with income up to 125 percent of the median gross income of their county, ranging between $73,000 and $84,000. Homeowners will be required to attend face-to-face counseling before a loan can close.

With enough demand, the program could provide up to $500 million each year through additional bonds and financing.

The program should help Ohio reduce its foreclosure rate, ranked highest of the 50 states in 2006, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. The state also had the highest rate of subprime loans in foreclosure.

Residents can visit beginning April 2 for more information on income limits and participating lenders.

Sphere: Related Content

The Dangers of Being a Go-Getter

Tired of just going through the motions at work? Are you ready to get ahead? Your supervisor will probably be pleased -- but that may not be true of everyone else in your office.

Get Ready for Resistance.

You may have decided that you're ready to reignite your career, but your newfound enthusiasm may not be contagious. In fact, a lot of folks may be resistant to your renewed fervor for your job.

Don't fault coworkers for not being on the same page as you. Don't insist that your team members go above and beyond the call of duty if they aren't willing. Just focus on changes you can personally effect at your company. Your passion may turn out to be infectious eventually, but real change -- in attitude, enthusiasm, and energy -- takes time.

Be Prepared for Resentment.

It's no secret that some people are only interested in a paycheck. Most of these folks coast through each workday, doing just enough to satisfy the requirements of their positions. When someone starts to shake up the status quo by exhibiting an intense interest in work, the "clockwatchers" may start to feel like you're making them look bad.

To avoid bitter feelings, make sure you go through proper channels as you try to make changes. Don't suddenly begin acting as though you're a supervisor when you're not. You won't win any friends and the projects you were pursuing won't get the support they need for completion. Rather, enlist people to help you by asking for assistance -- if they have the interest and the time.

Suspicious Minds Aren't Far Behind.

Your fresh attitude toward work may leave coworkers feeling wary of your motives. If you suddenly begin championing a project or change that sounds like it's coming from upper management, your colleagues may start treating you like you're a spy. They may (mistakenly) believe you're trying to ferret out folks who aren't team players or go-getters. As a result, you could get a certain amount of ribbing ("When did you go over to the dark side?") and find that you're excluded from water cooler conversations.

If you are bothered by the teasing or feel disconnected from good work buddies, set the record straight with a direct conversation. Tell people, "I like working here and I want more responsibility. I'm really hoping to advance." Don't talk about anyone else's apparent lack of interest or motivation and don't apologize for your desire to do a good job and build a better career.

Sphere: Related Content

HP Boss Walks Away Free From Spy Scandal

Michelle Quinn and Marc Lifsher

A California criminal case against former Hewlett-Packard chairwoman Patricia Dunn and three others - a corporate spying scandal that led to congressional hearings and an enhanced state privacy law - has ended with a whimper.

Dunn was cleared of all charges by Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Ray Cunningham. He said Dunn and the other defendants could have cited as a defense that they were acting on the advice of lawyers in zealously pursuing boardroom leaks, including accessing phone records of reporters.

Cunningham also cited Dunn's health as another reason for dismissing charges against her, referring to her battle with ovarian cancer.

Defendants Kevin Hunsaker, HP's former ethics chief, and two private investigators, Ronald DeLia and Matthew Depante, each pleaded no contest to a single misdemeanor count of fraudulent wiretapping. But they will have their records cleared if they each serve 96 hours of community service.

"The only way it could have been resolved more favorably would have been an outright dismissal and an apology from the attorney general," said Jan Handzlik, a Los Angeles defense lawyer. "This prosecution was not designed to herald a new, get-tough approach to protecting digital privacy but rather to capitalize on the high-profile nature of the targets."

Peter Henning, a professor at Wayne State University's law school and a white-collar crime specialist, said the case seemed a stretch. "Getting there would have been difficult," he said.

But Tom Dresslar, a spokesman for former state attorney general Bill Lockyer, who brought the case last year, said prosecutors acted in good faith. "We had a team of prosecutors with over 70 years of experience who looked at this case and decided that the felony charges were appropriate," he said.

The office of Jerry Brown, Lockyer's replacement as attorney general, did say Hunsaker, DeLia and Depante potentially could face federal charges.

State officials previously dismissed a case against defendant Bryan Wagner after he pleaded guilty to federal charges.

The deal with the state ends a major chapter of the scandal that besmirched the reputation of one of Silicon Valley's iconic companies.

Private investigators trying to find out who was leaking board information to reporters obtained telephone records via "pretexting," in which they posed as reporters online to access their records.

Cunningham said "much public good" had resulted from the publicity about the case, including federal and state laws making pretexting a criminal offense and US$12 million (HK$93.6 million) in fines paid by the Palo Alto- based computer and printer maker.

In the wake of the scandal, Dunn resigned in disgrace as did several high- level executives.

In a statement, Dunn said: "I have always had faith that the truth would win out and justice would be served."

Sphere: Related Content

Indian Wining Habits Sobered By High Tariffs

Amelia Gentleman

One of the more enduring legacies of the British Raj in India has been the elite's affection for a stiff glass of whiskey at the end of the day.

Domestically produced malts and scotches still account for at least 60 percent of all alcohol consumed across the nation. But a revolution in drinking habits is under way, as the country's huge, emerging middle class acquires a taste for wine.

Wine sales are growing in India at about 30 percent annually, and a younger generation of newly cosmopolitan Indians are eschewing the evening peg of whiskey in favor of something a little lighter.

"It is a generational thing. People are becoming more health conscious; red wine is seen to be more healthy than whiskey soda. And there's an aspirational element as well: people are more exposed now to Western styles, they travel to London and New York and don't see so much whiskey being drunk there," Rajeev Samant, founder of Sula, one of the most popular wineries in India, said.

"There's an idea that drinking a glass of wine puts you in a different, more sophisticated category."

For European and U.S. wine producers, this rapidly expanding market represents a highly desirable and yet frustratingly inaccessible sphere. Taxes imposed on imported wine have made French and Californian labels unaffordable to all but India's superrich, transforming the most unremarkable €3 vin de table into a wild, and inevitably disappointing, extravagance, costing the rupee equivalent of €15.

Last week the United States followed the EU and filed a formal complaint against India with the World Trade Organization over the complex array of tariffs imposed on wine, which can increase the price of a bottle by up to 550 percent.

Although India consumed just 7.8 million bottles last year, the speed with which wine is becoming popular has attracted huge interest internationally.

"We expect that in the next 15 years, India will become one of the largest consumer markets in the world," a U.S. Embassy official, who asked not to be named because of negotiations on alcohol tariffs, said. "From the standpoint of our wine producers in the U.S., the potential is huge. We need to try to resolve this now."

The total value of U.S. wine exports to India now stands at $1 million, which in a country with 1.1 billion people is "almost negligible," the official added. In a speech earlier this month, the U.S. ambassador, David Mulford, lamented the wine-tax dispute, at a time when U.S.-Indian relations are improving in most other spheres.

If consumption of foreign-made wine remains restricted, Indian vineyards, which barely existed a decade ago, are increasing production fast. Making wine from grapes grown in vineyards in Nasik, a few hundred kilometers north of Mumbai, Sula sold 60,000 bottles when it opened in 2000 and this year expects to sell 1.5 million bottles, an increase of 50 percent over last year.

The high import duties are partly in place to protect this burgeoning Indian wine market, which has begun to be noticed by wine experts around the globe.

But Samant of Sula was confident that his business would survive a reduction in protectionist tariffs.

"Women have started drinking, too, and that's expanding the market," Samant said.

"You can see them drinking wine in films; you see them holding a glass of wine in society parties in magazine pictures," he said. "That would have been unthinkable even seven years ago. So much has changed here in a very short period of time."

Aman Dhall, executive director of Brindco, India's largest importer of wines, said for men, too, there had been a radical shift in culture.

"Earlier India was a very macho society, and drinking whiskey was seen as cool. But tastes are changing; people want to drink something with their food rather than something to make them drunk," he said.

But wine enthusiasts still face a struggle in India. Delhi has no wine bars and no wine shops. Wine is usually sold in state-controlled liquor stores that are usually ill-fitted for storing bottles in the searing summer heat; few stock imported labels. Instead, every regular party-thrower in the capital seems to have a telephone number for a bootlegger who can supply foreign wine at a premium — with no questions asked.

"If you want to buy French wine, it's almost impossible in Delhi," said the food critic and newspaper columnist Vir Sanghvi. "The shops that do stock it, store it badly, and it will often be spoilt."

Wine drinkers also have to contend with India's ambivalent attitude toward consumption of alcohol. Annually, the Delhi region has 21 dry days — marking everything from Gandhi's birthday to Independence Day — when all alcohol sales are suspended.

The chief minister of Delhi, Sheila Dikshit, periodically places advertisements in the papers reminding readers of Gandhi's slogan: "Drinking is a crime to yourself. Stop it."

And even Indian-produced wines remain expensive — the cheapest brands start at 300 rupees, or almost $7, a bottle. In terms of what the industry calls "kick per buck," whiskey remains a better choice, for all but the richest.

Reva Singh, editor of Sommelier India, India's first wine magazine, (which aims to demystify the wine drinking experience for new consumers) said that given these obstacles, "it says something for the market that people are still drinking wine and that sales are going up by leaps and bounds."

Both EU and U.S. representatives say they hope that the dispute over tariff levels can be resolved without embarking on a formal WTO dispute settlement.

For Kamal Nath, India's commerce minister, it all goes back to whiskey again.

If India were to reduce wine import taxes, he said, there should be some payback for India. He proposed that Europe should in turn open its markets to Indian-made whiskey — which the EU currently refuses to recognize as genuine whiskey because it is made from molasses and not cereal.

Sphere: Related Content

Google Search Becomes More Anonymous

Glenn Chapman

GOOGLE will begin routinely purging its data banks of information that identifies search engine users in order to better shield their anonymity, the company said overnight.

Google will delete information from "cookies," bits of software put on computers to track website visits, as well as erase portions of the IP addresses that identify which computer a person is using to get online.

The past practice of the internet search giant was to keep all logged web searching details indefinitely.

"We're pleased to report a change in our privacy policy," Google lawyers Peter Fleischer and Nicole Wong said in a posting on the company's website.

"Unless we're legally required to retain log data for longer, we will anonymise our server logs after a limited period of time."

Data kept by Google regarding searches by users will be made "much more anonymous" 18 to 24 months after it is collected, according to the lawyers.

"After talking with leading privacy stakeholders in Europe and the United States, we're pleased to be taking this important step toward protecting your privacy," Mr Fleischer and Ms Wong said.

"Our engineers are already busy working out the technical details."

Google hoped to implement the new privacy policy within a year.

"I think it is an important step in the right direction," said Internet rights attorney Kurt Opsahl of the Electronic Freedom Foundation.

"I hope it inspires a competition with other search engines to see which can provide the best privacy protection."

Google's announcement was a break from the common pattern of Internet search engines cloaking details about what how much they track user activity and what they do with the information.

Sphere: Related Content

Mortgage Applications At Its 3-Month Highest


With fixed mortgage rates falling to the lowest level in three months, applications for loans at major U.S. lenders rose to the highest level in three months last week, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported Wednesday.

Total applications - including purchase loans and refinancing loans - increased 2.8 percent week-on-week and were up 19 percent compared with the same week a year earlier.

The number of applications to refinance an existing mortgage increased 3.5 percent to the highest level in 18 months and are up about 46 percent from the prior year. Refinancing loans accounted for 46.2 percent of applications, up a tenth of a percentage point.

The volume of loan applications to buy a home rose 2.2 percent to the highest level in two months. Purchase loans are up about 3 percent from the year before.

By contrast, U.S. home sales are down about 7 percent from the same time last year.

Mortgage rates were mixed.

The average rate for a 30-year fixed-rate loan fell to 6.03 percent from 6.04 percent, while the average rate for a 15-year fixed loan rose to 5.78 percent from 5.73 percent. Average rates for one-year adjustable-rate mortgages rose to 5.86 percent from 5.79 percent.

The spread between a 30-year fixed-rate and a one-year ARM dropped to 0.17 percentage points, the narrowest spread since Jan. 5, 2001. A narrower spread reduces the benefit to a borrower for taking out an ARM over a fixed-rate loan.

The spread was as wide as 2.97 percentage points in the summer of 2003, when ARMs had a slightly smaller share of the market than currently.

Despite the tightening spread, the share of applications that were ARMs increased to 21.9 percent last week from 21.4 percent the previous week.

Sphere: Related Content

Opportunities in Mortgage Markets


Astonishingly, with all the headlines scaring investors to death about the demise of the mortgage market, a company called Annaly Capital Management (NLY $14), which invests solely in mortgagebacked securities, enjoyed a blowout stock offering last week. Maybe it should be called Anomaly Capital.

Annaly Capital is a real estate investment trust (REIT) that invests in U.S. residential mortgage-backed securities issued and guaranteed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Ginnie Mae. These poolings of mortgages are either rated triple-A or carry an implied triple-A rating.

The company's earnings come from the spread between their cost of capital and the yield on their assets. Annaly uses leverage of about 10 to 1 to enhance the portfolio's returns. Like all REITs, the company pays out virtually all of its income as dividends, and is mainly attractive to investors looking for income. The stock currently yields 7.33% according to an estimated dividend rate of $1.00 from analysts at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods who rate the stock "outperform."

Notwithstanding the ominous sound of the business model (talking about leverage and mortgages in the same sentence may spook investor confidence today), Annaly went to the market last week and raised $641 million. If the bankers exercise the overallotment, as seems likely, the company could end up taking in close to $735 million from the sale.

At the same time, another REIT investing in mortgage-backed securities, Impac Mortgage Holdings (IMH $5), saw its stock struggle to recover from a drop of more than 50% this year. It closed yesterday down from $8.72 at the beginning of the year but up from its low of $4.05 on March 5.

mpac buys so-called Alt-A residential mortgage loans. These are the shaky loans we have all been reading about. Initially Alt-A loans were made to good credit prospects that for various reasons were attracted to the category's lesser documentation requirements or the greater loan-to-value allowances. In the past year or two, however, such loans were increasingly offered to people with poorer credit. The delinquency rate on Alt-A loans is climbing. At the end of last year some 2.38% of such mortgages were delinquent by at least 60 days, up from a low of 0.93% in 2005.

That the stocks of these two REITs are moving in opposite directions is not so surprising, given the differences between the two companies' investment profiles. The market is appropriately distinguishing between the two, and has not tossed the baby out with the bath water.

What is interesting, though, is that the bullish case for Annaly rests in part on the continued deterioration in the kinds of loans in Impac's portfolio. That is, the divide is likely to widen. The logic goes like this: if defaults rise further in the mortgage markets, credit would tighten, home prices would drop further, and the resulting damage to the economy would eventually cause the Fed to lower rates.

Annaly and similar companies have suffered narrowing spreads due to a flat yield curve. The company would benefit from a period of declining rates, since their cost of capital drops faster than the return on their investments. Consequently, this prospect creates a "best-case" picture for the company and its investors.

How likely is this scenario? The most influential connection between the housing market and the economy is the level of mortgage equity withdrawals (MEW) and the impact of this source of funding on consumer spending. Over the past decade, homeowners have been taking advantage of the escalation in home prices and of historically low interest rates by taking out an ever increasing amount of home equity loans. Most of this borrowing was done by homeowners with good credit ratings. The amount of money provided to consumers in this fashion has been, simply put, huge; in the third quarter of 2005 MEW reached a record $180 billion.

Alan Greenspan has estimated that half of MEW has flowed into personal consumption. Others put the figure as high as two-thirds. That is, the bulk of the monies raised from taking out a home equity loan has not gone to pay down other sorts of debt or into other kinds of investment, but rather into dining out, new autos, or trendy apparel.

The folks at Guerite Advisors cite Freddie Mac data that indicates prime mortgage borrowings grew from an average 0.55% of GDP between 1993 and 2000 to 1.93% in the past six years. In the second quarter of last year such financings reached 2.93% of GDP. In other words, such borrowings financed a good share of the country's growth last year. The calculus suggests that over the past five years, MEW has lifted GDP growth by 2.2% a year on average.

Freddie Mac is forecasting the level of prime mortgage equity withdrawals will fall 20% in the current year, and another 30% next year, to a level 43% below that of 2006. The drop stems from an expected ongoing slowdown in house price increases.

Freddie Mac figures indicate that in 2006 home prices rose 6.1% — the slowest rate since 1999 and less than half the rate of 2005. Because of the method used to gather such data, the actual trends are probably worse than this. Data from the National Association of Homebuilders shows that prices of existing homes rose only 1.3% in 2006, after a hefty 12.2% gain in 2005. In August of last year, comparisons turned negative, and by January prices were off 3.4%.

Freddie Mac is forecasting a further slide this year. If the current softening of housing prices continues, consumer spending will almost certainly be impacted further. Another step down the growth ladder and the Federal Reserve may well be pressured to ease interest rates by mid year, or by year-end at the latest.

If such an easing takes place, it will be welcomed by companies like Annaly, and by those who braved the prevalent mortgage market horrors and participated in the recent stock sale.

Sphere: Related Content

Basics Facts About Cover Letters

A badly written cover letter can hurt your chances for landing a great job. More than 76 percent of recruiters said in a recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management that they would not consider a cover letter with typos, or at best they would toss the accompanying resume into a file rather than consider it for that current job.

It pays to pay attention to every detail in your cover letter.

Avoid Common Blunders

The most common cover letter mistakes are the following:

Name that job. Recruiters often try to fill more than one job simultaneously. After the salutation, state exactly which job you're applying for.

Form letters. The point of a cover letter is to make a personal connection with the reader. Tailor your letter specifically to each company you send it to.

Don't repeat yourself. Don't regurgitate everything that's in your resume -- offer deeper insights into what your resume does not say. Provide an in-depth explanation of some of your key achievements at your last job, for instance, and how those accomplishments could help the company. Or tell a story about a tough problem you solved.

What's in it for me? Don't say you are applying for the job because of the money, the travel opportunities, a better commute, or anything else that concerns only you.

Balance confidence and humility. While you certainly want to appear competent, arrogance can turn a recruiter off: "Throw away all those other resumes -- I'm your guy!" Show enthusiasm and a positive attitude, but don't overdo it.

Style Points

There are some other stylistic pointers to keep in mind:

* Don't open with "To Whom It May Concern" -- get a name.
* Highlight first and foremost your skills and experiences that match those the employer is seeking.
* Open with a strong lead sentence.
* Refer to the job ad and its specific language.
* Compare your letter to a sample cover letter.
* Offer to follow up with the recruiter -- and do it!
* For electronic letters, attach your resume and make sure any links to professional samples you include work.
* Proofread your work.

Before You Hit 'Send'

Proofread and spell-check your letter before emailing it. Now do it again. Ask a friend or family member to read your cover letter for typos and grammatical errors. (Do the same on your resume before you upload it.) If you're stuck on a grammatical point, consult a guide such as the classic "Elements of Style," by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, or the "Chicago Manual of Style."

Finally, send the letter to yourself as a test to check formatting. If you find errors, correct them and read it one more time -- it's easy to overlook a mistake, and you don't a want a typo to ruin all your hard work.

A cover letter may be a brief document, but it's an important one. It introduces you to the recruiter and interests him or her in reading another important document -- your resume.

Sphere: Related Content

After-School-Jobs can Be Dangerous

The first national study to interview teenagers about on-the-job dangers found many violations of federal laws, including sizable numbers performing risky tasks or working too late on school nights.

Many teens said they operated hazardous equipment, received no safety training and worked alone after dark, making them potential targets for burglary and homicide.

"Teenagers are being put in the position of doing tasks that are either illegal or dangerous," said lead author Carol Runyan of the University of North Carolina Injury Prevention Research Center. While enforcement of laws could be improved, she said, "the real burden lies with employers."

Teenagers soon will start applying for summer jobs and parents should talk to them about safety, Runyan said. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. teenagers are injured at work every year and 70 die from their injuries, according to federal statistics.

The telephone survey found:

* 37 percent of teens under age 16 said they had worked after 7 p.m. on a school night, a violation of federal rules for that age group.
* 16 percent of teens under 16 reported they had worked past 9 p.m. on a school night.
* 47 percent of teens who work in grocery stores and restaurants said they had performed tasks prohibited by law for workers younger than 18, including operating box crushers, dough mixers and power slicers.
* One-third of all the teens said they had received no safety training on the job.
* 9 percent said they had worked alone after dark.

The findings, appearing in the March issue of Pediatrics, are based on a 2003 telephone survey of 866 teenagers working in the retail and service industry including restaurants, grocery stores and retail stores. The same researchers found similar violations of work rules in a previous survey of North Carolina teens working in construction.

The survey did not include non-English speaking households and 85 percent of the teens were white. More research should be done to include immigrant teen workers, Runyan said.

The results don't surprise Toronto resident Rob Ellis, whose son David died at age 18 after becoming entangled in a bakery dough mixer on his second day on the job.

"He's the one who inspired me to get up and try to make a difference," Ellis said. The 1999 accident could have been prevented by safety equipment, supervision and training, Ellis said.

The study, funded by a grant from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, suggests a need for stricter enforcement of existing laws, Runyan said.

The surveyed teens told researchers they worked an average of 16.2 hours a week during the school year, raising questions about fatigue and school performance, Runyan said.

Chicago resident Amanda Hebeler, who just turned 20, worked many jobs during her teenage years including selling cell phones, cleaning tables and scooping ice cream.

She said she worked 20 to 25 hours a week, sometimes until 10:30 p.m.

"I was really tired at school," she said.

Sphere: Related Content

More Men Sexually Harassed at Work

Robert DiGiacomo

Defying assumptions about sexual harassment in the workplace, a record percentage of men reported being harassed by male colleagues last year, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Cases filed by men made up 15.4 percent of the 12,025 sexual harassment charges in fiscal year 2006, compared to 14.3 percent in 2005 and 11.6 percent a decade ago, according to the EEOC.

New Realities in the Workplace

"There's no question this is not only a growing category of claims, but also a large societal problem of which we are just starting to see the tip of the iceberg," says Riki Wilchins, executive director of the Gender Public Advocacy Coalition, a nonprofit group based in Washington, D.C.

Although the statistics don't reveal whether the alleged harassers of men also are male, they typically are -- it's rare for a man to file charges against a female coworker or supervisor, says EEOC spokesman David Grinberg.

It's also unlikely that interactions in the workplace between men have become more hostile over the past 15 years.

What's changed, though, is recognition by the legal system of male-on-male harassment, via a landmark 1998 Supreme Court ruling. The high court found in Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services that same-sex sexual harassment is a form of discrimination protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

An Unwritten Code Changes

"This kind of harassment has always taken place in the workplace," Wilchins says. "But the kind of abrasive, sexualized horseplay that might have been acceptable 10 years ago is actionable today.

"More males realize they don't have to take it -- they can file suit."

While harassment based on sexual orientation is not protected by federal law, it's important to note that in gender-based harassment, the aggressors -- and their victims -- are likely straight.

"We assume that the vast majority of the cases are not individuals who are necessarily gay or transgender, but they're in situations where there are these abrasive codes of masculinity to which men are expected to live up to," Wilchins says.

Know the Signs

What constitutes sexual harassment? According to the EEOC, it happens when submitting to or rejecting "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature" affects your job, disrupts your work performance or leads to an "intimidating, hostile or offensive" workplace.

In the case of men harassing other men, these unwelcome behaviors could range from the use of feminine pronouns and sexual taunts, to simulated sex acts and threats of a sexually aggressive nature, according to GenderPAC.

What You Can Do

What to do if you believe you're a victim? The EEOC recommends you first follow internal company complaint procedures.

If your employer cannot -- or will not -- resolve the situation to your satisfaction, you can file a complaint at one of the EEOC's 53 offices.

The agency will investigate, and if it finds evidence to support your claim, will attempt to mediate the case. If necessary, the EEOC will file a lawsuit on your behalf.

Sphere: Related Content

Five Soft Skills You Need To Acquire To Succeed

"Hard skills" vary from industry to industry and your mastery of them is what will help you get started in your career. Conversely, "soft skills" are what will ensure your success in any line of work and help you rise through the ranks.

Find out if you've got what it takes to climb the corporate ladder.

1. The Write Stuff

Instant messages and texting via mobile device have become a standard part of business, but the shorthand and lingo used therein will never render formal business writing obsolete. A terrific way to stand out and impress clients and colleagues alike is to craft clear, well-written, and grammatically correct missives. If written communication isn't your strong suit, take a continuing education course at your local college or business school.

2. Lead Meetings That Matter

Are meetings the bane of your existence? You're not alone. However, they remain a necessary evil in corporate America. As you advance in your career, you'll have to call and lead more meetings. Win the admiration and respect of your coworkers by organizing focused and concise meetings. Create a strict agenda. Have hard and fast start and end times. Make each meeting interactive and try to involve every attendee in some way.

3. Excellent Etiquette

Talent cannot be taught, but etiquette can. Open an Emily Post book and find out how to master the art of the business handshake. Learn how to conduct yourself during a business luncheon. Make sure you know how to behave on business trips. And remember to never make an "-ist" of yourself (i.e., a racist, sexist, narcissist, etc.) with an off-handed remark or inappropriate behavior.

4. Negotiation Know-How

You're not afraid to head to the bargaining table. In fact, it's your favorite place. In the words of Kenny Rogers, you know when to hold 'em and you know when to fold 'em -- and you enjoy every minute of it.

Sound like you? If not, learn to love the art of negotiation. Becoming a pro at negotiating means you can always go to bat for yourself and your employer, which usually translates to higher returns for each. Practice negotiating in your everyday life -- with your mechanic, at the store, with friends and family -- to become a natural in no time.

5. Make Powerful Presentations

Presentations may not be part of your current job, but they are sure to be on some level as you move into management.

The best presentations aren't about how impressive your PowerPoint files are; rather, they are about how passionate and persuasive you are. Practice will help you hone your presentation skills so that you're comfortable and able to convey your enthusiasm. If you need extra help, join your local chapter of Toastmasters or take a class in public speaking.

Sphere: Related Content

The United States National Debt: $8,800,000,000,000

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Like your monthly mortgage check, government interest payments may not do much to reduce debt, but they are a necessary price for carrying it — and they may keep you cheerfully confident that the debt itself is no problem.

So what if each month you borrow a little more — for expansions, renovations or maybe just for a week in Aruba?

No problem.

Yes, you would have to pay a bit more each month. But you'd be able to handle it so long as you keep your job and your salary grows as fast as that monthly payment.

Of course, as the mortgage keeps expanding, hope shrinks that you will ever pay it off: You become ever more vulnerable to the whims of your banker and to the level of interest rates.

Like your household finances, the government's troubles are twofold: the need to periodically pony up for the interest and, behind it, the huge, ghostly debt, said James Horney, director of federal fiscal policy at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. "Interest payments are more a symptom. The real issue is the debt we have."

That debt sounds humongous: $8.8 trillion.

Most economists say it's not a crisis but instead something like having termites slowly erode a structure. And they say there are reasons to worry.

For instance, money earmarked to pay debt service isn't being spent on research and education, social programs, infrastructure and veterans' services.

The tab for interest is more than three times the budget for veterans' services, twice the size of the budget for education and nearly 10 times the budget for science, space and technology.

"Because we are borrowing more and more, we have less to invest in growth," Horney said. "So our economic growth is slower and our economy will be smaller than it would have been.

"A greater and greater share will have to go to repay the foreigners [investors], and that will lower our standard of living."

Huge numbers

$8.8 trillion is more than two-thirds the size of the nation's gross domestic product. But that's nowhere near the record high share.

"The United States has often seen relatively high levels of debt compared to the GDP," said Federal Reserve economist Jim Nason.

Just after World War II, debt was 90 percent of the economy for seven consecutive years, peaking at a stunning 122 percent of GDP. Yet during the next two decades, the United States dominated the global economy like never before — or after.

As the economy surged, debt's importance shrank.

By 1980, debt represented just 33 percent of the economy. It doubled by the mid-1990s, then started to slip, falling to 58 percent of GDP in 2000.

So history suggests high debt is manageable?

Well, maybe not if it keeps growing. The trend now is in the wrong direction and — perhaps more importantly — the timing isn't good.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities forecasts that by 2050, debt will be more than twice the size of the economy.

That growth comes despite news that yearly federal budget deficits are going to decline. But even if that's true, it's like saying you are still borrowing from the bank but you are doing smaller renovations these days.

"People talk about cutting the deficit, but they forget that you need to do more than that," said economist Adrian Cronje of Wilmington Trust. "You need to run a surplus for a while to get the stock of debt down to a sustainable level."

Foreign investors

Much of America's debt is owed to foreign investors.

The government borrows money by issuing bonds, which offer investors a safe haven and a payoff pegged to rates that are set by the market. In recent years, hundreds of billions of dollars in bonds have been purchased by foreigners, especially central banks like those of China and Japan.

"The consequences [of high debt] have been largely masked by the substantial foreign investments in U.S. markets," Cronje said. "We really have gotten ourselves into a situation where the [financial] future could be dictated by investors from abroad."

On the other hand, the influx of foreign money has pushed down mortgage rates, which helped fuel the massive boom in housing sales and refinancing.

Because U.S. bonds have been popular with foreign investors, other interest rates have stayed low, too, which makes it cheaper to service the debt — and that makes debt less of a problem, Cronje said.

Still, dependence on foreign investors makes the American consumer vulnerable.

Consumer finances ride on rates for everything from credit cards to home equity loans.

Higher rates?

Foreign investors have a different perspective.

"The private sector wants lower interest rates, and foreign central banks want higher interest rates," said Dimitri Papadimitriou, president of the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.

Any reluctance to invest here would push rates higher, he said. "You might have to have higher interest rates for the foreigners to keep accumulating debt."

Higher rates for households means more income spent on interest — less on other things. For many consumers, that translates to a lower standard of living.

Debt on the rise

Debt is increasing just as we need savings.

As retirement of baby boomers kicks into gear, so will the costs of caring for the growing number of Americans who will not be working. The Social Security Trust Fund has socked away only enough savings for the front end of the wave.

More troubling, Horney said, is the continued acceleration of health care costs.

"As the baby boomers retire and as health care costs keep rising, we are facing big deficits and mounting debt," he@ said.

"If we don't do something about it, that's going to cause a serious problem."

Sphere: Related Content

Go Ahead Liberalize Transatlantic Air Travel, Says Lufthansa

Lufthansa, the German flag-carrier, has dropped its opposition to a controversial deal that would liberalize transatlantic air travel. The move increases pressure on London to back a deal between the European Union and the US in spite of protests from UK airlines.

Wolfgang Mayrhuber, chief executive of Europe's second-largest airline, called the treaty "a step in the right direction" that would benefit customers even though the US had refused to lift limits on foreign control of US carriers.

The German airline's change of heart looks set to gain the support of Berlin, potentially leaving the UK isolated on March 22, when transport ministers vote on the deal negotiated by the European Commission.

The UK transport select committee is expected to discuss the matter at a hearing on March 13, with testimony from airlines serving transatlantic routes.

The treaty is designed to end restrictions on routes between the EU and the US, and would force the UK to open Heathrow Airport to transatlantic carriers other than British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, United Airlines and American Airlines.

London, which is protecting the position of the two UK carriers, has opposed any deal with the US unless Washington lifts restrictions preventing foreign companies owning more than 25 per cent of the voting stock in US airlines. BA, for example, wants to cement a partnership with American.

Lufthansa's partner in the Star alliance, United Airlines, remains the only US carrier that is offering support for the first stage of the open skies deal agreed by negotiators from the US and the European Commission.

US unions have already called for Congress to intervene and block the deal, while influential politicians such as James Oberstar, chairman of the House transportation committee – and a noted critic of earlier drafts of the deal – have yet to issue a public statement.

Mr Mayrhuber emphasized that the US had made some concessions. "For example, we seem to have succeeded in getting Washington to agree to one-stop-security in the medium term."

He reaffirmed his vision of European consolidation, though he added that financial rigor meant Lufthansa was not interested in buying Austrian Airways, SAS or even Alitalia "for the time being".

Lufthansa said operating earnings last year hit €845m ($1.1bn) on revenues of €19.8bn.

Sphere: Related Content

Tell IRS Whether You Are An Independent Contractor Or Employer

James L. Silvester

One of the most expensive aspects of entrepreneurship is your staff.

If you are very successful at your enterprise, you may find the need to hire additional help to facilitate the growth of the business. Then you face the choice of paying people as "independent contractors" or as "employees." The differences can be very large and pose a few financial risks.

Your instinctive reaction is going to be to pay people as independent contractors and report their earnings on IRS Form 1099. You might be saving some dollars because you don't have to pay their social security taxes, workers compensation insurance premiums, unemployment insurance, and the expense of collecting, forwarding, and accounting for federal and state tax withholding.

Be aware the Internal Revenue Service requires that a person must meet certain requirements before declared an independent contractor. You can not impose regular hours, force them to be in your office, or manage them in the traditional sense of the word. And the tax penalties are very stiff if you pay someone as an independent contractor and the IRS later determines they should have been declared employees. You could be held responsible for their taxes if they failed to pay their 1099 earnings not to mention the assessment of additional fines and penalties.

Now I am not trying to scare you because many people can qualify as independent contractors such as free-lance consultants, web designers, work-for-hire writers, etc. There are general categories widely accepted by the IRS.

It is always safe to pay people as employees and the expenses are all deductible just like independent contractor expenses. You will have to pay 50 percent of their social security taxes, pay workers compensation insurance, and pay unemployment insurance premiums. All in all it will add a 15 to 20 percent cost burden over paying these people as independent contractors.

However, you do have peace of mind the IRS will not knock you over the head at some point. And you are insulated from an independent contractor later saying they deserve unemployment benefits when he or she can't negotiate a future contract and thus have no income. It happens more often than you think. In addition, consider if the independent contractor is injured while doing work for you and you have no worker's compensation insurance.

If it goes to a lawsuit and the court determines that the independent contractor should have been declared an employee, you are at risk. With no workers compensation insurance, it now becomes a criminal issue against you.

Give it careful consideration and check with your CPA.

Sphere: Related Content

How To Say "NO Thanks" To Predatory Loans

Janice Martin

It has come sadly to my attention home buyers right here in Chaffee County have fallen victim to possible predatory lending practices.

It also happened to my niece in Denver.

This abusive lending practice can have many forms, but usually preys on individuals with weak or blemished credit scores. A typical predatory loan may look like an interest only loan or a loan with very high fees attached.

On competitive loans, fees should be at or around 1-2 percent of the loan. On predatory loans, fees can total anywhere from 2-5 percent of the loan balance.

This practice often surfaces when a builder attempts to keep their staff employed, even though the market is flat or soft. To create a false demand, the builder will also become the banker.

This strategy is really very smart "if" you are the builder. The builder gets the money for building the home, plus the money for being the banker.

However, it is not good for the ill-informed consumer or the surrounding community. These types of loans make it nearly impossible for the homeowner to build any equity in their house.

Obviously, if a home owner never pays the principal down, and at the same time a market is being flooded with similar newer homes, they will actually end up with a mortgage product that has a higher loan balance than the value of their home.

Many homeowners have been misled to think a house is their greatest asset. I have argued for years that if homeowners have zero to very little equity, their house is actually their largest liability.

The banker will show an asset on their balance sheet called mortgage receivable for the entire value of your home. (Yeah, lender!) The homeowner will show a liability on their balance sheet called mortgage payable for the entire value of their home. (Boo, homeowner!) I know what you are thinking, "but Janice what about appreciation?"

Again, that sometimes works, but not when the supply exceeds demand, or if the "builder/lender" is predatory. We certainly have plenty of homes on the market in all price ranges in this county.

Therefore, if predatory builder/lending practice continues to be tolerated in this small fragile market, serious harm will result.

The only ones who will be immune from such a downturn will be home owners who have either a very special lot or live in a special neighborhood like Cottonwood Meadows or South Main.

Supply is being supported by a false demand, but can come crashing down like a neighborhood made of cards. So, buyers beware before you buy!

Predators will also convince home buyers of all the taxes they are going to save by buying their home and paying thousands of dollars of interest to the builder.

First, usually home buyers with tarnished credit who require builder financing, do not have a big end of year tax burden and may even be in an income tax bracket where they do not pay any income tax after all the child care tax credits and so on.

So this is another ridiculous selling point to create false demand and trap a home buyer with tarnished credit.

This type of unethical lending practice is being addressed at the state level through Senate Bill 203 and House Bill 1322. Colorado is experiencing one of the highest foreclosure rates with most of the foreclosures occurring in these exact types of developments.

Real estate agents should be careful since Senate Bill 203 and House Bill 1322 will also allow the unsuspecting buyer to sue the real estate agent who sold the house if the agent knew that the loan was "unconscionable."

That's the tough part I guess, the courts will determine what is unconscionable. However, if I was a real estate agent I would take the high road and follow my conscience before I would recommend a builder/lender combination or at least check your liability insurance coverage.

If you feel you may be a victim of predatory lending, you may file a complaint with the Attorney General's Office at I hope this helps.

Janice Martin is co-owner of Headwaters Energy and Finance in Buena Vista.

Sphere: Related Content

10 Ways To Earn Money At Home

You do not have to read many success stories before you start wishing you could work for yourself. The opportunity to be your own boss and the potential for high income are enough to entice us to venture on our own. But what can you do? What kind of business would you be suitable to start? We have compiled the top 10 ways to earn money at home, enough to be a full-time self-employed businessperson!

1. Antiques
The buying and selling of antiques has been and should continue to be a very productive business, financially, for those that do it. Here, you only need an extra room in the house, or the use of your garage -- and you have an office! If you have a large home that has some antique furnishings, you might consider turning it into a showroom for your antique acquisitions and sales, providing you satisfy any local zoning regulations. The interest in antiques will survive into the foreseeable future.
Many people choose to spend their free time on the weekends "antiquating" from place to place to try and pick up a few odds or ends and maybe a jewel or two. If you know anything about antiques, this may be a great opportunity for you.

2. Baking
Have you ever been told that you have a recipe that people would line up to get if they could? Ever had anyone tell you that you should be selling those cupcakes you make? There are a number of success stories about people who have launched successful businesses by cooking at home and then marketing to local people first. You may specialize in on just one well- tried and tested food product; or you may innovate on a product that you created yourself and which has never been marketed before. Having perfected the recipe you then turn to packaging and marketing. Word of mouth on a good product may start to get restaurants or bakeries interested in acquiring your culinary masterpieces. Then you progress to selling them statewide
and you're on your way to a profitable home-based business.

3. Bed-and-Breakfast Proprietors
Have you ever stayed in a bed and breakfast and thought, "Hey, I can do this!" You probably went on vacation and simply chalked your thought up as one of those pipedreams one gets when they stay in a beautiful spot. Don't toss that thought away! While it's not easy work as the hours can be long and it's usually a seven days per week business, it's often something that you can work into a daily schedule. After all, it's merely an extension of doing the housework for family, right? More and more Americans are taking after Europeans and opening their homes to travelers. If you have an extra room or two since the kids moved out, you can start a bed and breakfast in your own place! Bed and breakfast popularity will continue as more and more vacationers and business travelers seek a different accommodation away from the predictability of the average hotel room. If they enjoy their stay, many become "repeat" customers, coming back to the same familiar surroundings time and again. If you don't need to do any major renovations in the house to accommodate this type of establishment, you can be off and running with very little money invested, other than advertising and some new "guest room supplies". If your dream is to buy a bed and breakfast somewhere in a vacation paradise, there are probably houses for sale that will work for this purpose.

4. Childcare
Due to the financial pressures faced by many families today, parents work outside of the home to bring in enough income to pay daily living expenses. A single parent is obviously working but all too often, both members of a two-parent family are in the workforce. This creates a home-based opportunity. Children must be watched, all day if they're not in school, or, otherwise, for a brief time after school before the parents finish work for the day. Most parents want their children immersed in a more stimulating environment than is usual with the average babysitter. You can begin small at home, offering a more stimulating and educational environment setting for client children. Caring for one additional child may not be that lucrative, but taking care of several children can certainly be a full-time, financially successful business. Often, taking care of several children is made somewhat easier as the youngsters often will play together. You can do this at home for only a small investment in basic equipment and toys for the kids in addition to the advertising of your business.

5. Computer Specialist
The advent of the computer age has changed the concept of self-employment. Having a computer at home has opened a number of opportunities for running your own business utilizing this equipment. Companies everywhere are "outsourcing" work that can be done by someone else on their computer, out of their own home. If you are a whiz in computers, you may end up working as a consultant, writing programs for companies. If you are a beginner, you may find yourself able to obtain work as a writer, using your computer to produce copy that is easy to edit. You can also keep accounting and payroll records for companies on your computer's database. Word processing software can be used not only for writers but for those that can offer secretarial services out of their house. Desktop publishing software can allow you to do newsletters for businesses and other organizations. If you can operate a computer, you can find work in the information age today. Of course, the advent of the Web has opened a lot of business opportunities for the enterprising individuals. If you have skills in lay-outing and graphic design, you can be a website designer. Website designers earn significant amounts of money nowadays.

6. Gardening
If you like working in your garden each year , it's a definite possibility for home-based employment. Imagine clearing a little more space and growing more items that you can sell directly to the consumer. You can produce vegetables, bedding plants, bonzai tree, exotic plants, flower trees, herb, house plants, landscaping plants, orchids and many more. Most produce stands will buy from you if your product is one of high quality. If you enjoy gardening, this could be your ticket! If you have some more land to use, do it! Plant what you can, when you can! Contact your local produce stands to ascertain their buying habits. You can even inquire about your own produce stand if you have enough product. The more space you have on your land, the more likely you will be able to generate enough crops to run the business. People love homegrown vegetables. They just do not have the time or want to be bothered doing it themselves. That is your open door! You can also engage in selling other gardening products and supplies such as compost, earthworms, herb boxes, beneficial bugs, or drip irrigation systems.

7. Importer and Distributor
There are a substantial number of products manufactured in other countries that can be bought inexpensively and sold in your country at a profitable level. The Government and the formation of international trade organizations have made it easier to bring in other products from other countries. This is a business easily operated out of the home, depending on the types of stock you're carrying. You may have to rent some storage space, but the capital required to start should essentially be limited to the products you're buying to sell here. If you know the type of product you want to import and the market most likely to purchase your goods, you have great potential for a successful home-based business.

8. Interior Decorator
Interior decorating is a business that will require you to be mobile, constantly meeting with customers. It offers flexible hours, a good variety of activities, and a very lucrative return. If you have a fascination for decorating a home, this could be your line of work. Many people do not know where to start when they are remodeling or buying a house for the first time. If you have the knowledge of colors and patterns and what looks good together, plus the expertise of knowing where to get materials and furnishings, this can be a winning home-based business for you. To be able to decorate a room so that it conveys the mood that the homeowner wishes will be your goal. Strive for the skillful, personal touch in all you design.

9. Photographer
The sky is the limit here! Armed with your trusty camera and some good advertising, you can do weddings, models, family portraits, passports, student photos, local newspaper coverage; almost anything that requires a picture! You can easily start this work, part-time, and work into full-time work based on your success and inclination. Not much equipment is necessary to get going as a camera off the store shelf can often do the trick today. Picking up a tripod and having a room sufficient for developing your pictures, and you're in business -- at home!

10. Sewing and Alterations
Many people love to sew. If you are one of them, consider offering this service out of your home. When someone buys a new outfit, it rarely fits perfectly, meaning some kind of alteration must be done. People look long and hard to find reliable individuals to do their alterations. If you can sew, you are well on your way to opening the doors of this type of business.

Sphere: Related Content

Body Builders Take Center Stage At Dwyer High For A National Qualifying Competition This Weekend

Lifting weights won't happen just at the gym this weekend when area body builders take center stage at Dwyer High for a national qualifying competition.

Frank Dalto, owner of Mother Nature's Pantry and promoter for the competition, said the competition will consist of three different events — a bodybuilding competition for men and women, figure and fitness competitions just for women and a competition for contestants in wheelchairs, running for its 14th year.

The Sunshine Classic Body Building Show, Sunshine Classic Figure and Fitness Show and the National Physical Committee Wheelchair Nationals competition will be held at Dwyer High on Saturday. The competition will begin at 7:30 p.m., and tickets are $30 each.

Dalto, who's been a local bodybuilding show promoter for more than 25 years, knows the interest the competition brings.

"They start working out and they like it — figure is in right now," he said.

At last year's competition there were 106 contestants, Dalto noted. This year he expects the turnout to be about the same.

Many people of different ages and levels of difficulty compete at the show. Dalto said the bodybuilding competition has a 13-19 year group, an over 30 group and even an over 80 group.

"There are over 30 guys who've competed in the over 80 category for a few years," he said.

The figure and fitness competitions have a teen category, over 30, 40 and 50 age groups and an open category where contestants can compete against any age group. The wheelchair competition has a teen division, a novice division and a masters division for people over 40-years-old.

Dalto said contestants in the wheelchair competition "use a lot of dumbbells and they have people help them."

The women's figure and fitness competitions are different from the other two-bodybuilding shows.

"Fitness has a lot of flips and turns — similar to gymnastics," Dalto said. About the figure competition, he noted, "it's not a whole dance routine like the fitness competition. You pose to music and it's not really dancing."

Office Manager for Palm Beach Skin and Laser and Part-time Personal Trainer Jennifer Bishop, said she's been competing in the figure competition "off and on since 2003, and this is only my second time doing fitness."

Bishop, 32, said she got into competing after hearing about the competition at Jupiter Fitness Gym, where she used to work as a manager

She described herself as scrawny and said, "I went from never working out to jumping onstage."

The figure and fitness competitions may have different routines, but they are both physically demanding.

"In the figure the judges look at your physique in a whole-piece and a two-piece bathing suit, and you walk across the stage doing quarter turns."

The fitness competition differs because "at the national competition you have set moves," Bishop said. "It's more holding your presses (than doing full gymnastic movements)."

Although the fitness competition is different from regular gymnastics, it is still equally hard to compete in, according to Bishop.

"It's just really, really hard," she said. "Most of us have broken something."

Bishop said she competes for more than just a trophy.

"Even if you don't win a trophy, just to be able to have accomplished this is enough," she said.

To prepare for the upcoming competition, Bishop said she has been dieting and training for 12 weeks.

"I diet in three phases," she said. "Phase one is high protein-low carbs, phase two is carb rotation and phase three is a bowl of chicken and distilled water."

Bishop, a single mother who trains on her own for the competitions, said she goes to the gym "three times a day for a month before a competition."

To prepare for the competition, she said she has to do cardio and weight training. Each day she goes to the gym at 6 a.m. to workout, before taking her nine-year-old daughter to school. Then she will workout again in the evening.

"Being able to look back at what you were able to accomplish is such a motivation," she said.

Dalto agrees.

"Talk about determination," he said. "Last year she trained so hard. She's such a great athlete."

Sphere: Related Content

Four Cover Letter Flops To Avoid

Resumes get a lot of attention during a job hunt. However, don't forget to give your cover letter its due. After all, employers usually review a cover letter prior to looking at your resume. If your cover letter doesn't pass muster, your resume won't ever get any attention at all.

Each time you craft a new cover letter, be sure to avoid these four flubs that can contribute to missed opportunities.

1. Gender Bender

Don't start things off on the wrong foot with a gender-specific salutation, such as "Gentlemen." In fact, it's best to completely avoid references to gender as they can seem dated and even offend someone who is transitioning to another gender. Rather, try to find out the name of the person who will be reviewing your resume and address the cover letter to that individual. If this isn't possible, opt for "To Whom It May Concern," the most neutral of all salutations.

2. One Letter Doesn't Fit All

It's fine to create a standard cover letter during your job search, but be sure that you use extreme caution when revising the letter for different employers. Common errors include listing the wrong job title, company name, date, or source of a job listing. Take the time to be sure that you've got your facts straight in each letter -- and while you're at it, spend a few more moments tailoring a unique response to each employer.

3. Size Matters

A cover letter should be just that -- a letter. Put thought into its content. While you don't want to submit a two-page tome, so to speak, you do want your cover letter to consist of more than a sentence or two. Three well-written paragraphs outlining your interest in the position and qualifications are ideal. Anything shorter could communicate a lack of effort while anything longer probably won't be read.

4. Take Direction Well

Employers want to know if you take direction well -- and that appraisal begins with your cover letter. If you're asked to send your resume to a particular person, make sure you do so. Follow any format requests (PDF, Microsoft Word, text documents, etc.). Also, if an ad states that you must include your salary requirements to be considered, do so if you really want to be considered for the position. Ignoring obvious instructions at the stage of the game is an easy way to guarantee you won't be hired.

Sphere: Related Content

Transition To A New Career, Seven Steps To Follow

Whether you're in an industry that's desperately seeking workers or one that's continually announcing layoffs, you've likely toyed with thoughts of dropping everything to follow your dream career. But making that leap is often difficult.

For some workers, now might be a good time to consider a switch. The national unemployment rate was 4.6% in January -- and 2.1% for those with a college degree -- according to the U.S. Labor Department.

The employment picture "really gives job seekers a cushion that doesn't always exist," said John Challenger, chief executive of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

"There is a lot of demand right now for skilled workers" in many industries, he said. If the job change you make doesn't work out, you're not necessarily facing a dire job market, he said.

Here are seven tips that career counselors say will ease any transition:

1. Think career shift, not wholesale change

Don't think you have to make a 180-degree career turn, said Barbara Moses, a Toronto-based career-management expert, president of BBM Human Resource Consultants Inc. and author of "What's Next: Find the Work That's Right for You."

Often, those who wish to change jobs "conjure some kind of Madonna-like reinvention," Moses said. That's often requires going back to school and, after that pricey endeavor, it's likely you'll end up in an entry-level job in your new field.

"Typically, employers will not pay you for that 15 years of amazing management experience you've garnered over the years," Moses said. "Five years and a very expensive education later, they're 50 years old and unemployed."

Instead, she said, consider a career shift. Apply your skills to a new industry or job type.

"Take those skills ... into a stronger industry like health care or energy," Challenger agreed. "Look for new companies with better environments, more recognition, better pay, less commuting, room for advancement -- whatever it is that's driving you crazy," he said.

2. Translate your skills

Break down what you do into broad skills. For instance, "a journalist is someone who uses words to tell a story," Moses said. That skill might be in demand at a TV production company or in a lobbying firm, she said.

Once you've described what you do in broad terms, assess your tastes. "Do you work best in a fast-paced environment or do you prefer to work on one or two things at a time? Do you get your energy from people or do you prefer to work by yourself?" Moses said. "Develop a profile of your skills, your best/worst environments, the kind of features in a job that you need to feel happy and engaged."

Your list of skills and job tastes will help you make the move to a new industry, she said. "If you've got 15 years of experience in one industry, it is very important that you drill down to the underlying components of that work, so when you go to sell yourself to a new employer, you're not completely mired in the identity of your previous job," she said. You want to "disentangle your identity from your job, job title and industry."

3. Time for self-reflection

People usually go about making a career change the wrong way, says Andrea Kay, a Cincinnati-based career counselor and author of "Life's a Bitch and Then You Change Careers."

"They say, 'what's out there?'" Kay said. "Wrong question. The question is, 'What's in me? What are my most joyful skills? What do I know about? What do I want to know about it?" she said.

Your imagination will come in handy, she said. "Your fears are going to get in your way," Kay said. "If you cannot have a clear picture and imagine what it is you see yourself doing, it's going to be hard to convince others that it is doable."

4. No goals, no go

People often say, "I work all day. How am I supposed to incorporate a career change?" Kay said. "It's doable if you sit down and decide, number one, what's my goal, by what time do I want to accomplish it, what's reasonable considering that I'm working full time and ... what do I need to cut out? TV? Time with friends?" she said.

"People have preconceived ideas that they won't be able to do this. They say things like, 'I can't afford it' or 'I don't have time,'" Kay said.

Instead, ask questions. Rather than saying, "I can't afford it" find out how much money you're likely to spend on the new endeavor. "You don't know what it's going to cost you time-wise, money-wise, relationship-wise. You need to poke around at your preconceived assessments and see what's accurate and what's not," she said.

Only then can you decide whether it's worth it. "Do I want this badly enough to sacrifice the time that I will miss with my family? What am I going to have to cut out? Am I willing to do that?" Kay said.

5. Research the possibilities

"After you've done your online and book research about your new career direction, you're ready to talk to people who can give you real feedback," Kay said.

When you talk to others, don't focus on specific job titles. "If you approach it with openness to the possibilities ... you'll go way beyond your little world of a title," Kay said.

For example, she said, one client, an engineer, wanted to become an industrial designer. People in the field told her to attend an upcoming trade show. "Sure enough, there were speakers, industrial designers, people from corporations. She came away from that energized, full of information she hadn't even considered -- and even a job title that fit what she was looking for but that she wasn't aware of until she came in touch with it," Kay said.

Also, while still at your job, write up a list of the people you know. "You've got to devote time to having lunch with people, talking to people ... your referrals will help you be successful," Kay said.

Then, "target your search to fast-growing industries, said Eva Wisnik, president of New York-based Wisnik Career Enterprises. Read the local paper's business section regularly, she said. "Which companies are getting a lot of venture money? Which companies are leasing more space? Which are moving into the area, or are going public, or have the fastest growing revenues?"

6. Think like a recruiter

Say you want a job selling financial products to young people. What kind of skills would a recruiter want to see? A recruiter would "want someone who could quickly establish rapport with a younger person [and] you'd obviously want somebody with an understanding of financial products," Moses said.

Then, write your resume pairing examples of your expertise with what a recruiter would want. "Maybe you organized a successful fundraiser which focused on 20-something guests," Moses said.

This process improves your resume, and helps to identify any gaps. If you don't have direct experience with young people, maybe now's the time to organize that fundraiser.

7. Learn the lingo

You don't necessarily need another degree, but consider your local community college for a class to improve your skills.

"I do not think people need whole new degrees. Look for that hands-on training that will help you walk in the door adding value," Wisnik said. "You want to sound like someone in the industry already. That helps you sound like an insider versus someone who is trying to get in. It's the lingo, the training."

Another route: Join a professional association at least six months before you make the jump, Wisnik said. Such groups often offer certificate programs and workshops, or even training courses during industry conferences, as well as networking opportunities.

Sphere: Related Content