Beyoncé And Jay-Z's Detroit Tour Stop Was All About Aretha Franklin

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Beyoncé paid tribute to the ailing Queen of Soul after DJ Khaled whipped up the crowd with one of her most iconic songs. Continue Reading →

What Are the Worst Invasive Plants—and How Can You Stop Them?

Invasive plants can ruin a perfectly functioning ecosystem, creating issues for years and potentially changing landscapes forever.

The key to controlling invasives is to be sure they don’t get where they don’t belong, according to The Nature Conservancy (nature.org).

The environmental nonprofit says that the best way to fight invasive species is to prevent them from occurring in the first place. Every consumer can play a role in stopping the introduction and spread of invasive species.

The Conservancy says everyone can help protect native plants and animals by following these six easy guidelines:

  • Verify that the plants you’re buying for your yard or garden are not invasive. Replace invasive plants in your garden with non-invasive alternatives. Ask your local nursery staff for help in identifying invasive plants.
  • When boating, clean your boat thoroughly before transporting it to a different body of water.
  • Clean your boots before you hike in a new area to get rid of hitchhiking weed seeds and pathogens.
  • Don’t “pack a pest” when traveling. Fruits and vegetables, plants, insects and animals can carry pests or become invasive themselves. Don’t move firewood (it can harbor forest pests), clean your bags and boots after each hike, and throw out food before you travel from place to place.
  • Don’t release aquarium fish and plants, live bait or other exotic animals into the wild. If you plan to own an exotic pet, do your research and plan ahead to make sure you can commit to looking after it.
  • Volunteer at your local park, refuge or other wildlife area to help remove invasive species. Help educate others about the threat.

So what are some of the most invasive species? The Smithsonian says purple loosestrife is one of America’s most pervasive invasives. Purple loosestrife can become dominant in wetlands, producing as many as two million wind-dispersed seeds annually with underground stems growing at a rate of one foot per year.

Japanese honeysuckle is another aggressive vine prolific throughout much of the East Coast that smothers, shades and girdles other competing vegetation, the Smithsonian says.

In the Southeast, kudzu grows at a rate of up to one foot a day and 60 feet annually, smothering plants and killing trees by adding immense weight, girdling or toppling them.

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The U.S. Should Have 2.4M More Households Than It Does

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Even with a strengthening economy, young adults are choosing not to step out on their own and buy their first home.

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Borrower Beware: Soon It Will Be Tough to Unload College Loans

(TNS)—Here’s a good reason to think twice about taking out piles of student loans after watching a catchy TV ad for a for-profit college.

The U.S. Department of Education is on a path to make it far tougher to get federal college loans forgiven using the argument that the school cheated you out of a good education by misleading you about job prospects or engaging in fraud.

The new rule—now under a public comment period—would apply to students seeking loans after July 1, 2019.

Consumer watchdogs, of course, charge that bad actors are getting a pass here. It would be up to students to prove that the school knowingly made false statements. What’s most troubling is that we’re often talking about low-income students, minority students or military veterans who have taken out loans to attend for-profit schools as they seek to build a better life and get training for a good-paying job.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has said the proposal lays out clear rules schools must follow, while protecting students from fraud. The administration maintains that the current rules had been too broadly interpreted, leaving taxpayers on the hook and opening the door for frivolous claims.

Yet many borrowers could be burned here. We’re looking at yet another reminder of why it’s savvy to be skeptical when costly for-profit colleges aggressively recruit you and make breathless promises about grants and financing.

All graduates don’t get good jobs.
Some schools do go out of business unexpectedly; others provide misleading claims and don’t provide a degree that employers really value.

Two years ago, for example, ITT Tech shut its doors following sanctions by the U.S. Department of Education. The sudden shutdown meant that students were able to seek a discharge of federal student loans—but not private student loans—from the federal government. For-profit Corinthian College closed its campuses in 2015, leaving students unable to complete their programs.

Often consumers find the pitch surrounding some for-profit programs very appealing. They’re looking to get on the fast path to a new, more promising career. Yet many students borrow heavily—too heavily—to chase those dreams.

Robin Howarth, senior researcher for the Center for Responsible Lending, says there’s growing concern that students attending for-profit schools can end up owing a great deal of money but only have limited potential for obtaining a job with a substantial paycheck in return.

The consumer watchdog group released a report in June that indicated, for example, that students face very high tuition and fees at for-profit colleges in order to receive training for healthcare support jobs. Many students borrow most of the money, but the jobs they find don’t pay enough to cover their living expenses and all that debt.

“Students need to pay very close attention to what kind of earnings are achieved,” Howarth says.

It’s important to look beyond average salaries in the medical field and look at the kinds of jobs obtained by students who attended that program.

Many times, Howarth says, earnings for similar programs are less when the student has attended a for-profit school than if the student studied a similar program at a public or private nonprofit college.

Often, Howarth says students may be better off obtaining training at a community college at a far lower cost.

Proving fraud isn’t easy for student borrowers.
Kurt O’Keefe, a Grosse Pointe Woods attorney who has a blog called “Discharge Student Loans,” says student borrowers would still face significant challenges under the new rules, if they want to try to get loans forgiven if they claim they were defrauded by the schools.

“Failing to deliver requisite skills and knowledge is a tough one to litigate,” O’Keefe says. “The schools will say the student just failed to learn.”

In addition, he noted that many who find themselves in such circumstances are from lower-income families and cannot afford to take legal action.

“A right that costs money to exercise, legal fees for your lawyer, does not help much when you are talking about people who cannot pay their loans to begin with,” O’Keefe says.

O’Keefe says the real problem is one that he refers to as “the triangle.”

“The schools get the money whether the student gets value or not, the government (usually) lends the money and chases the borrower for repayment. The schools have no skin in the game,” he says.

Part of the draft rules would allow the Department of Education to seek reimbursement for forgiven student loans from the institutions and that is good, he says.

“It would hurt scam schools and schools with scam programs, and could be used against any institution, public or private,” O’Keefe says.

Under a current regulation, borrowers with federal student loans might be able to get debt relief when they claim they were misled about the cost and quality of the education. It’s called the “Borrower Defense to Repayment” rule.

The Education Department notes students may be eligible for borrower defense regardless of whether your school closed or you are otherwise eligible for loan forgiveness under other laws.

Consumers with questions or pending claims regarding borrower defense may call the Department of Education’s hotline at 855-279-6207 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays. As of January, the Department of Education has received 138,989 claims—and 23 percent had been processed. The bulk of the claims processed were associated with Corinthian and ITT.

New rules would save the government billions.
The proposed change in regulations would significantly limit the situations under which borrowers could qualify for financial relief, says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice president of Research for Savingforcollege.com.

“The changes appear intended to primarily reduce costs to the federal government,” Kantrowitz says. “While the previous regulations may have been too permissive—allowing cancellation of debt based on just accusation of wrongdoing—the new regulations go too far in the opposite direction. As the lender, the federal government should have some responsibility to the borrower.”

It’s estimated that the new proposal could save the federal government nearly $13 billion over the next decade.

It’s a substantial savings, given that the Education Department had put a $14.9 billion price tag over the next decade for the program under the more-broadly defined regulations.

The new regulations would permit the U.S. Department of Education to provide partial relief instead of cancelling all of the borrower’s loans, depending on the level of harm suffered, he says.

Under the new rules, borrowers would need to prove that the college intended to defraud—a very difficult standard.

Also significant: Only borrowers already in default could apply for relief under the proposed rules. As a result, a borrower who was actively repaying the loans wouldn’t get help.

“This might lead some borrowers to intentionally default on their federal student loans,” Kantrowitz says.

Defaulting can seriously harm your credit score, and drive up borrowing costs when you want to take out a car loan, home mortgage or open up a credit card. A default will be reported to credit bureaus.

Most often, you do not want to go into default. If you default on student loans, you will be subject to collection charges and wage garnishment, and the government can seize your income tax refund, too.

©2018 Detroit Free Press
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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Median Age of Maturing U.S. Housing Stock is 37

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As homes in the U.S. get older, there could be expensive repercussions for homeowners.

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Latin America Agrees to Standardize Ethics Rules

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Real estate associations in the region sign an accord with NAR to promote and enforce the Code of Ethics.

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Erosion, Sea Levels Threaten Viability of Waterfront Homes

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Disappearing coastlines may prompt affluent home buyers to shun oceanside communities.

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1 in 4 Homes are ‘Equity Rich.’ How Does Your State Fare?

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Also, find out which states have the highest share of “seriously underwater” properties.

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Watch for Asbestos When Renovating Older Homes: You May Be at Risk

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Photo credit: BanksPhotos -iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Rosie Rosati, guest contributor

As a homebuyer, it’s easy to understand the appeal of investing in an older home. After all, it’s the perfect opportunity to tackle a few DIY projects and renovations to give the place the custom touch you’ve always imagined. Although this can seem like an exciting endeavor, new owners may get ahead themselves without realizing their house may be harboring toxins from decades ago.

It’s important to understand the dangers of asbestos during home improvement projects and how to reduce exposure risks.

Measuring Your Risk

Asbestos is a natural silicate mineral that was revolutionary for the building trade until its carcinogenic nature was discovered. This toxin was once widely-used by the construction industry due to its resilience and ability to withstand chemicals and high temperatures. Although its health risks were discovered as early as the 1920s, the United States continued producing, importing and manufacturing asbestos-containing consumer products for decades.

Researchers concluded in 1960 that asbestos exposure could cause a wide range of long-term diseases, including asbestosis, lung cancer, and the often fatal form of cancer known as mesothelioma. As more tradesmen came forward with asbestos-related illnesses, this mineral became known as a primary source of occupational cancer.

The mineral is heavily regulated today, but millions of people are still vulnerable to exposure due to its expansive use in residential homes and buildings.

Asbestos is only considered dangerous when contaminated materials have been worn down or damaged which unfortunately, is a standard part of most renovation or remodeling work.

Any sanding, grinding, sawing, drilling, buffing, or physical impact may cause these fibers to become airborne and easily ingested or inhaled by anyone in the general proximity.

What Homeowners Need to Know

Asbestos is nearly impossible to identify on your own because it’s often mixed within building products, but it is possible to identify a hazardous situation and take appropriate preventative action.

Before getting involved with any sort of home improvement project, you should always double-check that your property has been recently inspected by a trained professional. This simple step is especially important if you reside in a home built more than 40 years ago and has visible signs of aging. This bit of precaution could save you from developing an asbestos-related illness years later.

You should be aware of common products that have a history of containing the toxin and monitor their condition for any sort of wear and tear. Keep an eye on old insulation, ceiling tiles, vinyl flooring, joint compounds, door gaskets, furnaces, roof shingles, electrical wiring, fireproof products, and more.

Asbestos is known to be a significant threat when it is “friable,” meaning it can be easily crumbled or crushed by hand. Spray-on insulation and spray-on ceiling textures are prime examples of products that once contained friable asbestos and have been found within residential homes today.

Unlike floor tiles and cement that must endure long-term deterioration before asbestos fibers are loosened, the slightest amount of pressure can instantly release these fibers, allowing them to be carried throughout the air and dust indoors.

Do not panic and try to remove any materials you think are toxic, as this will only do more harm than good.

Instead, block off the area and avoid any activity, including sweeping or vacuuming, which can exacerbate the situation and cause toxic dust and debris to travel even further throughout the house.

Restrict anyone from going near the area until a professional can take samples to confirm it contains asbestos. If the toxin is present and appears to be hazardous, the licensed professional can safely remove the toxin from your home.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rosie Rosati is with the Mesothelioma and Asbestos Awareness Center. She is a health advocate for anyone impacted by the aggressive form of cancer known as mesothelioma. She dedicates her time to educating the public on where asbestos is found today and how to prevent exposure. Her ultimate goal is to connect anyone affected by this rare diseases with the resources and support they deserve.

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Survey: 5M Renters Have Fallen Prey to Online Scams

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Consumers may be less diligent in researching apartments on the internet when feeling the urgency to move, experts say.

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