Author Archives: By Nathaniel Hutchinson

Not All Bid and Buy Penny Auction Sites Legitimate


In its continuing series focused on consumer-related tips and warnings, has taken a look at numerous online shopping platforms. Ultimately, we’ve found that not all bid and buy penny auction sites offer users a fair chance to acquire discount merchandise.

According to our in-house technology expert, Sarah McDaniels, while some sites have taken steps to raise their reputations in the eyes of consumers; others continue a business-as-usual approach that has drawn warnings from some reputable organizations.

“When they first came out, penny auctions were almost synonymous with the word scam,” McDaniels said. “In response to numerous complaints, both the Federal Trade Commission and Better Business Bureau issued reports warning consumers that many of these sites use deceitful techniques to rip their customers off. Now some of these bid and buy sites are taking steps to prove they don’t scam their users; however, many haven’t followed suit.”

McDaniels says the FTC has warned that many penny auctions use shills or automated bots to make fake bids that drive up prices and prolong auctions. This inevitably increases bidder failure, which ultimately pads company profits. That said, some companies are attempting to separate themselves from their competitors by proving they don’t use these types of strategies.

Recently, QuiBids paid Grant Thornton, a very reputable accounting firm, to conduct a neutral, third-party audit of the bid and buy website’s business model. In the end, Grant Thornton found that QuiBids did not use automated bots to cheat its customers; and the BBB chose to upgrade the company’s rating in response. Unfortunately, according to McDaniels, few penny auctions have followed QuiBid’s lead.

“Right now, consumers really don’t have any way of knowing which sites use shills and which do not,” she said. “There are some sites that attempt to uncover this sort of unscrupulous activity by comparing total human visitors by the total actual bids to see if there is a notable discrepancy. That said, if consumers really want to be sure they aren’t getting cheated, they can either avoid these types of sites altogether or review the BBB’s ratings system to see if the particular company has conducted any sort of audit.”

Home Refinance Possible despite Lukewarm Real Estate Report


According to the S&P/Case Shiller composite index, average home prices ascended for the second consecutive month, a potential sign that the housing market might be inching toward a recovery.

Unfortunately, sales remain stagnant in most parts of the country for a variety of reasons, including tough lending standards and buyer reticence. What’s more, although the S&P’s index indicates that home values are on the rise; they still remain far lower than what they were before the real estate crisis. They also remain much lower than what many economists had hoped, and most experts aren’t expecting a significant improvement anytime soon.

Hope for Refi Applicants

Low mortgage rates have made home refinance ideal for numerous homeowners; however, many have had trouble taking advantage due to lost equity associated with falling property values. That said, it’s important to remember that the S&P/Case Shiller composite index only takes an average based on 20 major metropolitan areas. If you live in a city that is experiencing job growth and economic improvement, your home may be worth more than you think.

If you currently have a 30-year mortgage, you can save a bundle of cash by switching to a 15-year plan. Low current interest rates can also help you lower your monthly payments if you are currently struggling with a 15-year loan. By switching to a 30-year plan, you can free up cash to help pay for school loans or credit card debt.

Unfortunately, to get approval, you must have enough home equity to satisfy lenders. If you live in a depressed housing market that has seen its share of foreclosures; this probably won’t be the case.

Still, it may make sense to contact lenders to find out if you do qualify. Getting a new mortgage makes sense in today’s real estate market, whether you are struggling financially or enjoying economic prosperity. After all, low mortgage rates mean cheaper home loans for those who have what it takes to get a lender’s stamp of approval.

Online Shopping: Finding Deals and Bargains, Avoiding Scams


Online shopping has continued to increase, despite lingering economic trouble that has left many consumers pinching pennies elsewhere. These days, ordinary Internet retailers are seeing less activity, while discount and coupon websites have seen a big surge in business. Unfortunately, the increased desire for deals and bargains has left many buyers vulnerable to scams. Before you punch in your credit card information, understand the risks associated with many so-called discount websites.

Scammy Websites

Although certain websites do offer some very legitimate deals and bargains, many are set up to take advantage of consumer ignorance. According to Sarah McDaniels, an online technology expert, consumers should watch out for two specific types of online shopping platforms.

“Generally, consumers should be wary of any auction site that requires you to pay for the right to make bids, as well as any website offering wholesale merchandise from overseas,” she said. “Right now, penny auction websites are aggressively marketing themselves on the radio, television and Internet. This type of salient promotion makes them seem reputable to unknowing consumers; however, some major consumer advocates have warned that many of these sites tend to cost people a lot of money.”

McDaniels says consumers also tend to have problems when they shop at websites offering wholesale merchandise from overseas.

“Websites, such as AliExpress and DHGate, offer consumers discounted merchandise made in China,” she said. “Unfortunately, there are all sorts of online complaints associated with these companies, with most focusing on bait-and-switch scams, shipping delays and damaged goods.”

What Consumers Should Know

According to McDaniels, bargain hunters should take the time to research specific vendors before they enter their credit card information.

“Online shopping sites aren’t regulated nearly as well as brick-and-mortar stores,” she said. “Before you buy anything from a particular website, take the time to do a Google search. If you find a lot of complaints, pay attention. Likewise, check the Better Business Bureau to see if they’ve rated the site you’re interested in. If it has received a rating of B+ or better, you can probably be sure the deals are legitimate. If the rating is lower, or there is no rating at all, you may want to spend your money elsewhere.”

Mortgage Refinance Popular; Homebuying Not


In its most recent survey, the federal mortgage giant known as Freddie Mac reported average 30-year mortgage rates at record lows, continuing a trend that has kept home loans more affordable than they’ve been in decades. Unfortunately, few Americans have been able to secure new mortgages, thanks to tougher lending restrictions that have made it difficult for some prospective buyers to earn approval.

Rates Continue to Plunge

According to Frank Nothaft, VP of Freddie Mac, 30-year mortgage rates averaged 3.83 percent during the first part of May and have rested under 4 percent for all but one week since December. Affordable rates have combined with descending home prices to generate a veritable buyer’s paradise throughout much of the country; however, sales have remained stagnant, thanks to strict lending requirements.

These days, banks will only provide loans to borrowers who meet specific standards. Both the federal government and National Association of Realtors have tried to convince lenders to loosen their restrictions; unfortunately, the so-called freeze-out has continued. If you have a good job, good credit and enough loose cash to put toward a hefty down payment; you can get a very nice home at an amazing price. That said, if you don’t have all three, you aren’t likely to get approved for a mortgage.

Who is Taking Advantage

Although buyers are struggling to take advantage of low mortgage rates, many existing homeowners are having a field day. Mortgage refinance is more popular than ever, with many homeowners saving a bundle by switching their 30-year loans to 15-year plans and vice versa.

According to Freddie Mac, 15-year mortgage rates averaged 3.05 percent during the first part of May, down .75 percent from the same time in 2011. If you are doing well financially, you can save a bundle on interest fees by switching from a 30-year mortgage to a 15-year plan. On the other hand, if you already have a 15-year loan, you can lessen your monthly payments by switching over to a 30-year plan.

Low rates have made mortgage refinance a smart move; however, before getting a new mortgage, it’s important to find out how much you will have to pay in closing costs and other fees. After all, these expenses can take a big chunk out of whatever savings you might enjoy by refinancing to a cheaper home loan.

Easy Home Decorating and Remodeling Ideas


The economic downturn has left homeowners struggling with unmanageable bills, and many have had to forget their plans for expensive spring upgrades. If this sounds like you, our home improvement expert has some cheap and easy home decorating and remodeling ideas that can drastically enhance the look of your apartment or house.

What to do with Floors?

According to our in-house home improvement expert, Jim Dugan, homeowners can drastically change the look of a house by altering the color of their floors.

“Many people don’t have the money to afford new carpet or hardwood floors,” he said. “If you’ve got old tile or cement floors, you can spice them up by adding the right indoor decorative concrete coatings.”

Dugan says even inexperienced do-it-yourselfers should be able to apply acrylic floor paint or epoxy floor coatings without the help of a professional; however, he does offer an important warning.

“Homeowners are usually shocked when they see what an epoxy or acrylic coating can do for their houses,” he said. “When applied properly, you’ll get a durable, glossy finish that looks just about as good as a show-room floor. Unfortunately, if you don’t properly prepare the surface first, you will get flaking; so it’s critical that you research the best way to encourage adhesion before you get started.”

Before you try this type of easy home decorating project, check out Dugan’s instructables to find out the best way to go about it.

Other Cheap Remodeling Ideas

Dugan says thrifty homeowners can also make a big impact on their home decor by buying new lighting and bathroom fixtures.

“If you don’t want to spend the money on these, you can even paint your metal fixtures with a glossy enamel,” he said. “That said, you need to research how to paint metal, or you are likely to end up with finish failure.”

According to Dugan, homeowners can also drastically change the look of their houses by refinishing the furniture.

“Refinishing is an easy home decorating strategy almost anyone can perform,” he said. “When most people think about refinishing, they picture wood stain; however, a good glossy, acrylic paint can add some real pop to a drab room. Again, though, it’s important that you know how to paint furniture, or adhesion problems may lead you to ruin the very piece of furniture you are trying to enhance.”

Mortgage Refinance Smart: Real Estate Refi News


According to the most recent Primary Mortgage Market Survey from Freddie Mac, 30-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 3.90 during the middle part of April, with 15-year FRM averaging 3.13 percent. The astoundingly low rates make now a perfect time for existing homeowners to consider mortgage refinance, especially if they fall into one of three categories.

Those Who Need Money

If you are having trouble managing your monthly bills, mortgage refinance could be the answer. If you are currently struggling with high payments associated with a shorter loan, expanding to a 30-year plan should help you lower your mortgage payments. Because current interest rates are so low, you can get a more manageable loan. This will allow you to free up money to pay down credit card debt and enhance the overall quality of your life.

Retiring Seniors

If you are an older American still paying on a 30-year loan, mortgage refinance can help you get rid of that burden before you retire. Low rates mean you can get a 15-year loan at a much lower cost. Because you save on interest fees, you’re able to pay more toward the balance every month. This allows you to pay off your house much sooner; so you won’t be burdened with monthly house payments, when you’re supposed to be enjoying your retirement.

Financially Stable Homeowners

If your finances look a lot better than they did when you first bought your home, getting a new mortgage can save you a lot of money. Most likely, the interest fees associated with your original loan are astronomical compared to the ones being offered today. By switching to a 15-year loan, you can save thousands of dollars in costly interest charges. This is a great strategy for people who can afford the higher payments. In the end, an investment like this can go a long way toward promoting a stronger financial future for homeowners who aren’t currently struggling with financial problems.

Important Considerations

Although a good refi loan can save you a lot of money, you need to consider one important point. Fees associated with the new loan can be relatively costly. Before you sign anything, do the math to make sure these fees won’t siphon away too much of your savings; otherwise, your refi strategy may not prove to be so valuable after all. Also, it’s be sure to use a mortgage calculator before contacting a lender.

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