November, 2009:

Supreme Court to hear case on Florida’s beach renourishment

Washington Post
In Print: Wednesday, November 25, 2009

DESTIN — The sugar-white sand that stretches from Slade and Nancy Lindsay’s deck to the clear, green waters of the Gulf of Mexico is some of the finest in the world. Tiny quartz crystals make the beach that stretches along the Florida Panhandle unique, experts say.
So what could be wrong with creating more of it?
That is what Florida’s beach restoration and renourishment program has been doing statewide for years, pumping in wide new strips of sand to save eroding shorelines.
But the Lindsays and other homeowners challenged the program because it comes with a catch: The new strips of beach belong to the public, not the property owners. They feared their waterfront view of bleached sand and sea oats would include throngs of strangers toting umbrellas and coolers.
The Florida Supreme Court disagreed that the homeowners’ property rights had been infringed upon just because their waterfront property line may not actually touch the water.
And that decision, in turn, has created a new challenge from the landowners: that the state high court ditched 100 years of common law to endorse the beach renourishment program, depriving them of their constitutional rights.
It is the latter charge that created the unusual case that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear next week. Justices will examine a concept they have pondered for more than 40 years without resolution: whether a decision by the judicial branch can create the kind of taking of private property forbidden by the Constitution.
Beach renourishment has long been a controversial subject in Florida. Beyond the arguments over the environmental effects, there has been debate on whether millions of taxpayer dollars should be spent for projects that so often benefit private homeowners and businesses.
Since 1997 Congress has appropriated $100 million on average per year for beach renourishment through the Army Corps of Engineers.
In 1998, the Florida Legislature dedicated a source of funding, which is appropriated at roughly $30 million annually, for state participation in beach erosion control projects.
Homeowners are often glad for the help, but the response was different in parts of Destin. The town’s population of fewer than 13,000 swells to nearly 60,000 during what City Manager Greg Kisela calls the “100 days of summer,” the visitors lured by a picturesque combination of sand and surf.
Kisela said the beaches are “the economic engine that drives this market” and acknowledged that with the area’s development, “there’s less beach to go around and more people to enjoy it.”
Slade Lindsay and his lawyer Kent Safriet of Tallahassee say that sentiment — and not erosion — was the real reason for state and local officials to initiate the nearly 7-mile restoration project in Destin.
“It was a way to bring tourists in, where the tourists could go and not have local property owners say yea or nay about it,” Lindsay said.
That is because the Florida law changed where to affix the property line for beachfront owners. In most coastal states, it is set at the mean high water line — a fluctuating boundary. Landowners own everything upland of the mark, while the state owns the land seaward. If sand accumulates and creates new beach, it generally benefits the landowner.
But when Florida sets out to fix an eroding beach, it decides on a permanent boundary, called an erosion control line. It, too, is usually set at the mean high water line. But after that, any sand that accumulates seaward, either through natural forces or the state’s efforts, belongs to the public.
“They’re trying to make a beach without paying for it, whereas if they took the beach by eminent domain, they’d have to pay for it,” Safriet said.
The Florida Supreme Court disagreed in a 5 to 2 vote. It said the restoration program reflected “the state’s constitutional duty to protect Florida’s beaches.”
But there was a fiery dissent from Florida Justice Fred Lewis that probably caught the attention of the U.S. Supreme Court. He said his colleagues had “butchered” Florida law.
The case has drawn considerable interest from conservative and libertarian legal groups and property rights advocates, on one hand, and support for Florida from a majority of states, the federal government and coastal advocacy groups.
But the federal government said that the case is an unsuitable vehicle for deciding an issue of such consequence and that the Florida ruling was well-supported.
Solicitor General Elena Kagan warns the court that getting involved in reviewing such decisions will require the Supreme Court to delve deeply into a state’s common law and second-guess Florida’s high court.

5 Ways to Kill Your Credit Scores

 The curtain has parted, albeit slightly, on the mystery of how your credit rating is calculated. Find out what these common credit problems can do to your standing.

MSN Money
One of the questions I’m asked most often about credit scores is exactly how much certain actions affect people’s scores.
Until now, the best I could do was say, “It depends.” That’s because the company that created the leading credit score, the FICO, has been wary about releasing specifics.
Fortunately, that just changed. At my request and for the first time, the company (also known as FICO) has released details about how specific actions, from maxing out a credit card to filing for bankruptcy, can affect people with different credit scores.
I asked the company to compute the results of those actions for two examples: a person with a 780 score, which is an excellent score on the 300-to-850 FICO scale, and someone with a 680 score. The results:

Effect on a 680 score
Effect on a 780 score
Maxed-out card
-10 to -30
-25 to -45
30-day late payment
-60 to -80
-90 to -110
Debt settlement
-45 to -65
-105 to -125
-85 to -105
-140 to -160
-130 to -150
-220 to -240
Source: FICO
The results are given in a range because FICO is still a little nervous about revealing too much about its proprietary scoring. But the range is fairly tight, and we can clearly see the disparate impacts of the different actions.
A guide, not a guarantee Before we go further, I have to make this clear: Your mileage may vary.
People with the same credit score can have very different credit profiles: more or fewer accounts, a different mix of accounts, a longer or shorter credit history, use of more or less of their available credit, etc.
Because of those differences, the same action — maxing out a card, say — can have different effects on people with the same score, depending on the details of their individual credit profiles.
For the sake of this exercise, FICO assumed both people had several active major credit cards as well as a mortgage, a car loan and student loans.
The person with the 780 score:
Has at least 10 credit accounts in total and a 15-year credit history.
Uses 15% to 25% of her credit card limits.
Has no late payments on her credit reports.
Has no collection accounts or other major negatives.
The person with the 680 score:
Has six credit accounts and an eight-year credit history.
Uses 40% to 50% of her credit card limits.
Was 90 days late on an account two years ago.
Was 30 days late on another account one year ago.
Here’s what you need to know about each action and the effect it had:
Maxing out a credit card
Using 100% of your limit on any credit card puts you at risk of over-limit fees. It also takes a bite out of your credit score.
Our person with the 680 score might lose 10 to 30 points from this one action, while the 780 scorer could shed 25 to 45 points.
The difference points up an important fact: The higher your score, the more points you tend to lose from “bad” actions. That’s because the scoring formula is sensitive to any sign you’re getting in over your head. Maxing out a credit card is considered one of those signs.
You also should know that it typically doesn’t matter to the formula if you carry a balance or pay off that maxed-out card as soon as you get your statement. What’s usually reported to the credit bureaus is the balance on your last statement. Even if you pay the debt in full before the due date, the maxed-out card will hurt your score.
Skipping a payment
Mailing a payment a few days late normally won’t hurt your score, although you may incur late fees and trigger higher interest rates. The big hurt comes when you miss a payment cycle entirely.
A 30-day-late report would shave 60 to 80 points from our lower-scoring person and 90 to 110 points from our higher scorer. In other words, one lapse of attention could plunge the 680-scorer into subprime credit territory, and our 780-scorer could find credit much harder to get and more expensive.
This is why it’s so important to set up automatic payments to ensure your bills get paid on time, all the time. With credit cards, you can set up automatic payments that take the minimum payment out of your checking account to ward against a late payment. You can always make a second payment that reduces your debt or pays it off entirely. You can sign up for automatic payments on the Web site of your card issuer.
Settling a credit card debt
All the advertisements about “settling your debt for pennies on the dollar” make debt settlement sound like a great solution. But failing to pay what you owe a creditor will take a serious toll on your score.
The 680 scorer would lose 45 to 65 points with this maneuver, while the 780 scorer would shed 105 to 125 points.
Our scenario assumed that our borrowers would miss one payment before settling the debt with their credit card companies. In reality, debt settlement negotiations can drag on much longer, with each missed payment taking another chunk out of your score.
Settling a debt with a collection agency would hurt less, probably much less, because the FICO formula is set up to weigh more heavily what the original creditor says about you than what a collection agency reports. But if our borrowers were settling with a collection agency instead, their scores would be lower to begin with, because they would have collection accounts on their records.
Also, you should know that the amount of debt your creditor “forgives” in a debt settlement solution is typically added to your taxable income. So you may save some money by settling a debt, but you’ll give some of it back to Uncle Sam in higher taxes.
Losing a property to foreclosure
Foreclosure deals a severe blow to your credit score: 85 to 105 points for our person with the 680 score and 140 to 160 points for the one with the 780 score.
Foreclosures have implications for your future ability to get a mortgage as well. Although your score may start to improve as soon as the house is gone, mortgage lenders may not be willing to extend you another home loan until two to four years have elapsed.
In an attempt to protect their credit, many people attempt short sales, selling their houses for less than what’s owed, with the lenders’ permission. Unfortunately, these transactions, even if successful, are often reported as settlements. And a settlement, as you’ve seen, is pretty bad for credit scores. To lenders, a short sale isn’t quite as bad as a foreclosure, though, and it may be easier to get another mortgage once you’ve rebuilt your credit.
Filing for bankruptcy
FICO spokesman Craig Watts once called bankruptcy the nuclear bomb of credit actions. Filing for bankruptcy would shave 130 to 150 points from the 680 score and 220 to 240 points from the 780 score.
This is different from the other black marks, where the higher scorer was still left with better numbers than the lower scorer. In this case, both would wind up near the bottom of the credit barrel. Getting new credit, particularly in the current credit-crunch environment, would be extremely tough.
Sometimes, of course, bankruptcy is the best of bad options. (See “Quiz: Should you file for bankruptcy?“) But if you can’t pay your bills, you should at least explore the other possibilities: forbearance, credit counseling or even debt settlement.
Finally, if you have any of these five black marks on your record, remember two things: The impact on your score may differ from what’s shown above, and regardless of how many points you lost, you can rebuild your FICO score over time.
You can start by using a free FICO score estimator, such as this one at, or MSN Money’s credit score estimator, which similarly models a score on Experian’s 330-to-830 range, to see where you stand.
Or you can sign up for free credit scores from sites such as Quizzle, and Credit Karma, which use the actual information on file about you with the credit bureaus. But the scores you get still may not be the ones lenders actually see.
Or you can buy your Equifax or TransUnion FICO score from (Experian no longer sells FICO scores to consumers, although it continues to sell the scores to lenders.) With paid scores, you’ll get specific advice about how to improve your numbers. In general, when you’re trying to build a credit score, you should:
Pay your bills on time, all the time.
Reduce your credit utilization; below 30% is good, below 10% is better.
Have a mix of credit on your reports, including installment loans (mortgages, auto loans and personal loans) and revolving accounts (credit cards and lines of credit).
Refrain from closing accounts.
Apply for new credit sparingly.
For more details, read “Raise your credit score to 740.”
Liz Pulliam Weston is the Web’s most-read personal-finance writer. She is the author of several books, most recently “Your Credit Score: Your Money & What’s at Stake.” Weston’s award-winning columns appear every Monday and Thursday, exclusively on MSN Money. She also answers reader questions on the Your Money message board and helps middle-class families cope at Building a Brighter Future.
Published Nov. 11, 2009

First Time Homebuyer Tax Credit Passes House

Congress passed an expanded version of the first-time homebuyer tax credit today. The bill is expected to be signed by Obama as early as tomorrow. The tax credit remains capped at $8,000, but the income limits for the first-time buyers has been raised, which will serve to allow even greater numbers of buyers to participate.


In the bill, income limits for buyers claiming the tax credit will be raised from $75,000 to $125,000 for individuals and from $125,000 to $225,000 for couples. The maximum ceiling for a home purchase under this program is $800,000. (Not bad for a first time purchase.)


There is an additional provision in the bill that allows for a tax credit of up to $6,500 to existing homeowners should they sell an existing primary residence and purchase another. Under that provision, they must have lived in the home for at least five of the past eight years.

Interestingly, the Senate approved the bill last week by a vote of 98-0. It passed in the House 403-12.

Household Tips …

Interesting tips … Cannot attest to the accuracy, but interesting nonetheless. 
Take your bananas apart when you get home from the store. If you leave them connected at the stem, they ripen faster.

Store your opened chunks of cheese in aluminum foil.
It will stay fresh much longer and not mold!

Bell Peppers
Peppers with 3 bumps on the bottom are sweeter and better for eating. Peppers with 4 bumps on the bottom are firmer and better for cooking.

Add a teaspoon of water when frying ground beef.
It will help pull the grease away from the meat while cooking.

Scrambled Eggs
To really make scrambled eggs or omelets rich add a couple of spoonfuls of sour cream, cream cheese, or heavy cream in and then beat them up.

Add garlic immediately to a recipe if you want a light taste of garlic and at the end of the recipe if your want a stronger taste of garlic.

Leftover Snickers Bars
Leftover snickers bars from Halloween make a delicious dessert. Simply chop them up with the food chopper. Peel, core and slice a few apples. Place them in a baking dish and sprinkle the chopped candy bars over the apples. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes!!! Serve alone or with vanilla ice cream. Yummm!

Reheat Pizza
Heat up leftover pizza in a nonstick skillet on top of the stove, set heat to med-low and heat till warm. This keeps the crust crispy.. No soggy micro pizza. I saw this on the cooking channel and it really works.

Easy Deviled Eggs

Put cooked egg yolks in a zip lock bag. Seal, mash till they are all broken up. Add remainder of ingredients, reseal, keep mashing it up mixing thoroughly, cut the tip of the baggy, squeeze mixture into egg. Just throw bag away when done easy clean up.

Reheating refrigerated bread
To warm biscuits, pancakes, or muffins that were refrigerated, place them in a microwave with a cup of water. The increased moisture will keep the food moist and help it reheat faster.

Newspaper weeds away
Start putting it in your plants, work the nutrients in your soil. Wet newspapers, put layers around the plants overlapping as you go cover with mulch and forget about weeds. Weeds will get through some gardening plastic they will not get through wet newspapers.

Broken Glass

Use a wet cotton ball or Q-tip to pick up the small shards of glass you can’t see easily.

No More Mosquitoes
Place a dryer sheet in your pocket. It will keep the mosquitoes away.

Squirrel Away!

To keep squirrels from eating your plants, sprinkle your plants with cayenne pepper.The cayenne pepper doesn’t hurt the plant and the squirrels won’t come near it.

Flexible vacuum
To get something out of a heat register or under the fridge add an empty paper towel roll or empty gift wrap roll to your vacuum. It can be bent or flattened to get in narrow openings.

Reducing Static Cling

Pin a small safety pin to the seam of your slip and you will not have a clingy skirt or dress. Same thing works with slacks that cling when wearing panty hose. Place pin in seam of slacks and … ta da! … static is gone.

Measuring Cups
Before you pour sticky substances into a measuring cup, fill with hot water. Dump out the hot water, but don’t dry cup. Next, add your ingredient, such as peanut butter, and watch how easily it comes right out.

Foggy Windshield?
Hate foggy windshields? Buy a chalkboard eraser and keep it in the glove box of your car . When the windows fog, rub with the eraser! Works better than a cloth!

Reopening envelope
If you seal an envelope and then realize you forgot to include something inside, just place your sealed envelope in the freezer for an hour or two. Viola! It unseals easily.


Use your hair conditioner to shave your legs. It’s cheaper than shaving cream and leaves your legs really smooth. It’s also a great way to use up the conditioner you bought but didn’t like when you tried it in your hair.

Goodbye Fruit Flies
To get rid of pesky fruit flies, take a small glass, fill it 1/2′ with Apple Cider Vinegar and 2 drops of dish washing liquid; mix well. You will find those flies drawn to the cup and gone forever!

Get Rid of Ants

Put small piles of cornmeal where you see ants They eat it, take it ‘home,’ can’t digest it so it kills them. It may take a week or so, especially if it rains, but it works and you don’t have the worry about pets or small children being harmed!

The heating unit went out on my dryer! The gentleman that fixes things around the house for us told us that he wanted to show us something and he went over to the dryer and pulled out the lint filter. It was clean. (I always clean the lint from the filter after every load clothes.) 
 He told us that he wanted to show us something; he took the filter over to the sink and ran hot water over it. The lint filter is made of a mesh material … I’m sure you know what your dryer’s lint filter looks like. The hot water just sat on top of the mesh! It didn’t go through it at all! 
 He told us that dryer sheets cause a film over that mesh that’s what burns out the heating unit.You can’t SEE the film, but it’s there.  It’s what is in the dryer sheets to make your clothes soft and static free … that nice fragrance too.  You know how they can feel waxy when you take them out of the box .. Well, this stuff builds up on your clothes and on your lint screen .. 
 This is also what causes dryer units to potentially burn your house down with it! He said the best way to keep your dryer working for a very long time (and to keep your electric bill lower) is to take that filter out and wash it with hot soapy water and an old toothbrush (or other brush) at least every six months. He said that makes the life of the dryer at least twice as long!  Learn something new everyday! I certainly didn’t know dryer sheets would do that.