Reuters Money

Turn home into a winter wonderland, reap profit later?


Want to kick up your feet no matter how hard the cold weather kicks its heels? With winter on the way, we examine luxury renovations ideal for cocooning. Judge for yourself whether they’re worth a set of blueprints and a stack of greenbacks.

Item: Home theater system

Why you want it: Screening movies in your own theater — complete with rump-shaking sound and a larger-than-life picture — can bring out the Hollywood mogul in anyone.
Cost: Estimates vary widely, but figure a minimum of $5,000 for a high-end setup that includes 7.1 Dolby Digital surround sound, at least seven speakers and a subwoofer, amplifiers and a 73-inch rear projection TV that can reproduce 3D and HDTV images. Rich Conklin, a principal engineer with Grand Home Automation in Grand Rapids, says the company’s “Signature Series” surround systems range from $15,000 to $30,000.
Value: A survey conducted by Axiom Home Theaters in Dwight, Ontario, Canada found that a 375-square-foot home theater can add $15,000 to $25,000 to a house priced between $150,000 and $350,000. (Those figures apply to both U.S. and Canadian dollars.) However, this is one asset you can take with you to a new home, as many of the components are portable.
Did you know?: Music engineer/producer Jeremy Kipnis designed a home theater system that reportedly cost more that $6 million, and incorporates three dozen-plus speakers and a motion-picture screen measuring 18 x 10 feet.


Item: Heated driveway

Why you want it: Who wants to shovel during a snowstorm when you can flick a switch and melt the white stuff away?
Cost: About $1,500 to outfit 100 square feet of driveway with radiant heating elements and controls, according to Warmup United States of Danbury, Connecticut. Heated Driveway Systems, a division of Warmzone in Salt Lake City, Utah, estimates operating costs at 28 cents per 100 square feet per hour.
Value: A $2,000 investment in a heated driveway equals of 80 man-hours of shoveling, if you paid two local kids $25 each to shovel your driveway for an hour.
Did you know?: In some cases, heated driveway systems can reduce the cost of homeowner’s insurance due to reduced risk of accidents from walking on slippery property.


Item: In-ground indoor pool

Why you want it: Swimming year round for exercise beats just about any domestic alternative, especially heart-attack-inducing snow shoveling.
Cost: A fiberglass in-ground pool from Endless Pools of Aston, Pennsylvania starts at about $25,900 for a model measuring 8 ½ feet wide, 18 feet long and 60 inches deep.
Value: A study co-authored by G. Stacy Sirmans, a real estate professor at Florida State University, found swimming pools add 8 to 13 percent to a home’s selling price. A pool “is generally positive and significant” to a home’s value, Sirmans says.
Did you know?: When Robert Kaufman died in 1995, he left behind a five-story Manhattan townhouse with a sauna, hot tub and an enormous indoor pool measuring 8 feet deep. The home — which apparently hosted some lascivious bachelor parties — went up for sale for $10.9 million this year, the New York Times reports.

Identity theft among family members affects millions


Two million to three million elderly parents had their identities stolen between 2006 and 2010 by a younger family member for fraudulent reasons including opening lines of credit, according to a new study.

The report by ID Analytics is different from typical surveys on the subject, which only capture what people say. This time, company CTO Stephen Coggeshall says, the figures are based on analyses of 1 billion applications for credit cards and cell phones that showed just how many times younger family members apparently fraudulently used their elder parents’ credit.

Big banks want your big bucks, but you have other options


Big banks just don’t want to sweat the small stuff.

Despite receiving some $4.7 trillion in taxpayer bailout funds, the largest of them are moving more towards wealthy customers with assets to invest and away from low-margin checking accounts. That doesn’t mean you should invest with them, though.

The banks side of things is that that want well-heeled wealth management or brokerage clients, not people who are writing small checks to pay bills. For instance, Bank of America, which recently announced a $5-a-month debit-card fee, said about two weeks later that it was planning to nearly double the number of “Financial Solutions Advisors” for its mass affluent clients.

Educated and affluent = potential investing fraud victim


If you’re well-educated and affluent does that make you invulnerable to fraud? Hardly. If you’re willing to make high-risk investments to get high-return, there’s not only a target on your back, but experts say your personality types makes you susceptible to be taken.

“Most of us think of ourselves as invulnerable,” says Shoshana Lucich, of the recently opened Stanford University-based Research Center on the Prevention of Financial Fraud.

Surveys say: Retirees are getting very nervous


Reference librarians are nothing if not precise, and Kevin Davey plotted his exit from the Chicago Public Library system with all the exactitude of a veteran fact-finder. His last day was Sept. 30 — just 48 hours after his 55th birthday and first day of retirement eligibility.

With his wife still working and the couple’s finances under control, Davey figures that he has the ideal plan in place. All that remains is to land a part-time job with another library to put the icing on the cake. But after submitting close to 20 resumes, Davey hasn’t fielded a single interview.

Your retirement rollover decision could save you thousands



In the two decades that I’ve been covering personal finance, I’ve worked for three big companies. I like to practice what I preach, like in the video above, where I explain some simple ways that you can manage your 401(k) when you change jobs and potentially save yourself more than $60,000 in about 30 minutes.

The backstory that you don’t catch above is this:

I’ve participated in the 401(k) at each employer I’ve worked at over the years, contributing the most money I could afford and always meeting the threshold to get the prized company match.

Divorce stress meets recession mess, and women struggle


When Carol Meerschaert of Paoli, Pennsylvania divorced 10 years ago, she experienced first-hand how starting over as a single mom also means managing the money without any help.

Her kids were 7, 10 and 14, and even though she had income as a dietician, “it certainly was very challenging,” Meerschaert recalls. She moved into a smaller home, paid her own mortgage and, in time, funded college tuition for her eldest daughter.

Will retailers give debit cards a new life?


A sign for wine supplied by John Ulzheimer. REUTERS/handoutAs an expert on the credit industry, John Ulzheimer spends his days thinking about credit cards, debit cards and credit scores. So imagine his surprise when he picked up lunch at a restaurant near his house in Atlanta, then later went on a beer run, and was directly confronted with the consumer fallout from the hot-button issue of the day in his profession: new fees for debit card purchases imposed by government regulations.

“The liquor store has an entirely new pricing structure – the cash/debit card price was 5 percent less. And, at the restaurant, for the first time ever, they asked me if I was paying by cash or debit card or credit card, even before I ordered my meal,” he said, and sent along picture at right from the liquor store.

Online privacy leaks worsen; “Do not track” gains steam


People use computers at an Internet cafe in Changzhi, north China's Shanxi province June 20, 2007. REUTERS/StringerAre you being tracked right now? If you thought you were just browsing aimlessly, doing a little shopping or checking sports scores without identifying yourself, you could be mistaken about your level of privacy.

A new study from a Stanford University researcher has found that a lot of  the little bits and pieces of supposedly anonymous data being deposited by your web browser are actually being gathered and reassembled by dozens of companies and sold. And stopping that from happening takes more than a little bit of effort, helped by a growing movement for “do not track” legislation.

What the Occupy Wall Street crowd should be saying


A demonstrator from the Occupy Wall Street campaign stands with a dollar taped over his mouth as he stands in Zucotti Park near the financial district of New York September 30, 2011. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson Are the thousands who have taken to the streets in the “Occupy Wall Street” (OWS) protests a bunch of anarchistic slackers or do they have a point?

If they’re protesting their personal financial situations or prospects for the American Dream, they have plenty to howl about, but the “99 percent” crowds could use some message management.