PERSONAL FINANCE: Removing risk from 529 college savings plans
News from Reuters:

NEW YORK | Tue Jan 31, 2012 1:14pm EST

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Dan Shea and his wife, Jennifer, aren’t conservative investors – except when it comes to college savings. The Los Angeles couple’s daughter, April, is 13 and eyeing the Ivy League.

“Talk of Yale started at age 6, and I opened a 529,” says Dan Shea, referring to the state-sponsored college-saving plans. “Even then we stuck to bonds, the sleepiest investment.”

But after 2010 brought turbulence to the normally dull bond market, the Sheas transferred their funds into a still-safer 529 vehicle last May: a certificate of deposit (CD). “We only have five years to go,” Shea says. “We want to know our money is secure.”

529s have long been popular with parents and grandparents because their funds can be withdrawn free of federal taxes, and most state taxes, to cover qualified higher educat…………… continues on Reuters

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Personal Finance Questions: I see house prices are continuing to drop.
News from Belfast Telegraph:

Question: I see house prices are continuing to drop. We are considering buying a house. Can you tell me how possible it is to get a mortgage and what do you need to do to convince the lender?

Answer: House prices have fallen substantially. The price of a new house in Northern Ireland has dropped by a quarter in the last four years and the average price of a home has fallen by nearly half.

Mortgages are obtainable, but you must put up a reasonable deposit. Some mortgage lenders will lend as much as 95% loan to value – leaving you to find a 5% deposit. But some of the best loan rates require higher deposits.

Many of the best mortgage deals are offered by building societies – to compare, use a money comparison website, such as The lowest rate currently shown by MoneyFacts on a variable rate mortgage is with HSBC, at 3.84%, on a maximum 90% loan to value.

You might opt instead for a fixed rate mortgage, such as that from The Co-operative Bank, which offers 3.59% fixed for five years – but only at 75% loan to value. Some of the best deals are exclusive to mortgage brokers, so it is worth consulting a broker – but choose one with care. Mortgage lenders need assurance that you have the necessary deposit; that your earnings are regular,…………… continues on Belfast Telegraph

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