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Are You Covered If Snow and Ice Damage Your Home?

By Stephanie Reid, Avvo attorney and NakedLaw contributor

In addition to the health and safety dangers of sub-zero temperatures, blinding snowstorms and inconspicuous ice sheets, winter weather can also be incredibly dangerous to your home. Homeowners must consider a number of winter weather issues, including legal liabilities to watch out for and knowing whether your homeowners insurance policy has you covered.

Winter damage culprits

The two main causes of wintertime home damage are snow and ice. The weight of snow can collapse a roof or damage an automobile. And when snow inevitably melts, it can cause major flooding and problems with home septic systems.

The major problems with ice, from a homeowner’s legal perspective, include slip-and-falls and frozen pipelines. Ice accumulating on trees can also cause damage if a tree branch falls on your home — or even worse, your neighbor’s home.

What is generally covered

A homeowners insurance policy typically covers damage that results directly from winter weather events. Direct damage includes trees falling on homes, roof collapse due to snow accumulation, wind damage during a blizzard, displacement due to a major power outage, and frozen or burst pipes (subject to exception).

What is probably not covered: negligence

A curveball factor can affect the damage your insurance policy covers: homeowner negligence, which means neglecting the standard care that allows your home to withstand normal winter weather. This may include factors such as:

  • Pipes. If the insurance company believes that pipes broke because they were neglected — if the heat was off, or the pipes were not drained, for example — you may be denied coverage.
  • Trees. If a homeowner knew that a tree or its limbs were at risk of falling but took no steps to trim or remove them, the homeowner can be held liable if they do fall and cause damage.
  • Snow. If your home is damaged due to melting snow seeping through the roof, and the adjuster determines that the roof is in disrepair or is improperly installed, you will be footing the bill on your own.
  • Ice. Laws vary by location, but there may be rules regarding prompt snow and ice removal. In New York City, rental lease agreements generally stipulate that either the owner or the renter must clear sidewalks within four hours after snow stops falling.
  • Storms. Evidence that a homeowner could have done more to protect the property before or during a storm will be taken into consideration and could result in a denial of coverage.

What is definitely not covered: flood damage

The big issue to watch out for is flooding, which is not covered by a homeowners insurance policy. A major snowstorm followed by a warm snap often results in overworked drainage systems and flooding. If you live in a climate where this is likely to happen, flood insurance is a must.

Also within this category is the damage that can occur when an overburdened septic system backs up into your home, causing raw sewage to flow from the drains. A flood insurance policy will likely cover this scenario, whereas a general homeowners policy will not.

Good neighbors

One common question involves damage occurring to a home caused by a tree or flooding from a neighbor’s property. In those cases, the insurance company will first look into whether the neighbor was negligent or otherwise blamable in the event. If there’s no evidence of negligence, the owner of the damaged structure is then responsible for repair to that structure, but their policy will cover the damage.

However, if the neighbor is found to be blamable in the event, the case may result in a civil lawsuit if the parties can’t reach a workable solution. Consult with an attorney if you find yourself at such an impasse.

Making a claim

Insurance companies advise making a claim as soon as practically possible following a major weather event. This will allow the adjuster the best opportunity to assess the damage and make a factually solid determination of whether the issue is covered under the policy.

If your damage is minimal, you may want to consider forgoing a claim to your insurer since making multiple claims can raise your premiums. If it seems likely that your issue won’t cost much more than the deductible, it may be wise to cut your losses and complete the repairs without involving your insurance provider.

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Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

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Looking for a New Apartment? Here's What You Need to Know

No matter what your local rental market looks like, the process of finding a place that works within your budget, timeframe and wish list can be a balancing act. Understanding the current market and typical search process can help you mitigate some of the stress involved.

Today’s rental market

In many metros, renting takes up more of people’s income than in past years, largely because demand for rentals often outpaces supply, driving up prices. Growing job markets – like the employment boom in the Seattle metro region – have contributed to a supply shortage.

The high demand contributes to the share of income spent on rent jumping to 29.1 percent nationally, according to a November 2017 study by Zillow Research, compared to an average of 25.8 percent between 1985 and 2000. While many areas hover around that 29 percent – like Chicago (29.7 percent) and Austin, TX (29 percent), or even below like Atlanta (26 percent) – renters are spending a larger proportion of their income on rent each month than they previously did in each of those metros.

Additionally, many renters are paying more than 30 percent of their incomes in rent. Los Angeles renters pay the highest share of their incomes at 48.4 percent, but even places like Portland, OR (32.5 percent), New Orleans (33.2 percent) and Miami (41 percent) eat up more of renters’ take-home pay than before.

While rents have jumped in the past decade, incomes have largely not kept pace. October and November 2017 did see income growth match rent hikes, but incomes did not match rents during most of the previous five-year period.

Not only do renters have to spend a larger share of their income to cover rent, they also often see their rent jump. Seventy-nine percent of renters who recently moved from a previous rental saw their rent jump prior to moving. Nearly six in 10 renters who have rented their current home for over a year (57 percent) have also seen their rent jump since they first moved in.

Beyond the cost of renting, renters should expect to act quickly. Unlike buying a house, which takes 4.3 months on average, renters search for an average of 2.6 months; one-quarter (26 percent) search for less than one month.

Managing your own expectations

In this challenging rental market, we recommend you enter your search with a full understanding of what you can afford. Not sure what that monthly figure looks like? Use a rental calculator to hone in on it, and don’t forget: Many landlords require first and last month’s rent as well as a damage deposit. As you apply, look carefully at any additional costs; they can differ depending on the landlord.

The first place you apply to – no matter how great it appears – may not be the one you move into. On average, renters make 4.5 contacts to landlords and turn in 2.5 applications. Look in neighborhoods adjacent to your original locale of interest to cast a wider net in your search.

When and how to use online tools

If you’re like most renters, you’ll be using online tools to find your next rental. While finding a rental online is far easier than driving around looking for an elusive “For Rent” sign, be cautious. If the advertised rent is several hundred dollars below the going market rate, the rental may be too good to be true. Almost one-third (32 percent) of renters indicate they had issues determining if a listing was legitimate.

Due to the growing number of online tools, expect landlords to get back to you quickly. Three-quarters (76 percent) of contacted landlords responded in a “timely manner” – which for 72 percent of renters is within a day.

As many renters complete their search and make initial inquiries online, how can you stand out to a potential landlord? First off, be prepared with all your paperwork (like recent pay stubs, bank statements, contact info for your employer and past landlord) when you apply. Additionally, try an easy, free tool like the Zillow Rental Profile to share your qualifications securely and give a landlord that great first impression.

Once you find a place

Most renters (68 percent) sign a 12-month lease. As you read through that lease, ensure you understand everything in the agreement. If a detail is not in writing, it’s not legally binding. Additionally, make sure you understand the financial penalties you may incur if you break your lease.

You should also be familiar with your rights as a renter. Renter rights differ on the state and local levels; make sure the ones you’re referencing accurately represent your situation.

Despite most renters using online resources to search for their new home, most leases are still signed in person (84 percent of renters). More than half of renters (53 percent) pay their rent in person or at a bank. To understand your payment options, talk with your landlord.

Finally, unless you’re planning on renting for the foreseeable future, prepare your next search ahead of time. The number one thing renters would do differently in searching for their new home is to start their search earlier to have more time (32 percent of renters). Put a reminder in your calendar about three months before your lease ends to help you start thinking about your options. If you do stay put, you may save money in the long run – landlords typically raise rents less often for renewing tenants.

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The Anatomy of a Perfect Facebook Video

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to producing a video for social media. If you want it to have an impact, you’ll have to think about how audiences consume content across different social networks and then tailor your video for each one.

In this article, I’ll be discussing some of the things you’ll want to consider when producing a video for Facebook.

 

I’ve broken down the article into the following sections:

  • Video types: what works best and why? Company Videos, live videos, explainer videos and more.
  • A brief discussion on video duration.
  • Recommendations on audiovisual resources and techniques.
  • Optimizing for better reach and engagement.
  • Timeline Videos vs. Story Videos, what’s the difference?

 

Video types: what works best and why?

 

There are all types of videos you can use to promote your brand throughout the web. Here are the ones that I find work best on Facebook.

 

Live Videos – Live video streams create engagement like no other type on this list. According to Facebook, Live Videos are watched 3x longer and commented on 10x more than videos that aren’t live. Product presentations, Q&As and seminars are just some of the things you can stream live. Think of the live format as a way of getting the audience to conspire with you as you share your journey with them. It’s an ideal way of both nurturing and maintaining a relationship with your customers.

 

Company Story Videos – A peek at what goes on behind the scenes of your company is a way of letting your customers know that your brand is more than just an abstraction. That there’s a community of enthusiastic individuals who are all working towards a common goal. It’s an opportunity to introduce your team and to share what your company’s culture and core values are all about.

 

 

Educational Videos – There is nothing better than finding a solution to a problem. Better yet is when that solution is packaged in an easily digestible format. Informative videos that help your audience understand concepts, problems and solutions will go a long way in building trust and loyalty. By becoming a reliable source of information, you are giving your customers a reason to keep coming back. In doing so, you are not only promoting your brand, you’re also creating positive associations to it. Don’t be surprised when these customers start viewing you as an authority in your field.

 

 

How-to-videos – Understanding the solution to a problem is one thing, but getting into the nitty gritty of it is quite another. How-to-videos allow you to do just that. No beating around the bush. Just a straightforward guide to solving a problem. A perfect way to connect the brand with a certain issue while generating brand awareness.

 

 

 

Explainer Video –Explainer Videos are great at introducing your offerings to the world in the most  clear and succinct  manner as possible. They create awareness and explain exactly what it is that your products and services offer. They also have the potential to be turned into an ad within Facebook, making them even more beneficial for brand owners.

 

 

A brief discussion on video duration.

How long your video should be is strictly dependent on the message you want to get across and the type of video you decide to use to do it. Facebook itself suggests that “video length is less important than telling a cohesive and concise story.” In my experience I have found that keeping it under the 2 minute mark not only forces me to keep the message both dynamic and simple, it also makes the video way more palatable to the viewer.

The key is understanding that social media audiences are an impatient bunch. Conveying your message with a nice swift video is a good way of harnessing their restless behavior. This is especially true of mobile users. According to Facebook, a recent study found “…that creating short videos of 15 seconds or less can significantly drive up video completions”. Think about that while tailoring your message to mobile audiences.

Recommendations on audiovisual resources and techniques.

Sure, you are on Facebook, but so is every other video producer on the web. This means it is your job to make your content stand out from the rest.

 

Start strong

Remember, your content will not only play automatically, it will do so with the sound off. This leaves you with just the use of visuals and a few seconds before users scroll past your content. So you better start with the most compelling part of your video.

A clear shot of your brand and/or product is a good place to start, but be sure to use rich visuals with plenty of action to lure your audience in. Don’t be afraid to use unconventional camera angles and fancy editing like slow motion or time-lapse sequences.

 

Be careful

Don’t overdo it. The story is what matters here. Going overboard with flashy imagery and choppy edits can make your video look unprofessional.

 

Text is king

Think about attaching memorable copy to go along with your visuals. It can assist you in getting to the heart of your message early on in the video.

 

Use subtitles

Note that not every user will have the opportunity to turn up the volume, so be sure to use subtitles. It will broaden your reach by including those who won’t be able to listen to a voiceover narration (if there’s any) but who are still interested in watching the rest of your video.

 

Optimizing for greater reach and engagement.

There is only so much you can do during the production phase of your video. Getting your video in front of people’s eyes is an entirely different story.

Sure, it could very well be that your video takes off by virtue of its existence alone. If that’s the case then kudos to you. However, the likelihood of this happening without any kind of promotion is slim to none. Fortunately, there’s Facebook ads to give your video that initial push.

Not only will you be able to choose your audience, you will also be able to measure how they respond to your video. When it comes to measuring engagement, you want to rely on more than just assumptions. You want to use reliable data to inform you whether you ought to keep pursuing your initial plan. This means trying out variations in your videos and measuring whether these changes have an effect on views. Facebook provides just the right metrics:

  • 3-Second Video Views
  • Cost per 3-Second Video Views
  • 10-Second Video Views
  • Cost per 10-Second Video Views
  • Amount Spent
  • Video Watches at 25% / 50% / 75% / 95% / 100%

 

You should be able to gain all kinds of valuable insight from this data.

Imagine taking the metrics above and crossing it over to your audience’s demographic makeup. You’ll very quickly learn how each video performed against different segments in your audience. For example, you may find that flashier videos work best with younger viewers. Or maybe you will find that the opposite is true.

The lesson here is to listen to your data and to be inquisitive when it comes to identifying what works. Take note of your conclusions and apply them to future productions. Doing this on a regular basis will ensure your content remains both relevant and engaging.

 

Timeline videos vs. Story videos. What’s the difference?

Understanding the difference between these two types of publications will help dictate the kind of content you should use for each one.

Timeline publications are basically a collection of posts that help tell your story chronologically. It is found on the main page of your profile and it consists of photos, links, status updates and videos.

Stories are a recent form of publication which consist of short user-generated photo and video posts that can be viewed up to two times and disappear after 24 hours. Besides being Facebook’s answer to Snapchat’s surge in popularity, the idea behind Stories is to get users to go back to sharing original material rather than 3rd party content.

This should already give you an idea of how to take advantage of each type of presentation.

For example, using a Story video to give your followers an early sneak peak of an upcoming product release is a great way to create buzz around your brand. One way to do it is by releasing a series of short clips that lead up to a final reveal. You can use the fact that these videos are temporary to make it so that your audience won’t want to miss out on any exciting news.

Meanwhile, you can use Facebook’s Timeline for less spontaneous productions. Explainer and educational videos are the kind of robust content that is better suited for this type of publication, making them both more permanent and easily accessible for future reference.

 

A final word

Creating the right Facebook video really comes down to understanding your audience’s content consumption habits. Applying some of the recommendations in this article is a good starting point, but the real guide to success is in applying what you learn from your data. Behaviors and tastes change, which means your videos will have to adapt and change as well.

 

Anatomy of a perfect facebook video

The post The Anatomy of a Perfect Facebook Video appeared first on GetResponse Blog – Online Marketing Tips.

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8 of the Biggest Kitchen Design Trends for 2018

Looking for a fresh start for the new year? Consider upgrading your kitchen.

Those Shaker-style cabinets should be the first thing to go, and you’ll probably want to give the dramatic paint trend a try. Here are some trends professional designers say we’ll be seeing a lot of.

1. Clean lines

“We aren’t seeing as many Shaker-style cabinets,” says VW Fowlkes, principal and founder of Fowlkes Studio in Washington, D.C. “They became trendy [in the ’90s], and people thought the look had the right amount of clean lines, without being too plain. But more and more they’re being seen as sentimental and too country.”

The better option: flat-panel cabinets with minimal embellishment that look as if they came from a showroom in Germany.

Photo from Zillow listing.

2. Black cabinetry

Speaking of sleek kitchen cabinetry, “black is the new white,” says Rebecca Van’t Hull of Martha O’Hara Interiors in Minneapolis.

“We’re starting to see more clients eager to break away from the all-white trend, opting for hues that are richer, bolder and darker,” she notes.

While black is fast becoming the new go-to, deep navy and forest green are also on the radar.

Photo from Zillow listing.

3. Neutral walls

Just because cabinetry is going darker doesn’t mean your walls will follow suit, says Van’t Hull. “We’re still seeing a lot of bright whites in warmer tones,” not to mention the occasional pop of beige. “One of our staples is Dovetail White by Benjamin Moore.”

 

Photo from Zillow listing.

4. Open shelving

Open shelves aren’t going anywhere, says Fowlkes.

Whether displaying a pretty collection of glassware or providing the illusion of space, open shelving will be all over kitchens next year.

Photo from Zillow listing.

5. Fewer pendants

“People are doing fewer pendants over islands because of the clutter,” says Fowlkes. Recessed lighting, which seems to fade into the ceiling, is the preferred choice.  

Photo from Zillow listing.

6. Less bling

When it comes to kitchen cabinetry, less is more, Fowlkes notes. He predicts fewer homeowners will opt for as many hardware accents as they have in the past.

Integral pulls on cabinet doors are becoming more common, he adds, and they’re a cost-saving solution.

Photo from Zillow listing.

7. Brass accents

Van’t Hull still expects this trend to stay hot, and she’s incorporating brushed brass “on everything from plumbing and lighting to hardware and accessories.”

Photo from Zillow listing.

8. Downsizing

All those years of living in McMansions have finally caught up with us, and now homeowners are paring down their kitchens – at least in New York City, says Michael Tower, founder of Michael Tower Architecture.

“Functionality is still critical – you can’t remove that from the design process – but people are being smarter about what they need,” he says. Think doing away with massive prep spaces, dual-functioning ovens and so on.

“They’re still full kitchens,” Tower says, “but maybe they don’t have a grill for pancakes on Sunday morning.”

Photo from Zillow listing.

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Residential Home Types: 17 Clarifying Home Definitions

There are so many types of homes and houses, and some can be easily confused. Let’s take a look at definitions of homes that are often mixed up, so you can be sure that you know what you’re looking for.

What is a single-family home vs. a multifamily home?

Families come in all shapes in sizes, as do single-family homes. A single-family home is a standalone house built for one family. If a structure includes more than one collection of living spaces with separate entrances and privacy, it’s a multi-family home.

The term multi-family home can be applied to any structure with more than one independent dwelling space, from a simple duplex to a sprawling apartment building.

What is a duplex vs. a twin home?

The difference between a duplex and a twin home is ownership. They are both single structures with two private living spaces that share a wall. A twin home is sold as two properties on two separate lots. Alternatively, a duplex is considered one property.

You might share a wall with the person next to you in a twin home; otherwise, the owners are free to treat their side of the structure and their lot as they wish.

It’s possible for a duplex to be sold to two separate owners – similar to a twin home – but the lot is one shared space, and therefore, owners must cooperate on decisions regarding the property.

What is a townhome vs. a row house?

Townhomes and row houses are both homes that share at least one wall with another home. A row house specifically refers to attached homes that line up along a street, in a row. Townhomes can be arranged in clusters or lines that aren’t parallel to the road.

What is a manufactured home vs. a prefab or modular home?

A manufactured home is ready to be lived in when it leaves the factory. A prefabricated home is constructed in pieces which are then assembled on-site. The term modular home refers to houses that are built off-site, and placed on a permanent foundation (and includes prefab). According to Andy Gianino, a builder of modular homes and the author of “The Modular Home,” most modular homes are between 12 feet and 15 feet, 9 inches wide, and up to 60 feet long, which allows for transportation of the pieces via truck. A manufactured home is not a modular home because it can be moved after construction.

What is a mobile home vs. a motorhome or RV?

A mobile home is less mobile than a motorhome or RV. Mobile homes (also called trailers) are generally placed in one location for permanent living. They come in two standard sizes: singlewide (typically 18 feet wide or less and 90 feet long or less) and doublewide (typically 20 feet wide and 90 feet long or less).

A motorhome or RV is a home on wheels that can be easily moved from place to place. The most common size of motorhome (Class C-25) is 23 to 25 feet long and can sleep a family of five.

What is a houseboat vs. a floating home?

A houseboat is like a motorhome on water; it’s self-propelled and can be driven like a boat. A floating home is a home on the water that floats on a foundation of logs, Styrofoam and/or concrete. Floating homes are permanently connected to a dock where they’re hooked up to electrical and sewage.

What is a tiny home vs. a tiny house?

A tiny home is a standalone structure, typically between 100 and 400 square feet. Most tiny homes are built on wheels, but they aren’t necessarily meant to be mobile. In most cities, the minimum size for an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) on a residential property is around 800 square feet. To get around these restrictions, the first tiny home builders constructed their dwellings on wheels, so they could park them on their property like an RV.

Some say tiny homes and tiny houses are the same thing. Others argue a tiny house is any small living space, including RVs, vans, sheds, boats, etc. When in doubt, call the 400-square-foot-or-less structures on wheels tiny homes.

What is a mansion vs. a McMansion?

A mansion is a very large house; somewhere between 5,000 and 8,000 square feet. But the specifics of what qualifies vary based on opinion and location. A mansion in Manhattan might be 3,000 square feet while a house in Atlanta would need to be much bigger to qualify. A mansion is also defined by luxury: tennis courts, large open foyers, grand staircases, crystal chandeliers. A McMansion is big too, but that’s not what makes it different from a mansion. “McMansion” is generally used to describe homes with few unique characteristics. Their cookie-cutter design is usually between 3,000 and 5,000 square feet, but runs the gamut. As Brian Miller, a sociologist at Wheaton College put it in an interview with CityLab: “You have people who would suggest that 3,000-square-foot homes are McMansions. Well, it’s 500 square feet more than the average new home, but that’s a lot different from other people who are describing 10,000-square-foot homes as McMansions.”

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How Many Credit Checks Before Closing on a Home?

Navigating the purchase of a home can be overwhelming for first-time buyers. Lenders require documentation of seemingly every detail of your life before granting a loan. And of course, they will require a credit check.

A question many buyers have is whether a lender pulls your credit more than once during the purchase process. The answer is yes. Lenders pull borrowers’ credit in the beginning of the approval process, and then again just prior to closing.

Initial credit check for pre-approval

In the first phase of acquiring a loan, pre-qualification, you’ll self-report financial information. Lenders want to know details such as your credit score, social security number, marital status, history of your residence, employment and income, account balances, debt payments and balances, confirmation of any foreclosures or bankruptcies in the last seven years and sourcing of a down payment. This is only a portion of the total information needed for your mortgage application.

Once you’re ready to get pre-approved for a loan, lenders will verify your financial information. During this phase, lenders require documentation to confirm the information in your application and pull your credit history for the first time. You may be required to submit a letter of explanation for each credit inquiry in recent years, such as opening a new credit card, and for any derogatory information in your history, like a missed payment.

Once you find a home within budget and make an offer, additional or updated documentation may be required. Underwriters then analyze the risk of offering you a loan based on the information in your application, credit history and the property’s value.

Second credit check at closing

It can take time for your offer to be accepted, and for your loan to pass underwriting. During this period from the initial credit check to closing, new credit incidents may occur on your history. Many lenders pull borrowers’ credit a second time just prior to closing to verify your credit score remains the same, and therefore the risk to the lender hasn’t changed. If you were late on a payment and were sent to collections, it can affect your loan. Or, if you acquired any new loans or lines of credit and used those credit lines, your debt-to-income ratio would change, which can also affect your loan eligibility.

If the second credit check results match the first, closing should occur on schedule. If the new report is lower or concerning to the lender, you could lose the loan. Alternatively, the lender may send your application back through underwriting for a second review.

It’s important for buyers to be aware that most lenders run a final credit check before closing, so the home-buying window is a time to prudently mind your credit.

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