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Posts published in “Day: January 3, 2008”

Make some financial resolutions – and stick to them

If you make a New Year’s resolution, and you don’t follow through on it, what are the consequences? It all depends. If you vow to learn French, but you never get past “Oui, mademoiselle,” your life will probably go on pretty much as before (unless, of course, you’re now living in France). But if you make some financial resolutions, and you abandon them, you could fall short of your long-term goals – such as a comfortable retirement.
Consequently, you’ll want to set reasonable and attainable financial resolutions – and then discipline yourself to achieve them. What sort of resolutions might you make? Consider the following:
* Boost your 401(k) contributions this year – and every year. If your employer offers a 401(k) or similar retirement plan – such as a 403(b) or 457(b) – take full advantage of it. Your earnings have the potential to grow on a tax-deferred basis, and, because you typically make pre-tax contributions, the more you invest, the lower your annual taxable income.
Furthermore, you may have a dozen or more investment options within your plan, so you can tailor your choices to reflect your individual risk tolerance, goals and time horizon. If your salary goes up every year, increase your 401(k) contributions at the same time. Since the money will automatically be deducted from your paycheck, you shouldn’t find it hard to keep this financial “resolution.”

* Contribute the maximum amount to your IRA. Your traditional or Roth IRA can be a key part of your retirement savings. A traditional IRA can potentially grow tax deferred, while a Roth IRA’s earnings have the potential to grow tax-free, provided you don’t take withdrawals until you reach 59-1/2 and you’ve had your account at least five years.
Unfortunately, many people don’t fully fund their IRAs each year because they’re intimidated by the contribution limits ($5,000 per year, or $6,000 if you’re over 50). But there’s no need to fund your IRA all at once; you can do it incrementally. Why not write out a check to your IRA each time you get paid, or, better yet, have the money automatically sent from your checking account? Again, it will be easier to keep this resolution if you don’t have to work at it.
* Build an emergency fund. This resolution may take a bit more effort, but it’s worth it. If you can put away six to 12 months’ worth of living expenses in a liquid account, and only use the money for emergencies – car repairs, unexpected doctors’ bills, etc. – you may be able to avoid dipping into your investments to pay for these costs. And the less you tap into your investments, the better.
* Cut your debts. Here’s another resolution that sounds simple, but can be difficult to achieve. Yet, every dollar that doesn’t have to go for a debt payment can be invested for your future. In 2008, look for ways to cut your costs, and strive to live within your means.
* See a professional. If you’ve never worked with a financial advisor, make 2008 the year to start. A qualified financial advisor can objectively evaluate your situation and suggest appropriate financial strategies for helping you achieve your long-term objectives.
If you can follow all these resolutions in 2008, you can help position yourself for financial success – for many New Years to come.

Highlands Landmark Restaurant destroyed by Fire

By LEWIS SPEARMAN

HIGHLANDS– Olde Cedar Inn was gutted by flames that began in the exhaust system near the northeast corner of that building on December 21.

Witnesses and firefighters say that Friday at about 6:47 p.m. a four alarm commercial fire call came in for the centrally located dining favorite on Main St. at College Street. The reports say a few flames in the kitchen was contained earlier that day. Later, a small amount of smoke emitted from the kitchen area into the back, eastern most, dining area. Minutes later customers and staff scrambled from the building as the entire restaurant filled with smoke in a matter of minutes. As many customers drove away from the fire, others had left their vehicle keys inside the restaurant. Kostaka Wrecker service was called in to tow two cars away, not only to save the vehicles from flames but also to clear the area for firefighters to have access.

By 7:10 flames went as high as 20 feet into the air while Highlands Volunteer Fire Dept. was joined by Baytown, Crosby, Channelview, Sheldon and LaPorte. Special crews from Harris County were on scene. Harris County Sheriff”s Deputies were joined by a Houston Police Dept. to contain traffic. Sheriff’s Deputies also controlled crowds to keep them at a safe distance.
The spewing flames rapidly spread throughout the nearly fifty year old structure. How firefighters were able to save as much of the structure as they did seemed miraculous even as flames near the northeast end were being finally extinguished at about 9:30 p.m.

Jerry Ikes of Baytown FIre Dept. was Fire Marshall on the scene and contained the area and contents for investigation.

A relative of the owner of the structure indicated an intent to rebuild the restaurant that has become a staple for local breakfasts and lunches and a reputation for the best Chicken Fried Steak.


CLICK ON HIGHLIGHTS FOR ADDITIONAL PHOTO.


Photos in print and internet courtesy of Portraits of Texas/Alan Hanagriff, and Star-Courier Photos by Lewis Spearman.

New Year brings New Hope to Crosby woman beset with woes

CROSBY– Last year, 2007, was not a good year for Tami Bruggeman of Crosby, but thanks to Gallery Furniture and some generous friends in Crosby, 2008 looks like it will be much better.
Bruggeman’s story was recently profiled on Channel 2 television, and it has since been posted nationwide.
After Hurricane Rita destroyed the home that she and her husband Donald lived in, they temporarily moved into a travel trailer in Crosby in 2005.
But her husband died in August 2007 of a brain infection at 39 years old. His employer, Ray Lilley, had raised some money, $7300, to help them buy a new trailer home.
They gave the money, a deposit, to Chris McPherson, who said he would deliver a trailer home to Tami. Allegedly he was selling used FEMA trailers, but in fact he collected over $250,000 in deposits from buyers and never delivered any homes, according to Lilley and authorities.

He was arrested last month, and is currently in jail pending outcome of this case in federal court.
When Lilley and others realized that Tami would not get the trailer from McPherson, they pulled together more donations and got her another trailer home.
Then Lilley wrote to Gallery Furniture, and Georgia Ann Spears of Gallery screened the letter, one of several thousand received this year. She decided that Gallery Furniture could help Bruggeman, and they donated three rooms of furniture to Bruggeman to help furnish her new mobile home.
So, although she has had more than her share of bad luck in the last few years, now it seems Tami Bruggeman has a chance to start a new direction, with a new home and new furniture, and quite a few friends that wanted to help her.

Investigators break-up alleged check fraud ring; 2 arrested

CROSBY — Precinct 3 Deputies netted a criminal organization operating in Harris, Chambers, Liberty and Montgomery counties by catching a couple using phony identification to cash bogus company checks here on Dec. 18.
A store manager at Arlan’s Market alertly contacted authorities, keep suspects inside the store for as long as possible, got the license plates and description of a car bearing a man and woman the second time someone attempted to cash a check purportedly from a local petrochemical company with suspect identification.
Lt. Ganey, Deputy Vince Perry and Corporal Mike Conner of Constable Ken Jones’ Department were sweeping the streets here to catch the culprits. Similar incidents in which a variety of false identification, including that of U.S. Coast Guard personnel, was being used to cash checks counterfeited with color laser printers from Beach City to Porter, especially in Liberty and Harris counties.

Deputy Perry intercepted the escape car while Ganey verified evidence with KMCO Chemical L.P.’s accountant. Deputy Perry brought the two back to Arlan’s where they were confirmed as perpetrators by the manager. Conner and Perry found a dozen phony identifiers on the suspects.
Mandie Kilgore and Stephen Croft were arrested. The District Attorney’s Office accepted charges of Fraudulent Possession of Identification Information and Possession of a Fraudulent Financial Instrument on Croft. He had an open warrant related to identification in Liberty County.
Precinct 3 Deputies credit Liberty County Sheriff’s Office for being first to issue alerts about the check scams. Chambers County Deputies had located the home of the woman driving the car from Arlan’s, Precinct 3 Deputies had confirmed that she had an open warrant in Chambers County. Acting on the warrant, two more suspects were apprehended at the trailer by federal agents. The U.S. Secret Service Office had assigned an agent to the case based on Merchant Marine and Coast Guard identifications. The feds seized computer components as evidence mounted of identity theft. Checks have been located that read as if they were from plants in Crosby, Deer Park, Baytown. Some of the identifications were of actual people at their address and dates of birth correct with altered photographs.
According to Lieutenant Ganey, “We opened a box of Cracker Jacks and found lots of treats inside. I believe this is one of those cases that just grew into a network when the suspects got away with the scam a few times and just got out of control. We believe Kilgore is the ringleader. She is the one that made the checks on her computer. The process is continuing, there is no telling how many arrests will end up as a result of this arrest. We know we have yet to find all the checks they cashed.”
Ganey reminds anyone checking identifications before accepting checks to be especially diligent. Some of the phony identifications were no more than fraudulent Texas Driver’s License of paper over a Wal-Mart Shopping Card. Many of the identifications used were phony temporary driver’s permits issued as the Department of Public Safety renews a license. The Texas Department of Public Safety is now involved in the fraudulent aspects of the case.