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While construction failures are not uncommon in inland China, they are relatively unheard of in major cities such as Shanghai, where this disaster unfolded. Photo courtesy of NK Media Productions.

The High Cost of Cutting Corners

Catastrophe was narrowly eluded in China when a newly constructed 13 story building collapsed just before completion, killing one worker but avoiding triggering a domino effect among neighboring apartments. The photo has to be seen to be believed (here's another view). Chinese authorities have detained nine in connection with the collapse, including the developer, construction contractor and project supervisor after reports surfaced that the company's construction license had expired in 2004. The disaster draws attention to lax construction standards (and loose enforcement) and their high cost to homeowners, investors and society. As much as they can sometimes seem a hassle, this is the reason we have building codes.

Go from analog to digital by claiming your coupons.

Get Your Digital TV Coupons

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration recently announced that the government now has sufficient funding to redistribute two rebate coupons for converter boxes per household, which will help analog TV watchers make the switch to digital in time for the extended June 12 deadline.

"With the backlog of applications now eliminated, consumers can apply for coupons and get assistance right away, allowing them to continue to receive important local television news and emergency information by purchasing a converter box at a reduced cost," says Anna Gomez, an NTIA administrator.

Consumers will get a $40 rebate on the digital converter boxes, which means that they'll be able to buy a converter for just a few dollars.

Tax Rebate 101

Has the government ever given anything away? It’s not possible as they are not a nonprofit. Let me explain this in simple terms. While they may print money, spend money, loan money to banks or, in this case, send a check to tax filers, it is all secured with tax “revenue” or future tax revenues collected from either you, your neighbors, your business or your neighbor's business. Money does not grow on trees. If it did, inflation would be infinite and U.S. currency would be worthless. The U.S. government is sending you a check drawn on the future revenues it will collect. Unless you die (a taxable event) before the government sends its personal collection agency (the IRS) to make good on the “loan” it’s sending you, prepare to pay them back with interest.

Spend a little, save a lot.

Spending My Tax Rebate

Where will I get the biggest bang for my buck? To save or to spend—that is the question. Let’s assume you have no credit card debt (because if you did that would be the best spot to put it). Second, you can live like the grasshopper and do what Bush wants you to do and buy American-made products or services. Or you can invest your money in a mutual fund or equity. Or, depending on the interest rate on your mortgage, it may be best just to sink the money there to lower your payments and pay off your loan early. However, it's not easy to get that money back in an emergency. Or you can do what I recommend and simply save that money. There may be rainy days ahead in the near future. I am not saying to put that money under the mattress. Not only is it not secure there and probably not insured, you are losing money as inflation eats into its value. So, at a minimum, put it into a federally insured savings account. I just opened one myself. Prior to today, I was using the savings account at the bank where I do my checking. Little did I know how much more interest I could be getting. Money-Rates.com provides a listing of some of the best rates in the country updated every minute. Now I'm not losing money on my savings. Save or spend; the option is yours. Would you rather be the ant or the grasshopper?

The Best and Worst States for a Home Inspection

Want to know where your state ranks in the country's best and worst home inspection regulation laws? Host of radio's "The Money Pit," Tom Kraeutler, lists The American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) 2007 state rankings in his blog. Here they are, from best to worst:

1. Louisiana
2. New Jersey
3. Arizona
4. Texas
5. Massachusetts
6. Connecticut/North Carolina
8. Arkansas
9. Indiana
10. Rhode Island/West Virginia
12. South Dakota/Tennessee
14. Mississippi
15. Virginia
16. Wisconsin
17. Oklahoma
18. Kentucky
19. Alaska/Illinois
21. Alabama/Oregon/New York
24. Maryland
25. Nevada
26. Florida
27. Pennsylvania
28. South Carolina
29. Montana
30. North Dakota
31. Georgia
32. California

Wondering why all 50 states aren't on the list? The ones that aren't have NO license requirement.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Permit Me to Give You Some Advice

Want to avoid a bureaucratic nightmare? Secure a permit before doing any work on your home or property. If you don't believe me, just talk to the Glendale, Calif., couple who were recently fined $347,000 for improperly pruning their trees. After they created a web site documenting their side of the story, city officials are now admitting the fine was "excessive." But the family still had to hire a lawyer and are facing a fine in the neighborhood of $10,000. The family made the mistake of taking the tree trimmer's word that they didn't need a permit. If I said it once, I've said it a thousand times: Always check with your local town government before doing any work on your property.

Whenever big bags of money are found, there's sure to be a fight.

Finders Keepers?

Imagine the surprise of a contractor when he found half a million dollars in rare bills stuffed in a bathroom wall he'd been hired to take down. Now imagine the court fight that ensued when the homeowner offered the contractor a mere 10 percent "finder's fee." That's exactly the situation that is playing out in Ohio between homeowner Amanda Reece and contractor Bob Kitts. Kitts claims Reece originally offered to split the bounty but then backed down and cites an arcane "finders keepers" law to support his argument. The two have been wrangling for 18 months, and the only people winning are the lawyers. "I honestly hope and I believe, that the law and common sense will co-mingle," Reece said.

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