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Google Sets Role in Mobile Payment

Google Inc. is teaming up with MasterCard Inc. and Citigroup Inc. to embed technology in Android mobile devices that would allow consumers to make purchases by waving their smartphones in front of a small reader at the checkout counter, according to people familiar with the matter.

Reuters

The Nexus S Android, which Google developed with Samsung, could make mobile payments.

The Internet giant is aiming to make mobile payments easier in a bid to boost its advertising business. The planned payment system would allow Google to offer retailers more data about their customers and help them target ads and discount offers to mobile-device users near their stores, these people said. Google isn’t expected to get a cut of the transaction fees.

The project, which is in its early stages, would allow holders of Citigroup-issued debit and credit cards to pay for purchases by activating a mobile-payment application developed for one current model and many coming models of Android phones. The idea is to turn the phones into a kind of electronic wallet.

These phone users also would be able to get targeted ads or discount offers, which Google hopes to sell to local merchants. They also could manage credit-card accounts and track spending through an application on their smartphone, the people said.

The venture also involves VeriFone Systems Inc., which makes credit-card readers for cash registers. VeriFone would roll out more so-called contact-less devices, or readers that enable consumers to pay with a wave or tap of a credit or debit card. The readers also would allow people to pay by tapping their smartphones, said the people familiar with the matter.

The credit-card readers involved all use “near field communication” technology that is already in place at thousands of merchants nationwide. Today, customers who have credit cards embedded with that technology have the option of waving a card in front of a reader, instead of using a traditional swipe method.

Google’s Android mobile-device software, which powers hundreds of different devices, supports this technology.

The planned payment system would be unlikely to put consumers at any greater financial risks. As with conventional credit-card transactions, the card companies would cover the cost of unauthorized purchases. Nor is the NFC technology itself particularly vulnerable.

“Because it’s contact-less there’s a perception people can grab it from thin air, but it’s actually a more sophisticated technology than credit cards with a magnetic stripe, making it more difficult to steal a consumer’s payment information,” said Nick Holland, a mobile-transactions analyst at Yankee Group.

The Google-backed system, which is expected to be released this year, marks the latest effort to broaden the uses of smartphones for everyday activities—from chatting to emailing to shopping. The telecom, technology and financial-services industries all are looking for strategies to make them leaders in the evolving business of getting consumers to pay for products with their phones. Offering that option could allow device makers such as Apple Inc. to sell more of their phones.

Wireless carriers Verizon Wireless—a venture of Vodafone Group PLC and Verizon Communications Inc.—AT&T Inc. and T-Mobile USA said last fall that they would team up on a venture, dubbed Isis, to enable customers to pay for goods with their smartphones. Discover Financial Services Inc. will process those payments, potentially eliminating the need to carry cash, credit and debit cards, reward cards and transit passes.

Google’s move is part of its quest to sell ads and other services to local retailers, a growth frontier for Internet companies. Google executives, including outgoing Chief Executive Eric Schmidt, haven’t been shy about saying that Android devices could serve as payment facilitators, thanks to NFC technology, though they haven’t specified what Google’s role will be.

“A phone is a lot smarter than a card,” said Doug Bergeron, VeriFone’s chief executive, in an interview. “It opens the door to a rich experience at the point of sale that retailers really covet.”

He declined to comment on his company’s relationship with Google.

Mr. Bergeron added that he also expects Apple to embed NFC technology in future iPhones. BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd. has said its future phones would support NFC.

A spokeswoman for Apple declined to comment.

The market for mobile payments is expected to grow significantly in the next several years, reaching $618 billion by 2016, according to a report by consulting firm Edgar, Dunn & Co. and sponsored by MasterCard.

A report issued this month by the Federal Reserve cited industry estimates that there were 70 million contact-less devices, including credit and debit cards, and 150,000 contact-less readers installed by merchants in the U.S.

While most of the financial activity that now takes place on smartphones involves people engaging in transactions with their bank, the credit-card industry has spent millions of dollars to issue new plastic with the contact-less chip that speeds the check-out process.

The technology has been slow to catch on, however, partly because many consumers remain unaware of it, and they still need to pull out their card to use it.

MasterCard and rival Visa Inc. have been courting customers with contact-less programs and mobile-payment pilot tests. Visa and several large banks are testing mobile-payment programs that allow consumers to make contact-less payments with an existing smartphone equipped with a special chip card and antenna.

If Google’s program with MasterCard and Citigroup is successful, it could potentially expand to other card issuers and networks. In addition to attracting new consumers through ads or offers and seeing instant results, the program would offer retailers access to data about customers so they would be able to market future offers to their devices, said people familiar with the matter.

That potential, however, could raise privacy concerns.

Unlike some other forms of local advertising, the system would allow Google to prove whether ads targeted at certain groups of people led directly to in-store sales, these people said.

Google, by helping to facilitate transactions and redemptions of coupons and discounts, may also be able to gain insight into consumer-spending behavior, said a person familiar with the matter.

A representative of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. confirmed the company had a briefing with Google about the technology, but characterized it as very preliminary discussions and said it hasn’t been asked to adopt it.

The local business ad market is a massive opportunity that has begun to be exploited by Internet companies such as Groupon Inc., social network Facebook Inc., and business-reviews site Yelp Inc.

Separate from ad spending by large retailers, small and medium-sized businesses with 100 or fewer employees collectively spent $35 billion to $40 billion in local advertising in the U.S. in 2009, estimates BIA/Kelsey, a local-media advisory firm.

—Miguel Bustillo contributed to this article.

March 30, 2011 Posted by | Fredericksburg TX | Comments Off on Google Sets Role in Mobile Payment

Marburger Strawberries ripe for the picking!

Hand-picked strawberries are now available from local grower, Marburger Orchards. Stop by the orchards at 559 Kuhlmann Rd., off Meusebach Creek Rd. on Hwy 87 S. to hand-pick your own. Blackberries will be available in May. Best picking times: mornings. For information, call 830-997-9433.

March 29, 2011 Posted by | Fredericksburg TX | Comments Off on Marburger Strawberries ripe for the picking!

Update on First Time Homebuyer Credit and Tax Refunds

RISMEDIA, March 26, 2011—The IRS recently released information on processing issues that are impacting a small percentage of tax returns involving repayment of the First Time Homebuyer Credit (FTHB), primarily involving 2008 home purchases. While most of these returns are processing normally, the IRS recognizes the hardship caused by delayed refunds, and it has assigned additional staff and resources to address the issues promptly.

It is important to note that taxpayer returns claiming a home purchase in 2010 are not affected, and those returns are being processed as are the vast majority of other homebuyer returns.

Here’s an update on the source of the processing issues:

1. Married Filing Joint taxpayers who received the FTHB credit on a 2008 purchase

There seems to be an identified processing issue primarily impacting refunds for married couples filing joint returns this year who received the First Time Homebuyer credit on their 2008 tax return. This credit was an interest-free loan, and must be paid back beginning this year under the provisions of the law.

This issue, related to Form 5405, First-Time Homebuyer Credit and Repayment of the Credit, primarily impacts Married Filing Jointly taxpayers who filed their tax returns this year before Feb. 22. The IRS is working aggressively to manually process tax returns for this group of taxpayers. It expects most, if not all, of these refunds to be available by April 5, and others the following week. (The date assumes that there are no other issues with their return, and that their refunds are not subject to any offsets for unpaid federal taxes or other debts.)

2. Taxpayers who received the FTHB credit and are now reporting the sale or disposition of their home

3. Taxpayers who received the FTHB credit and are attempting to pay back more than the amount required (typically $500)

These two issues require changes to IRS’ core tax processing systems. The IRS is actively working on the development and testing of the required changes that will allow these impacted tax returns to be processed and appropriate refunds issued. The IRS does not currently have a definitive date for when these changes will be complete, although it will be in April.

What should taxpayers do?

The IRS understands that taxpayers affected by this issue are anxious to get the status of their refund. For those who have already filed, no action is necessary. They can check “Where’s My Refund” at http://www.IRS.gov for updates. Because the IRS is already aware of this issue and is taking corrective action, there is no need to call.

For those who have not yet filed and are making a repayment of a First Time Homebuyer Credit this year, there is a simple step taxpayers can take to help speed processing. Couples filing a joint return for tax year 2010 who received the credit on their jointly filed 2008 tax return should file two 5405 forms, one for each taxpayer. For couples filing a joint return for 2010 but who had a different filing status in 2008 and only one spouse received the credit, the IRS recommends filing one Form 5405 for the taxpayer who received the credit.

For more information visit www.IRS.gov.

March 28, 2011 Posted by | Fredericksburg TX | Comments Off on Update on First Time Homebuyer Credit and Tax Refunds

COMMUNITY ED CLASSES IN EXCEL IN APRIL

EXCEL LEVEL I

This is a hands-on introduction to spreadsheets.  A beginner’s course designed for persons with basic computer knowledgeand that are familiar with the Windows environment. This course will enable students to create reports tables and spreadsheets for your reports. Learn how to develop spreadsheets that will calculate and summarize the data entered and more. Knowledge of this program is a must in the workplace.

Apr 4, 5, 6        Mon/Tues/Wed                                       7:00-9:00pm       Instructor:  Jim Korman     FES Room #511      $59

 EXCEL LEVEL II

Understand  how to enter equations, add borders and shading. Learn how to create reports, databases, lists and more.  Become more knowledgeable and productive using this powerful application.

Apr 11, 12, 13      Mon/Tues/Wed                                       7:00-9:00pm          Instructor:  Jim Korman      FES Room #511        $49

March 27, 2011 Posted by | Fredericksburg TX | Comments Off on COMMUNITY ED CLASSES IN EXCEL IN APRIL

Smart Security Steps for Mobile Computing

Don’t neglect information security as you jump into the mobile computing market.
By Michael Antoniak | March 2011 from realtor.org

 The stage is now fully set in the mobile computer market for 2011. Apple’s March release of the iPad 2, a much anticipated launch, finalizes the line-up in what’s shaping up to be the year of the tablet.

 With a new processor that Apple claims is significantly faster than the original iPad, a thinner and lighter design, front and rear cameras, and an updated version of its iOS operating system,.  A tablet’s already available, or soon to be, for every kind of user. Some analysts’ rosy projections claim Apple could sell anywhere between 20 million and 50 million tablets this year. Add to that number the demand for Android tablets and other platforms hitting the market. This time next year, using a tablet may be considered de rigueur by a large share of real estate professionals.

 Smartphones, the other rapidly rising mobile platform, continue to evolve as well: Faster processors, improved cameras, and the rich assortment of apps make them an indispensable multifunction tool. Combined with a tablet, they deliver a one-two punch for mobile productivity: a personal experience on the handset and a larger screen on the tablet.

 For all the allure of these mobile platforms, though, they’re prone to the same security issues as desktop and notebooks. As their sales reach a critical mass, smartphones and tablets will become prime targets of malware attacks. Then, there are the inherent physical risks in carrying any popular compact device. It’s much easier to steal these mobile devices than a PC. And a damaged or lost smartphone or tablet can mean lost data.

 You’ll never eliminate all of the potential risks, but you can minimize the threats. Simple measures, such as the ones below, can give you peace of mind.

 Know Your Hardware and OS: Smartphones and tablets both have built-in security features. Some are activated automatically. Others, such as locking the device with a password or encrypting the data, may need to be activated by you.

 You can take extra measures to recover or deactivate stolen hardware, too. iOS users can download the Find My iPhone app and set up a MobileMe account. For Windows Phone 7 devices, Find My Phone requires a Windows Live account. Mobile SuperHero adds comparable protection to several platforms.

 Think Before You Store:  Should you really store important information on a handset or tablet that could end up in the wrong hands? Consider eliminating that risk by storing such information in the “cloud.” Web-based apps or a virtual private network can keep much of the sensitive data off your mobile device while still letting you retrieve it when you need it.

 Shop for Apps Securely: Download apps only from trusted sources. When you’re unsure about an app or developer, do online research. See if they’ve posed any known security issues. Search for and download real estate apps from proven providers.  For a broader selection, visit the official app Web sites for Android, Blackberry, iPhone iOS, Windows Phone 7, or webOS.

 Be Sensitive to Your Surroundings: Mobile Web access is a potential chink in the armor. If encryption or other security features aren’t activated, sensitive data could be vulnerable. And in public spaces, there’s always risk of someone visually eavesdropping on private data. Get the devices that offer a secure and private connection over a cellular network with an unlimited data plan rather than relying on uncertain Wi-Fi hot spots.

 Add a Security App: As threats on smartphones and tablets grow, so will software tools to ward them off. Major publishers of computer security suites either already or will soon offer versions for mobile devices. Some present options include AVG, DroidSecurity, Kaspersky Mobile Security, Norton Mobile Security, Lookout, Symantec’s iPhone app, and Trend Micro Mobile Security.

 Install Those Updates: Mobile devices’ operating systems are continually updated to keep pace with the latest threats. These security updates may be offered as smaller “patches” or as a full-blown upgrade to the operating system.

 The bottom line: If you’re not running the most up-to-date version and you aren’t proactive about mobile security, you probably aren’t sufficiently protected.

March 26, 2011 Posted by | Fredericksburg TX | Comments Off on Smart Security Steps for Mobile Computing

CENTURY 21 REAL ESTATE LAUNCHES @C21 – HOME MATTERS

 

Real Estate Blog is a Conversation Starter among Consumers and Industry Professionals

PARSIPPANY, N.J.(Feb. 10, 2011) — Century 21 Real Estate LLC, the franchisor of the world’s largest residential real estate sales organization, today announced the launch of
@C21 – Home Matters, the official blog of CENTURY 21®. @C21 – Home Matters is a unique digital destination for home buying and selling tips that are informative and inspiring.  Those tips will be offered along with compelling narratives on the latest trends, industry news and key points to consider for anything related to homeownership.

 “In today’s rapidly changing marketplace, we wanted to provide consumers with a content-rich source for community conversation around the homeownership, home buying and selling experience,” said Bev Thorne, chief marketing officer, Century 21 Real Estate LLC. “As the franchisor of the world’s largest residential sales team, that’s our forte.”

 The new blog offers an attractive and engaging blend of first-hand real estate advice from industry professionals.  It includes ongoing conversations about seasonal trends, market news and practical tips for home buyers and sellers.

 Thorne added, “As a brand renowned for innovation, creating a best-in-class blog was the next logical next step in the evolution of our social media marketing strategy. Today, I am proud to introduce @C21 – Home Matters as the centerpiece of our social media platform.”

 Visit @C21 – Home Matters today: http://blog.century21.com/.

About Century 21 Real Estate LLC
Century 21 Real Estate LLC (century21.com) is the franchisor of the world’s largest residential real estate sales organization, providing comprehensive training, management, administrative and marketing support for the CENTURY 21 System.  The System is comprised of more than 8,000 independently owned and operated franchised broker offices in 73 countries and territories worldwide. Century 21 Real Estate LLC is a subsidiary of Realogy Corporation, a global provider of real estate and relocation services.

 © 2011 Century 21 Real Estate LLC. CENTURY 21® Is A Registered Trademark Owned By Century 21 Real Estate LLC. An Equal Opportunity Company. Equal Housing Opportunity. Each CENTURY 21 Office is Independently Owned and Operated.

March 25, 2011 Posted by | Fredericksburg TX | Comments Off on CENTURY 21 REAL ESTATE LAUNCHES @C21 – HOME MATTERS

Suze Orman vs. Warren Buffett: Whose Real Estate Advice Should You Follow?

You know Suze Orman – she delivers hardcore financial gut checks to everyday Americans on a regular basis. In her latest book, The Money Class, she also recently delivered a pretty striking declaration: that the American Dream – which, for many, includes home ownership and upward economic mobility – is as dead as a doornail. To back this up, she points to huge numbers of jobless and what she sees as the near impossibility of getting credit these days.

But you might also have heard of Warren Buffett. He just so happens to be the third richest human being on the planet.  In Buffett’s most recent letter to his company’s shareholders, he, too, made a striking declaration of his feelings about owning a home: “[h]ome ownership makes sense for most Americans, particularly at today’s lower prices and bargain interest rates.”  And the Oracle of Omaha didn’t stop there – he literally raved about home ownership, saying that “the third best investment I ever made was the purchase of my home.” Now, that’s a big statement from a guy whose investment decisions have earned him a net worth over $50 billion!

Suze says the American financial dream is dead. But Buffett says buy, and buy now.  Who’s right?  (And who’s wrong?!)

Orman is right that one extreme version of the American Dream is dead.  But not the traditional American Dream of owning an affordable home that appreciates over time. That basic premise of the value of homeownership is valid. But it may be valid for a smaller segment than ever before. Orman believes that renters should save, save, save up every penny and they may never be a candidate to own a home.

Buffett believes now is the time to purchase as affordability has never been better.  Buffet wins here; he’s right that a home is a very strong investment, with abundant yields, both financial and emotional. And according to our latest survey, the American Dream of homeownership lives on in the hearts of the 72 percent of Americans who say owning the place they live is a part of their personal American Dream.

How can you make sure your exercise in owning a home is set up to be like Buffett’s 3rd best investment (#s 1 and 2 were wedding rings, btw), rather than Orman’s image of the American nightmare? Here are 3 basic steps Buffett urges every American who owns a home – or wants to – to include in their approach to home ownership.

1.  Ditch your “dream home” for a practical pad. When it comes to homes and mortgages, bigger is not always better.  What is better is to buy a home that makes sense for your family’s future and its finances. In Buffettt’s own words, “a house can be a nightmare if the buyer’s eyes are bigger than his wallet and if a lender . . . facilitates his fantasy.”  Instead of buying dream homes, Buffett went on, the goal should be to buy a home you can afford.

2.  When you buy, plan to hold. Warren Buffett is worth $50 billion, and he still lives in the home he bought 52 years ago – for $31,500. Many Americans got caught in the housing crash when they took on mortgages they could only sustain for a short period of time, then weren’t able to refinance as expected. Buffett’s stock investing advice has long been to avoid making investments you can’t hold for at least 10 years. Likewise, buying a home should be done with a long-term plan to avoid catastrophe when home values fluctuate in the short term.

3.  Mortgages should have fixed, affordable payments. In his shareholder letter, Buffett points out that a housing company he holds has done vastly better than other real estate and mortgage industry players and attributes their success to the fact that “our approach was simply to get a meaningful down-payment and gear fixed monthly payments to a sensible percentage of income.”  Buffett believes these two mortgage musts are the key to avoiding foreclosure, opining that “[i]f home buyers throughout the country had behaved like our buyers, America would not have had the crisis that it did. . ..  This policy kept [the company] solvent and also kept buyers in their homes.” 

Unless you are one of those rare buyers who know their income will increase by a predictable amount at a predictable point in time, like a lawyer prepping for partnership, a good rule of thumb is to stick with a fixed mortgage payment (including taxes and insurance) that’s under 30 percent of your take home income.

March 24, 2011 Posted by | Fredericksburg TX | Comments Off on Suze Orman vs. Warren Buffett: Whose Real Estate Advice Should You Follow?

LBJ 100 Bicycle Tour & Luci Johnson Guided Ride this Saturday

Riders

Take part this Saturday, March 26, in the 4th Annual LBJ 100 Bicycle Tour at the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park on Hwy 290 near Stonewall. Routes are from 10 miles to 62 miles in distance and are along scenic Hill Country roadways. Registration begins at 7:00 a.m., with a staggered start beginning at 9:00 a.m. Presidential daughter Luci Baines Johnson will lead a special 10-mile historical tour with narrative of landmarks on the LBJ Ranch at 2:30 p.m. Also along the tour are three historic country schools open for viewing. For more information, visit www.lbj100bicycletour.org.

March 23, 2011 Posted by | Fredericksburg TX | Comments Off on LBJ 100 Bicycle Tour & Luci Johnson Guided Ride this Saturday

Things to Consider When Searching for a Home

Before deciding which house to buy, think about your lifestyle, your current and anticipated housing needs, and your budget. It’s a good idea to create a prioritized list of features you want in your next home – you’ll soon discover finding the right house involves striking a balance between your “must-haves” and your “nice-to-haves.”

 To start, consider your lifestyle. If you love to cook, you’ll want a well-equipped kitchen. If you’re into gardening, you’ll want a yard. If you’re planning your office at home, you may want a room for a separate library or work space. If you have several cars, you may require a larger garage. Use this list as your search guide.

Next, think about what you might need in the future. As you consider your housing needs, it’s important to consider how long you may live in your home. If you’re newly married, you might not be concerned with a school district right now, but you could be in a few years. If you have aging parents, you may want to look at homes that offer living arrangements for them as well as you.

 It’s important to think about your new home’s location just as carefully as you do about a house’s features. Location is a huge part of any move. In addition to considering the distance to work, you need to evaluate the availability of shopping, police and fire protection, medical facilities, school and day-care, traffic and parking, trash and garbage collection, even recreational facilities.

 Perhaps the most important decision is deciding on the type of home you want. Do you want a condominium or a co-op? A town house or a detached single-family home? Do you want brick, stone, stucco, wood, vinyl siding, or something else? Do you prefer a new home or an older one?

 Through all of this, make sure to talk to your real estate professional about where you want to live. While more buyers now use the Internet to gain access to listings, or available properties for sale, it is still a good idea to use an agent. The agent brings value to the entire process: he or she is available to analyze data, answer questions, share their professional expertise, and handle all the paperwork and legwork that is involved in the real estate transaction. CENTURY 21 Sunset, Realtors professionals have the expertise to help their clients narrow down their choices by sharing market trends and local information.

March 22, 2011 Posted by | Fredericksburg TX | Comments Off on Things to Consider When Searching for a Home

Update on Chai

Maggie and Chai

Well, Chai T. Latte is two weeks old.  He’s had a rough time for such a baby! 

Three days after he was born, he was blind.  So sad watching him run into shrubs, walls, people. A quick trip to see Dr. Pilmer resulted in an unfavorable prognosis.  However, we thought we’d do all we could to help him regain his sight.  Initially, mega doses of multiple vitamins and then daily doses of Vitamin A and B12. Dr. Pilmer said to give him four days to see any improvement in his sight.                                                                                                                                                                                               

Quatro and Chai T

On the third day baby Chai was beginning to see again.  He worked with me out in the yard all day Sunday in unfamiliar surroundings and never ran into any thing. Each day his sight seemed to improve. Now on his two week birthday, he is racing around the back yard with Gunner, playing with Quatro, and loving Maggie. Was his sight restored by divine intervention or modern medicine, or a combination of both?

Gunner, Quatro and Chai Gunner and Chai

March 21, 2011 Posted by | Fredericksburg TX | Comments Off on Update on Chai