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Top 20 Things to Recycle in Your Home

November 15th is “America Recycles Day!”

In honor of this sustainable celebration, we have made a list of common household items that we can all recycle to help conserve resources and protect our environment.


  1. Food Boxes
    cereal boxes, frozen meal boxes, crackers, pasta, etc
  2. Food Cans
    canned foods, canned drinks, canned sauces, etc
  3. Plastic Jugs
    milk jugs, juice jugs, etc
  4. Paper Towel Rolls
    don’t forget plastic wrap rolls, aluminum foil rolls, and their boxes
  5. Plastic Bottles
    condiments, soft drinks, dressings, etc
  6. Old Appliances
    microwaves, toasters, dishwashers, refrigerators, stoves, etc
  7. Cooking Oil
    vegetable oil, canola oil, peanut oil, and other frying oils can be used as biodiesel


  1. Shampoo Bottles
    don’t forget conditioner and other bottled cosmetic cleansers
  2. Soap Boxes
    paper wrappers and other cardboard cosmetic and hygiene product boxes as well
  3. Toilet Paper Roll
    if you have small children in your house, consider reusing them for crafts!

Living Room

  1. Household batteries
    AA, AAA, C, D, 9V, and button cell batteries
  2. Electronics
    televisions, remote controls, blu ray players, stereos, speakers, sound bars, game consoles, etc


  1. Tissue Boxes
    don’t forget other cardboard panels and containers
  2. Magazines
    and newsletters, books at the end of their life, etc
  3. Mattresses
    foam, innerspring, latex, or combination


  1. Junk Mail
    postcards, letters, fliers, and more. more fun to throw, so consider a bin for recyclables next to the trash bin
  2. Scrap Paper
    printing mistakes, notepad pages, hole punched holes, and more no paper left behind!
  3. Ink Cartridges
    some models allow you to reuse them, or exchange for refurbished at a discount


  1. Tires
    don’t forget lawn tractor and other tires
  2. Automotive Fluids
    oil, power steering fluid, coolant, brake fluid, can all be either used for fuel or recycled

Some items require advanced processing and recycling may not be available in all cities. Click here to see if recycling for these items is available in your area.

Remember, it is better to reduce what you use, and reuse what has already been used, and lastly, to recycle items that would otherwise end up in a landfill. Paper, cardboard, and organic matter can also be composted to help feed your garden.

United Lending becomes Benchmark Mortgage

PLANO, TX—United Lending of Austin, TX, a mortgage lender founded in 2008 by David McMillan and Tommy Nelms, is set to become Benchmark Mortgage, effective December 1, 2017. Offering a wide range of mortgage products, United Lending has been recognized by the Austin American Statesman and the Austin Business Journal multiple times for their excellence in mortgage lending. “We offer a vast array of mortgage products, and we work with all types of clients, from first-time home buyers to multi-million dollar homeowners and everything in between,” says McMillan. “We are consistently one of the top five lenders in Austin on the Austin Business Journal’s Book of Lists. Recently, we even hit the No. 2 spot! By focusing on top talent, we’re able to let the growth take care of itself.”

With a wide range of available products, and high standards to match, United Lending sought a similarly minded partner to support their growth. “Our individual team has been United Lending for more than 10 years. We value a strong partnership with corporate, back office and the warehouse-side of the business. So as we grew, it became obvious that we needed to find a partner that supported this growth,” Nelms says.

United Lending has achieved success by focusing on their most valuable assets: their people, and their clients. “Our main priority is to create the best office environment with the best people in the industry. We have multiple people on our staff, both in production and operations, who have been with us for 20 years or more,” Nelms explains. “Ultimately, it boils down to communication. We strive to provide a hassle-free experience with over-the-top communication. We over-communicate to all parties involved, so not only are there no surprises, but everyone knows what is going on before they have to pick up the phone and call,” adds McMillan.

It was the shared focus on relationships and excellence which eventually resulted in a partnership with Benchmark Mortgage. “We decided to join them for many reasons. But once again, the main reason was the people. Jim McMahan, one of the owners, and an industry icon, and I have had a relationship from a previous company. It has been a great decision for us,” explains McMillan.

Although this relationship is not recent, rebranding was a slight challenge. “We didn’t want to do it right away because we have done a very good job branding United Lending in Austin over the years. It made sense to adopt their name as we grew into Houston and San Antonio, but now we will bring the three cities under the same name.” Nelms explains.

Beginning December 1st, United Lending will adopt the Benchmark Mortgage name, representing the company’s core values and founding principles. Tommy Nelms describes the practical result of these ideas, commonly referred to as “The Benchmark Way”: “When you work with Benchmark Mortgage, you can always expect to work with experienced, knowledgeable people who want to make the lending process as easy and seamless as possible. One of the biggest changes we’ve made in recent years is how we support originators teams with operational teams. We are getting great files to the processing department, and then, in turn, to the underwriters. Quick closings, minimal conditions, approvals in less than two weeks, supporting the originators in such a way that they are not bogged down in paperwork, but are able to work on the referral relationships and create new ones.”

Benchmark Mortgage’s strong emphasis on building trust through relationships makes this partnership mutually beneficial. With United Lending changing to the Benchmark Mortgage name, they proudly share in the same heritage of excellence which began in 1999.

Benchmark Took Their Talents to South Florida with Todd Duncan

Every year, the nation wide Benchmark family comes together during our annual Production Trip to celebrate our Core Values, and to learn ways to better serve you, our amazing clients. This year, we invited Todd Duncan to join us.

Last week in Miami, our team sat down with Mr. Duncan to discuss High Trust Leadership, leveraging relationships, and delivering amazing client experiences.

Here are three highlights from Todd Duncan’s talk:

“Trust is the hardest thing to gain. It’s the easiest to lose. And the most important to hold onto.” — Todd Duncan

Todd is right. If you have ever had to earn someone’s trust, you know. It takes persistence, and it can take a long time. For something that takes so much to acquire, it is strikingly easy to lose. Trust is developed when expectations arise, which are then consistently and faithfully fulfilled. It only takes one unmet expectation for a crack to form in the bedrock of trust. Just like a house on a bad foundation, a relationship standing on unsure footing is precarious indeed.

“The more you do what you don’t want, the more of what you don’t want you will get.” — Todd Duncan

Following the logic of the above, it follows that the more you do what you want to do, the more you will get what you want. When Benchmark was founded in 1999, our founders had a vision of not only helping families achieve the American dream of owning their own home, but of being a mortgage company which the best in our industry would want to join. Our core values were formed during a round table discussion several years into our journey, and they resonate to this day. As of writing, we have grown to more than 80 branches nationwide, with an annual trip which we unofficially and affectionately refer to as our family reunion.  At Benchmark, we do not wish to deliver an image to deliver numbers; we wish to deliver service to develop relationships. It turns out, the more we have done that which we set out to do, the more success we have built. So focus on the positive. The future looks bright for those who do.

“To be an effective leader, it is important to reflect regularly on your growth, and the growth of your team.” — Todd Duncan

Good leadership requires perspective. Looking back at your team’s, as well as your own progress and growth, will help you gain a high level perspective and sense of direction. Looking ahead, are you pointed the right direction? Look back, how often have you wavered? How far have you come? In order to lead effectively, it helps to have a clear vantage point in both directions.

We are a community of mortgage professionals: experts to help you through every step of the process. Our team of loan officers, underwriters, appraisers, and funders work tirelessly to close your loan as quickly as possible. We measure our success on the growth and efficiency of our entire team to deliver the best service and experience possible. Learn more about Benchmark at

Ready to Buy a New Home? 5 Free Resources to Get You Started

Are you purchasing a home for the first time? Are you looking to move? We have compiled five free resources to ensure you have an amazing experience buying your new home.


1) Your Way Home

Do you want to learn more about the process from applying for a mortgage through closing on your new home? Do you have a realtor? Do you need one? Why do you have to sign so many documents? Confused? Don’t be. Checkout this free tool that explains the process from start to finish and provides a customized path to finding and purchasing your home after you answer four quick questions.

Go see it out here: Your Way Home

This tool is available on our loan officer sites. Go here here, and visit one to see more.


2) Simplifying the Home Buying Process In 7 Steps

What’s the difference between prequalification and preapproval? What do home inspectors look for? What happens during your closing? Watch these short videos featuring actual loan officers, realtors, appraisers, and underwriters who will walk you through the process of buying your dream home.

Check it out here: Benchmark University


3) Gather Your Documents

What paperwork do you need to compile to apply for your home loan? Your loan officer will help you gather all of the documents you need to seek approval for a loan. Want to get a leg up? Check out what documents you will need here.

See which documents you should have ready: Benchmark University


4) Mortgage Calculator

What will your monthly payment look like? How much will you pay in interest over the life of your loan? Can you really afford the house you want? Use this free, easy, and intuitive mortgage calculator to calculate your estimated monthly payment.

Do some mortgage math: Mortgage Calculators


5) eBooks on Buying and Selling

Stressed about buying a house? Having trouble selling your current home? What is a short sale? These free ebooks will help you purchase or sell a home with confidence.

Check out (no pun intended) our free eBooks: Benchmark University


Still have questions? Ready to get started? Reach out to one of our Branches to start the process of purchasing your new home today, or apply now!

Still have questions? Ready to get started? Contact us or apply now to start the process of purchasing your new home today!

Still have questions? Ready to get started? Call me, contact me, or apply now to start the process of purchasing your new home today!

Jack O’Lanterns: A Brief History

The term “jack-o’-lantern” was first applied to people, not pumpkins. As far back as 1663, the term meant a man with a lantern, or a night watchman. Just a decade or so later, it began to be used to refer to the mysterious lights sometimes seen at night over bogs, swamps, and marshes.

The term originates as early as 1663, but no-one using it at the time had likely ever seen an orange pumpkin. Just like the term “jack of all trades” implies, a “jack-o’-lantern” was a man who carried the lantern to keep watch at night. Not too many years later, the term was used in jest to add lightheartedness when describing mysterious lights seen over wetlands at night. People used to tell stories to explain these lights, and as early as the 1500’s, the Irish stories often involved a character named Jack.


The Legend(s) of Stingy Jack

The stories portrayed Stingy Jack as a blacksmith who invited the devil to a drink. Jack, being stingy, concocted a strategy to relieve himself of the responsibility to pay for the drinks and convinced the devil to transform himself into a coin which could be used to pay the tab. The devil now in the palm of his hand, Stingy Jack walked out on the tab and placed the coin into his pocket with a silver cross to prevent the devil from transforming back. Bargaining with the devil to not take revenge on Jack or claim his soul upon his deathbed, he released the devil from his pocket-sized prison.

Another tale tells of Stingy Jack outwitting the devil once again, when he connivingly talked him into climbing a tree to pick fruit. During the devil’s venture into the canopy, Jack carved a cross into the trunk to prevent the devil from descending back again. Just as at the last, Jack bargains for his safety from revenge and possession of his soul before finally permitting the devil to climb down to stable ground from the tree’s branches.

At the last, Stingy Jack passed away, and his spirit found no rest. He was not allowed into heaven, and the devil honored his vows to deny ownership of Jack’s soul at hell’s gate, and gave him a glowing coal before sending him into the darkness of night to find a hell of his own. Upon receiving this burning ember, Jack placed it into a carved out turnip to roam the earth forevermore. The mystery lights of the Irish wetlands were attributed to Stingy Jack’s lantern’s motions as his wandering soul roamed the lands. The light and its supposed bearer were, together, called “Jack of the Lantern,” or “Jack O’Lantern.”


Stingy Jack Visits the New World

Back home in the British Isles, the tradition of making lanterns by carving turnips, beets, or potatoes occupied by coal, embers, or candles was part of celebrating the fall harvest. Children were known to venture off the road with their make-shift lantern to trick passersby into believing that Stingy Jack or another lost soul was near.

In the new world, pumpkins were key in the survival of early settlers. The following poem gives the example:

For pottage and puddings and custards and pies
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies,
We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,
If it were not for pumpkins we should be undoon.”

Pilgrim verse, circa 1633

The abundance of pumpkins made them the perfect choice for Irish immigrants to carve into Stingy Jack’s lanterns. These new vessels became part of the tradition.


From European Legend to Seasonal Decor

In time, children began carving crude faces into them to make them more frightful. The carved face and legend of Jack merged by the mid 1800’s when the carved glowing pumpkins were finally called jack-o’-lanterns.

In 1892, the Mayor of Atlanta included jack-o’-lanterns used as decorations for a Halloween party. Several pumpkins with carved faces and inner lights were placed around the premise, and entered into the American tradition of the modern jack-o’-lantern.

See our related articles:
Simple Pumpkin Carving for the Whole Family,
Easy and Free Pumpkin Carving Stencils, and
5 Easy Tips for Fall Decorations.

inspired by:

Purchasing or Refinancing with the HomeStyle Renovation Program

The HomeStyle Renovation Program is available to borrowers who are looking to make Renovations, Repairs, or Improvements to a home with a single loan, rather than with a second mortgage, or home equity line of credit.

At Benchmark, we know how important it is to make a house your own. Your Benchmark loan originator can walk you through the steps of making your homeownership dreams a reality. To find a Benchmark location near you, click here.

At Benchmark, we know how important it is to make your house your own. I am happy to walk you through the steps of making your homeownership dreams a reality. To get started, give me a call, send me a message, or apply now.

At Benchmark, we know how important it is to make a house your own. As your local Benchmark branch, we stand ready answer your questions and walk you through the steps of making your homeownership dreams a reality. To get started, send us a message or apply now.

Fantastic Fall Destinations To Explore

In the second week of Autumn, there is a refreshing cool in the air, a visible change in the natural landscape, and a desire to make use of the days as their lengths are continually shortened in anticipation of the coming winter. This is a list of 7 amazing destinations for you and your family, no matter its size, to explore to make lasting memories and experiences.


Napa Valley

The Napa Valley is a narrow strip of land between the Vacas Mountains, and the Mayacamas Mountains with the Napa River flowing in its midst. This is the time of year when Napa Valley cools down, and becomes a cultural destination for Hot Air Ballooning, railroad nostalgia on the Napa Valley Wine Train, Wine Tasting, Hiking, and more. Enjoy a Safari in an open Jeep, or walk among preserved giants in the Petrified Forest.


San Antonio

San Antonio, a city older than the United States, is already a top travel destination. Autumn tempers the weather to a tolerable range, in the Texas Hill Country, where the sights and sounds are a cultural treat. While the weather makes the outdoors appealing, visit The Alamo, enjoy a boat tour, a scenic stroll, or al fresco dining on the San Antonio River Walk, and visit La Villita for the Dia De Los Muertos celebration. Don’t forget about Sea World and Six Flags Fiesta Texas for the kids (or kids at heart)!


The Enchanted Circle

The Enchanted Circle is a scenic byway in Northern New Mexico surrounded by the Carson National Forest to the west, Santa Fe National Forest to the south, and Wheeler Peak Wilderness to the north. The historic Taos Pueblo (pictured), continually inhabited for the past 1,000 years, is in the southwest of the Enchanted Circle. The arrival of fall welcomes a spectacular display of color in the southern Rocky Mountains when the weather is perfect for hiking, biking, or visiting the historic sites and soaking in the distinctive southwest culture.


Shenandoah Valley

The Shenandoah Valley is rich with American history, gorgeous fall foliage, and crisp weather to enjoy the outdoors. Hike among the colors of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, Float, fish, or hike along the Shenandoah River State Park, hike part of the Appalachian Trail, mingle amongst the stalactites and stalagmites in the Shenandoah Caverns, take a Drive-Through Safari, or visit one of many historic sites and museums. And don’t forget to take the drive down Blue Ridge Parkway, “America’s favorite drive”, with breathtaking views of the mountains and seasonal foliage as you wind your way through the hills.


The Great Smokey Mountains

The Great Smokey Mountains run along the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, and are full of deciduous forests, small towns, and enough Americana to outlast your stay. Take a Scenic Drive, plan to Hike, Bike, Fish, or take in the local culture in the towns along the range. Plan a trip to Dollywood, the Forbidden Caverns, and climb aboard with the Great Smokey Mountains Railroad. The mountains are calling.



Sedona lies in the heart of Coconino National Forest and is famous for being Red Rock Country, which is unlike anywhere else on earth. Take in the scenery by rail with the Verde Canyon Railroad, or visit the must-see Grand Canyon nearby with Grand Canyon Railway. Immerse yourself in the beautify and tranquility of the red rocks and the turning of the leaves on foot on one of several available Hiking Trails or Biking Trails. Take in one of countless breathtaking views, take an hour and a half drive to Meteor Crater, a ~1mile wide, 550ft deep, and the world’s best preserved meteorite impact site. If you want to see the red rock monuments from the air, take a Balloon or Helicopter for memories to last a lifetime.



Whether you live in a house, a condo, or an apartment, there is just no place like home. One of the little joys of your own space is the freedom to choose your own fall colors to celebrate. Whether you prefer the oranges and reds, or you love the yellow and green contrast of aspens among evergreens, the choice is yours. The color pallet of your favorite place to converse with friends or cozy up with a good book and a cup of tea is subject to your whim and design. The world you choose to enter in a book, or create in conversation is yours for the taking.

If you would like to find your first home, refinance your beloved home, or are searching for a new one, meet our team, send us a message, or apply now. We would be honored to be on your team to help make your dreams come true.

If you would like to find your first home, refinance your beloved home, or are searching for a new one, give me a call, send me a message, or apply now. We would be honored to be on your team to help make your dreams come true.

If you would like to find your first home, refinance your beloved home, or are searching for a new one, contact your branch or apply now. It would be our honor to be of help to make your dreams come true.

In memory of Samantha "Sammy" Rangel.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

In memory of Samantha "Sammy" Rangel.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and this has special meaning to us here at Benchmark.

Facts About Childhood Cancer

  • Every day 46 kids are diagnosed with cancer
  • Every day 7 children will die from cancer
  • Pediatric cancer kills more kids than cystic fibrosis, pediatric aids, and asthma combined
  • 1 in 330 children will develop cancer by the age of 20
  • Those that do make it will have side effects from treatment that will last a lifetime.
  • You are aware, now spread the knowledge

Our own Misty Rangel witnessed this first hand when she lost her daughter.

I am not really sure where to begin with this but Sammy was a normal child that developed childhood cancer (wilms tumor) at the age of 4. She fought hard and won the battle twice in her 8 year struggle. The third time it came back with a vengeance and she fought as hard as she could but the human body can only take so much and we lost sweet Sammy Oct 2nd 2016 at the age of 13. God had a beautiful purpose for her life. Her journey, strong faith and beautiful smile touched and inspired so many lives. To this day I am amazed at the number of people that were led to Christ through her journey.

She made it thru sept last year and past on Oct 2. She refused to die in Sept and I know this with all my heart.

Our Benchmark family loved and supported us so much during her last fight. We were so blessed through it all and I am forever grateful.

Misty Rangel — Benchmark Corporate Office

Daughter of Benchmark Originator Angela Rose, Tegan Rose was diagnosed with leukemia on March 17, 2017, two days before her 11th birthday.  Tegan is a fighter and we know she will WIN the battle she has in front of her.

UPDATE — Tegan Rose is now in remission but still has one more chemotherapy treatment in October to make sure it never comes back. 

Benchmark Memo: When Disaster Strikes, You Have Options

In the aftermath of the historic flooding in  South Texas, and in anticipation of Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean, you should be aware of your financial options in the wake of devastation.

The FHA 203(h) is a ZERO down program, and is available to homeowners and renters alike.


At Benchmark, we know how important it is to rebuild after devastation. Your Benchmark Loan Originator can help with options like the FHA 203(h) program.

Here Is How You Can Help Victims Of Hurricane Harvey

The following is where you can divert your attention, donations, and time (if permissible). We know that people are generous and want to know how to help those in need. This list was first published by Texas Monthly ( It has been adapted to be a quick glance sheet.

Help Children

The Texas Diaper Bank — assembling relief kits for families with small children.

The Driscoll Children’s Hospital — is located in Corpus Christi, open, and has power. They are accepting financial and blood donations.

Help Pets

The SPCA of Texas — is taking in hundreds of animals. Donate to help cover costs, or open your home to animals who need somewhere to go before they can be reunited with their families.

Austin Pets Alive! — is accepting cash, to keep operating, volunteers to foster animals, and pet supplies: large plastic or metal bins with lids to store food, leashes and collars, cat litter, large brooms, cat-specific beds, and liquid laundry soap. (no crates or pet food at this time)

Help With Medical Needs

Portlight — is working to ensure that people who require medical equipment and assistive technology have what they need after they evacuate, and to make sure that they are able to get to safety. They accept donations via PayPal.

Direct Relief USA — offers prescription drugs and other medical supplies. They’re accepting financial contributions.

Provide Food

(via the Houston Press):

Houston Food Bank

Galveston Food Bank

Food Bank of the Golden Crescent (Victoria)
Closed Friday

Corpus Christi Food Bank

Southeast Texas Food Bank (Beaumont)

Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley (Pharr)

Brazos Valley Food Bank (Bryan)

Central Texas Food Bank (Austin)

San Antonio Food Bank

To Help The Homeless

The Houston Coalition for the Homeless — shelter for the homeless in Houston, up-to-date information about shelter space availability, the best fit for each one, and how to get there safely. Accepting financial donations.

To Help Those Displaced

List your home on Airbnb for free — (with no service fees to anyone) Most listings are in Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio. Consider listing your space.

Trusted World — operating three shelters in Dallas which need donations, supplies (clean clothing, non-perishable food, toiletries, diapers, and baby formula), and volunteers.

Global Giving — trying to raise $2 million to help those affected by the storm. Provides food, gas, clean water, hygiene products, and shelter in the short-term, and then funnels the remaining resources to local organizations to facilitate long-term recovery.

H.E.B. — doesn’t accept donations, but the supermarket chain provides emergency response services, mobile kitchens, and disaster-response units to affected areas. (Now collecting donations at the register for the American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, and Feeding Texas.) Many stores in affected areas (including the entire Houston area) are closed.