Gunning Daily News

Tips on Lowering Your Home Insurance Costs

December 16, 2013 5:33 pm

According to the Insurance Information Institute, the cost of homeowners insurance can vary by hundreds of dollars, depending on the company you buy from. In the next two segments, your RISMedia Consumer Confidant will explore some of the Institute's most important things to consider - which could save you big bucks - when buying homeowners insurance.

1. Shop Around - Ask your friends, check the web or contact your state insurance department. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (www.naic.org) has information to help choose an insurer in your state, and on registering complaints.

2. Raise Your Deductible - Today, the Institute says most insurance companies recommend a deductible of at least $500. If you can afford to raise your deductible to $1,000, you may save as much as 25 percent.

3. Don't confuse what you paid for your house with rebuilding costs - The land under your house isn't at risk from theft, windstorm, fire and the other perils covered in your homeowners policy. So don't include its value in deciding how much homeowners insurance to buy.

4. Buy home and auto policies from the same insurer - Some companies will take 5 to 15 percent off your premium if you buy two or more policies from them. Just be sure the combined price is lower than buying separate coverage from different companies.

5. Make your home more disaster resistant - You may save on premiums by adding storm shutters, reinforcing your roof or buying stronger roofing materials. In addition, consider modernizing heating, plumbing and electrical systems to reduce the risk of fire and water damage.

6. Improve home security - Does your insurer give discounts of at least 5 percent for a smoke detector, burglar alarm or dead-bolt locks? Some companies offer to cut premiums by up to 20 percent if you install a sprinkler system, or a fire/burglar alarm that rings at a central dispatch or monitoring station. Before you buy a system, however, find out what the insurer recommends, how much it would cost and how much you might save on premiums.


Key Tax Law Changes That Could Impact Your Return

December 16, 2013 5:33 pm

(BPT) - The majority of this year's key tax law changes were the result of two acts - the Affordable Care Act of 2010, also known as Obamacare, and the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012.

The easiest way to navigate all the tax law changes - and determine if you qualify for hundreds of tax benefits, is to use an online or mobile tax preparation solution. The programs ask easy questions, covering all available credits and deductions to help minimize your tax liability and maximize your refund. Leading solutions, such as-TaxACT also provide guidance for the implications of the Affordable Care Act on your taxes and health insurance situation.

If your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is under $200,000 ($250,000 if filing jointly), you may benefit from several tax breaks that have been extended or made permanent.

  • The standard deduction for married taxpayers filing jointly is now permanently increased and expands the 15 percent tax bracket.
  • The child tax credit is $1,000 for each child under age 17 on Dec. 31. The amount decreases at higher income levels. A portion of the credit also remains refundable through 2017. In addition, the maximum amount of expenses for the Child and Dependent Care Credit has been made permanent at $3,000 for one child and $6,000 for two or more children.
  • The American Opportunity Credit tuition deduction, student loan interest deduction, and-$2,000 annual contribution limit to Coverdell Education Savings Accounts are still available for 2013.
  • Elementary and secondary educators can again deduct up to $250 in related job expenses, even if you don't itemize deductions. Unlike most employee expenses, educator expenses are not reduced by 2 percent of your adjusted gross income.
  • If you pay mortgage insurance premiums, also known as private mortgage insurance (PMI), you may be able to deduct premiums as mortgage interest.
  • The Alternative Minimum Tax was created to ensure wealthy taxpayers receiving large tax benefits pay some tax. It will now be adjusted for inflation each year so fewer taxpayers are subject to the tax. The exemption amount rises in 2013 to $51,900 ($80,800 for married couples filing jointly). For married individuals filing separately, the exemption is $40,400.
  • You may qualify for a credit equal to up to $12,970 of your adoption expenses, including fees, court costs, attorney fees, traveling expense and other expenses directly related to and for the principal purpose of the legal adoption of an eligible child. If your employer provides adoption benefits, you may also be able to exclude up to the same amount from your income. Both a credit and exclusion may be claimed for the same adoption, but not for the same expense.
  • For 2013, you can still deduct state and local sales taxes. You can take this deduction or a deduction for state income tax but not both.
  • Qualified dividends will be taxed at preferential capital gains rates rather than those used for ordinary income.
  • If your MAGI-is more than $200,000 ($250,000 if filing jointly), you may pay an additional Medicare surtax on earned income, as well as higher taxes on net investment income, long-term capital gains and qualified dividends. The amount of your personal exemptions and itemized deductions is also less starting this year. The marginal income tax rate for incomes above $400,000 ($450,000 if filing jointly) also increases from 35 percent to 39.6 percent for 2013.
  • One change affecting taxpayers of all income levels is the increased floor for deducting medical expenses. Taxpayers under the age of 65 can now only deduct unreimbursed medical and dental expenses that exceed 10 percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI). The floor remains at 7.5 percent if you're 65 or older.

Learn more about these tax law changes in Publication 17 at www.irs.gov-or visit www.taxact.com/taxinfo. 


Word of the Day

December 16, 2013 5:33 pm

Mortgagor. Party or person that borrows money, giving a lien on the property as security for the loan; the borrower.


Q: Is it possible to refinance following a bankruptcy?

December 16, 2013 5:33 pm

A: It can be difficult to do after a bankruptcy, unless you are willing to pay very high interest rates and fees. However, if you are contemplating bankruptcy, first talk with your lender and explain your situation. If your mortgage payments are current, the lender may be accommodating and refinance your loan, thereby helping to ease your financial burden.


Some Serious Advice on Paying Down Mortgages Faster

December 13, 2013 6:15 pm

There is no better gift to give yourself this holiday season and in the New Year, than your own home - preferably owned outright.

So with the hope of getting consumers free and clear of their mortgage debt sooner, we tapped Durham, N.C. REALTOR® Bernice McNutt who blogged recently with these tips on how to pay down that homeowner's debt:

1. Accelerate bi-weekly payments - Instead of paying your mortgage on a monthly basis 12 times per year, McNutt says pay your mortgage every two weeks for a total of 26 payments each year. A $300,000 mortgage with a monthly payment and three percent debt service over 25 years will cost $125,920 in interest. Increase to accelerated bi-weekly payments and shave nearly three years off of your schedule, and save $16,059 in interest.

2. Round up your mortgage payments - McNutt says the quicker you can pay off your loan, the more you will save in interest. So round up your mortgage payments. If your accelerated bi-weekly mortgage payments are $543, consider rounding up to $600 instead.

3. Put ‘found’ money toward mortgage payments - McNutt believes unexpected sources of money such as a birthday gift or bonus at work are considered sources of ‘found’ money. ‘Found’ money can be easily applied to a mortgage without any impact to one's budget because it wasn’t money you were counting on. A one-time payment of $5,000 on a $250,000 mortgage at 3.75 per cent over 30 years will decrease the mortgage amortization by over 12 months.

4. Make a lump sum anniversary payment - McNutt says most banks will allow you to make an extra mortgage payment each year, which is applied directly to the principal. Taking advantage of this by making a lump sum payment — even if it’s as small as $50 a year — is a great way to chip away at your mortgage.


Holiday Traditions to Start This Year

December 13, 2013 6:15 pm

Most families create annual traditions that turn into life-long memories – backyard Easter egg hunts, July Fourth beach picnics, festive birthday dinners. But the end-of-year holidays can be so rushed and hectic that we fail to generate the togetherness events our children will always remember.

Marriage and family counselor Marianne Denton suggests six cozy and meaningful traditions you can start with your kids this year:

  • Holiday book nights – Gather up some age-appropriate favorites like The Polar Express and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas – and a book or two about holiday traditions in other lands. In the seven nights before Christmas, gather as a family to read these holiday treats together.
  • Personal advent calendars – Create your own advent calendar using homemade markers, like cloth or paper bags tied with ribbon. While most advent calendars are filled with sweet treats, try filling yours with coupons offering family or personal activities.
  • Cooking around the world – Set aside a night to cook a meal together featuring holiday treats from various ethnicities: Swedish stollen, tamales, German spaetzel, marzipan candy, or potato latkes.
  • Giving traditions – Deliver homemade cookies together to a local nursing home along with an hour of caroling - or “adopt” a family through a local church or synagogue and fulfill their holiday wish list. Shopping, wrapping, and delivering gifts together can start a lifelong appreciation for giving.
  • Pajama light party – Get the kids into pajamas, and surprise them. Load them into the car along with some popcorn and a thermos of hot chocolate – and drive around town looking for neighborhoods with the best holiday light displays.
  • Open House get-togethers – Keep it simple, but invite the neighbors in one evening between Christmas and New Year’s Eve for a bowl of chili, a cookie buffet, and some non-alcoholic sparkling beverages for family toasting.

 


Staying Safe: Holiday Home Safety Tips

December 13, 2013 6:15 pm

The holidays can create greater risk at home when cooking meals, displaying decorations, and using unsafe heating sources. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, unattended cooking is the leading cause of home fires including 67 percent starting with the ignition of food or other cooking materials. To keep your family safe, review the following tips.

  • Cooking: Keep children away from cooking areas. Turn pot handles facing in to prevent scalds and burns. Avoid wearing loose clothing which can be ignited by hot burners. Don't store items on top of the stove. Turkey fryers should be used outdoors and away from buildings and flammable materials.
  • Portable space heaters: Place space heaters at least three feet away from anything combustible and operate only when you are in the room. Don’t leave a space heater on overnight or near children and pets.
  • Holiday Decorations: The use of holiday decorations such as Christmas trees, garlands, electric lights, and candles can increase the possibility of holiday fires. Use non-combustible, flame-resistant materials. Never use lighted candles on a tree, evergreens or other flammable materials.
  • Lights: Connect no more than 3 strands of mini light sets and no more than 50 bulbs for screw-in light sets on your tree. Fasten lights to the tree and prevent bulbs from coming in contact with the needles or branches. Keep candles at least 12 inches away from anything that burns. Check for loose connections, broken or cracked sockets or frayed wires. Use UL approved lighting. Turn off all holiday lights when leaving home or retiring for the evening.
  • Trees: A natural tree should be fresh and will be less likely to become a fire hazard. Cut two inches off the trunk and place in a sturdy water stand, water daily. Keep the tree away from fireplaces, wall furnaces and other heat sources. Consider using a ‘fire resistant’ artificial tree.
  • Fire Escape Plan: Know your escape routes. Have a working fire extinguisher in the kitchen, laundry room, and garage. Never burn greens, papers, or other decorations in the fireplace. Working smoke alarms should be installed on every level of your home, test them monthly, replace batteries every six months.
  • Know who to call in case of an emergency: Keep contact numbers handy for police and fire departments, doctors and poison help line. In case of emergency property damage, contact a licensed, professional fire damage clean up and restoration company.

Source: Paul Davis Restoration and Remodeling 


Word of the Day

December 13, 2013 6:15 pm

Capital gain. Profit earned from the sale of an asset.


Q: What Basic Services Can I Expect an Architect to Provide?

December 13, 2013 6:15 pm

A: Most projects require a set of basic services. They are as follows: preliminary, or schematic, design; design development; preparation of construction documents (drawings and specifications); assistance in the bidding or negotiation process, and the administration of the agreement between you and your builder or contractor, if needed. Some projects will require other services, such as pre-design work, which includes budgeting and financing packages, as well as planning and zoning applications. Projects may also include special cost or energy analyses, models and tenant-related design.


3 Ways to Develop More Meaningful Friendships

December 13, 2013 6:15 pm

Most Americans (75 percent!) are not satisfied with their friendships; 63 percent lack confidence in even their closest friends; and almost half of us would choose to have deeper friendships rather than more friends.

Those are the findings of a new study, The State of Friendship in America 2013, by Lifeboat Friends at Their Best and Sea Change Strategies and Edge Research.

“Strong, trusting friendships are crucial to our sense of peace, happiness and well-being,” says Dawna Hetzler, a speaker, women’s mentor (and mentoree), and author of the new book, “Walls of a Warrior: Conquering the Fears of Our Hearts.”

“But many of us, women in particular, build so many walls around our hearts to protect ourselves, we can never open ourselves to all the possible relationships we could have. Or, we do allow some people in, but we keep them at arm’s length.”

Strong friendships do make us happier, according to the new study. Forty-nine percent of people with seven or more close friends strongly agreed that they feel happy most of the time, while only 24 percent of people with just one good friend and 19 percent with no friends, could say the same.

“You have to know and trust a person before you allow them into your heart, because when you open yourself up, you become vulnerable,” says Hetzler. “We all build walls to protect ourselves from hurt, fear, rejection, disapproval and other painful emotions, and that’s natural. Some walls are healthy. But the invisible walls we’re often not even aware of prevent us from experiencing the honest, real relationships that can benefit us in so many ways.”

Hetzler shares some of what she learned working with Jericho’s Girls, the women’s group she founded that focuses on dismantling unhealthy walls:

• First, identify the walls you have.  We build walls in response to many things – real and perceived threats, fears, conditioning, rejection, Hetzler says. Many of us put up walls to hide our weaknesses; if you have trouble asking for help, this may be you! Jericho’s Girls members learned that acknowledging and being honest about their weaknesses allowed them to grow stronger. And that asking for help from friends offers those friends the gratification of giving. Making a list of your walls and understanding why they’re there is a good place to start the process.

• If the wall is unhealthy, identify the steps necessary to dismantle it. Sometimes we erect walls to protect ourselves from ourselves, Hetzler notes. “One of my walls revolved around being needed too much,” she says. “I tend to take on a lot, and then exhaust myself getting it all done.” She realized she built a wall to prevent people from seeing that she really cannot do it all, and she pushed away those she feared might demand too much of her time and energy. She dealt with that wall by setting limits with herself and others. “I say no when I need to, which allows me to build friendships instead of pushing people away.”

• Arm yourself with words of inspiration.  Powerful words help when we need positive reinforcement or reassurance when the way ahead looks scary. Hetzler has found that calling upon a quotation that she believes in provides both. “Write down the quotes, Bible verses or other inspiration that have great meaning for you,” she says. Each day, read one, reflect upon the meaning, pray or meditate, and contemplate the message it holds for you. “These words will stick with you, and you’ll have them to call upon when you need them,” she says.

Creating deeper, honest friendships begins with opening our hearts to others, Hetzler says.

“When you begin taking down the walls, you’ll find you’re more at peace with yourself,” she says. “And that allows you to develop the wonderful relationships that come from trust and sharing.”