Gunning Daily News

Putting off Working on Your Tax Return May Cost You

February 5, 2014 7:03 pm

Nearly 150 million Americans will file federal income tax returns this year and, unfortunately, many will be shelling out much more of their hard-earned money than necessary, says veteran financial expert Jeff Gorton.

“With the ridiculous complexity of our tax code, I can understand how the average person might want to put off doing their homework, but that’ll cost you,” says Gorton, a veteran Certified Public Accountant and Certified Financial Planner™, and head of Gorton Financial Group (www.gortonfinancialgroup.com).

“When you think about all you do to earn your money, and the lengths we’ll go to save a few bucks, it doesn’t make sense to not do all we can to prepare for the inevitable – our compulsory contribution to Uncle Sam’s bank account.”

There is nothing unpatriotic about taking advantage of legal measures to reduce your tax bill, Gorton says. Most Americans, however, don’t understand the basics of how to minimize the tax burden, he says.

“If you wait until the last minute to do your taxes, you’re sure to miss out on savings,” says Gorton, who offers some basic and more advanced tax-saving options.

• Credits: Tax credits are usually subtracted dollar for dollar from the actual tax liability and may be utilized when filing for 2013. They include the Child Tax Credit, which allows up to $1,000 for children younger than 17; the American Opportunity Credit, featuring up to $2,500 in tax savings per eligible student for tuition costs for four years of post-high-school education; and the Energy-Efficient Home Improvement Tax Credit, which grants qualifying taxpayers 10 percent of the cost of certain energy-efficient building materials — up to a $500 lifetime credit. The Child and Dependent Care Credit, for those who have to pay someone to care for a child younger than 13, or another dependent, offers up to $3,000 for one qualifying individual, or up to $6,000 for two or more qualifying individuals.

• Deductions: Like tax credits, deductions have phase-out limits, so you may want to consult with a professional. Deductions are subtracted from your income before your taxes are calculated, which may reduce the amount of money on which you are taxed and, by extension, your eventual tax liability. Some examples include contributions made to qualifying charitable organizations. And, you may be able to write off out-of-pocket costs incurred while doing work for a charity. Others may include amounts set aside for retirement through a qualified retirement plan, such as an Individual Retirement Account; medical expenses exceeding 10 percent of your adjusted gross income are now deductible – expenses exceeding 7.5 percent are still deductible for those older than age 65; and, potentially, mortgage interest paid on a loan secured for your primary residence.

• Tax-favored investing: This involves both tax-exempt investments and tax-deferred investments. Tax-exempt investments, which include such vehicles as municipal bonds and certain money market funds, offer a way to grow your money that’s exempt from federal taxes. Municipal bonds are free of federal income tax and may be free of state and local income taxes for investors who live in the area where the bond was issued. Tax-deferred investments, on which taxes are postponed until you withdraw your money, include qualified retirement plans, such as traditional IRAs and employer-sponsored plans, as well as insurance products such as annuities and, sometimes, life insurance.


5 Tips for Finding Work-Life Balance

February 5, 2014 7:03 pm

With reports of the unemployment rate dropping to 7 percent, lower than it was even five years ago and down from a peak of 10 percent in October 2009, many are breathing a sigh of relief. But the effects of a long bout of high unemployment are sure to have thrown off the balance of employee well-being, says former Exxon executive Bob Epperly.

“Of course, the rate does not take into account those who are underemployed, including over-skilled workers in menial jobs and those with too few hours. For those lucky enough to have decent employment, many feel insecure and are willing to skew their work-life balance into a tailspin, with exaggerated emphasis on their career,” says Epperly, a CEO who realized at age 55 that even a very successful career cannot fulfill every aspect of life.

“Most people cannot afford to simply refuse the demands of their job, so what’s a worker to do?”

Epperly, author of “Growing Up After Fifty: From Exxon Executive to Spiritual Seeker,” (www.bobepperly.com), offers tips for correcting lifestyle imbalance.

• It’s never enough. Ambition is admirable, but if it’s all that drives you, no matter how much you accomplish, it will never be enough. If professional ambition is more important to you than anything else in your life, that’s a red flag that your life is dangerously unbalanced. The consequences will be painful feelings of emptiness, lack of fulfillment, and having missed out. Take steps now to restore balance, beginning with personal, non-work relationships.

• No one ever says, at the end of their life, that they should have worked longer and spent less time with family. When it’s all said and done, life is short, and many realize that time is life’s most precious resource. Intense focus on work tends to deprive professionals of opportunities with their loved ones – moments and memories that cannot be replaced. Set goals for how much time you’ll spend giving your family 100 percent of your attention each day and week, and stick to them!

• Make communication a top priority! The importance and value of real communication cannot be overemphasized. “More important than speaking is listening,” Epperly says. “My relationships immediately improved when I began listening very carefully to what was being said.”

• Only you are responsible for your life. The Serenity Prayer goes a long way in work-life balance; it reads: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Epperly says that recognizing he is responsible for his life and focusing on the aspects of it over which he has influence while recognizing those he needs to let go has been pivotal.

• Accept who you are. This can be challenging; it demands courageous self-reflection and letting go of the need for external approval. “When a friend asked me, ‘Do you think the world is ready to accept Bob Epperly just as he is?’ I suddenly saw that I had always felt I had to accommodate; that I wasn’t okay as I am,” he says. “I started to give myself permission to be me.”


Three Easy DIY Tips to Maintain Your Vehicle

February 4, 2014 2:45 pm

BPT—When it comes to vehicle maintenance there are two schools of practice: the "do it for me" and the "do it yourself." The majority fall under the first category, meaning they opt to take their vehicle in for maintenance, mostly because having the ability to lift your vehicle for an oil change or having the proper tools for a tire rotation are not common in an average garage. We all know about the basic maintenance you should be doing, like getting your oil changed and checking the belts and hoses for wear. But did you know there are other aspects of your vehicle you can easily maintain and, by doing so, will extend the life of your vehicle?

Spark plugs - The role of the spark plug is to ignite fuel in the cylinders. Spark plugs that aren't working to their full capacity can reduce gas mileage or cause damage to other parts of the vehicle that can result in expensive repairs. If you choose to replace your own spark plugs instead of having the shop do it, the cost is less than $10 per spark plug.

Fuel injectors - Similar to spark plugs, fuel injectors are an important component to the life of your engine and car, particularly if you make a lot of short trips or have many miles on your vehicle. Fuel injector openings are half the size of a pinhole and can become blocked from sediment that gets into your vehicle via the gasoline. Why keep your fuel injectors clean? Driving with dirty fuel injectors can lead to poor acceleration, lower power, reduced fuel economy, rough idling and high carbon monoxide emissions. An easy way to maintain your fuel injectors is to use a fuel injector cleaner and stabilizer like Royal Purple's Max-Clean. Use a bottle of Max-Clean by simply pouring it into your gas tank before your fill up at the gas station. Good for both gasoline and diesel vehicles, it can restore fuel economy and clean injectors.

Air filter - How often you change your air filter depends on where you drive. Regular travel in rural areas will require you to change your air filter more often than you would if the majority of your driving is on the highway. Driving with a dirty air filter can cause a pressure drop that restricts airflow, reducing fuel economy, performance and emissions. A good way to determine if your air filter is dirty is to remove it and hold it up to the light. If it is caked with dirt you should replace it. Shaking or blowing it out will not clean it, but only embed the dirt further into the fibers.

In addition to following a regular maintenance schedule for your vehicle, checking less thought-of items can result in better fuel economy, and therefore, result in money savings and longer life of your vehicle.


Who Doesn't Have to File Income Taxes?

February 4, 2014 2:45 pm

With tax season upon us, you might be wondering who doesn't have to file federal income taxes.

Whether or not a taxpayer is required to file income taxes depends on your age, filing status, and gross income. It doesn't matter if you're unemployed; what matters is if your income (from all sources) is above a certain amount as specified by your age and filing status (i.e., married, single, etc.).

So who must file? And is it a good idea to file taxes, even if you aren't required to?

Gross Income Thresholds for Filing Taxes

Many people assume that if they earned any amount of income last year, then they're required to file a tax return. However, depending on your gross income, you might not have to file at all.

If your income in 2013 fell below a certain threshold amount, then you likely don't need to file taxes. Here are some examples of income thresholds for different types of people:

  • Single adults under the age of 65 who earned less than $9,750 in 2013.
  • Married couples under 65, filing jointly, who earned less than $19,500 in 2013.
  • Dependent children whose gross income was less than $6,100 in 2013.

Non-citizens aren't totally exempt from filing income taxes either. In fact, nonresident aliens also have to file income taxes if they were involved in trade or business in the United States in the past year. However, there are several exemptions the IRS allows, like when the sole source of U.S. income is less than the personal exemption or if the noncitizen is a fiduciary for a nonresident alien estate or trust.

Should You File Even If You Don't Have To?

Even if you aren't required to file federal income taxes, it may be beneficial to do so. The IRS may still issue tax breaks or credits even if your income is below the required filing level. For example, you may be entitled to a refund for excess holdings or for the earned income tax credit, according to Forbes.

For more information on who doesn't have to file income taxes, the IRS has a click-through guide to help you. If you're still stuck, consider contacting a local tax attorney for more personal guidance.

Source: FindLaw


CES Introduces: A Whole New Take on 'Mother' and Her 'Cookies'

February 4, 2014 2:45 pm

I checked in with Stuart Robarts at gizmag.com recently about his take on the 2014 CES. He blogged that cookie sensors were one of the hottest treats drawing attention at the international electronics exposition.

Sen.se Founder and CEO and renowned industry pioneer Rafi Haladjian, has led the pack with his new technology, called "Mother".

According to a release on Mother, the adaptable and programmable device received a 2014 CES Innovations Design and Engineering Award in the “Technology for a Better World” category.

The Mother cookie sensor system is anchored by a benevolent looking base unit that resembles a puffy snowman, or “snow-mom.” Sen.se says Mother can learn and monitor many areas of daily life including "fitness, health, security, well-being and comfort" through its Motion Cookies.

These low-profile, multi-purpose, autonomous sensors connect real-life actions, detecting and understanding movements, temperature and more, the company's website states.

Small and slick, yet powerful with the exceptional ability to analyze, find patterns, learn and continuously readapt, Sen.se's Motion Cookies connect automatically to any application assigned to them.

Once affixed, Cookies transmit data to the nearest Mother, but they don’t have to be housebound.

Even with no Mother in sight, they have the capacity to memorize up to 10 days of data and upload it as soon as they encounter the base unit. Up to 24 Motion Cookies can be connected simultaneously to each Mother system.

Mother can send alerts and notifications about desired activities, or when something urgent occurs via push notifications, text messages, emails, phone calls, sounds and light, and Senseriver, a continuous real-time stream.

All data the Mother collects is transmitted to a Senseboard that can produce trends, prioritize information or statistics, and take action if necessary like changing thermostat settings to make the house toasty warm by the time you get home.

And there are no concerns about privacy because all data collected belongs to the owner.

Mother's initial launch will include 12 applications - a bundle including one Mother base unit and four Motion Cookies. Once they have the system installed, a user can order additional Motion Cookies - each four pack costs $99.

Go to Sensemother.com for additional information.


Word of the Day

February 4, 2014 2:45 pm

Grace period. Specified period of time to meet a commitment after it becomes due, without penalty or default. For example, most lenders allow a two-week grace period after the due date of the mortgage payment before a late fee is imposed.


Q: Are shared equity and shared appreciation mortgages the same?

February 4, 2014 2:45 pm

A: No. With a shared appreciation mortgage, or SAM, a borrower receives a below-market interest rate in return for the lender receiving a share, usually 30 to 50 percent, in the future appreciation of the property upon its sale.

Introduced in the early 1980's, when interest rates were high enough to make qualifying for a mortgage a real challenge, the SAM has never really caught on. Adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) proved more attractive. 


What Kind Of Home Improvement Can You Get For $5,000?

February 3, 2014 7:33 pm

In a previous report, I reviewed the high points of a recent report featuring details on the cost of home improvement projects drawn from a statistical model developed by NAHB, using data from the HUD/Census Bureau American Housing Survey.

That model indicated the median level of spending on improvements nationally is $1,400 per owner-occupied home, ranging as high as $5,000 in particular cases based on socio-economic factors.

So what kind of home improvements can an average consumer get for $5,000? The latest data from diynetwork.com indicates a homeowner can expect to spend $5,000 for projects like adding a closet or garage storage, green flooring replacement, adding solar hot-water heating and resurfacing concrete.

According to the team at diynetwork.com:

Go solar to save some green - Save energy -bill greenbacks by going green with a solar water heater. The installed price can cost up to $5,000, but these systems can slash your hot water bills by as much as 80 percent and attract energy-conscious homebuyers should you decide to sell. Install a solar water heater where there's unobstructed southern exposure and you'll have savings made in the shade.

Add closet or garage storage – REALTORS® agree that top on most homeownes' list of wants is ample storage space. For less than $5,000, consider upgrading your home's storage by adding custom shelving systems to a closet or garage. The first step to really getting organized is de-cluttering. Start by sorting your belongings, then stash them away in your new organized closet or garage to really maximize your home's value.

Green flooring choices equal more green in your wallet - Worn, tired carpet will not only turn off homebuyers, but it can make you feel worn and tired, too. Replace it with the hottest trend in flooring: renewable, environmentally friendly bamboo. Solid-surface floors are easy to keep clean and give your home an upscale look and feel. Green flooring choices, like bamboo, minimally impact the environment and are a big selling point to today's environmentally conscious homebuyers.

Resurface concrete - Replacing the cracked concrete surfaces around your home can cost a small fortune. But for a fraction of that cost, concrete can be resurfaced in a multitude of colors and finishes. Consider adding a cobblestone finish to your driveway, a brick look to an old walkway or a slate finish around the pool or patio. Whichever texture you choose, it will be a huge improvement over standard concrete and potential homebuyers will really take notice.


10 Top Ways to Waste Money

February 3, 2014 7:33 pm

If you aim to tighten your belt this year to save more or pay off debt, you need to figure out where to find extra bucks. The money mavens at Kiplinger.com suggest doing it by plugging up the leaks in your spending.

Start by eliminating wasteful spending habits like these:

  • Paying for stuff you don’t use – Whether it’s Netflix, premium cable channels, or an unused gym membership, everyone spends money on stuff they thought they needed. Run such expenses by the family and determine where you can cut.
  • Buying brand name only – The difference between major brand groceries and generic, or store labeled, can be dramatic. In many cases, you can save big each week and barely notice a difference in quality.
  • Using coupons for the sake of them – Don’t use a cents-off coupon unless you really need the item. Generic brands are probably cheaper, anyway.
  • Buying insurance you don’t need – Your auto insurance policy covers a rental car. Regular term life is cheaper than mortgage life. If you have no dependents, how much life insurance do you need?
  • Overspending on gas – Stick to regular gas if your owner’s manual recommends it. Premium won’t improve mileage. But correct tire pressure will, so check it regularly – and change the oil as recommended.
  • Leaving money in a low interest account – If you’re getting next to nothing from your traditional savings account, search for highest yields on CDs and money market accounts. Consider online savings.
  • Not pulling the plug on electronics – Most households waste up to $100 year to power devices while unused or on standby mode. Pull the plug whenever you can.
  • Not reading the fine print – Moving a credit balance to a lower interest card can cost you if the transfer fee is high. Know which ATMs you can use free of charge, and be sure your bank isn’t charging you for services like banking with a teller.
  • Mismanaging your Flexible Spending Account – Contributions to an FSA come out of your paycheck before taxes -- so you don't have to pay taxes on that portion of your income. Then you can use the money tax-free to pay for health care deductibles, co-payments, dental work and child care.
  • Staying with the same providers – It’s the path of least resistance. But it pays to comparison shop every few months for better deals on insurance, cable, smartphone and more.

Word of the Day

February 3, 2014 7:33 pm

Conveyance. Document used to transfer title. A deed is a conveyance.