Gunning Daily News

How Safe Is Your Portable Heater?

November 19, 2013 5:42 pm

Around this time every year, as the late autumn chill starts descending on many homeowners, I reintroduce some sobering facts from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

CPSC staff reports that from 2009 to 2011, electric heaters were associated with an estimated 1,100 fire incidents per year, resulting in average yearly estimates of 50 deaths, 130 injuries, and $50.4 million of property loss.

The U.S. Department of Energy (energy.gov) recommends the following guidelines when buying and installing a small space heater:

  • Only purchase newer model heaters that have all of the current safety features. Make sure the heater carries the Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) label.
  • Choose a thermostatically controlled heater, because they avoid the energy waste of overheating a room.
  • Select a heater of the proper size for the room you wish to heat. Do not purchase oversized heaters. Most heaters come with a general sizing table.
  • Locate the heater on a level surface away from foot traffic. Be especially careful to keep children and pets away from the heater.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission also offers these space heater safety tips:

  • Give the heater some space. Placing a combustible object too close to a heater is the leading cause of space heater fires. Allow at least three feet of open space on each side of the unit.
  • Use wall plug-ins. To prevent a fire, never plug a high-wattage space heater into an extension cord or multi-outlet strip.
  • Never run a space heater in an unoccupied room. Always turn off a space heater when you leave the room and before going to bed, especially if young children or pets could come in contact with the device. Unplug the unit as an extra precaution.
  • Before purchasing a space heater, check the label to see if it is the appropriate size for the area you want to heat.
  • Keep electric heaters away from dampness. Operating units in wet areas such as bathrooms can cause electric shock. If you need additional heat in a damp location, purchase a heater specifically designed for this purpose.
  • Every room in which you plan to run a space heater should have a smoke alarm. If operating a gas space heater, also install a carbon monoxide alarm.

Create a Clutter-Free Crafting Zone

November 19, 2013 5:42 pm

(Family Features)--When creative inspiration strikes, you need to seize the moment and create. But if supplies are strewn from one end of the house to the other and clutter reigns, you may battle a real cramp in creativity.

Even for the most free-thinking minds, a little organization can go a long way to let your artistic aspirations soar. The key is accessibility. Follow these three simple tips to get your space uncluttered and let your imagination run free.

1. Dedicate your space. Whether you're able to allocate an entire room, a closet or even just a corner, allow yourself to hone in on the true purpose of the space - crafting. Store unrelated items elsewhere and establish a designated work zone. You can also achieve versatility with mobile storage. Portable containers and rolling carts allow greater flexibility in how you use the space, while giving you easy access to your crafting supplies. Organizing like items, with specific storage areas for each different hobby or craft, will help you find what you need efficiently.

2. Maximize your resources. Particularly if you're working with a small area, it's important to utilize every inch of space. Don't limit yourself to the floor, think vertically. In a closet, using a custom organizer such as ClosetMaid's ShelfTrack Wire Shelving Organizer Kit, will allow you to customize and reconfigure shelf locations as often as your needs change. You can also find a variety of hanging organizers for the back of the same door you once simply closed to hide the mess.

3. Keep comfort in mind. Set the mood to get inspired with comfortable seating and dÈcor that energizes you and appeals to your artistic senses. A cozy arm chair makes for far more appealing seating than a standard desk chair, especially if your chosen craft requires extended periods of sitting. If you expect to have guests visit the space, be sure to provide seating for their comfort, such as a cushy couch or loveseat.

There are myriad options available when it comes to storage, so you can find just the right size container for each and every item. This helps ensure you're using every inch of space wisely. And, using right-size storage bins helps ensure you are protecting valuable supplies from damage that can result from cramming into too-tight places.

Source: www.ClosetMaid.com, www.StorganizationBlog.com


Word of the Day

November 19, 2013 5:42 pm

Maintenance fees. Paid by a condominium unit owner to the owners’ association for upkeep of the common areas.

 


Q: What Guidelines Are Useful for Finding an Architect?

November 19, 2013 5:42 pm

A:  Start by finding out who designed the projects that you like in your community.  Get referrals from people you know, or the local American Institute of Architects (AIA).  Interview three to five firms to get a range of possibilities for your project.  But only select firms that specialize in residential designs, preferably remodeling, and review their portfolios and talk with past clients.  Insist on meeting the key people who will work on your project and ask questions until you’re comfortable and confident about your decision.  Ultimately, select a firm based on its design ability, technical competence, professional service, and cost.  Then, enter into detailed negotiations about service and compensation.  The AIA offers standard-form owner-architect agreements that can help you begin this process.


Top Black Friday Shopping Tips

November 18, 2013 9:00 pm

This year, with many stores planning to open super-early on Thanksgiving, the turkey may not even be cooked, never mind cold, before bargain-hunters are out hitting the stores. For those hoping to scoop up the best Black Friday buys this Thanksgiving weekend, Consumer’s Report suggests adopting these savvy shopper tips:

Be prepared – Study the ads beforehand. Many retailers advertise their in-store specials early, so check a Black Friday-focused website such as bfads.net or blackfriday.info to see where the best deals are.

Shop online first – Before you brave the crowds, check to see if the retailer is offering the same or even better deals on its website. Some retailers offer online sales during Black Friday week that include many of the same deals to be offered in-store. There may even be some online-only specials, like no-cost shipping.

Use social media – Check the Facebook pages and Twitter feeds of your favorite stores or brands to see if they're offering discount incentives when you "like" their page or follow them.

Get appy – Load your smart phone with a few comparison-shopping apps, such as ShopSavvy or ShopKick, that let you compare prices while you're in the store.  If you see that an item is cheaper at another store, try showing that price on your phone to a store manager and see if he or she will match that deal.

Check the return policy – You may find it’s different for a Black Friday special. Are all sales final? Is there a shortened return or exchange policy? Can you get a refund or only store credit? What about a restocking fee on a returned item?

Check the warranty – Some manufacturers offer "derivative" models during promotional periods like Black Friday. Be sure you can live with the warranty terms being offered.

Avoid buying pricey accessories – An easy ways to blow your great deal is to pad the deal with pricey accessories. This is where retailers make their money, so avoid the hard sell at point of sale.

Avoid bait-and-switch tactics – Sometimes, retailers will advertise a great deal on a certain TV but denigrate it once you're in the store, hoping they can push you to a more profitable model. Stick to your budget and resist efforts to ‘upgrade’ you to a model that may not be such a great deal.


Small Kitchen Tricks with Big Impact

November 18, 2013 9:00 pm

In our last segment, I dove into the subject of downsizing kitchens. Whether it's simplifying arrangements of cabinets and appliances as we age in place, or a desire for a modern or minimalist cooking zone, there is no shortage of good advice on how to get started and get through it.

Mariette Mifflin, a housewares and appliances writer at about.com says a large number of baby boomers are eyeing moving to low maintenance apartments or condos, while others will plan to retire to their smaller cottages or vacation homes to age in place.

Mifflin says consider the many more compact appliances that offer energy saving options, like an economy dry settings on dishwashers, 1 and 2 hour auto shut-off on coffee makers, and low water features on washers.

According to Mifflin, delay start has now become a great energy saving option for those areas that pay for electricity based on when they use it, with peak and off-peak rates. You can set a dishwasher with this feature while you're loading it, but it will only start later in the evening when energy off-peak rate is lower.

Cambria Bold design and lifestyle editor for The Kitchn (thekitchn.com) says don't be afraid of using darker colors - done right a darker color scheme can actually make a smaller kitchen space appear bigger.

At cultivate.com, Susan Serra writes that visual tricks will be actively incorporated to create a more open feeling. For example, backsplashes that are more simple in design than ever before, such as single sheets of glass (a hot material), engineered stone or other seamless surfaces, such as stainless steel.

The reason this works: A seamless backsplash has a huge effect on a kitchen's "visual clutter,” is a natural complement to the modern kitchen and a practical solution for small kitchens where appliances are in close proximity to surfaces.

Serra says large interesting nooks and crannies decoratively illuminated in the kitchen can create new focal points as well as adding a spacious look. And she says appliances will largely disappear from view in 2013, allowing even high-end, chef's style appliances to be seamlessly incorporated into any kitchen space.


3 Keys to a Legally Binding Car Sales Contract

November 18, 2013 9:00 pm

Drafting a legal and fully enforceable car sale contract may seem like a daunting task, but it's actually more doable than you'd think.

Here are three must-have provisions in every car sale contract:

Identify the parties and the product. To make your contract valid, list the buyer and seller's names and addresses. Identify the car and include a description. Be sure to include the year, make and model of the car as well as the car's Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).

Specify the sales amount, offer, and acceptance. Enter the sales amount for the car. Make sure to specify that in return for the consideration amount, the seller releases the title of the car to the buyer. The seller should also hand over all legal documents that are needed to successfully transfer title to the buyer.

Sign and date the contract. To seal the deal, make sure both the seller and buyer sign on the dotted line and date the contract. To play it extra safe, have witnesses present and have them sign, too.

Additional Provisions Worth Including

Sellers may want to include an "as is" clause. To do this, explicitly state that the transaction is "as is" and make clear the seller hasn't agreed to or promised any type of express or implied guarantee or warranty.

By contrast, buyers will want a cancellation period. Either way, establish terms on defects, repairs or other costs.

Leave a space on the contract to enter the number of miles on the odometer. Fill this in at the time of the sale. Include a representation and warranty that the number is accurate, to the seller's best knowledge, and hasn't been tampered with.

Remember to state the contract will end and you two will owe nothing else to each other -- commitments, covenants, promises, or otherwise -- once the sale is complete. Include a provision on returns, too.

Of course, you could take the easy way out and use a template vehicle sales contract like those for purchase at LegalStreet.com. For specific guidance about whether a car sales contract's terms are legal or favorable to you, consider calling an experienced contracts attorney near you.

Source: Findlaw.com


Q: What Is Equity?

November 18, 2013 9:00 pm

A: It is the cash value of your property over and above what is owed on it, including mortgages, liens, and judgments.  

The amount of equity almost always grows in a home over the years, although regional economic slumps or overbuilding might result in a temporary dip in prices.

The good thing is you can borrow against the equity that builds up in your home and use it for any number of reasons, including home improvements and to pay for college costs.  It also is a source of income for you once the home is sold.

Equity is also what makes seller financing possible.  If you have money to spare, you can always lend some to the buyer and collect interest on it.


Word of the Day

November 18, 2013 9:00 pm

Buy-down. Cash payment to a lender to reduce the interest rate a borrower must pay on a new mortgage loan.  Commonly used by builders to sell new homes.


Taxpayers Should Act Now to Take Advantage of IRS Changes

November 15, 2013 6:21 pm

Unlike last year, tax planning for 2013 is not hampered by uncertainties over a looming fiscal cliff. Unfortunately, there is always some uncertainty and a few expiring provisions to warrant special attention by taxpayers.

Managing income taxes at year end involves techniques designed to address three issues:

• Accelerating or deferring income: If a taxpayer expects to be in the same or a lower tax bracket next year, it's best to defer as much income as possible until after the yearend.

• Accelerating or deferring deductions: If a taxpayer's overall tax rate is the same in both years, accelerating deductions achieves tax savings this year rather than waiting for those tax savings to materialize next year.

• Take advantage of tax provisions scheduled to expire at the end of 2013. There are several temporary tax provisions which can only be used this year.

Tax planning begins by projecting income and deductions for the year to determine your tax bracket and income thresholds that trigger higher and/or additional taxes, or limits the effectiveness of deductions. One of the impacts of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA12)is the reintroduction of the Pease limitation, which can greatly limit itemized deductions. Once a taxpayer knows what his or her income taxes will look like, it’s time to evaluate which techniques will help the most. Strategies to accelerate or defer income:

• Adjust your elective deferral plans at work: Taxpayers who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, or in the Thrift Savings Plan can defer up to $17,500 this year. Taxpayers age 50 and older can defer up to $23,000.

• Harvest capital gains or losses: Long-term capital gains are taxed at 0 percent for taxpayers in the 15 percent bracket. Capital losses can be used to offset capital gains and reduce other income up to $3,000.

• Use the IRA. Taxpayers age 59 ½ and older can accelerate IRA distributions in 2013.  Contributions may be deductible depending on your income level and whether you’re covered by a retirement plan through work. Taxpayers under age 59½ can convert traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs to accelerate income.

• Health-care assistance: People with health savings accounts – available with some high-deductible health insurance policies—can save up to $3,250 tax-deferred for an individual and $6,450 for a family. Those who are55 and older can save an additional $1,000. Flex spending contribution limits are capped at $2,500 this year. Strategies to accelerate or defer deductions:

• Medical expenses: The Affordable Care Act (ACA) raises the income threshold this year to 10 percent of adjusted gross income for taxpayers under age 65. The threshold remains at 7.5 percent for those 65 and older. Taxpayers may need to prepare or defer medical bills to lump expenses in a single year to get the deduction.

• Gifts to charities: Use a donor advised fund (DAF) to maximize the tax savings from charitable giving. A DAF makes gifting appreciated securities easier. The DAF can be funded in tax years when the deduction will have the most impact. Distribution to charities can be made at any time without tax consideration.

• Qualified Charitable Distribution: This year only, taxpayers age 70½ or older can choose to direct up to $100,000 of their IRA-required minimum distribution to charity. By doing so, the distribution does not show up as taxable income, which can lower taxation of Social Security benefits and help reduce other threshold levels to further minimize taxes.

ATRA12 extended—but did not make permanent—several tax incentives for individuals. Taxpayers should consider whether they can benefit from these incentives this year and plan accordingly. The following provisions are set to expire on Dec. 31 unless extended again:

• State and local sales taxes deduction. Taxpayer can choose between deducting state and local income taxes or the sales taxes they’ve paid through the year.

• Deduction for teacher expenses. Eligible educators can deduct up to $250 of any unreimbursed expenses.

• Deduction of mortgage insurance premiums. Payments of Private Mortgage Insurance premiums can be treated as deductible home mortgage interest in 2013.

• Discharge of principal residence indebtedness. This can be excluded from gross income this year.

• Qualified Charitable Distribution. Taxpayers can make tax-free charitable donations from their required IRA distributions.

2013 is certainly an exciting year for tax planning. Start now in order to minimize your tax bill in April.

Certified Financial Planner® Rick Rodgers is president of Rodgers & Associates, “The Retirement Specialists,” in Lancaster, Pa., and author of “The New Three-Legged Stool: A Tax Efficient Approach to Retirement Planning.”