Gunning Daily News
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
November 15, 2013 6:21 pm
Americans are living longer these days from an average 47 years in 1900 to more than 78 years as of 2010. We are also experiencing a deluge of adults reaching retirement age now that includes 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 every day.
By 2030, when the last of the baby boomers have turned 65, nearly one in five Americans will be retirement age, according to the Pew Research Center’s population projections. Money will be a big problem for many of them, especially if boomers develop health problems that affect their ability to live independently, says insurance expert and CEO of Life Care Funding Chris Orestis.
“Life Care Funding created a financial solution for seniors that own a life insurance policy that converts the policy into a Long-Term Care Benefit Plan; this gives the policy owner the option to use their policy while still alive to help pay for their choice of any form of senior care services,” says Orestis, a former insurance industry lobbyist who recently contributed to the federal Commission on Long-Term Care’s fact-finding mission.
“With 30 percent of the Medicaid population consuming 87 percent of Medicaid dollars on long-term care services, we can see that’s not going to be sustainable,” Orestis says. “More individuals will be forced to find their own resources to pay for those needs. That’s why states such as California, Florida, New York and Texas are embracing legislation requiring seniors to be notified that they can convert their life insurance policy for 30 to 60 percent of its death benefit value. The money can be put into an irrevocable fund designated specifically for any form of care they choose.”
Orestis details more ways in which seniors might handle long-term care and other budgetary issues:
• Senior discounts really add up! Here’s a list of establishments to check out: www.lifecarefunding.com/blog/senior-discounts/. Restaurants, supermarkets, department stores, travel deals and other merchants give various senior discounts with minimum age requirements ranging from 55 to 62. Some of these places are worth making habits, with 15 percent off the bill at Applebee’s, 30 percent off at Banana Republic and 60 percent off at Food Lion on Mondays! Don’t forget your free cup of coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts if you’re 55 or older, and don’t be shy – at many of these places you’ll have to ask for the discount.
• Long-term care is a matter of survival, so use your best options. The practice of converting a life insurance policy into a Life Care Benefit has been an accepted method of payment for private duty in-home care, assisted living, skilled nursing, memory care and hospice care for years. Instead of abandoning a policy when they can no longer afford the premiums, policy owners have the option to take the present-day value of the policy while they are still alive and convert it into a Long Term Care Benefit Plan. By converting the policy, a senior will remain in private pay longer and be able to choose the form of care that they want but will be Medicaid-eligible when the benefit is spent down.
• Your “last act” may be decades away, so plan accordingly. It makes sense to finally enjoy your money after a lifetime of savings, but be smart about it. Take time to organize your paperwork and create a master file that holds things such as insurance policies, investments, property, wills and trusts, etc. so you have your financial picture in one place. Also, live smart today and hold off on that new car if you don’t need a new one. If your current car is paid off and you sit tight for an additional two years, you’ll save $7,200 on a new car with $300 monthly payments. Refinancing your home may also be a very good idea, since rates are still hovering around their all-time lows. Get at least three quotes, compare rates, terms and potential penalties to make sure you’re getting the best deal. Also, live healthy and buy more fruits and vegetables and less junk food to lessen the chance you’ll need long-term care in the future.
November 15, 2013 6:21 pm
(BPT) - When it comes to bathroom decor, tastes and preferences are as common and varied as wrinkles on elbows. A look that delights one homeowner may disgust another, but one trend suits everyone's taste: saving money. You may want your bathroom redo to look like you spent a million bucks on it, but you can get a whole new look for a lot less than that.
In fact, some downright cheap upgrades can be quite dazzling. Here are a handful of high-impact ways to achieve a whole new look for less than $100:
* Paint is always a cost-effective upgrade, and you can buy a good gallon for $30 or less. The simple act of changing wall color can impart a designer look, and if you're careful with those edges, no one will ever know you did it yourself.
* Wallpaper is costly, messy and best left to the professionals, right? Wrong. Whether you shop online or in a big box store, you can find appealing wallpaper murals for less than $100 - and installation is as easy as pulling it out of the package and positioning it on the wall.
* Sometimes bathroom tile starts to look faded, outdated and tired without being chipped or cracked - two problems that would require you to replace damaged tile. If your tile is in good shape, but just not perky enough for you, repainting it is a cheap, easy way to create a whole new look without the work and expense of retiling. It's easy to find a variety of tile paint colors at your local home improvement store, and prices average around $30 a gallon. While you're at it, do a little something with the grout - either regrouting entirely or using a stain to dye the grout to complement the tile.
* Treat yourself to a new showerhead. You may not realize the unhappy impact of an old, inefficient or dated showerhead until you're standing under a new one enjoying the fall of water. You can certainly spend a lot to get a new showerhead with all the bells and whistles, but you can also find plenty of attractive, efficient and stimulating options for much less than $100. Installation is well within the abilities of your average DIYer.
* Sadly, bathroom lighting often goes to one extreme or the other: either it's a bright, overhead fixture that casts enough glare to land a plane by, or it's a dinky band of bulbs above the bathroom mirror that doesn't provide adequate illumination to brush your teeth, let alone apply makeup. Most people move into a house and live with the current bathroom lighting, but switching it is easy, cheap and a great way to improve the room's safety, usability and looks all at the same time.
Taking your bathroom from boring to "bam!" doesn't have to cost big bucks. Just look for low-cost improvements that deliver big impact, and you can achieve a million-dollar look on a shoestring budget.
November 15, 2013 6:21 pm
Cloud on title. Defect in the title that impairs the owner’s ability to market the property. This might be a lien, claim, judgment, or encumbrance.