Gunning Daily News

How to Make Your House Marketable

May 16, 2013 3:28 pm

Small improvements can make a huge difference in how much your home sells for. Pillar To Post is the leading home inspection company in North America, according to Entrepreneur Magazine. Here are five tips from Pillar To Post for making your home more marketable:

First impressions: The first thing a potential buyer is going to see is the outside of your home. Make it count. Make sure the outside of your home is freshly painted, that the landscaping and the lawn are well manicured and that toys and other clutter are removed. Putting a layer of mulch on gardens and other non-grassy areas is an easy improvement that doesn’t cost that much. It not only makes your yard look nicer, but it also helps prevent weeds

Paint: A fresh coat of interior paint is one of the easiest ways to increase your property value. A light, neutral color makes your home look larger and prevents potential buyers from worrying about their belongings not “going” with your home.

Staging is everything: You’ll want to remove larger pieces of furniture and other clutter to make your home look as big as possible. You should also make sure dishes are clean and put away, clothes are neatly hung in the closets and towels in the bathroom and kitchen are clean and nicely folded. You should also remove personal items, such as photos and knick-knacks, so it’s easier for potential buyers to imagine what their stuff will look like in the home. Replacing stained carpeting and outdated tile floors is another easy fix that instantly adds to your home’s value. You’ll also want to make sure all light bulbs work, particularly in closets and other dark spaces.

Update the kitchen and bathroom: Update older appliances and fixtures. If this isn’t in your budget, updating the hardware on the cabinets and sinks is an inexpensive way to give them a more modern look.

Hire an inspector: It’s a good idea to hire an inspector to come out before listing your home. You don’t have to fix everything, but it allows you to be up-front with potential buyers, so there aren’t surprises later on.  


Take the Household Budgeting Quiz & Start Saving

May 16, 2013 3:28 pm

I know you don't have to be a CPA or a rocket scientist to figure out how to keep a household budget. In fact, this little quiz to help consumers learn about household budgets is available through the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.

To take the quiz, first consider the following words: Business, Income, Debt, Values, Expenses, Written, Goals

Now plug them into the following questions - and you can only use each word once:

1. Running a household is like running a small _____________. In order to stay out of the red, it is necessary to keep accurate records of income and expenses.

2. A spending plan is a tool for achieving long-range _____________. Immediate goals can be covered from paycheck to paycheck; however, in order to achieve future goals, you must have a plan to save a certain percentage of their monthly income.

3. A spending plan helps couples to live within their _____________. It's not about how much money you have, but the fact that better money managers use simple planning and recordkeeping, and follow spending plans.

4. One of the best ways to stay on track with a spending plan is to stay out of _____________.

5. There are two major parts of a spending plan – Income and _____________.

6. Before developing a spending plan, it is a good idea to keep a _____________ record of your income and expenses for two or three months.

7. The way you decide to spend your money depends upon your _____________. Talk with household members about mutual needs -- if everyone takes part in making a spending plan, they will all work harder making it successful.

According to the site, the first step is figuring your income and estimating expenses. By recording what you spend, your estimated expenses will be more realistic.

Learn about household budgeting with this report:

By the way, the correct quiz answers are: 1. Business; 2. Goals; 3. Income; 4. Debt; 5. Expenses; 6. Written; 7. Values

10 Questions to Ask When Hiring a Financial Planner

May 16, 2013 3:28 pm

Having your finances in order is important for the sustainability of your future, regardless to where you currently are in life. However, organizing yourself to prevent or get rid of debt can be confusing. Many of us need a little help.

According to John Vento, author of Financial Independence (Getting to Point X): An Advisor’s Guide to Comprehensive Wealth Management, one of the most important decisions you’ll make in your pursuit of financial independence is selecting a qualified advisor whom you like and trust, and who can meet your needs.

When you’re in the process of choosing a financial planner, here are ten important questions to consider:

1. If this advisor was recommended by a friend or family member, do you have confidence in the person who referred you?

2. What education and credentials does this advisor hold to make him or her qualified to advise you? (The advisor’s website is a good place to find this information. You can also check with the licensing board for whatever credentials the advisor holds.)

3. What is the compensation model for the advice and service: fee-based, hourly, or commission? (Fee-based is a percentage of your money under management; hourly is based on time charges; and commission is transaction-based.)

4. What are the financial advisor’s areas of expertise and does this line up well with your needs? (The wealth management issues you’re facing should go hand in hand with the advisor’s areas of expertise.)

5. What standard of care will this advisor be held to: fiduciary or suitability? (The fiduciary standard, which is more rigorous and requires financial professionals to act in the best interests of their clients, is recommended.)

6. What is the extent of services that will be provided: Is it transactional or is it truly a trusted advisor relationship? (Transactional means compensation is based on commissions.)

7. Is the financial decision making customized to you or does the advisor take a one-size-fits-all approach? One-size-fits-all is not appropriate. An 18-year-old person’s goals and risk tolerance are much different from an 80-year-old retiree’s.

8. Does the financial advisor provide tax advisory services such as tax planning and preparation that are integrated into your overall financial planning?

9. What is the organizational structure of the advisor’s firm: Will you be dealing directly with the same advisor or a junior member of the team?

10. What is the financial advisor’s philosophy and approach to handling risk: Does this advisor make you comfortable?


Word of the Day

May 16, 2013 3:28 pm

Reserve account.  An account for money collected each month by a lender to pay for property taxes and property insurance as they come due.

Q: What Should Elderly Homeowners Consider When Deciding to Remodel?

May 16, 2013 3:28 pm

A: According to the AARP, older homeowners prefer to age in place, meaning they want to live in their homes safely, independently and comfortably, despite age or ability level.  To do so, many require a few modifications in the home to enhance maneuverability, including the installation of a private elevator and the addition of a bathroom and bedroom to the main level.  A Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) may prove helpful.  CAPS professionals are remodelers, general contractors, designers, architects, and health care consultants who are trained in the unique needs of the elderly, Aging-in-place home modifications, common remodeling projects, and solutions to common barriers.  The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), together with the NAHB Research Center, NAHB Seniors Housing Council, and AARP, developed the CAPS program to address the growing number of consumers who will soon require modifications to their homes.

Transitioning from CEO to Retiree: Why You Need a 5-Year Plan

May 15, 2013 5:26 pm

Today’s 50-something CEOs tend to have vague dreams of more fishing, traveling or sailing  when they retire, but they don’t know when that might be so they haven’t begun planning for it.

That’s a mistake, say a trio of specialists: wealth management advisor Haitham “Hutch” Ashoo, CPA Jim Kohles, and estate planning attorney John Hartog.

“Whether you’re selling your company, passing it along to a successor or simply retiring, that’s a potentially irreversible life event – you’ve got just one chance to get it right,” says Ashoo, CEO of Pillar Wealth Management.

A 2012 survey of CEOs by executive search firm Witt/Kieffer found 71 percent of those aged 55 to 59 have no retirement plan, although 73 percent look forward to more recreational and leisure activities when they let go of the reins.

“A lot of baby boomers have the idea that they’re just going to work till they stop working,” says Kohles, chairman of RINA accountancy corporation. “If they hope to do certain things in retirement and maintain a certain lifestyle, they’re likely to end up disappointed.”

Planning for the transition from CEO to retiree should incorporate everything – including what happens to your assets after you’re gone, adds John Hartog of Hartog & Baer Trust and Estate Law.

“Many of my clients worry about what effects a large inheritance will have on their children – they want to continue parenting from the grave. You can, but should think hard about doing that,” he says.

The three say smart planning requires coordinating among all of your advisors; that’s the best way to avoid an irrevocable mistake. With that in mind, Ashoo, Kohles and Hartog offer these suggestions and considerations from their respective areas of expertise:

1. Ashoo: Identify your specific lifestyle goals for retirement, so you can plan for funding them. To determine how much money you’ll need, you have to have a clear picture of what you want, Ashoo says. Do you see yourself on your own yacht? Providing seed capital for your children to buy a business? Pursuing charitable endeavors?

Each goal will have a dollar amount attached, and you (or your advisor) can then determine whether it’s feasible and, if so, put together a financial plan.

“But you can’t just create a plan and forget it. You need to monitor its progress regularly and make adjustments to make sure you’re staying on course, just like you would if you were sailing or flying,” Ashoo says. “We run our clients’ plans quarterly.“

It’s also imperative that you don’t take any undue risks – that is, risks beyond what’s necessary to meet your goals, he says. “You may hear about a great investment opportunity and want in on it, but if you lose that money, you may not have a chance to make it up.”

2.Kohles: Don’t sell yourself short when selling your business. “If you’re banking on money from the sale of your business, know that it’s unlikely you’ll have investors just waiting with the cash for the chance to buy it when you’re ready to sell,” Kohles says.

Buyers are more likely to offer to pay over time from the company’s future earnings -- which leaves the retired CEO with no control over the business and utterly reliant on the new owners to maintain its profitability.

A good alternative is to establish an S corporation combined with an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), Kohles says.

“You’re selling the company to the employees while retaining control until you phase yourself completely out,” he says. “The ESOP doesn’t pay income taxes – the employees do when they retire. And you don’t pay taxes on the money or the stock that you contribute.”

3. Hartog: What do you want your kids’ inheritance to say? If you have children, this decision can change their lives for the better – or the worse.

“How your assets are disposed of should reflect your values,” Hartog says. “A lot of people prefer to think in terms of taxes at the expense of values. I advise against that.”

For children, incentive trusts can encourage, or discourage, certain behaviors.

“If you’re concerned your adult child won’t be productive if he has a lot of money, set up a trust that will make distributions equal to what the child earns himself,” Hartog says.

“Or, if you want to be supportive of a child who’s doing something socially responsible, like teaching in an impoverished area, you can set it up to pay twice his salary.”

There are many creative ways to establish trusts, Hartog says. Plan about five years out and change the trust as life events dictate.


4 Things Parents Should Know before Paying for College

May 15, 2013 5:26 pm

From $20,000 to $65,000 a year – that’s the tuition cost for one year of college, says John McDonough, a money expert who helps retirees and parents plan for their families’ futures.

“For the 2012–2013 academic year, the average cost for an in-state public college is $22,261. A moderate budget for a private college averaged $43,289,” says McDonough, CEO of Studemont Group College Funding Solutions. “But for elite schools, we’re talking about three times the cost of your local state school. Either way, your kid’s higher education can easily shoot into six figures after four years.”

Along with worrying about rising tuition prices, parents also fear for their own futures if their retirement savings are drained by children’s college costs, McDonough says. Only 14 percent, for example, are very confident they’ll have the money to live comfortably in retirement, he says, citing a 2012 survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

“Families feel they’re faced with conflicting goals, but there are numerous ways to pay for college while investing in your future retirement,” says McDonough, who offers insights for parents to keep in mind while planning for their child’s education:

• The ROI of a college education: At a time when so many American families are financially strapped, college is an especially stressful topic because parents know higher learning will help their kids succeed. College graduates earn 84 percent than those with only a high school diploma, according to Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. Here is how earning breaks down over one’s life time, based on education: a doctoral degree-holder will earn $3.3 million over a lifetime; $2.3 million is estimated for a college graduate; those with only a high school diploma can expect $1.3 million.

• Move retirement assets to qualify for grants: Most parents know about the 529 savings account, but that’s not necessarily the best or only option. Reallocating your retirement assets, such as 401(k)s, can better position a child to qualify for grants and scholarships. This legal and ethical maneuvering may be the single most important factor when considering how to pay for college.

• Know your student’s strengths and weaknesses: Consider independent and objective analysis of your future college student. Assessment might include a personality profile and a detailed search for a future career. Also think about a more nuts-and-bolts approach, including scholarship eligibility, SAT and ACT prep courses, review of admissions essays and an in-depth analysis of chances for enrollment in a student’s top four choices of colleges.

Make a checklist of financial aid forms: In order to maximize a fair price of higher education, remember there is plenty of data to review. McDonough recommends a checklist with a timeline and notable deadlines. Be ready to troubleshoot the “alphabet soup” of data forms: FAFSA – Free Application For Federal Student Aid; CSS profile – College Scholarship Service; SAR – Student Aid Report; and more. Think about this process as a second job, or find professional help you can trust.

Word of the Day

May 15, 2013 5:26 pm

Quit-claim deed. A conveyance by which the grantor transfers whatever interest he or she has in the real estate without warranties or obligations.

Q: How Can I Finance a Remodeling Project?

May 15, 2013 5:26 pm

A: There are many ways to finance a remodeling project. If you have equity in your home, a good credit rating, and steady income, you can refinance your mortgage and borrow a percentage of the equity to cover remodeling costs. Refinancing is a good option if you can get a mortgage interest rate at least two percentage points below your current home loan rate.  Other options include a second mortgage, a home equity loan, or an unsecured loan.  Less popular options: margin loans, which are taken against securities you own, and loans from retirement plans, life insurance policies and credit cards.

What Size Is Your Household's Carbon Footprint?

May 15, 2013 4:26 pm

Sure, virtually everybody knows their shoe size, but very few people are aware of their carbon footprint. And since I provide so many energy saving and efficiency ideas via these reports, it's about time to learn how to calculate exactly how big a carbon footprint you or your household is making.

Enter TerraPass -- the brainchild of Dr. Karl Ulrich at the University of Pennsylvania. Along with 41 of his students, Karl launched TerraPass in October 2004 as a way to help everyday people reduce the climate impact of their driving.

Now you can take action to mitigate your carbon footprint, whether it’s from driving, flying, or energy consumption. TerraPass claims its U.S. emissions reduction projects produce the best carbon offsets the U.S. has to offer. To learn how to calculate one's carbon footprint, click here.

There you will not only find a tool to calculate the carbon footprint of your household or business, but a way to learn how weddings, parties -- even business meetings contribute to harmful environmental impact. For a household, just input your zip code, clarify if you use gas or electricity and enter your average monthly bill.

The calculator tells you immediately the average monthly bill for utility costs within your zip code - so you learn immediately how your consumption stacks up against your neighbors.

Your 'score' comes with an estimate of how much you can spend for energy credits to fill in the hole your household carbon footprint creates. TerraPass carbon offsets support clean energy and other projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions through a portfolio consisting of clean energy, farm power and landfill gas capture.