Gunning Daily News

Financial Considerations beyond the 'Fiscal Cliff'

February 26, 2013 4:52 pm

(BPT) - With the agreement reached at the eleventh hour of 2012 to avert components of the so-called "fiscal cliff," nearly all taxpayers will be affected in some way.- With that in mind, there are still many things you can do this year to prepare for potential additional tax changes and to take control of your financial situation.-

Below are 10 options from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans for you to consider as you prepare for your financial future in 2013 and beyond.

1. Consider an IRA-qualified charitable distribution.

People 70 1/2 and older, who are required to take minimum distributions from their traditional IRAs, may give up to $100,000 directly from their IRAs to qualified charities. This will satisfy the required minimum distribution, or RMD, requirements and no taxes will be due on the amount of the contribution.

2. Know your tax bracket.
Now that tax rates are higher at some levels, it's more important than ever to know which tax bracket you fall into. Ask your financial representative and accountant about strategies to keep your taxable income at a reasonable level.

3. Consider converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA.
Given current historically low federal tax rates, you may want to consider locking in now and paying taxes while rates are low for most people. If you choose to convert later, you may be doing so at a higher rate.

4. Look closely at your 401(k) contributions.
You may want to consider making after-tax Roth 401(k) contributions, due to the low tax rates. Conversely, higher-income earners may want to focus on making pre-tax 401(k) contributions to decrease their taxable income.

5. Consider investing in municipal bonds.

The interest earned on municipal bonds is generally exempt of federal income tax and can help to diversify your overall portfolio.

6. Consider cash value life insurance.

In addition to protecting your family financially after you die, fixed cash value life insurance also can help you reach your broader financial goals while you're living by helping you to diversify your assets.

7. Understand the benefits of inherited IRAs.

They can help your beneficiary take distributions over the maximum period allowed by federal required minimum distribution (RMD) rules, and give your assets the potential to continue to grow tax-deferred for your heirs.

8. Consider harvesting long-term capital gains.

Sell eligible assets while top tax rates for most taxpayers on long-term capital gains is just 15 percent.

9. Consider using unneeded life insurance and annuity contracts to pay long-term care insurance premiums.

The exchange may be free of federal income taxes and help preserve your estate and way of life. This is especially important to households hit by the 3.8 percent Medicare surtax and higher income tax rates.

10. Review your financial and estate strategies
Based on history and our debt situation, it's likely federal (and state) income tax rates will increase sometime in the future. Review your financial and estate strategies and take appropriate actions now that estate law is permanent.

5 Ways to Update Your Bathroom for Less

February 25, 2013 6:14 pm

“These days,” says California bathroom designer Ted Reedy, “you can spend $15,000 or more to remodel an outdated bathroom. But while a trendy bath appeals to buyers and ultimately adds value to your home, you can achieve a fresh new look and improve functionality while spending whole lot less.”

Reedy suggests five ways to improve your old bathroom without spending any more than you need to:

Reface vanity/cabinets –
You can give bathroom cabinets and/or vanity a whole new look by refacing – not replacing – the old, tired-looking front surfaces. Refacing will cost just a third of the replacement cost and add new life to the room.
Add a stylish sink - Consider an integrated sink, which has no edges or hangovers from the countertop to the sink, or a bowl sink, which sits above the countertop, for between $150-$500. Even installing a shiny new chrome faucet and/or porcelain handles can be a smart and stylish small investment.
Change the lighting – Improve your bathroom’s look and feel by replacing those glaring overhead lights. Accent lighting, such as canister lights installed in the ceiling, or track lighting installed over the sink, will improve functionality and appearance at a very reasonable cost.
Update the flooring –Replacing vinyl tiles or linoleum with porcelain, ceramic or natural stone tiles is a cost-effective and savvy investment. Choose simple tile designs you can install yourself or have professionally installed.
Change the shower head - Turn your shower into an oasis you will enjoy by updating your shower head with a rain head. They can cost as little as $100 and the small investment can be a real turn-on to buyers when the time comes to sell.

Caring for Your Pets and the Home You Share with Them

February 25, 2013 6:14 pm

Since February is Responsible Pet Owner's Month, I will wrap up our series on taking the best care of your pet, while keeping your home free of all the damage pets may provide, along with all that wonderful companionship!

A recent post on Jedimoney.com takes a look at the damage a pet can render to your garden and landscaping. The feature, which is not sourced, offers these tips to protect your outdoor space from pet damage:

1. Install a Trellis - Perhaps you could use a trellis for plants that climb, such as peas? Installing a trellis immediately after crops have been planted in the soil can help to protect the plants. Essentially, a trellis works to keep animals out and away from an area, but can simultaneously look attractive in a garden.

2. Leave Mulch in Place
- It is a good idea to use small patches of soil to rake back mulch. Interestingly, bare soil is most attractive to animals, so if you cover soil with mulch, you are taking a positive step to protecting your garden from pet damage.

3. Layer Well-Branched Sticks on Garden Beds - The use of even a few well-branched sticks on your garden beds can help to deter dogs and cats. It is best to layer the branches so that they are overlapping and that the garden bed is lightly covered. Having said this, ensure that you don’t use so many sticks that it ends up preventing light from reaching the soil. When your crops are sufficiently large that they risk becoming tangled in the wood, it is likely that your pets will not be so interested in the garden beds. At this time, it is fairly safe to take the sticks away and perhaps even use them for firewood.

4. Work Out Why Your Pets Are Destroying Your Garden Beds
- It is not uncommon for cats to dig up plants and destroy garden beds, because they think the loose soil will make a perfect litter box. If this is relevant to the destruction happening in your garden, you could consider building your cat a sandpit so that they may freely scratch and dig!

5. Use a Natural Dog Repellent - Florists, horticulturalists and gardeners have long been aware and made use of natural repellents to protect plants from creatures causing damage. Natural dog repellents have the advantages of not causing harm to dogs or plants, as well as being inexpensive and easy to use. There are a number of different natural dog repellents that can be applied to deter a dog from damaging your garden.

When it comes to protecting your property, jedimoney.com says taking a number of simple steps can help protect your garden from damage that is commonly caused by pets.

Avoid These Common Home Improvement Blunders

February 25, 2013 6:14 pm

(BPT) - Consumer complaints and lawsuits regarding home improvements are on the rise according to Ripoff Reports; a homeowner that does not do their homework before embarking on a project could find themselves with poor workmanship, inferior products, health and safety issues or even legal problems.

So what's a homeowner in need of a fix up to do?

"Start by reviewing the three most common mistakes people make when embarking on a home improvement project," says Dave Harrison, chief marketing officer of Champion Windows, Sunrooms, Roofing and Home Exteriors, one of the nation's leading home improvement companies.

No.1: Buying Only on Price
Your home is probably one of the most expensive items you own, so making improvements is not the place to budget shop.- "Make sure you are getting quality products professionally installed. A properly done home improvement should only have to be done once," added Harrison, "and remember the old adage 'you get what you pay for'."

No. 2: Not looking at the Long Term Investment Benefits
When your home improvement project is finally over, you should be getting more than an upgrade to your home; you should also see an increase in your home's value. When you do it right you can reduce energy and maintenance costs and increase comfort and pride in your home, and never have to worry about it again for as long as you own your home.

On the flip side a poorly executed project can lower the value of your home, have to be re-done in several years and even put your family's health at risk. For example, water damage from faulty windows could cause mold.

No. 3: Not Knowing How to Screen a Contractor

"I've seen many independently owned contractors close their businesses after a short year or two," said Harrison. "When selecting a contractor to work with it is important to get a sense of who they are, what products they use and how long they have been in business."

According to Harrison there are four essential questions to ask during this screening process:
- Who designs it?
- Who builds it?
- Who installs it?
- Who guarantees it?

"When you don't get the correct answers to these four questions you may end up with an inferior investment, expensive surprises, property damage or even lawsuits and liabilities," says Harrison.

"Ultimately, the answer you want is that there is a single source of accountability for your project. Having one company design, build, install and guarantee the product and work can save you time, money and hassles in the long run."

Make sure you have a contractor relationship you can trust for the long-term. This long-term relationship starts with a quality product and professional installation and includes a lifetime warranty from a company that has longevity and provides you with a sense that they will still be in business five or ten years down the road. -You should also ensure that your warranty is transferable, applies to all systems, applications and materials, and is non-prorated. A non-prorated warranty is considered to be the most valuable as it means that the manufacturer or seller will replace or repair the item at no cost to the buyer if there is a problem with a product.

Word of the Day

February 25, 2013 6:14 pm

HUD. Acronym for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, an agency from which almost all of the federal government’s housing programs flow.

Q: What Is a Lease Option?

February 25, 2013 6:14 pm

A: It is an agreement between a renter and a landlord in which the renter signs a lease with an option to purchase the property. The option only binds the seller; the tenant has a choice to make a purchase or not.
Lease options are common among buyers who would like to own a home but do not have enough money for the down payment and closing costs. A lease option may also be attractive to tenants who are working to improve bad credit before approaching a lender for a home loan.

Outdoor Gear That Performs Year-Round

February 22, 2013 5:30 pm

(BPT) - Rugged camping gear is no longer just for adventurers and niche outdoor sports. High-tech or activity-specific outdoor products are gaining popularity because they also come in handy every day and around the house.

"As it turns out, the durability and dependability of gear needed on remote hikes or climbs has many outdoor lovers reaching for those same items around the home," says gifts.com editor Dan Tower, who specializes in sharing gift ideas catered to specific occasions and recipients.
Tower identified the following durable gear, as camping season approaches, for its versatility across a variety of settings.

Water, water everywhere
It wasn't long ago that water bottles were strictly for camping. Now people enjoy having water within arm's reach at all times. Whether it's a need to stay hydrated or just the eco-sensible peace of mind gained by avoiding single use containers, a go-to water bottle has become a ubiquitous personal accessory.
Liberty Bottleworks make gorgeous, 100 percent BPA-free water bottles showcasing artwork sourced from emerging graphic artists. Arguably though, the best part is the bottles are the only American-made metal water bottles available, with production in Yakima, Wash. Plus, they're made from 100 percent recycled aluminum that's tough enough to pack for the jungle or urban jungle.

Let there be light
A headlamp may seem exclusive to adrenaline-pumping activities like rock climbing, caving and hiking at night, but this hands-free lighting source can be incredibly beneficial in a power outage, when changing a tire at night or more common activities like an evening bike ride.

The Energizer Micro Sport Headlight from Energizer is a new headlamp that offers a helpful, hands-free lighting source. While biking and running enthusiasts will especially appreciate its lightweight and slim profile, the headlight is similarly tailored for everyday activities like taking the dog for an evening walk. With a white spot light in the front and a red flashing light in the back, streets and sidewalks will be clearly illuminated, but more importantly, others will be able to see you.

Be my guest
The Pakmat Airbed is another great outdoor must-have that comes in handy all year. One of its most attractive attributes is that, when not in use, it is stored in a small canister. This benefit is obvious when backpacking and camping, but is also an advantage for apartment dwellers who don't have ample storage space or a guest room, and want to easily accommodate an overnight guest.

Part sleeping pad and part inflatable bed, the Pakmat is a self-contained air mattress that needs no electricity to inflate. Its container also doubles as the pump that inflates it and makes it sleep-ready. When the the slumber party is over, the Pakmat rolls back up into its canister, ready for the next adventure.

Just in case
There's a smartphone case that's tough enough to weather nature's nastiest elements, which will also assure parents their phones will be safer in the hands of young kids. The LifeProof Case takes gadget protection to an exciting new level. In addition to making your iPhone shockproof, the LifeProof case is also waterproof (and dirtproof and snowproof). Taking your iPhone up to 6 feet underwater opens up a whole new world of picture- and video-taking possibilities - whether that's on your next kayaking adventure or at a backyard pool. Outdoor gear has numerous uses outside of campgrounds and state parks. As spring starts to do its thing, many outdoor enthusiasts on the lookout for the latest gear should also consider the year-round benefits of their purchases.

5 Winter Splurges to Save Your Sanity

February 22, 2013 5:30 pm

For many people, the two or three months after Christmas usher in familiar doldrums: a shortage of cash, dry skin, and gaps in the social calendar.

“It’s a time,” noted aesthetician Amy Weiss, “to pamper yourself with small treats that nourish your body and lift your spirits.”

Weiss, who writes columns on living better for less, offers five suggestions for treating yourself this winter without breaking the bank:

  • A massage and/or facial – In most areas, you can get a professional massage or facial for under $100 that will leave you feeling relaxed and glowing. But if that’s too steep, pair with a friend, make a trip to the local beauty supply shop, and trade an evening of facials.
  • Antioxidant treatment – Keep dry skin at bay all winter with a luxurious body cream that has a base of green tea or caffeine – such as Topix Replenix. It will do away with flaky skin and keep skin moisturized longer and that’s enough to bring a smile to your face.
  • A new hairstyle – Winter is the perfect time to opt for a new cut and style or add highlights to dull, cold-weather hair. If you’re not sure where to go, ask for a reference from a friend whose hairstyle you admire.
  • A sweet indulgence – Nothing in your long-range healthy eating plan will be harmed by a once-in-a-while indulgence. A long winter day can brighten considerably if you treat yourself after dinner to the sweet of your choice – even a mini-treat, like one scoop of artisan ice cream or a single, fudgy brownie.
  • A night away from home – If you can’t afford a Caribbean vacation, think about splurging on one night or a weekend at a local luxury hotel. Treat yourself to breakfast in bed, a sauna if available, or an afternoon at the indoor pool.

Extreme Winter Weather Calls for Driver Preparation

February 22, 2013 5:30 pm

This month, there has been some extreme winter weather in some parts of the country. Intense cold and blizzard-like weather can create extremely dangerous driving conditions for motorists on most highways statewide.

During severe winter weather AAA receives a high number of road service calls, and recommends if motorists become stranded, it is best to stay with the vehicle. If you can start your engine, run it only long enough to keep warm. Make sure the exhaust pipe is snow-free.

Below are some tips for keeping yourself, and your car, safe until spring.

Proper Preparation

Preparing for frigid weather conditions will help keep your vehicle on the road, advises AAA Chicago. Motorists can help keep their vehicles on the road by doing the following:

  • Check your battery strength. Faulty batteries cause more car starting problems than any other factor. At 0 degrees, a good battery has 35 percent less starting power.
  • Park your car in the garage. If you have no garage, put a tarp over the hood or park protected from prevailing winds. To keep doors from freezing shut, place a plastic trash bag between the door and the frame.
  • Keep the fuel tank at least half-full to avoid fuel-line freeze-up
  • Make sure your car has an emergency kit, which should include the following:
  • Cell phone and charger
  • Jumper cables
  • Warm gear for all potential passengers – boots, hats, gloves, blankets
  • Flares and flashlight and extra batteries
  • Extra food and water for all potential passengers
  • General first aid kit
  • Non-clumping kitty litter
  • Ice scraper, snow brush and shovel
  • Windshield washer fluid

Defensive Driving

When taking to the road during winter weather, remember to drive with caution to help maintain your safety as well as that of passengers, fellow motorists and roadside workers. AAA recommends the following tips for winter driving:

  • Before starting out in snowy weather, take time to remove the snow from the entire car so it doesn't blow onto your windshield or the windshields of other drivers. Make sure your mirrors and lights are clean.
  • Drive with your low-beam headlights illuminated.
  • Watch for icy surfaces on bridges and intersections, even when the rest of the road seems to be in good condition.
  • Look farther ahead in traffic. Actions by other drivers will alert you to problems and give you extra seconds to react.
  • When changing lanes, avoid cutting in front of trucks, which need more time and distance than passenger vehicles to stop.
  • Don't use cruise control in precipitation and freezing temperatures.
  • Remember that four-wheel drive helps you to get going quicker, but it won't help you stop any faster.
  • Apply constant, firm pressure to the pedal with anti-lock brakes.

Source: AAA Chicago

Word of the Day

February 22, 2013 5:30 pm

Homestead protection. State and federal laws that protect against the forced sale of a person’s home by creditors. Also, upon the death of one spouse, provides the other with a home for life.