Gunning Daily News

IRA Tax Breaks Could Prove Boon to Seniors

January 30, 2013 5:16 pm

Much fuss was made over the ongoing Capitol Hill negotiations surrounding the so-called "fiscal cliff" -- and yet, for many Americans, the eventual resolutions of the fiscal cliff talks remain somewhat ambiguous. According to a recent CBS News report, however, one of the provisions of the fiscal cliff legislation could prove beneficial to seniors, allowing them to receive tax breaks by contributing part of their IRAs to charitable organizations.

"The American Taxpayer Relief Act just reinstated a provision that allows those taking required minimum distributions from IRAs (which is required starting April following the year in which an individual turns age 70 1/2) to save taxes while donating up to $100,000 to a qualified charity," comments financial planner Randy Siller, explaining this legislation in his new press statement. "The law was reinstated for 2012 and 2013."
Continues Siller, "The reinstatement for 2012 allows distributions made in December 2012 to be sent as a cash contribution to a qualified charity by January 31, 2013. For 2013, the normal method of having the IRA custodian send a certain sum directly to the charity should be used."

For many individuals, Randy Siller says, this provision could prove very advantageous. "The advantage to what is known as a 'Charitable IRA Rollover' is that the amount is not included in a taxpayer's Adjusted Gross Income (AGI). Now some might be thinking that, if they don't use this approach they could simply include the amount distributed from the IRA in their income and then, by contributing that amount to charity, obtain an offsetting itemized deduction. So why does excluding it from the taxpayer's AGI save money?"
The answer to this question, Siller says, depends on the taxpayer's unique situation. There are three scenarios in which taking advantage of this legal provision makes sense. "First, under the new tax law, there are limitations on personal exemptions and itemized deductions for couples with income above $300,000 and singles above $250,000. So, if including the distribution in income would put you over the limit, the Charitable IRA Rollover would save you taxes," explains Siller. "If you are already over the limit, then you would not get a full charitable deduction, in which case the Charitable IRA Rollover could save substantial taxes."

Siller highlights a second scenario in which the Rollover makes sense. "For those who take the standard deduction, as it is larger than the total of their itemized deductions, the Charitable IRA Rollover makes sense because there will be no offsetting charitable deduction if the Rollover approach is not taken."
Siller points to one further scenario. "Finally, by not including the distribution, in income it may lower the amount of taxable Social Security benefits," he remarks.

Siller notes that the the implication of this legislation is simple. "For many taxpayers the reinstatement of the Charitable IRA rollover will provide a welcome benefit," he said.

10 Ways to Slash Winter Utility Bills

January 30, 2013 5:16 pm

Cold weather is great for winter sports, but on the home front it brings higher utility bills as we try to stay snug and warm. Apart from making best use of the fireplace, it’s a natural and necessary expense. But there are steps we can take to save on gas and electricity even in the coldest days of winter.

Small steps can add up to worthwhile savings, according to consumer consultants at Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), who offer 10 tips for lowering utility bills:

  • Laundry – Washing your clothes at a lower temperature than usual saves energy and money.
  • Lights off – Train yourself (and the kids) to switch off the lights whenever you leave a room.
  • Light bulbs – Changing regular light bulbs for energy saving models can save up to 75 percent of electricity usage for each bulb.
  • Reducing drafts – Check for drafts around windows and doors. Filling them in won’t cost much but will help save big on utility bills.
  • Refrigerator – Every time you open the door, you make the fridge work harder. Be more efficient about how often you open it and how long you keep it open. Also, if you have hot food leftovers, cool them before refrigerating.
  • Cooking – Cooking larger portions and freezing leftovers for future use will reduce your total cooking time.
  • Tea time – When you put the kettle on, boil only as much water as you will need for a one-time use.
  • Showers – Showering for just a few minutes less will save a lot of energy – especially if the whole family does it.
  • Air filters- Make sure they fit properly and that you clean or replace them regularly.
  • Shut the door – Don’t heat the rooms you don’t use. Keep their doors closed and turn off the heating vents.

Q: What Is the Difference between List Price and Sales Price?

January 30, 2013 5:16 pm

A: The list price is your advertised price, or asking price, for a home. It is a rough estimate of what you want to complete a home sale. A good way to determine if the list price is a fair one is to look at the sales prices of similar homes that have recently sold in the area.

The sales price is the actual amount the home sells for.

Word of the Day

January 30, 2013 5:16 pm

Exclusive-right-to-sell listing. Listing that gives the broker the right to collect a commission no matter who sells the property during the listing period.

Planning a Party? Play It Safe!

January 29, 2013 6:30 pm

With 'the big game,' coming up, and St. Patrick’s day just around the corner, I want to help you host a safe and successful soiree. That means being a responsible host, and my friends from the Professional Insurance Agents of Connecticut Inc. are going to explain why.

I recently received a notice from Timothy G. Russell, president of PIACT, who has provided sage advice in previous reports. He says, as hosts, homeowners and renters could be liable for the safety of their guests - even after they leave the party.

If a guest drinks and gets behind the wheel, causing an accident, the host may be held responsible. So before you host your party, call your insurance agent to learn what coverage you have and what coverage you might need if a party guest gets injured, or injures someone else.

Russell knows it's important for every host to provide a great party experience, but it’s important to make sure guests are safe in your home - and they get back home safely after the party wraps.

Consider these tips:

  • If drinks are a part of your festivities, limit your own alcohol intake so you can determine if a guest is able to drive at the end of the night.
  • Pick designated drivers who will refrain from drinking alcoholic beverages so that he or she can drive other guests home.
  • Provide plenty of tempting non-alcoholic beverages and food for guests.
  • Do not pressure guests to drink or rush to refill their glasses.
  • Never serve guests who are visibly intoxicated.
  • Stop serving alcohol at least one hour before the party is over and switch to coffee, tea and soft drinks.
  • Always serve food when serving alcohol. High-protein foods such as meat and cheese take longer to digest, slowing the rate at which the body absorbs alcohol.
  • Try to avoid salty foods. They make people thirsty, so they drink more.
And remember, whether it's a full blown St. Patty's, Super Bowl or Oscar Party, if guests drink too much or seem too tired to drive home, call a cab, arrange a ride with a sober guest, or bring them home yourself.

Simple Tips to Declutter Your Digital Life

January 29, 2013 6:30 pm

(BPT) - Owning multiple gadgets is no longer the domain of tech geeks - it's the new normal for just about everyone. Between multiple computers, phones, tablets, readers and music players, and the files that fill them up, people have a lot on their digital hands. Because that can be both costly and cumbersome, people are on the lookout for new ways to save money and sync up across platforms.

Luckily, 2013 looks as though it'll be a year full of innovations for gadget jugglers - and particularly music fans. And after the gift-giving rush of the holidays, people will be looking for new ways to make their devices interact, so that they can streamline their digital lives.

One of the best places to get started is with your music collection. For most people, it's not uncommon to have hundreds or thousands of music files. While that variety is enjoyable, those high numbers have some underlying consequences. First, the sheer cost of paying for those songs and albums, and second, the amount of space they take up. And if your music isn't shareable across platforms, there's a serious frustration factor.

How can you declutter your life in the new year? A digital music subscription is one of the best places to get started, offering a variety of benefits:
1. Cost cutting. Digital music subscriptions offer millions of licensed songs and albums, typically for around $10 per month. Weighing that price against what you'd pay for individual tracks, the savings can add up quickly. For example, a premium subscription to Sony Entertainment Network's Music Unlimited service gives users access to more than 18 million songs from all of the major labels and many independents and costs under $120 for the whole year.
2. Access anywhere. Digital subscriptions make it easy to access music across devices like personal computers, iPhone and Android smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, gaming consoles and more. So there's no need to buy yet another gadget to have all the music you want at your fingertips, wherever you are. There is even offline playback for Android devices so you do not need to be connected to the internet to enjoy your favorite music. You can also skip the time commitment of syncing and downloading - your catalog automatically syncs with every compatible device you connect to your account.
3. Keep it secure. If you've ever gotten a "no files found" message or lost a device, you know the panic that the thought of losing your music collection will induce. A digital subscription keeps your library safe in the cloud, so that you don't need to fear losing it all - and having to replace it.
4. Find new music. A defining part of being a music lover is always looking for great new music. An added benefit of a digital subscription is that it allows you to explore bands you haven't heard of before; some services also provide features to help you navigate the choices available based on your preferences. Aside from delivering all of the latest album releases, Sony's Music Unlimited service hosts dozens and dozens of pre-programmed channels and additional channels created by user preference through My Channels.

Financial Tip of the Week: Getting Ahead with a Smaller Paycheck

January 29, 2013 6:30 pm

Many Americans are seeing their paychecks is a little lighter this year, due to a payroll tax increase that is forcing millions of people to make tough budget cuts.

The tax has risen back up to 6.2 percent from 4.2 percent, costing someone making $50,000 annually about $1,000 per year and a household with two high-paid workers up to $4,500.

But regardless of how many zeros it contains, there are steps you can take to help make ends meet by being smart with the money you have.

The following tips, provided by BMO Harris Bank, can make your pay check stretch farther:

  • Budget for essentials first. There are certain expenses in life that are non-negotiable, such as a place to live, food to eat and transportation to and from work. These are costs you should budget for first. The easiest way to create a budget is by adding up all of your fixed and essential costs for one month and subtracting this amount from your monthly take home pay. The amount that's left is what you have available for optional expenses, such as going out with friends, buying clothing and purchasing concert tickets.
  • Get what you want for less. You like eating out -- but you also have to pay your rent. Fortunately, there are steps you can take that allow you to do both. These days, you can get almost anything at a discount. Whether its gas, groceries, dining out, movie tickets, haircuts or even an exotic vacation, it's likely there are online coupons or mobile apps to help you find what you want at a lower cost.
  • And don't forget about things that don't cost anything at all. If you can't afford to meet your friends for happy hour, suggest meeting at free events instead. You'll still get to socialize and it will likely be a new experience for you and your friends.
  • Only buy what you really love. Ask yourself if you truly can't live without an item before laying down the cash for it. If the item is currently outside your budget, for example, an expensive watch, you can either begin saving for it little by little or find a way to get it for less. For example, you may be able to find what you're looking for online at a fraction of the retail price.
Source: BMO Harris Bank

Word of the Day

January 29, 2013 6:30 pm

Exclusive agency listing. Listing where the owner reserves the right to sell his property himself, but also agrees to list with no other broker during the listing period besides the appointed real estate broker.

Q: Are There Standard Ways to Determine How Much a Home Is Worth?

January 29, 2013 6:30 pm

A: Yes. A comparative market analysis and an appraisal are the two most common and reliable ways to determine a home's value.

Your real estate agent can provide a comparative market analysis, an informal estimate of value based on the recent selling price of similar neighborhood properties. Reviewing comparable homes that have sold within the past year along with the listing, or asking, price on current homes for sale should prevent you from overpricing your home or underestimating its value.

A certified appraiser can provide an appraisal of a home. After visiting the home to check such things as the number of rooms, improvements, size and square footage, construction quality, and the condition of the neighborhood, the appraiser then reviews recent comparable sales to determine the estimated value of the home.

You also can check recent sales in public records, through private firms, and on the Internet to help you determine a home’s potential worth.

Basements & Roofs – Planning a Rocking Rec Room

January 28, 2013 5:52 pm

We have been talking about basements a lot recently. Not only am I interested in taking a look down those stairs and shining a light on some of the most common winter basement issues, I want to provide tips on turning that dark hole into wholly usable space.

Enter Randy Glazer of Atlanta's Glazer Remodeling & Construction (glazerconstruction.com). He says basement build outs and rec room remodeling can help transform your basement from a place for storage into a place for fun.

According to Glazer, whether you have a pool table, ping-pong set-up, pinball machine or air hockey game, you want to ensure that your guests have ample space to enjoy them. That means removing non-load bearing walls will open up your basement space to give you more options for placement.

Also, be sure that lighting you choose doesn’t hang too low over the tables. Speaking of lighting, Glazer recommends using as much natural light from windows and basement doors as possible.

And if your basement doesn’t open outside, use track lighting, wall lamps and under shelving lighting to save space.

Ceilings are a great place to add an element of design to a finished basement, too. Leave the ductwork exposed for an industrial look, select a reflective ceiling to make the basement look bigger or install hanging shelves for storage.

A custom built bar is an excellent entertainment addition to a basement and can serve many purposes. Have it flow into the media room for seamless design, and install floor to ceiling cabinets or shelving for additional storage.

In our next segment, we'll hit rewind and talk about retiring or repurposing your rec room or other finished basement space - stay tuned!