Gunning Daily News

Q: When Is the Best Time to Sell a Home?

March 8, 2013 4:00 pm

A: The best time to sell is when you are ready, or when you must. That is, when you have outgrown the space in your current home, or you prefer to trade down to something smaller. Perhaps your martial status has changed, which necessitates a move, or you need to relocate for a job.

Market conditions also play a role, as do seasonal conditions. For example, your chances of getting top dollar for your home are more likely in a seller’s market, when demand outweighs supply, than in a buyer’s market.

Local and national economic factors also may dictate when to sell. If a major employer in your area is laying off workers, it may not be a good time to put your home up for sale. People will be cautious about buying when the future seems so unpredictable or bleak.

Most agents agree the best time to sell is in the spring. This is when the largest number of potential buyers hit the market. Your home is likely to sell faster and at a higher price, although sales begin to pick up as early as February and start to slack off in July, the slowest month for real estate transactions.

Q: What are the specific responsibilities of the contractor vs. the architect?

March 7, 2013 5:50 pm

A: Beyond having the architect create the design and the contractor implement it, both professionals have additional responsibilities. The contractor is responsible for pricing the project and ensuring that it is completed in a timely fashion. The architect is responsible for getting the construction drawing completed with proper specifications and architectural detail. Since many jurisdictions require architectural drawings to be reviewed to ensure the plans sufficiently meet local codes, the architect may also be responsible for applying for and securing the permits. Make sure that everyone, you included, understand who is responsible for what before work begins in your home.

5 Tips for Tax Filing in the Digital Era

March 7, 2013 5:50 pm

(BPT) - Filing taxes online has become more popular than ever. In fact, the rate of individual tax returns filed online hit an all-time high of 80 percent last year, according to the IRS. But filing isn't the only step in the process that can now be accomplished with the help of online tools. Use digital technology to your advantage to make the complete process - from organizing receipts to claiming your refund - quick and simple.

"No longer do consumers have to sort through stacks of paperwork or wait in long lines at the post office during the dreaded tax season to successfully complete the filing process," says Rebecca Smith, vice president of marketing for Master Lock. "There are now a number of digital tools that not only make the tax process faster and easier, but also offer increased security as they eliminate the risks associated with hard-copy files of important or confidential documents, such as checks or W-2 forms."

Follow these tips for a secure and successful digital tax filing process:
1. Request electronic copies of your tax forms. Many employers offer workers the option to receive their W-2 forms electronically, instead of by mail. Eliminating the risk of postal delays or missed deliveries ensures that your W-2 will be delivered securely as soon as it is available. Plus, faster W-2s can mean faster tax returns.
2. Securely store documents online. Avoid the mess of a mound of paperwork by storing - and organizing - all your tax-related documents online. A secure service such as the Master Lock Vault (www.masterlockvault.com) ensures you'll have easy access to all your files wherever you are and that none of your paper documents will ever be lost, misplaced, stolen or damaged. Not only can you upload PDF forms, you also can upload photos from your phone of important receipts and expenses for your records. All data is instantly synchronized between the website and the app.
3. Think taxes year-round. Don't wait until you're ready to file your taxes to start collecting and organizing the supporting documents you'll need to complete your return. Avoid the scramble by capturing and uploading a digital image of your receipt each time you pay the babysitter or have a tax-deductible transaction, fill a prescription at the pharmacy or make a charitable contribution such as dropping off a clothing donation to your local thrift store.
4. Opt for direct deposit. If you've done everything else online, why request a hard-copy check when it comes time to claim your refund? When combined with electronic filing, direct deposit is the fastest way to get your refund. If you're on the other side of the spectrum and find that you owe taxes, opt to pay online and you can avoid the long tax-season lines at the post office.
5. Call for help. Sometimes, outside advice is necessary, and you can now get the help you need without leaving home. Based on the complexity of your question, there are a variety of resources to turn to. For example, the IRS offers a toll-free hotline for tax questions during weekdays. Several tax-prep software providers also offer guidance via online forums or on their social media feeds.

Source: www.masterlockvault.com

Scholarship Application Tips

March 7, 2013 5:50 pm

(Family Features)--The high cost of a college education means that a lot of students are looking for financial aid to help pay for it. But the competition can be stiff. According to the most recent National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, only 5.5 percent1 of undergraduate students received non-athletic scholarships. What can students do to give themselves the best chance of receiving some much-needed scholarship money?

“Start your search and application process as early as possible,” says Tiffany Turner, Program Manager at International Scholarship and Tuition Services, Inc. “Give yourself plenty of time to find scholarships that fit your skills and needs. And most applications will require essays and letters of recommendation, so you want to make sure you have plenty of time to pull those together.”

Turner also encourages students to apply for as many scholarships as they qualify for. “There aren’t a lot of big, full-ride scholarships available, but many smaller scholarships can add up to a surprising amount.”

The Scholarship Application

When applying for scholarships, attention to detail is an important step to success:

  • Follow directions carefully. Make sure you have all the supporting materials required, but don’t include anything that is not requested.
  • Fill out the entire application. Don’t skip any questions. If one doesn’t apply to you, make a note of that on the application. If you’re not sure how to answer, you can contact the scholarship coordinator.
  • Proofread carefully. Typos and grammar errors can hurt your chances. Have a parent or teacher double-check your application.
  • Watch all deadlines. Set up a calendar for application deadlines and make sure you meet them. If you miss one, your application won’t be considered.


Many scholarship applications require some kind of written essay or letter.

  • Be specific. Focus on the topics the application requires. Use concrete examples rather than vague, general statements.
  • Be yourself. This is your chance to show scholarship providers what kind of person you are and why they should help pay for your education. Let your personality come through, and include details that reveal who you really are.
  • Be honest. Never exaggerate grades, skills or experience. If you find yourself feeling the need to do so, you’re probably not applying for the right scholarship.

Volunteering and community involvement plays a big role in awarding today’s scholarships. “More and more scholarship providers are looking for well-rounded students who not only take their studies seriously, but also have a long-term commitment to their local communities,” says Turner.

“Do some research on the organization providing the scholarships,” Turner says. “You may find that successful applicants have volunteered more than the minimum, and that can make a difference in their award decisions.”

You can find local volunteer opportunities by searching www.volunteermatch.org, and find or create your own teen-specific charitable projects at www.dosomething.org. Foresters also provides volunteer opportunities for its customer members.

Source: www.foresters.com

Telecommuter Tips: Furnishing a Home Office

March 7, 2013 5:50 pm

In a previous segment we focused on some home office IT basics. Now, we'll tap Rhonda Campbell at writemoneyinc.com, for her advice about furnishing your home office the right way - the first time.

Getting the Right Desk - Campbell recommends trying out several desks at an office or department store to know for sure which feels most comfortable. Choose a design with inviting style, like a cherry wood desktop versus a clear plexi. And get the height right – or you could suffer pain or discomfort, especially after sitting for several hours. Be sure the desk has sufficient storage, and with enough surface space to keep at least a staking 'In' and 'Out' tray.

Working Chairs - Similar to your desk, chairs that are too high or too low can force you to strain your spine, shoulders and neck. That’s why so many companies provide an ‘ergonomics analysis’ for employees. Consider an adjustable chair that molds closely to your spine, and test for enough cushioning to keep you comfortable for long stretches.

Lighting It Up - In addition to sunlight, a good desk lamp that’s gentle on the eyes and on the environment is a plus. Look for lighting designed with an adjustable neck for maximum lighting flexibility. She mentioned that metallic desk lamps and accessories also tend to show less dust than wood desk lamps.

Stow It - One or two tall file cabinets should be sufficient to keep documents organized. Should you need to secure your stuff, Campbell says look for file cabinets with sturdy key or combination locks.

Or you can shop the many secure, cloud-based storage systems that are available. Then you can put that new scanner to work and really go paperless!

Word of the Day

March 7, 2013 5:50 pm

Lease-purchase option. Opportunity to purchase a piece of property by renting for a specified period, with the provision that the lessee may choose to buy after or during the leasing period at a predetermined sale price.

Protection Tips for Spring Break Travel

March 6, 2013 5:46 pm

As families pack up for a week of fun and relaxation over spring break, everyone knows to take plenty of sunscreen to protect against sunburn. But it's just as important to take steps to protect against identity theft.

"While identity theft can happen at any time, it can be more likely while traveling because you're carrying a lot of personal information in a distracting and unfamiliar environment," says Brad Smith, Kansas Regional President, BMO Harris Bank.

Identity theft occurs when someone obtains your personal information -- such as your Social Security number -- and illegally uses it to open accounts or initiate transactions in your name. This can cause financial loss and damage your credit. The most common identity theft occurs when your wallet or purse is stolen, as the thief has easy access to check cards, IDs and other personal information.

Says Smith, "Your spring break trip doesn't have to be ruined by the threat of identity theft. Take a few simple precautions so you can enjoy your vacation without worry." He recommends the following steps when traveling to protect you and your family from identity theft.

  • Protect your Social Security number. Don't carry your card with you. If asked for your number, ask why the information is needed.
  • Never leave your personal documents unsecured in a hotel room. This includes checks and legal papers or computers and smartphones that may have personal information. Many hotels offer a security box in each room. This rule is especially important in foreign countries.
  • Carry the minimum. You do not need to travel with every piece of personal information you own. Only carry necessary credit cards and documents.
  • Beware of your surroundings. When accessing an ATM or using your PIN, beware of your surroundings. Cover your hand when typing in codes.
  • Don't check-in personal information. At airports, never place personal documentation in luggage that you intend to check-in. Once it is checked-in, it is out of your control and sight.
  • Use appropriate security measures when carrying information and money. Reduce the risk of personal information loss and identity theft by consciously using travel accessories like security money belts, security travel purse, security travel bags and money clips.
  • Be wise about Wi-Fi. Before you send personal information over your laptop or smartphone on a public wireless network in a coffee shop, airport, hotel, or other public place, see if your information will be protected.
Source: BMO Harris Bank

What to Buy in March

March 6, 2013 5:46 pm

It should not be surprising that the ‘tween season between winter and spring can yield some noteworthy bargains. From the retail economists at Dailyfinance.com, here are some of the buys to look for before spring settles in for the long haul:

China and flatware – Buy now to take advantage of the lull between holiday purchasing of china and flatware and the wedding gift-buying season.
Spring clothing – Spring styles start showing up in stores while holiday merchandise is still being cleared out. By now, some spring clothing has been on the racks for two months, and many bargains are there for the taking.
Perfumes and colognes – After Christmas and Valentine’s Day, perfume counters take a hit until Mother’s day, making this a good time to find bargains and/or incentives on your favorite scents.
Luggage – Luggage shops are clearing out inventory now to make room for new styles, making March the perfect time to buy the bags you need.
Outerwear – If you need a new coat for next winter, look for clearances on outerwear that are being offered now. Selection is thinned, but bargains abound.
Garden supplies – The local greenhouse is already overflowing with merchandise for avid gardeners. Look for good buys now on bulbs, seeds and cultivating tools.
Sports equipment – The same is true for ski equipment and other winter sports gear. Snatch up deals on football, hockey equipment and even on sub-zero sleeping bags.
Skiing passes – As winter begins to wind down, many resorts offer special deals for downhill fun, so look for bargain packages including lodging. The higher the elevation or farther north the resort, the better price breaks you will begin to find.
Frozen foods – March is Frozen Food Month. Look for promotions and coupons and fill up your freezer for less.

How to Weather Spring's Approaching Severe Storms

March 6, 2013 5:46 pm

As we watch Winter Storm Saturn move across the country, it seems that spring must still be far away. However, its official start is only a couple of weeks away. The season is known for its thunderstorms, lightning, high winds, tornadoes, hail, and flooding—which can all bring the wrath of Mother Nature to the doorstep in short order. That is why Safe Electricity urges you to make sure you are ready now—before severe weather strikes this spring.

March 3-9, 2013 is National Severe Storm Preparedness Week. Community and school tornado drills will be conducted across the country affording you the opportunity to make plans with your family to be ready for any foul weather that might come your way. Molly Hall , executive director of the Safe Electricity program says, "Making plans now just might save lives when floodwaters are rising or a tornado is bearing down on your home."

Assemble necessary supplies for a potential outage. Your emergency preparedness kit should include items such as water, food, flashlight, batteries, blankets, and a first aid kit. A full list of suggested items can be found at SafeElectricity.org.

The National Weather Service also recommends that you:

  • Know the county you are located in and nearby towns and cities. Warnings are issued by county and reference major cities.
  • Know the difference between a severe thunderstorm watch and warning. A watch means there is the possibility of storms in your area. A warning means a storm has been reported or is imminent and you should take cover.
  • Check the forecast and the hazardous weather outlook.
  • Watch for signs of an approaching storm.
  • Turn on a weather radio or an AM/FM radio for information if a storm is approaching.
  • Stay inside if you know a storm is headed your way.

The best policy is to plan ahead so you do not get caught outside in a storm. Lightning can strike up to 10 miles from the area in which it is raining, even if you do not see clouds. This means that if you can hear thunder, you are within striking distance.

Most severe storms don't last more than 30 minutes. However, once the storm has passed, it does not mean that the danger has. There could be a variety of hazards left behind. Hall reminds us, "Never touch downed power lines or objects in contact with those lines. Just because power lines are damaged does not mean that they are dead."

Touching a downed line or something that it has fallen over, like a fence or a tree limb, could get you injured or killed. Stay away, and instruct others to do the same. If you come across downed power lines, call 911 and your utility immediately.

Other things to consider after the storm:

  • If you are inspecting your home in the dark, use a flashlight rather than a candle or some other open flame to avoid the risk of fire or explosion due to a gas leak.
  • Never enter a flooded basement if electrical outlets are under water. The water could be energized.
  • If you see frayed wiring or sparks or if there is an odor of something burning, shut off the electrical system at the main circuit breaker if you know how and can do so safely.
  • If you smell gas, or suspect a leak, get out of the house. Call 911, and notify your gas utility immediately.

Source: www.SafeElectricity.org.

Word of the Day

March 6, 2013 5:46 pm

Junior mortgage. Any mortgage, such a second or third mortgage on a property, which is subordinate to the first one in priority.