Gunning Daily News

Word of the Day

January 18, 2013 5:44 pm

Eminent domain. The right or power of government to acquire private property for public use without the consent of the owner, provided fair compensation is provided.

Q: Do I Have to Disclose Information about My Home?

January 18, 2013 5:44 pm

A: Disclosure could protect you from a lawsuit. Today, home sellers in most states must now fill out a form disclosing material facts about their homes. Material facts are details about the home’s condition or legal status, as well as the age of various components.

If your state does not require a written disclosure, the real estate laws probably require sellers to disclose any known problems with the home they are selling.

Selling In Winter? Chill Out - It Might Be Easier Than You Think

January 18, 2013 4:14 pm

Just because it's cold outside, or the days are short doesn't mean you need to dial down your hopes of selling home until spring. I recently ran across some inspiring winter home selling ideas from Dana Dratch, a long-time Georgia real estate professional and writer for Bankrate.com.

Dratch says while it's true that in most areas you'll probably have fewer buyers during the winter, you will have less competition from other sellers. Check out her tips for winter home sellers, which we will begin focusing on in this first of two installments.

According to Dratch, the top tip from REALTORS® is about snow and ice -- if the buyer can't get in easily, the house won't sell. That means keeping walkways and driveways free of the frozen stuff. If you're away frequently or live in an area that's subject to bad weather, it can pay to hire a service to regularly salts or shovels the driveway and sidewalks.

If you're showing during the winter, think "warm, cozy and homey," says Ken Libby, a real estate professional in Stowe, Vt. Before a buyer comes through, adjust the thermostat to a warmer temperature to make it welcoming. And if you have a gas fireplace, turning it on right before the tour can give the house a little ambience, says Libby.

Take advantage of natural light by making the most of the light you do have. Have the curtains and blinds cleaned and open them as wide as possible during daytime showings. Clean all the lamps and built-in fixtures, and replace the bulbs with the highest wattage that they will safely accommodate. Before you show the house, turn on all the lights.

Get the windows washed - they are one thing that many sellers don't even consider. In winter that strong southern light can reveal grime and make it look like the home hasn't been well maintained.

And to create a little atmosphere, tune the radio to the local classical station and turn it down so that you just hear it quietly in the background. In our next segment, we'll continue with Dratch's remaining tips to help you sell your house this winter.

7 Ways You're Sabotaging Your Own Business

January 18, 2013 4:14 pm

It's not that you're doing it intentionally, but if you're a stressed-out small business owner there's a chance that you're sabotaging your own business.

Not all the work you do for your business is necessarily helping you move forward. Putting in all the overtime and taking on all that work may actually be setting you back. That's obviously not the goal.

But it's hard to fix a problem if you don't know what you're doing wrong. To help you out, here are some of the more common forms of self-sabotage that can happen to business owners:

  1. Sending the wrong message. You can't be all things to all people, no matter how great your business model appears. Attempting to do that will just confuse people and may make it hard to grow your customer base. Decide what you want your company to be about and then make sure to follow that.
  2. Not reading the fine print. Businesses involve lots of paperwork, which means a lot of fine print. It may seem like a time saver to use boilerplate contracts for employment and incorporation, but in most cases those won't address your specific needs. Take time the read the fine print and better yet, have a professional go over it with you.
  3. Overpromising. High expectations can be a good thing, but if you fail to perform it will significantly hurt your reputation. Don't set yourself up for failure by promising something you can't deliver. Instead, plan for some extra time in case something comes up to prevent timely action. It never hurts to overdeliver.
  4. Failing to delegate. It doesn't matter how organized you are or how much time you have to devote to the business, at some point you have to share the work. That doesn't mean overall quality has to suffer. Get someone else to do the task and then check their work to make sure it's up to your standards.
  5. Not having a support team. You expect your clients to trust you as an expert, but that also means you should trust experts when you need them. Dealing with accounts and filling out legal paperwork can get pretty complicated, so work with professionals like an accountant and a business attorney to protect your interests.
  6. Growing too fast. It's great to feel like your business is growing, but if it grows too fast you may have to skimp on quality to make up for it in quantity. When deciding to expand your hours, offer new products, or order more merchandise, first take the time to think about whether growing so fast will set you back financially.
  7. Failing to take care of yourself. As a small business owner, you are the heart and soul of the company. If you're not staying healthy, getting rest, and taking a break once in a while, your company won't be doing so well either. Take some time to yourself so you can get things done in the office.

Source: www.findlaw.com

New Increase in FICA Tax Hitting Americans' Paychecks

January 18, 2013 4:14 pm

As wage earners in the United States begin to receive their first paychecks in 2013, they'll likely notice their net pay has gone down. That's because a two-year payroll tax holiday expired on December 31, 2012, and was not renewed as part of the fiscal cliff deal, explains Barry Habib, chief market strategist at Residential Finance Corp (RFC), a nationwide mortgage lender. How can the average American offset the loss in take-home pay? Refinancing a home mortgage is one strategy definitely worth thinking about, Habib says.
Every worker will see a two percent FICA tax increase now that the rate has reverted from 4.2 percent to 6.2 percent. The increase in the FICA tax, which is deducted from workers' paychecks, will cause take-home pay to decrease by $600 per year for workers with an annual income of $30,000. Workers with an annual income of $50,000 will bring home $1,000 less per year, while workers with an annual income of $100,000 will bring home $2,000 less per year.

"While two percent may sound like a modest increase, the toll it takes on discretionary spending is much greater," Habib adds. Consider a couple in which each partner earns $45,000 per year, earning $90,000 combined. They will likely pay $26,000 in taxes, and their living expenses may be in the range of $46,000 a year, he explains. "That leaves a couple earning $90,000 in combined income with $18,000 in discretionary spending. A two percent tax hike resulting in $1800 less per year will feel more like a 10 percent reduction, as they're losing 10 percent of their discretionary income," Habib says.

One practical solution to offset the decrease in income is to refinance a home mortgage, Habib notes. With rates at historical lows, many Americans could benefit by refinancing to a lower interest rate, he says. "Of course, not everyone is qualified to refinance, or is in a position where it makes sense. However, for many homeowners, refinancing their mortgage could more than offset the loss homeowners will feel from the increase in the FICA tax," Habib says.

Habib offers the following tips to consumers considering a refinance:

  • Know the Current Value of Your Home
    A drop in your home's value may prevent you from being able to refinance if the equity in the property isn't enough to meet lenders' criteria. "Do some research and speak to a couple of real estate agents on what similar homes in your neighborhood have been selling for to get an accurate valuation. Doing so allows you to make a well-informed decision about whether refinancing is feasible and makes sense, before you spend money on an appraisal or pay any of the other additional fees associated with refinancing," according to Habib.
  • An Assumable FHA Mortgage Will Make Your Property More Valuable and Easier to Sell
    Homeowners may want to consider refinancing to an assumable Federal Housing Authority (FHA) mortgage, Habib says. With an assumable mortgage, the home buyer has the ability to take over the existing mortgage of the seller. An assumable mortgage typically raises the value of your home, and will certainly make it more sellable should you decide to sell, he notes. "Selling a home with an assumable mortgage gives you an edge on your competition," Habib says.
  • Instead of Giving the Bank Money in Points, Pay Yourself
    Think twice about paying points on a refinance, Habib advises. "It's tempting to see how low a rate you can get by paying more points, but you need to consider the cost of the money you're spending today," he says. Instead, Habib suggests homeowners think about using the money to reduce the principal on their mortgage. For example, on a $200,000 mortgage, rather than paying three points or $6000, the homeowner could pay their mortgage down to $194,000. "While your rate will be higher, your payment is based on a smaller principal amount, so you'll spend less on your mortgage in the long run," Habib says.
  • Refinance to a 15- or 20-Year Loan
    Strongly consider refinancing to a 15- or 20-year mortgage. "With today's low interest rates, you may find that your mortgage payments are pretty darn close to what you're paying now," Habib says. "With a shorter loan term, so much more of your payment is going toward principal, that even after a couple of months, you're realizing a benefit. "Homeowners who are able to refinance to a mortgage with a shorter term build a much greater amount of equity in their homes as time goes on, he adds.

Source: http://www.ResidentialFinance.com

Word of the Day

January 18, 2013 4:14 pm

Easement. Limited right to cross or use for some specified purpose the property of another. It may be permanent or temporary. Water, sewage, and utility suppliers frequently hold an easement across private property.

Q: What Is the Difference between Appraised Value and Market Value?

January 18, 2013 4:14 pm

A: A certified appraiser who is trained to provide the estimated value of a home determines its appraised value. The appraised value is based on comparable sales, the condition of the property, and several other factors.
Market value is the price the house will bring at a given point in time, once you and the buyer establish a “meeting of the minds” on price.

These Energy Saving Measures Still Generate a Sizable Tax Benefit

January 17, 2013 6:30 pm

To help you understand energy savings and tax benefits, I will provide you with some energy-related tips from the Alliance to Save Energy's Director of Government Relations, Rob Mosher.

As the New Year commences, Mosher says homeowners could be eligible to receive a sizable tax return if they invested in an electric vehicle, geothermal heat pump, or fuel cell system in 2012.

Certain electric vehicles acquired after 2009 are eligible for up to $7,500 in tax credits. Qualified plug-in electric vehicles qualify for a $2,500 tax credit, and the credit increases by $417 for each additional kWh of battery capacity up to $7,500.

A complete list of vehicles eligible for this tax credit is available at fueleconomy.gov.

Mosher says geothermal heat pumps installed anytime since 2009 in a main or second home qualify for a federal tax credit. These are similar to traditional heat pumps, but use the earth's natural heat to control the temperature of your home more efficiently.

The federal government is offering a tax credit of 30 percent of the installation costs, with no upper limit. All EnergyStar geothermal pumps qualify and are over 45 percent more efficient than standard models.

Visit EnergyStar.gov for more detailed information on qualified heat pumps and tax filing.

Installing residential fuel cell systems provides another opportunity for homeowners to save money and utilize federal tax incentives, according to Mosher. Fuel cells produce electricity through a chemical process of combining oxygen with hydrogen extracted from natural gas or propane.

While these systems can be expensive, they can also :

  • Supply a steady portion of the home’s electric energy needs;
  • Allow for excess electricity to be sold back to the local utility, and;
  • Power the home during power outages

The tax credit covers 30 percent of installation costs (up to $1,000 per kWh) for fuel cell systems placed in service in 2009 or later on a non-business property. Learn about fuel cell qualifications from the U.S. Fuel Cell Council at www.eere.energy.gov.

5 Credit Myths to Ditch Now

January 17, 2013 6:30 pm

Everyone knows that having a good credit score marks you as a credit-worthy individual with increased buying power. But, said consumer finance consultant Jill Krasny, many people have critical misconceptions about what makes for a good credit score.

Krasny offers five common credit misconceptions:

  • Having too much available credit can hurt your score – False. There is nothing in the credit scoring formula that penalizes a consumer for having too much available credit. If anything, it may increase your credit worthiness in the eye of lenders, who operate on the theory that having a lot of credit available but low balances and on-time payments make you the best possible risk.
  • Income is part of your credit score – Wrong. Credit reporting agencies do not even include your income on your report. Lenders are interested only in whether your pay your bills on time.
  • Once married, a couple’s credit score is combined – Wrong again. All consumers, married or not, have individual credit files and scores. But it is important to manage your finances carefully, especially when it comes to shared debts.
  • Carrying balances on credit cards is better for your score – Not. The only thing a running balance will get you is interest charges. Paying off your bill on time each month shows credit activity as well as credit worthiness.
  • A credit repair agency can get negatives off your report – False. If late payments are listed accurately on your credit report, no agency can legally remove them, no matter what they promise. If the information is correct, the only thing you can do is make on-time payments going forward. If the information is not accurate, you should file a dispute with the credit reporting agency, asking them to correct the inaccurate information or remove the negative info that doesn’t belong to you – which credit agencies are obligated to do within 30 days under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

National Foundation for Credit Counseling Launches Spanish Version of MyMoneyCheckUp

January 17, 2013 6:30 pm

The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) recently announced the expansion of MyMoneyCheckUp™, the NFCC’s free innovative online financial resource tool for consumers.

The tool is now available in Spanish at https://www.miayudafinanciera.org and www.DebtAdvice.org, bringing Hispanic populations and communities a unique and much-needed method of assessing personal financial health.

“Our mission at the NFCC has always been to provide the public with the resources necessary for financial stability,” says Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the NFCC. “The introduction of MyMoneyCheckUp™ in Spanish allows us to bring the tool to a much wider audience.”

As of 2011, the Hispanic population comprised 16.7 percent of the United States population, the largest minority group following African-Americans. In addition, 20.3 percent of U.S. households speak a language other than English.

Recognizing the need for expanded financial resources to the Hispanic community, Experian provided a generous grant to translate MyMoneyCheckUp™ into Spanish.

“Experian is so pleased to work with the NFCC Member Agencies in helping families with their financial capability and in making this valuable tool available to a wider audience,” says Maxine Sweet, Experian Vice President of Public Education. “We have a shared goal of helping everyone learn to live credit smart. That starts with a clear understanding of your financial position and having readily accessible tools to help guide your future.”

The English version of MyMoneyCheckUp™ originally launched in 2011 to provide consumers with a means of evaluating four key areas of personal finance: budgeting and credit management, saving and investing, planning for retirement, and home equity.

After answering a series of topic specific questions, a personalized assessment of the individual’s overall financial health and associated behaviors is generated. With areas of concern identified, the analysis suggests changes that consumers are encouraged to implement in order to become more financially independent. The traditional red, yellow and green traffic light colors signal whether the consumer should continue on their current money path, proceed with caution, or stop and make a change respectively. Individuals can also complete an optional budget to further help them assess their financial health.

“When developing the tool, one goal was to make financial education more readily accessible to a broad segment of the population. Thousands of Americans across the country have already benefited from the English version of MyMoneyCheckUp™. It is our hope that the Hispanic community will now take advantage of this simple and free personal finance assessment tool, and embrace the opportunity to improve their financial stability,” continues Cunningham.

Since 1951, The NFCC and its members have promoted financial education, sound money management, and positive financial habits to millions of people in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, giving them the knowledge, capability, and support needed to achieve their financial goals. The NFCC Member Agency services are provided for free or at low cost, and are available in both English and Spanish.

For more information, visit www.DebtAdvice.org.