Gunning Daily News

Q: What Should I Consider before Putting an Addition on My Home?

December 13, 2012 5:02 pm

A: Thoroughly assess your space. You may find you have the room you need, particularly if there is unused or under utilized areas in your home. Perhaps a garage, attic, side porch, or basement can be converted to fit the use you have in mind. Or, maybe, a small area can be carved from a larger area like a kitchen or living room to create a powder room. These improvements are certainly cheaper than a major construction job.

Top 10 Holiday Destinations of 2012

December 12, 2012 4:56 pm

Wondering where people are headed over the holidays? Do you want to know you’re your travel plans stack up? Looking for great rates on rooms? Hotel discount company Getaroom.com researched and released the most popular holiday travel destinations of 2012.

New York City – The Big Apple has rebounded quickly from the effects of Hurricane Sandy to reclaim the number one spot. Getaroom features many quality NYC hotels from $99 a night or less, including the Americana Hotel, Pod 51, and the Jane Hotel. Deluxe hotels such as the St. Giles can be found from $159 a night or less.

Las Vegas – It might be chilly in Vegas in the winter, but the deals are substantial, with deluxe suites available for as little as $75 a night.

Orlando - Always a popular spot, winter travelers to Orlando can save money and beat the crowds. The Wyndham Lake Buena Vista hotel and the Best Western Lake Buena Vista hotel can be booked for $79 or less on most nights.

Miami – Boutique hotels such as the Riviera from $110 a night.

San Francisco – The City by the Bay offers temperate weather for those who don't want to deal with snow and want to enjoy many five-star dining options.

Chicago – Bundle up against the cold in one of many four-star hotels such as The Allerton Hotel from $89 a night.

Washington D.C. – get out of the cold and into one of our nation's historic museums and landmarks.

New Orleans – The Big Easy is always a fun time. Look for French Quarter accommodations for as low as $119 a night at the Hotel Monteleone or Bourbon Orleans Hotel.

Anaheim – Disney Land hotels available for cheap during the holidays. Enjoy warm but not hot weather and get a deal.

Los Angeles – Always a top 10 destination, LA offers great weather and a wide range of accommodations from ultra-luxe to more budget friendly lodging.

Runners up for the Top 10 list include Fort Lauderdale, San Diego, Boston, London, San Juan, and up and coming destinations such as Palm Desert, Sedona, and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.

Source: www.getaroom.com.

2013: Will Your Taxes Go Up?

December 12, 2012 4:56 pm

When the clock strikes midnight on December 31, 2012, many Americans will celebrate the arrival of a new year with streamers, confetti and a round of "Auld Lang Syne." But when they wake up the next morning, January 1, 2013, they may not be as excited to learn that their federal taxes have increased.

As things stand now, many Americans are facing a tax increase beginning in 2013. This pending tax increase has been referred to as "the 2013 fiscal cliff" and "Taxmageddon" by some pundits, who are concerned that it could threaten the fragile economic recovery.

On January 1, 2013, the lower income, investment and estate tax rates that were passed as part of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA) are scheduled to expire. According to David Lerner Associates Branch Manager John Koene, these lower rates were originally scheduled to expire at the end of 2010. "However, they were temporarily extended by the Tax Relief Act of 2010 until December 31, 2012."

Unless legislative action is taken again before December 31, 2012, the following taxes will be affected starting next year:

* Ordinary income taxes — The tax rates for the top four income brackets will all rise: from 25 to 28 percent, 28 to 31 percent, 33 to 36 percent, and 35 to 39.6 percent.

* Investment (or passive) income taxes — The top tax rate on capital gains will rise from 15 percent to 20 percent, and dividends will be taxed at ordinary income tax rates, which could be as high as 39.6 percent.

* Estate taxes — The top federal estate tax rate will rise from 35 percent to 55 percent. Also, the applicable exclusion amount for estate taxes will drop from the current $5.12 million per person (or $10.24 million for a married couple) to $1 million (or $2 million for a married couple).

In addition to the expiring lower EGTRRA tax rates, Koene adds that some upper-income taxpayers will also be faced next year with an additional 3.8 percent surtax on investment income as part of the Affordable Care Act. Starting in January, this surtax will apply to the unearned income of individuals with an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $200,000 or more and married couples with an AGI of $250,000 or more. An additional 0.9 percent payroll tax on wages will also apply to these individuals and couples at this time.

As a result, the top capital gains rate for these individuals and couples will rise to 23.8 percent (20 percent capital gain plus 3.8 percent surtax) and the top tax rate will rise to 43.4 percent (39.6 percent plus 3.8 percent surtax and additional 0.9 percent payroll tax on wages).

"These pending tax increases have emphasized the importance of year-end tax planning this year," says Koene. If you haven't yet, it may be a good idea to schedule a meeting with your tax advisor to discuss how you might be affected and steps you can take that might help minimize your future tax liability.

Material contained in this article is provided for information purposes only and is not intended to be used in connection with the evaluation of any investments offered by David Lerner Associates, Inc. This material does not constitute an offer or recommendation to buy or sell securities and should not be considered in connection with the purchase or sale of securities.

Word of the Day

December 12, 2012 4:56 pm

Construction loan. Type of loan where money is doled out as construction takes place; borrower must obtain a permanent long-term mortgage from another source to repay the construction loan. Also called an interim loan.

Q: How Much, on Average, Can I Expect to Spend on Maintenance?

December 12, 2012 4:56 pm

A: Expect to spend one percent of the purchase price of your home every year to handle a myriad of tasks, including painting, tree trimming, repairing gutters, caulking windows, and routine system repairs and maintenance.

An older home will usually require more maintenance, although a lot will depend on how well it has been maintained over the years.

Tell yourself that the upkeep of your home is mandatory, and budget accordingly. Otherwise, your home’s value will suffer if you allow it to fall into a state of disrepair. Remember, there is usually a direct link between a property’s condition and its market value: The better its condition, the more a buyer will likely pay for it down the road.

Also, adopt the attitude that the cost of good home maintenance is usually minor compared to what it will cost to remedy a situation that you allowed to get out of hand. For example, unclogging and sealing gutters may cost a few hundred dollars. But repairing damage to a corner of your home where gutters have leaked can potentially cost several thousands dollars.

Don’t Get Burned By Furnace Repair Scams

December 11, 2012 5:12 pm

I often write about improving your energy efficiency by selecting the right heating source and keeping it maintained in top performing condition. But this means possibly exposing yourself to furnace-cleaning scams, which are becoming a growing concern according to the Better Business Bureau.

While most furnace repair and oil company furnace maintenance services are honest, reputable and fair, others use fraud and scare tactics to get consumers to pay for new heating systems, even when they are functioning properly according to a recent report.

BBB offers these tips to help avoid getting fleeced by a furnace repair scam:

Always get a second or third opinion as to whether repairs or replacement are needed. All bids should be in writing and provide a full description of services provided and materials used.

When considering a bid, compare more than cost. Check the size and efficiency rating of the equipment each bidder proposes, and then ask how they arrived at recommending a particular sized system. If you are told your furnace must be replaced because it is too small, think back to whether it has ever failed to properly heat your home.

Check the warranty on your heating system. Many of them come with long-term warranties.

If you determine repairs or replacement is necessary, select a contractor with a solid reputation for dependable, reasonably priced work.

In some cases, a serviceman may claim that your furnace has cracks inside, or is leaking dangerous fumes, and may write a report or estimate that stipulates “System unfit for safe operation. Unit shut off and left off.”

Soot on surfaces, on carpets and around air inlets is an indication of a malfunctioning unit, but may be caused by an old gasket rather than cracks in the furnace itself.

Finally, ask friends, neighbors and family members for recommendations, and check out any company you’d like to hire at www.bbb.org for a Business Review.

Getting Kids to Ease the Holiday Workload

December 11, 2012 5:12 pm

For working families, adding holiday chores to the everyday workload can be daunting. With gifts to buy and wrap, a house to decorate, and a freezer to fill with seasonal goodies, it’s easy to raise the stress factor – especially when housebound and excited children seem constantly underfoot.

But having kids in the house can ease the workload a bit if you make them responsible for some of the routine chores you generally do yourself.

“Giving kids chores not only builds character but gives them a sense of purpose and value,” says Denver homemaker Emily Cates, who blogs on organized homemaking. “Even the youngest can do their part and free you to do what you have to.”

Cates, a mother of four including six-year old twins, lists age-appropriate chores for children, suggesting you post a chart in the kitchen so kids can check off their daily achievements before Santa comes to town:

Kids Under Five:

  • Put their toys away
  • Put dirty clothes in the hamper
  • Bring in the mail
  • Help tidy the family room
  • Help feed the pet
  • Help dust

Ages 5-7:

  • Any of above, plus…
  • Set the table
  • Water indoor plants
  • Answer the telephone
  • Sweep outside walk
  • Help put away groceries
  • Help load dishwasher

Age 8-10:

  • Any of above, plus…
  • Sort laundry into proper loads
  • Fold finished laundry
  • Take out the garbage
  • Take trash barrels to curb on collection day
  • Clean the bathroom sink
  • Use hand-held vacuum to clean small floor areas
  • Help prepare dinner
  • Run his/her own bath

Age 10 and over:

  • Any of above, plus…
  • Load washing machine, move clothes to dryer
  • Clean toilet, bathroom and mirrors
  • Vacuum
  • Make lunches
  • Clean up the pet business from backyard
  • Walk the pet
  • Help with dinner preparation
  • Load and unload dishwasher

Top Tips for Training Your Dog

December 11, 2012 5:12 pm

(Family Features) Sit. Stay. Heel. These simple commands can make a huge difference in the life of a pet parent. Whether you’re introducing a new dog or puppy to the family, or you have a dog with some behavior issues, training can help ensure a well-adjusted pet and a happier family.

According to the American Kennel Club, dog training can:

  • Help your dog become a welcome member of the family and the neighborhood.
  • Correct behaviors such as jumping on people, digging, chewing and barking.
  • Provide mental and physical activities for your dog.
  • Deepen the bond between you and your dog.
  • Ensure your dog’s happiness and safety.

Training You Can Do at Home

Beyond teaching the basics of sitting and staying, training can include correcting behaviors. One common dog behavior that often needs correcting is jumping on people. “Dogs are sociable animals and often sniff muzzles when they greet each other,” says Debbie McKnight, training expert for PetSmart. “A dog that jumps on someone to greet them is often trying to make contact with the person’s face. It’s important to teach them an acceptable alternative for these social situations.”

Teaching your dog to sit first and then allow interaction can be a good solution. Here are helpful tips on how to make your pet a great greeter:

  • Have everyone that interacts with your dog ask him to sit as he approaches them.
  • If he sits, they can bend down to greet him.
  • If he jumps up, they stand up immediately, fold their arms and stare at the ceiling, repeating the signal to sit.
  • As soon as he sits, reward him by continuing with the greeting.
It’s important to reward your pet so they are constantly being reminded of how to behave.

Take Your Dog to School

Professional training classes are beneficial for many dogs and are available for several different levels, from basic classes that can help them socialize properly, to more advanced classes that can keep them safe and correct behaviors. Goals for each level of training are different and are set by the pet owner based on what they learn in class.

For example:

Beginner dog goals may include:

  • Not jumping on people
  • Loose leash walk around the block

Intermediate dog goals may include:

  • Three minute down-stay
  • Heeling down the block

Advanced dog goals may include:

  • Heeling through a crowd
  • “Go to your bed” when the doorbell rings
  • Coming when called at the dog park

Professional training is a complement to what you do at home, and practice is important at all levels. As a dog progresses through training, pet parents should make the behaviors they ask for harder during everyday practice. So rather than a basic sit before his meal, for example, try a sit-stay command for 15 seconds from 10 feet away.

Source: www.petsmart.com/training.

Word of the Day

December 11, 2012 5:12 pm

Consideration. Something of value, usually money, given to induce another to enter into a contract.

Q: What Can I Do about Unseen Problems Like Toxic Gases?

December 11, 2012 5:12 pm

A: Problems with your chimney, mechanical devices on your heating appliance, and pressure within the home can all cause combustion spillage, the unwanted flow of combustion gases into your home. Present in these gases are toxic elements such as carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides.

The best way to prevent spillage is to hire a professional – preferably one who specializes in building inspection, indoor air quality, ducting, chimneys and heating equipment – to do a yearly maintenance check of all your combustion appliances. These appliances include a gas-fired furnace, boiler, or water heater, an oil-fired furnace, boiler, or water heater, and a fireplace.

The service professional can check for heat exchanger leakage, evidence of start up spillage, and condensation in the chimney. Maintenance normally includes a tune-up, or in the case of a chimney, clearing it of debris and fixing cracks on the inside wall.