Gunning Daily News
October 11, 2012 5:36 pm
Income taxes are going up next year, and not just for those who earn more than $200,000 a year.
“Taxes are likely to be higher for everyone” says financial planner Rick Rodgers, author of The New Three-Legged Stool: A Tax Efficient Approach To Retirement Planning.
“We all know about the expiring Bush tax cuts, which may or may not be extended for everyone or just some,” he says. “There are also new taxes that were part of the healthcare reform law passed in 2010; the expiring payroll tax cut; the alternative minimum tax that already expired in 2011, and many other provisions that have expired or will expire at year end.”
Nearly everyone should prepare to pay more, Rodgers says.
The good news is you still have time to take advantage of 2012 tax rates, which may turn out to be the lowest we will see in some time. Rodgers offers these strategies that can be implemented before the end of 2012:
• Roth Conversion - No one knows for sure what will happen to the tax code next year, which is why a Roth conversion is one of the best tax-planning strategies available. Converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA creates a taxable event in 2012. All future earnings in the account will be tax-free, as long as you wait five years and are age 59½ or older when you take withdrawals. The biggest advantage to the Roth conversion strategy is the ability to “undo” the transaction as late as Oct. 15, 2013. Should the new Congress pass a major tax reform bill next year that lowers tax rates across the board, you can put the money back into your IRA. It will be like the transaction never happened.
• Harvest capital gains - Harvesting gains is similar to harvesting losses. Sell appreciated securities that you’ve held for at least 12 months to realize the long-term gain for tax purposes. You can immediately repurchase the same asset because there is no wash sale rule for realizing gains. This allows you to pay tax on the gain in 2012, when rates are low, and establish a new cost basis in the asset to minimize increased gains that may be taxed at higher rates. This strategy should appeal to anyone in the 15-percent tax bracket because capital gains are taxed at zero and may jump to 8 to 10 percent in 2013 if the tax cuts expire. The strategy is also appealing to anyone subject to the Medicare surtax. If the current tax laws expire, the tax rate on long-term capital gains will jump from 15 percent to 23.8 percent (21.8 percent for assets held more than five years).
• Pay medical expenses - Anyone who normally itemizes medical expenses on their tax return should accelerate those expenses into 2012 if they can. Medical expenses are deductible only if they exceed 7½ percent of adjusted gross income (AGI). This means if your AGI is $50,000, you can deduct only medical expenses over $3,750. Next year the threshold jumps to 10 percent of AGI. Pay your January medical insurance premium in December to move this deduction to 2012. Any routine eye exams or dental visits should be moved up to December. Paying with a credit card would give you the deduction this year and delay the actual payment until 2013.
Rodgers warns that a common mistake is to wait and see what happens. It has not been uncommon for Congress to make significant changes to the tax code late in December, leaving taxpayers little time to react. He advises a diversified approach to tax planning. Make a partial Roth conversion, harvest some capital gains but don’t wait until it’s too late to do anything about rising taxes.
Take a proactive approach to tax planning this year to cushion any fall from the fiscal cliff.
Certified Financial Planner Rick Rodgers is president of Rodgers & Associates, “The Retirement Specialists,” in Lancaster, Pa. He’s a Certified Retirement Counselor and member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisers.
For more information, visit www.RodgersSpeaks.com.
October 11, 2012 5:36 pm
(ARA) - From the moment the first cave dweller marked the wall of his home with a bit of charcoal, art has been a home decor must that has stood the test of time. Whether it's the vibrant colors of a van Gogh, the almost-mystical perfection of a da Vinci or the dreamily diffused light of a Monet, great art speaks to the soul.
The works of master artists have inspired home decor for centuries, and technological advances have made it easier than ever to incorporate their genius into your own home. It's no longer necessary to visit the Louvre in Paris to view the “Mona Lisa” or to travel to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City to savor van Gogh's “Starry Night.”
You can easily incorporate great artwork into your home decor.
Reproductions are the most obvious - and accessible - way to enjoy great masterpieces in your home. Fortunately, you have a variety of options when looking for a quality reproduction. From simple paper prints purchased at your local home decor store to actual paintings digitally reproduced with the aid of a computer program, you can find reproductions for virtually every price point.
You can use your reproduction to enhance your home decor in a number of ways. A small print tucked into a discrete spot on the wall can add a pleasant, surprising pop of color in a room. Or, a larger reproduction can be a focal point for a room's decor, and even provide color inspiration for the rest of the room, from walls to upholstery and accessories.
Another versatile option that can be bold and striking is a wall mural. When you think of inspiring murals, does Michaelangelo's famous work from the Sistine Chapel come to mind? With easy-to-install wallpaper murals, you can recreate the world's most-recognizable ceiling in your own home.
A mural can fit into the decor in virtually every room of your home. Imagine the whimsical delight of Katsushika Hokusai's “The Great Wave of Kanagawa” as an accent in your master bath. Or, van Gogh's “Cafe Terrace at Night” can impart a distinctive Old World flavor to the decor in your breakfast nook. You can even incorporate a masterpiece mural in your outdoor design. Website MuralsYourWay.com offers wallpaper murals in SmartStick, a peel-and-stick material that can be used indoors or out and adheres to most smooth wall surfaces (including glass) and is easily removable and repositionable. No paste is needed and you can use the mural over and over again.
Your foray into great art doesn't have to be limited to paintings, however. While reproductions of renowned sculptures are easy to come by, and an obvious choice, you can also find a variety of accessories and even furniture that draw their inspiration from famous works of art.
Looking for something thought-provoking and edgy for your home decor? Consider items - from wall clocks to furniture - inspired by the work of Salvador Dali. Is modern and abstract more to your taste? Fabrics that draw on the colors and design of Picasso's works may fit your vision.
Great art speaks to the soul, and whatever genre you prefer - impressionist, Renaissance, modern or abstract - you can find a place for it in your home. Thanks to modern technology, it's easier than ever to enjoy great art and incorporate it into your decor.
October 11, 2012 5:36 pm
Warranty deed. A deed in which the grantor guarantees that he or she is giving the grantee good title free of encumbrances. Considered to be the best deed a grantee can receive.
October 11, 2012 5:36 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.
October 11, 2012 1:28 pm
The change in seasons from summer to fall means several species of common household pests are crawling their way into homes across the country as the weather cools. The annual end-of-summer invasion poses many potential risks to homes that are not properly protected from the seasonal onslaught.
"Homeowners need to take the threat of pests seriously because they can do so much damage to the structure of a home," says Matt Hess, Home Remodeling Group 's VP of Operations-Installations. "Most pest infestations and accompanying damage are considered maintenance issues by homeowners' insurance carriers, forcing homeowners to cover costs themselves. Prevention is key to protecting both your home and your wallet."
Some species of pests are more likely to invade your home come fall than others. Power offers tips below to help protect your home from pests this fall:
Eliminate yard clutter. Remove piles of wood and rotted stumps or logs from around your home to keep termites and carpenter ants at bay. When storing firewood, keep it at least 20 feet away from the home and five inches off the ground as a precautionary measure. Also, keep soil at least six inches away from structural wood to prevent decay.
Get rid of standing water. Termites, carpenter ants and Powerpost beetles all thrive in moist conditions. Many pests use vegetation as a bridge from the ground into your home; so keep bushes, shrubs, vines and trees from touching the house. Wood mulch and plants should also be kept at least 18 inches away from the foundation to prevent rot.
Seal gaps and cracks. Stink bugs, which are very prevalent this time of year, can easily pass through gaps and cracks in search of a warm place to rest. These pests are a smelly mess when they make it into the home. Inspect walls, windows, doors and the roof for places where pests could possibly enter the home. Seal any cracks or gaps with caulk or epoxy, and use steel wool or hardware cloth to block openings where wires, pipes and cables come into or out of exterior walls. Also be sure to ventilate attics and crawl spaces to ensure the venting system has a good airflow to prevent the buildup of moisture.
Install and maintain screens on doors and windows. With the summer heat and humidity subsided, fall is the perfect time to open the windows and enjoy the fresh air. Torn or damaged holes in screens can allow a slew of pests easy access to your home. Replace old screens on doors and windows with fine mesh screening to prevent an invasion.
Cover attic and crawlspace vents with mesh. Larger pests like raccoons, squirrels and mice can easily make themselves home in unprotected spaces. A warm dryer vent is a pest's ideal home as the weather gets chilly this fall, causing homeowners a huge headache. Placing a mesh barrier over points of entry, like vents, holes or large cracks, will keep both the animals, and the mites and fleas they carry, outside where they belong.
Homeowners are sure to save themselves time, money and frustration by taking the above steps to help protect their home from pests this fall. Prevention will make a home inhospitable to pests and will keep a seasonal intrusion from becoming an all-out pest invasion.
For more information please visit www.PowerHRG.com.
October 11, 2012 1:28 pm
(ARA) - Whether playing online games, sending and responding to emails, visiting social networks or checking bank accounts, the average American spends 13 hours per week online, according to a survey taken by Forrester. While the ever-evolving conveniences of online shopping and digital communication often make life a little easier, sharing valuable information over the Internet comes with a considerable amount of risk. Consumers should not only be aware of the dangers of being online, but should also take preventative measures to avoid becoming a victim of online scams or fraud.
“Protecting valuable information online is just as important as securing a home, car or personal possessions,” says Rebecca Smith, vice president, marketing for Master Lock. “It is essential that people educate themselves and take the proper precautions to safeguard their information online, ensuring important account data and passwords are protected within the digital space.”
1. Firewalls are your friend: Be sure to activate your computer's firewalls as they are great tools to provide you with a line of defense against hackers and Internet crime. They watch all the communication occurring between your computer, a network (say at the office) and the Internet and can prevent strangers from accessing your information.
2. Surf and shop safely: While online shopping is a great, convenient tool, consumers should be careful when surfing or shopping on a site they've never visited before. Good indicators that a site is secure include checkout pages with lock symbols or sites with the prefix "https," indicating that a page is encrypted or scrambled.
3. Download security software: There is a wide variety of security software available that automatically updates itself and can protect your personal computers from viruses, spyware and other online threats that are constantly in play. Sign on and scan your computer for viruses and other malware once a week to ensure your information stays safe.
4. Create strong passwords: Short, easy-to-remember passwords, are typically not complex enough to prevent being hacked. When creating passwords for online bank accounts and other sites, use passwords with at least 10 characters that are a combination of letters, numbers and most importantly, symbols. It's also a good idea to change your password on a monthly basis to keep it secure.
5. Be cautious - always: Internet fraud and online crime are a constant threat to all Americans who interact online or store anything digitally. Be cautious and avoid posting any personal information online, do not open email messages from strange addresses and never give your browser permission to remember your passwords.
6. Shut it down: We all know that with many advances in technology, one can be connected at all times. However, being online 24/7 comes with risks. Attackers and/or viruses are more likely to target your computer if you are always connected. Therefore, it's good to shut down once in a while and take yourself offline.
7. Back it up: Whether it happens by accident, a natural disaster or because of an equipment malfunction, computers and networks crash and can leave your information exposed or just lost altogether. Consider backing up all of your most important information at least twice a month and rest easy knowing it is stored safely in more than one place.
8. Use parental controls: Children use the Internet as frequently, if not more, than adults. Many Internet browsers offer the option to set parental controls. Check out your options to restrict the websites viewed on your computer and protect the settings you select with a password your kids won't be able to figure out. This way, you're keeping your information, and more importantly, your children safe from various online dangers.
9. Lock up your valuable info: Every time you step away from your computer, you should know all of your most important information is secure. Consider utilizing a secure, online storage application or website, such as the free Master Lock Vault, to house all of your passwords, account numbers and essential information and documents under one easily accessible, yet completely secure location. Storing this information online is safer than keeping hard copies or a non-protected file on your computer. Services like the Vault can act as an encrypted digital safe deposit box and give users peace of mind that their vital information is locked up tight.
10. Two is better than one: User authentication, also known as two-tier or device authentication, should always be enabled if offered by sites that collect your secure or private data at registration. With this enabled, you may receive an email or text message with a verification code to complete your account set-up. While this may seem inconvenient at the time of sign-up, the extra protection is well worth this extra step.
For more advice on online safety and security, visit www.masterlock.com or www.masterlockvault.com.
October 11, 2012 1:28 pm
VA loan. Veterans Administration-backed mortgage. The VA, a federal agency, operates a loan guarantee program for honorably discharged veterans and widows of veterans who died of a service-related injury. Mortgages call for low or no downpayment. Sometimes referred to as GI loan.
October 11, 2012 1:28 pm
A: Sometimes. But it is a complicated process and a lot will depend on the lender.
This process is called a “short sale,” which occurs when a lender agrees to write off the portion of a mortgage that's higher than the value of a home. But, usually, a buyer must be willing to purchase the property first.
A short sale may be more complicated if the loan has been sold in the secondary market. Then the lender will need permission from Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae, the two major secondary-market players.
If the loan was a low down payment mortgage with private mortgage insurance, the lender also will need to involve the mortgage insurance company that insured the low down payment loan.
The short sale can keep the homeowner from landing in bankruptcy or foreclosure. But it is not an easy procedure to approve, and it involves as much, if not more, paperwork than an original mortgage application.
Instead of proving your credit worthiness and financial stability, you must prove you are broke. And any remaining difference between your home's value and the balance on your mortgage is considered a forgiveness of debt, which usually means it is taxable income.
October 10, 2012 5:50 pm
I believe in the free flow of information, especially when homeowners can benefit from the information in question. So it was a welcome site to see last month's launch of EnergyFactCheck.org.
This important website is not only a resource for journalists, but for policymakers and others engaged in the debate over clean and renewable energy - that means consumers. EnergyFactCheck.org is a resource of the nonprofit American Council On Renewable Energy.
The site is designed to help ensure both sides of the story are told by responding to inaccuracies and misrepresentations with the facts on an industry that is popular, productive, growing and essential to America’s economy, energy independence and national security.
In one recent 'fact check' columns, the site addressed the argument that clean and renewable energy is more practical for the “coasts” versus the South or Midwest. In response, EnergyFactCheck.org cites the following data:
1. 16 states get more than 10 percent of electricity from renewable resources. That includes states like Iowa and North and South Dakota.
2. The country’s top 10 hydropower-producing states include Arizona, Alabama, North Carolina and Tennessee
3. Nearly 1,000 companies in the South and Rustbelt states are part of the U.S. hydropower industry’s supply chain.
4. In 2011, Texas was the country’s top producer of wind power, and Iowa ranks first for the percentage of its electricity that comes from wind.
5. A recent study showed that adding more wind to the grid could save Midwestern households between $65 and $200 each year. The Southeast has an abundant supply of biomass from forests, mills, urban wood, and agricultural residues that can be used for the production of clean, renewable energy.
And, according to EnergyFactCheck.org, renewables are beginning to match or beat fossil-fueled electricity on price, and with continued growth, deployment and innovation, renewables are becoming more widespread every day.
October 10, 2012 5:50 pm
If you’re an entrepreneur or an entrepreneur-hopeful, it’s probably difficult to keep those four words from causing you to second guess your every move as you plan and run your business. They become especially hard to ignore when you consider the fact that less than 30 percent of businesses last more than 10 years, and most failures happen within the first few years of operation. The truth is, many things could go wrong: an ill-conceived business idea, poor planning, lack of capital, ineffective leadership, and more. In the high stakes world of running a business, those are the facts.
But, says Bill McBean, author of the new book The Facts of Business Life: What Every Successful Business Owner Knows That You Don’t, there are other important facts about business ownership. Facts that could help you avoid the mistakes and pitfalls that trip up so many others, and go on to achieve the success you’ve dreamed of. He calls them the Facts of Business Life.
“Of course, there are a variety of skills owners need to know in order to make a business work,” says McBean. “But after many decades of running my own successful businesses, and learning how other successful owners have created success, I have come to the conclusion that these facts are the seven essential concepts needed to create a successful business life.”
“Now, don’t get me wrong,” McBean clarifies. “There are no guarantees for entrepreneurs—and to add to the challenge, each business is one of a kind, in terms of how it competes, its constraints, and how it operates. But what you can do is tilt the odds in your favor.”
If you’re ready to build a strong, lasting foundation for your business, then read on for an overview of McBean’s tried-and-true seven Facts of Business Life:
Fact 1: If you don’t lead, no one will follow. At first, this statement seems mind-numbingly obvious. But often, “leadership” is one of those words that is thrown around by people who haven’t given much thought to what it looks like in action. According to McBean, good business leadership begins with defining the destination and direction of your company and deciding how the business should look and operate when it arrives. But it doesn’t stop there. It also involves developing and continuously improving on a set of skills in order to move your business from where it is today to where you want it to be tomorrow.
“What’s important to understand is without effective leadership your managers or employees have no idea what is important to the owner, what to manage, or what success and failure look like,” notes McBean.
Fact 2: If you don’t control it, you don’t own it. Control is the owner’s management reality. If you don’t control your company by defining key tasks and dictating how they must be handled, and “inspect what you expect,” then you don’t truly “own” the business because all you are is a spectator watching others play with your money.
“There are two overriding or macro concepts successful owners understand over their unsuccessful competitors,” explains McBean. “First, great procedures and processes need controls, and these in turn create great employees. This happens because procedures and processes operate the business, and employees operate the processes. This is one of those business basics that owners must understand to be successful.
Fact 3: Protecting your company’s assets should be your first priority. Were you surprised because this fact didn’t instruct you to first protect your company’s sales, profits, and growth? If so, you’re not alone. But the truth is, assets—which include both tangible and intangible assets—are what power sales, profits, and growth.
Usually, owners and soon-to-be owners understand the need for insurance on assets like their buildings and equipment. In fact, bankers insist on insuring specific assets they lend money on like facilities, equipment, and sometimes even insurance on an owner’s life. However, successful owners don’t stop at protecting obvious assets. They understand the importance of every asset, because assets represent invested cash, which should be managed to produce exceptional and maximized profits.
Fact 4: Planning is about preparing for the future, not predicting it. Nobody knows what tomorrow, next week, or next year will bring for your business. But you can make educated guesses based on the most current, accurate information available as well as your own past experiences, and this should be an ongoing process. Effective planning, McBean asserts, is a mix of science (gathering pertinent information) and art (taking that information and turning it into a plan that will move your business from “here” to “there” over a specific time period).
“Being able to plan better than your competitors can give you a significant competitive edge in the market,” he adds. “Ford Motor Company is a great example. In 2008 and 2009, its competitors, GM and Chrysler, ran out of cash and needed taxpayer bailouts to avoid bankruptcy. But not Ford. Years prior to the credit crunch, Ford began to restructure its debt and raised billions as it continually added to cash reserves. Was this luck or good planning? Industry insiders will say good planning. The point is Ford knew, as you should, that planning is important because it focuses owners on what’s important and it prepares them for what lies ahead.”
Fact 5: If you don’t market your business, you won’t have one. Maybe working to market and advertise your product isn’t your cup of tea. Or maybe you believe your product is so great that it should speak for itself. If so, too bad—you’re going to have to do it anyway. The bottom line is, if people don’t know about your product, you won’t be successful.
Bill McBean is the author of The Facts of Business Life. For more information, visit www.FactsOfBusinessLife.com.