Gunning Daily News
September 19, 2012 5:28 pm
A: There are many. Among the most appealing: you own it, which gives you, instead of a landlord, control of your living space. Other benefits stem from potential tax savings and the build up of equity as your property likely appreciates in price over time. Equity can be used to help put children through college, purchase a second home, or make home improvements.
The mortgage interest paid on a home loan is tax deductible, as is the local property tax. If you get a fixed-rate home mortgage loan, you also can invest more wisely knowing your monthly mortgage payment, unlike rent, will not change substantially.
September 18, 2012 5:10 pm
Greeters at your bank may be friendly and personable. If you are in the branch regularly, they may even greet you by name. But make no mistake, notes financial columnist Miranda Marquit, they are in business to make a profit.
“Helping you with your financial goals is not as high on their list as making money off of you,” Marquit says, listing eight things your bank won’t tell you, but that you need to know in order to better manage your money:
When your deposit is available – Some banks limit the amount immediately available to you when you make a deposit. If you plan to deposit and spend right away, ask when your deposited funds will be available.
Post-dating doesn’t mean much - If you postdate a check and the recipient cashes it ahead of time, the bank will likely run it through. If that happens and your account is short of funds, you will be responsible for any fees.
Fees are their big moneymaker – Banks made over $38 billion last year on overdraft fees alone. Making credit card payments and other transactions on time will save you money and leave your bank wanting more.
You can get some fees waived – Many banks will waive one or two fees a year – if you ask! So don’t just fume. If your account is generally solvent, ask your bank once in a while to reverse an overdraft or late fee.
Your online account info may not be accurate – Checking transactions may not always be up to date in your online account. If you are cutting things close, calling the bank to confirm online data may save you a penalty fee.
Bankers are salespeople – The more ‘products’ they can get you to ‘buy,’ the more money they make. Be wary when they pitch you new accounts, loans and services; they may be more in their interest than in yours.
Shop around for services – If you need a home equity line or other financial service, shop around. Don’t assume your bank will offer you the best deal.
Loan decisions are rarely local – Local bank managers rarely have that authority. No matter how good a relationship you think you have with your branch, it’s the system that will approve or deny your loan application.
September 18, 2012 5:10 pm
Regardless of your age, retirement planning should be on your radar. Many young professionals think planning for retirement is something they can do later, but strategizing early is the best thing you can do to ensure a solid savings plan. Whether you’ve been working for two years or twenty, there are things you can do to think ahead.
Retirement planning is constantly changing, making it necessary to have a solid retirement strategy. In the past, many could rely on pension plans and Social Security benefits, but pension plans are increasingly rare and Social Security benefits should not be used as a sole source of retirement.
Many Americans are at risk of running out of money in retirement. According to a recent Employee Benefit Research Institute study (EBRI), nearly 47 percent of early baby boomers (ages 56 to 62) are at risk of outliving their retirement savings. "To develop a sustainable strategy that meets your specific needs, some important considerations would be your age at retirement, life expectancy, living expenses and the rate of return you expect from your investments," notes Tom Thornton, vice president, and regional sales manager covering St. Louis for BMO Harris Financial Advisors, Inc.
Here are a few tips from Thornton on planning for retirement.
Withdrawal Strategy: Knowing how much money should be withdrawn from your retirement savings each year is a critical factor in building a retirement plan. Withdraw too much and you are likely to outlive your assets; take too little and you may unnecessarily sacrifice your standard of living, especially in the early years of retirement.
Asset Allocation: As individuals seek increased income upon entering retirement, they often shift their holdings more toward bonds and cash. This may or may not be a good move, as there are other key investment considerations beyond having a need for income. Confer with your financial advisor to determine the appropriate allocation for your needs, investment objective, risk profile and timeframe.
A Core of Guaranteed Income: In retirement, your focus will need to shift to using your savings to generate income to meet your ongoing expenses. One possible option is to allocate a portion of your savings to an annuity. Annuities are an investment tool that can provide guaranteed income for the rest of your life, no matter how long you live.
Said Thornton: "Whatever your specific plans, it's crucial that you enter retirement with a strategy for turning your savings into a retirement 'paycheck' that will allow you to live retirement on your own terms."
September 18, 2012 5:10 pm
Do you think your kids are just playing games online or innocently chatting with friends on the computer? While you are hopefully correct in your assumptions, you can never be too careful; cyber bullying can happen any time of the day.
Teenagers use cellphones and computers to harass others by sending malicious text messages, uploading embarrassing photos or videos on websites, or taking over someone's social media profile or creating a new one.
Although it takes place in cyberspace, there are several things you can do at home to protect your children from being harassed online. These tips will help you get started.
Prevent Cyber Bullying
You can prevent cyber bullying by knowing what your kids are doing online and establishing certain rules on the use of cellphones and computers. This will help minimize the chances that your teenager will harass someone online or be a victim of cyber bullying.
Stopbullying.gov has several tips to help you protect your kids:
Respond to Cyber Bullying
- Install monitoring software on your kids' devices and tell your children that it's your responsibility as a parent to check their interactions when you consider it appropriate
- Teach your kids to abstain from sharing photos or videos that might cause them problems if other people see them, especially people who are not their friends
- "Follow" your kids on social media or ask another adult to do it on your behalf so you can stay up-to-date on what they are doing or saying
- Tell them it's important that they tell you if they are the victims of cyber bullying so that you can help them
You can start to put an end to cyber bullying by doing the following:
Report Cyber Bullying
- Don't answer cyber bullying messages and ask your kids to share with you all of the messages they've received
- Block the bully on social media and eliminate or block the bully's email address
- Keep all evidence of cyber bullying, including text messages and harassing emails
Threats of violence
- States have laws and policies against bullying, so be sure to contact your school if your child is being harassed online. Schools can take several measures to respond to specific cases.
- Parents can also report bullies to the social media sites as bullies often violate the company's policies and terms and conditions. Parents can also contact the police. Cyber bullying is a crime when messages contain:
- Child pornography or photos with sexually explicit messages
- Images taken from places where the person expected privacy, like a bathroom
Cyber bullying is also a crime when someone is stalking a victim or engaging in activities considered to be a hate crime.
September 18, 2012 5:10 pm
Tax rate. The rate at which real property is taxed in a tax district or county. For example, in a certain county, real property may be taxed at a rate of 55 mills (or 0.055) per dollar of assessed valuation.
September 18, 2012 5:10 pm
A: Depending on how your contract is written with the home improvement professional, either you or the contractor will be responsible for securing government approval to perform most remodeling jobs. Building codes set minimum public-safety standards for such things as building design and construction. Codes vary from one state, county, city, and town to the next, but specialized codes generally exist for plumbing, electricity, and fire. Each usually involves separate inspections and inspectors. In addition, permits are generally required when any structural work is planned or the basic living space of a home is altered. They generally cover new construction, repairs, alterations, demolition, and additions to a structure. Some jurisdictions require permits to be posted in a visible spot on the premises while the work is being done. Besides structural changes, permits also may be needed to cover the installation of foundations for tanks and equipment, as well as the construction or demolition of ducts, sprinkler systems, or standpipe systems.
September 17, 2012 5:34 pm
Many items – car tires and underwear come to mind – should always be bought new. But many of the items we use every day can and should be bought used, keeping money in your pocket while providing you with excellent service.
Yahoo! consumer affairs consultant Matt Brownell offers a list of 10 things you should consider buying used:
Video games – avid game players sometimes tire of video games quickly, making used games widely available for half or less of their list price. Weeks after a new game is issued, check Craigslist or GameStop for a cheap used version.
Cars – yes, buying a used car could mean you end up with a lemon. But new cars depreciate by thousands the minute they are driven off the lot. Have the car you want inspected by your own trusted mechanic before you buy.
Books – especially textbooks, but all books, really, become bargains when bought used. Visit used book sites online or browse in a used bookstore to find your favorites. Bonus: Used books can be cheaper than ebooks and recycling is good!
Baby furniture – Kids outgrow cribs, bassinets and changing tables long before they wear out, and you can find great bargains on like-new baby goods on Craigslist. Spring for a new mattress, but otherwise just a good cleaning and you are good to go.
Other furniture – Used bookshelves, coffee tables or any other furniture you can clean is almost always worth buying used.
Musical instruments – Save a bundle over buying new, and most musicians will say, ‘the older the better.’
Weights and other gym equipment – watch out for rust, but otherwise buy used and reap the resale value if you ever sell.
Cell phones – Refurbished cell phones and smartphones have been sent back to the factory, repaired and repackaged. They will even have warranty protection. You won’t have the latest model, but you will save big bucks.
Clothing – You may be surprised at what you can find in thrift stores – including outgrown and never-worn clothing at bargain basement prices – or less.
Kitchen goods – You can stock your kitchen with dishes, glasses, pots and pans and everything else you need at a thrift shop or by visiting Craigslist. Plug in electronics to be sure they work before buying.
September 17, 2012 5:34 pm
Saving leftovers to eat later is a great way to practice portion control and save money, but it's important to make sure leftovers are safe to eat according to Home Food Safety, a collaborative program of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and ConAgra Foods.
"Oftentimes our eyes are bigger than our stomachs. Instead of overeating at home or a restaurant, save part of your meal to eat later," says registered dietitian and Academy Spokesperson Melissa Joy Dobbins. "Just make sure you're storing and reheating leftovers properly to keep them from making you sick."
Keep these food safety tips in mind when reheating leftovers:
- Refrigerate leftovers to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below within two hours of them being served to you. (In hotter weather over 90 degrees Fahrenheit, refrigerate after one hour.)
- Seal leftovers in an airtight, clean container, and label it with the expiration date
- Reheat leftovers to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, and use a food thermometer to make sure all types of food reach the safe minimum internal temperature throughout before you eat.
- Check on the shelf life of leftovers and discard when it's past the expiration date. When in doubt, throw it out!
"Unfortunately, you can't rely on sight and scent alone to tell if food is spoiled or contaminated with foodborne pathogens," Dobbins says. "That's why it's important to follow these simple steps, but a majority of Americans do not always do so, putting them at risk for food poisoning."
According to a 2011 survey conducted by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, only 23 percent of Americans always use a food thermometer to check the doneness of their foods, and only 28 percent regularly check the refrigerator thermometer.
"It's important to properly store and reheat leftovers, whether at home or the office," she says. "Encourage your work place to regularly clean the office refrigerator and ensure it remains under 40 degrees Fahrenheit."
September 17, 2012 5:34 pm
Most parents want to be able to provide a solid education for their kids. But with money tight in many households, tuition fees can be a major stressor, especially households with several college-aged kids.
Financially preparing for college in the face of rising high education costs can be a daunting task, but a sound savings strategy today can ease the strain of tomorrow's tuition costs.
"Exploring various options and planning early can make the cost for a college education much more tolerable," said Pete Schmidt, Vice President, Regional Sales Manager covering the Twin Cities for BMO Harris Financial Advisors, Inc., a part of BMO Financial Group. "Saving should be a priority as soon as possible because the decisions you make now will have a significant impact on how much money you have when your children are ready to head off to college."
Below are a few options to help families pay for college:
- Consider a 529 Plan: Designed to help families set aside funds for future college costs, a 529 Plan is an education savings plan operated by the state or an educational institution. 529 Plans can be used to help pay the costs of qualified higher education expenses at colleges nationwide. The federal tax law even provides special tax benefits to plan participants1. A common strategy is to set up an automatic transfer out of a checking account to a 529 Plan account. This helps spread out the cost over a longer period of time.
- Set Up a Savings Account: Using cash for costs outside of tuition, such as books and a meal plan, will keep student loans and credit card debt down. Start a savings account specifically for these types of expenses. The student can also participate by depositing a percentage of money from summer or weekend jobs and from monetary gifts into the account to give them a sense of ownership. It's never too early or too late to begin saving for a college education.
- Share your Plan with Others: If grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other family members know about your college savings plans, they can help out. They can deposit into a 529 Plan or savings account or buy Savings Bonds as birthday and holiday presents and help build up even more money to use toward college costs.
- Apply for Federal Student Aid Programs: Through the use of grants, work-study programs, and federal loans, there are a variety of resources available to help fund a college education. Eligibility is different for each program. For further information, visit www.ed.gov.
- Research Scholarship Opportunities: Scholarships are available to a variety of people through individual universities, county offices, privately held businesses, and nonprofit organizations. Your school's guidance counselor can be invaluable in providing information on local scholarship opportunities or scholarship information for specific colleges being considered, and a search of the Internet can provide additional resources for finding scholarship opportunities for a college education.
September 17, 2012 5:34 pm
(ARA) - If you were to take a look at a typical neighborhood today, you would see patterns of familiar home designs such as split-level, ranch or colonial. Most of these American styles were built between 1955 and 1985, when there was a need for mass-produced housing. Due to this suburban sprawl, many homes lost the originality and architectural appeal of classic styles built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
If you, like so many others, currently live in one of these houses, its lack of personality and curb appeal may have you thinking about making a change to the exterior. Yet the overwhelming amount of home design choices may have you wondering how to get started.
“Many times, homeowners are afraid to do more than replace existing windows or siding with new versions of the same product, simply because they can't visualize the possibilities for their home exterior,” says John Stephenson, senior vice president of marketing for Ply Gem, an exterior building products company.
To help picture what's possible in exterior home design and simplify product and color selection, homeowners now have the option to turn to digital home remodeling tools. Online visualizer tools, such as The Designed Exterior Studio by Ply Gem, allow consumers to find inspiration and experiment with renovation ideas, even before meeting with a contractor. Users can virtually update a home exterior with new colors and style options for siding, stone veneer, windows and more. Homeowners can save their designs, and easily share with a remodeling contractor.
“When meeting with a contractor about a remodel, doing research and having a visual of a preferred exterior style and color palette is a great way to get the conversation started,” says Stephenson. “The existing American housing stock has so much potential for beautiful design and architectural styling; new online visualization tools are designed to help both homeowners and their contractors realize the potential for these older homes.”
Before getting started on an exterior remodel, it's also important to understand the level of changes you want to make. Read through the following tips on making the most of an exterior renovation and provides some insight on how to prepare and get started.
- If your home has great bones, but lacks curb appeal and originality, a simple refresh with new siding, windows and accents in different colors and textures can make a big difference.
- New windows are also a noticeable architectural feature with the added benefit of increased energy efficiency in the home. Some key elements to consider for beautiful window design include style, grille pattern and color.
- For an even more personalized home exterior upgrade, consider cosmetic, nonstructural architectural changes, in addition to the replacement of windows and siding.
“Adding elements to the roof such as window dormers or gables, or changing the entryway with a porch, can give your home personality and create a look that is reminiscent of classic architectural styles,” says Deryl Patterson, principal, BSB Design architecture firm. “These additions also provide visual interest to the exterior, giving it balance and elevation. In combination with appropriate material textures and colors, you can transform your home into an architecturally authentic style.”