Gunning Daily News

Last-Minute Filers: 5 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Filing Your Tax Return

April 4, 2012 9:22 pm

With just about two weeks left until the April 17 deadline, it is getting down to crunch time for taxpayers who have yet to file their 2011 tax returns. As Tax Day approaches, Jackson Hewitt Tax Service® is reminding last-minute filers of the most common mistakes to avoid when filing their tax returns, as well as what they need to know about filing a six-month extension.

"Each year, there are many who wait until the final days to file their taxes," said Mark Steber, chief tax officer, Jackson Hewitt Tax Service Inc. "With the last-minute rush, it is important to carefully check your tax return prior to filing because even the simplest of mistakes can cause delays in the issuance of a refund."

Steber discusses the top five most common mistakes made when filing a return:

Incorrect Filing Status – Choosing a filing status is usually one of the first steps when preparing a tax return, but it can also be a confusing decision that leads many to choose an incorrect status. The wrong filing status can significantly impact the amount of a tax refund or tax liability, so speaking with a knowledgeable local tax preparer about your situation can help guide you in selecting the correct status.

Providing Incorrect Information – Another common mistake is when taxpayers misspell a name or incorrectly record their Social Security numbers. It is vital to clearly record the correct name, Social Security number and address (including zip code) directly on the return. Names and Social Security numbers for a spouse, dependents and qualifying children should be documented exactly as they appear on their respective Social Security cards. For those who changed their name due to getting married or divorced, or for any other reason, make sure the name used on the return is your legal name.

Mathematical Errors – Another error on tax returns is bad math, which remains common on paper returns. Making mathematical miscalculations can greatly impact your tax return by reducing your expected refund or positioning you to owe more money than you actually do.

Claiming Ineligible Exemptions – With so many complex rules, taxpayers often claim exemptions for which they are not eligible. Some examples include claiming a grown child who no longer qualifies as a dependent or claiming an exemption for a live-in significant other. A local tax preparer can help you properly claim eligible exemptions.

Forgetting to Claim Items – In the rush to file, forgetting to claim certain items is a mistake that is made all too often. For example, certain charitable contributions, medical expenses and IRA contributions can all be claimed on a return, if you have the proper documentation.

"For those who need more time to file, filing a six-month extension may be an option," says Steber. "But keep in mind that while you can postpone filing your return until October 15, 2012, filing an extension does not provide additional time to pay. You must pay any taxes owed by April 17, 2012. Otherwise, you may be subject to penalty and interest charges."

For more information, visit www.jacksonhewitt.com.

10 Basic Maintenance Procedures to Keep Your Vehicle Running Smoothly

April 4, 2012 9:22 pm

National Car Care Month in April is the perfect time of year to give your car some extra attention. Basic car care is the key to a long-lasting vehicle, improving its safety and dependability, says the Car Care Council.

"Neglected vehicle care almost always means much higher costs down the line in the form of more extensive repairs or lost resale value," said Rich White, executive director, Car Care Council. "Following a routine maintenance program makes financial sense, extending useful vehicle life and helping avoid costly repairs down the road."

The Car Care Council recommends 10 basic maintenance procedures to keep your car operating at its best for the long haul:

-Check all fluids, including engine oil, power steering, brake and transmission as well as windshield washer solvent and antifreeze/coolant.
-Check the hoses and belts to make sure they are not cracked, brittle, frayed, loose or showing signs of excessive wear.
-Check the battery and replace if necessary. Make sure the connection is clean, tight and corrosion-free.
-Check the brake system annually and have the brake linings, rotors and drums inspected at each oil change.
-Inspect the exhaust system for leaks, damage and broken supports or hangers if there is an unusual noise. Exhaust leaks can be dangerous and must be corrected without delay.
-Schedule a tune-up to help the engine deliver the best balance of power and fuel economy and produce the lowest level of emissions.
-Check the heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) system as proper heating and cooling performance is critical for interior comfort and for safety reasons such as defrosting.
-Inspect the steering and suspension system annually. This includes shock absorbers, struts and chassis parts such as ball joints, tie rod ends and other related components.
-Check the tires, including tire pressure and tread. Uneven wear indicates a need for wheel alignment. Tires should also be checked for bulges and bald spots.
-Check the wipers and lighting so that you can see and be seen. Check that all interior and exterior lighting is working properly and replace worn wiper blades so you can see clearly when driving during precipitation.

For more information, visit www.carcare.org.

Word of the Day

April 3, 2012 5:29 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.

Question of the Day

April 3, 2012 5:29 pm

Q: Are condos good investments?
A: They are a good way to enter into homeownership. The high price of single-family homes and the influx into the housing market of more single homebuyers have made condos relatively hot national investments. They have held their value as an investment despite economic downturns and problems with some associations.

Condominium associations have also worked hard in recent years to clean up their image. Disputes and lawsuits were once rampant. But now associations have become savvier about property management and have taken steps to prevent legal problems and disputes.

USA TODAY and National Geographic Channel Partner to Commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Sinking of the Titanic

April 3, 2012 5:29 pm

USA TODAY and National Geographic Channel are kicking off an editorial partnership this month with a series of jointly produced reports to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. A cover story in today's USA TODAY looks at why we are still obsessed with Titanic, 100 years later.
A special USA TODAY/National Geographic Channel tabloid edition, Titanic – 100 Years Later, hit newsstands Monday. The special edition can also be ordered online at http://service.usatoday.com/specialeditions. The tabloid edition includes:
• Our Titanic obsession – Little stories from the sinking of the world's largest ship 100 years ago make up the grand legend that continues to hold interest for the public today.
• Remembering April 15, 1912 – From museum exhibits to re-creations of the last meal served onboard to commemorative teddy bears based on one that survived, the Titanic anniversary will be marked in many ways.
• Titanic timeline – A graphic look at Titanic's only voyage, its shortage of lifeboats, and treasures that were recovered from its final resting place.
• How Titanic became an epic – A look at the 1997 movie, being re-released in 3-D on April 4th, including stories on the stars of the movie and its signature song, My Heart Will Go On.
• Plotting the wreck's future – National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Dr. Robert Ballard, who found Titanic's resting place, is calling for efforts to preserve not only Titanic but other historic areas.
Additional USA TODAY coverage the week of April 2nd will include:
• A Life section cover story on Titanic in 3-D, featuring an interview with director James Cameron. A trailer of the movie will accompany the story on USATODAY.com.
• A cover story that looks at whether we should raise the Titanic, featuring an interview with Robert Ballard. A video interview will accompany the story on USATODAY.com.
• An interactive graphic on USATODAY.com that will poll readers on whether the Titanic and its contents should remain at the bottom of the ocean or be raised and salvaged for museum collections.
National Geographic Channel marks the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic with a two-night world premiere event April 8-9. Details below:
• In Titanic: The Final Word with James Cameron , premiering Sunday, April 8, at 8 p.m. ET/PT, the Oscar-winning filmmaker and National Geographic Explorer-In-Residence leads the ultimate cold-case investigation into the tragedy. In 1997, Cameron brought the iconic ship to life in his blockbuster feature film "Titanic," which fueled not only the world's fascination with the shipwreck, but also his own: "I wanted to dive the wreck more than I wanted to make the movie," he explains. "Diving the wreck was my way into the story."
• Then, the next night, on Monday, April 9, at 10 p.m. ET/PT, the man who discovered the ship's final resting place more than 25 years ago is on a new quest: protect Titanic's massive underwater graveyard. In Save the Titanic with Bob Ballard , National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Dr. Robert Ballard retraces Titanic's beginnings and examines the ship's original plans — never before filmed— to reveal untold stories of Titanic's heroes and the unwritten story of Titanic's future.
For more information, visit http://natgeotv.com/.

U.S. Study of 7.6 Million Students Reveals Most Popular Books and Reading Trends

April 3, 2012 5:29 pm

The newest edition of the largest study on students' book selections expands from a popular annual report on reading trends to a discussion on what kids should be reading. What Kids Are Reading 2012: The Book-Reading Habits of Students in American Schools, released this month by Renaissance Learning, presents detailed information about the top 40 books read by students in grades 1–12. The report also fans the flame of debate about what kids should be reading with commentaries by education experts as well as noted authors.

Based on the reading records of 7.6 million students who read more than 241 million books during the 2010-2011 school year, the report confirms that America's youngest readers continue to feast on Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss, while students in grades 3-6 prefer to devour books from Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, which dominate the Top 5 spots in those grades. Kinney wrote the introduction to this year's report.

"The fourth edition of What Kids Are Reading continues to serve as a key resource to assist educators and parents in book selection," said Glenn R. James, CEO of Renaissance Learning. "The new commentaries on what students should be reading add a fresh perspective to this year's edition, adding insight to the long-standing debate about popular books students choose to read versus classics and other books that may be assigned to them."

Commentaries are shared by Sandra Stotsky, professor of education reform, University of Arkansas; David Coleman, Student Achievement Partners and contributing author of the Common Core State Standards; Terri Kirk, Librarian, Reidland High School, Paducah, Kentucky; Barry Gilmore, chair of humanities and English teacher, Hutchison School, Memphis, Tennessee; Dav Pilkey, author of the Captain Underpants series; Dan Gutman, author of My Weird School series; and Ellen Hopkins, author of the Crank trilogy.

The newly released edition of the world's largest study on reading trends provides information about books kids are reading by grade, gender, and reading level. Findings are based on records from Accelerated Reader (AR), the most widely used K12 reading software and largest single database of book-reading behavior. Data are based on quizzes students have passed, providing documentation beyond best-seller lists and library circulation, which report on books that were purchased or checked out, not necessarily read cover to cover.

The new edition includes the Top 40 Graphic Novels, examines Common Core State Standards exemplar texts, and presents the results of an annual Librarians' Picks Survey. The final section of the report is the Top 10 Challenged Books by Year, 2009–2011, from the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom.

To read the full report, visit www.renlearn.com/whatkidsarereading.

Top 5 Questions to Ask the Interviewer

April 3, 2012 5:29 pm

These days, when a job interview may be critical and hard to get, it’s a no-brainer to prepare yourself beforehand with as much information about the company you hope to join—and the responsibilities of the position you want—as possible before you arrive.

As important, maintains Jay Hofmeister, co-founder of The Resume Bay, is asking the right questions of the interviewer.

Hofmeister suggests asking these five questions can help pull you ahead of the pack:

1. In the next 30 to 90 days, what projects would you like to see completed? The answer will give you valuable insight into what the interviewer deems most important as well as an opportunity to point out how your background and skills would be helpful.
2. What one skill would add the most value to your company or department? The question suggests you are a person who is willing to go the extra mile in order to be a valuable employee.
3. What challenges and opportunities is the company or department now facing? This question shows you are interested in the company, up for any challenge, and ready to pitch in to make things happen.
4. What are the company’s (or department’s) goals for the coming year? Every company is goal-focused. Showing that you are goal-focused as well will help you stand out from the crowd.
5. What more can I tell you about myself to show you I am the right person for the job? This question can make or break your chances with the company. Why? Because it shows you have a sincere interest in and understanding of the company and that you really want the job.

Guidelines for Purchasing a Home Warranty

April 3, 2012 5:29 pm

Since 1988, the Service Contract Industry Council (SCIC) has been the leading advocate on behalf of consumers and the home service contract industry, making sure that the legal environment for home service contracts (often referred to as home warranties) is consistent from state to state. "Consistency across all 50 states helps to regulate the industry and ensure customer satisfaction and protection," said Timothy J. Meenan, executive director for the SCIC.

The SCIC offers the following guidelines when purchasing a home service contract for your home this spring.

What is a home service contract?
The typical home service contract is a one-year contract that protects a homebuyer or current homeowner against the cost of unexpected repairs or replacement of major systems and appliances that breakdown due to normal usage or defects in materials or workmanship. A home service contract can:
• lessen the risk of costs and delays if a system, system component or appliance malfunctions during the selling process;
• help to resolve issues discovered during the home inspection stage;
• reduce any after-sale liability by a seller;
• add value and improve marketability of homes; and
• increase a buyer's confidence in their home investment.
Who sells home service contracts?
Real estate professionals, builders and independent providers sell home service contracts. A home service contract can be purchased at any time, including at the time of purchase, and is usually transferable to a new owner, although a small transfer fee may apply.

What is the difference between a home service contract and homeowner's insurance?
• Home service contracts typically cover the major systems in your home in the event of breakdown or malfunction including electrical, plumbing, heating and air conditioning systems, and built-in appliances such as ranges, washers and whirlpool baths.
• Homeowner's insurance covers the structure of a home and personal belongings in case of a fire or natural disaster such as hurricanes and lightning, and provides liability coverage in case someone is injured on the property.
• Home service contracts are optional in real estate transactions.
• Homeowner's insurance is almost always required, especially if the buyer has a mortgage.
• A home service contract is not a substitute for a homeowner's insurance policy. A home service contract is a beneficial supplement to a homeowner's insurance policy as homeowner's policies generally do not cover items for breakdowns or malfunctions due to normal wear and tear or defects in materials or workmanship.
Do I need to be buying or selling a home to purchase a home service contract?
No. A home service contract provides valuable protection for current homeowners when a system or appliance fails.

Can I transfer my home service contract to the new buyer of my home?
Most home service contracts are transferable and may offer the option to allow the buyer to change or upgrade the service contract. A low-cost transfer fee may apply.

Can I customize the home service contract to meet the needs of my home?
Yes, but fees may apply. You may be able to purchase a home service contract that covers smaller appliances such as ceiling fans and built-in microwaves. Additional fees apply for coverage for private wells and septic systems.

How are contractors screened?
SCIC member companies typically put their contractors through a rigorous screening process that includes state license verification, detailed reference verification, and background checks.

How do I file a claim?
Homeowners are given a toll-free number to call. The home service contract company will verify your coverage and dispatch an independent contractor to assess the problem and replace or repair the item as necessary. A service fee, $50 on average, is charged per service visit.

What Can Cause a Denial of Payment?
• Improper maintenance
• Code violations
• Unusual wear and tear
• Improper installation
What is generally NOT covered?
• Outdoor items such as sprinklers
• Faucet repairs are not covered under all plans
• Garage door openers
• Spas or pools, unless specific coverage is requested
• Permit fees
What are the consumer's responsibilities?
Home service contract coverage varies from state to state and from policy to policy so the consumer needs to:
• Request a copy of the contract before buying
• Read the provisions carefully and become thoroughly familiar with all coverage, limitations and exclusions
• Carefully fulfill all contract responsibilities, such as regular filter changes for your heating/air conditioning systems
• Keep the service contract paperwork, original receipt(s), and all maintenance records
• Research the service contract company
About the SCIC
The Service Contract Industry Council is a national trade association that has been instrumental in working with state legislators and regulators across the country to develop laws to protect consumers.

For more information, visit www.go-scic.com.

Turning Clutter into Cash

April 2, 2012 5:38 pm

Springtime is a natural time to clear the clutter out of your home and garage. It may also be the best time to turn clutter into cash, according to entrepreneur and author Skip McGrath, who recently sold a non-working espresso machine for $50 on eBay.

“Garage sales are fine for picking up a little extra cash,” McGrath says. “But there are better ways to get the most from discarded treasures.”

McGrath, whose book, “Three Ways to eBay Profits,” demonstrates how to set up and use an eBay sales account, said browsing the site will give you a good idea of the prices many used goods sell for.

He suggests:
• Using the Internet to find buyers for particular kinds of used merchandise.
• Making the rounds of local garage sales to pick up goods cheap that can be resold at much higher prices.

He offers examples of “most wanted” goods that can be quickly turned into profit:
• Small kitchen appliances – Working or not, small appliances – especially bread, pasta and espresso machines – can sometimes be re-sold for up to 20 times their value. Check eBay for prices of similar items and be truthful about your item’s condition.
• Video games – These may be sold for up to $30 per game via gazelle.com, which buys directly from consumers. The company also pays up to $1 per used DVD and $5 for Blue-ray discs.
• 1950s furniture – Interestingly enough, ‘50s era vanities, dressers, desks and dining furniture are in high demand. Check with consignment and re-sale shops before letting them go cheap at a garage sale.
• Old holiday sweaters – Your old red sweater with the light-up Rudolph nose, or other colorful old holiday sweaters are also in high demand at consignment shops.
• Vintage electronics – Old stereo or high-fi equipment, especially LP turntables, reel-to-reel tape decks and speaker systems in working condition, are bringing good prices via eBay, Craigslist, and other Internet sites.
• Vintage lunchboxes, comics, and more – Check yardsellr.com for a good idea how much ‘50s-era lunchboxes may be worth. Most in good condition sell for $20-50. But a 1954 Superman lunchbox in mint condition recently sold at auction for over $11,000.

Facing Foreclosure? Know Your Deductions and Credits

April 2, 2012 5:38 pm

According to NPR, more than half the nation saw a spike in foreclosures last month. With more and more homeowners facing foreclosures, experts at The Tax Institute at H&R Block offer the following information on credits and deductions, which can provide assistance to individuals prior to and after this unfortunate circumstance.

• Mortgage Debt Forgiveness: homeowners who experienced foreclosure on their primary home may be able to exclude the amount of canceled debt from their taxable income if they meet specific criteria.
• Mortgage Interest Deduction: taxpayers are eligible to deduct qualified mortgage interest on their main home and a second home if they itemize deductions on Schedule A.
o They must be legally liable for repayment of the loan to deduct the loan interest.
o For 2011 filings, taxpayers who could not pay at least 20 percent of their down payment may have been required by their lender to pay for private mortgage insurance (PMI). If the taxpayer qualifies, the PMI may be deductible as mortgage interest.
• Real Estate Taxes: homeowners are able to deduct real estate taxes separately from mortgage interest on Schedule A and from property taxes.
• Non-Business Energy Property Credit: taxpayers may claim energy-efficiency credits for up to 10 percent of the cost of various home energy-efficiency improvements.
• Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit: a nonrefundable personal credit is available for property used to produce energy in a personal residence located in the US .
o The credit is also available for wind energy property and geothermal pumps.
o Real estate taxes must be based on the home’s value and assessed at least annually.