Gunning Daily News

Many Adults Still Not Aware of Tax Deductions

March 6, 2012 5:38 pm

It's that time of year again. Nope, not spring, but the time when W2s, 1099s and 1040s flood mailboxes and to-do lists. With tax season in full swing, a new survey reveals that some Americans may miss money-saving opportunities when filing their taxes. Nearly one-in-ten (8 percent) U.S. adults said they aren't aware that deductions can be made on their tax returns. In addition, of those eligible for deductions, almost two-in-five (37 percent) report they will not or are not sure if they will claim multiple deductions on their income tax return this year. This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive.

Missing deduction opportunities could be a result of the large number of U.S. adults who plan to prepare their income taxes without the help of a certified professional. Nearly half (45 percent) said they will prepare their taxes this year by themselves, using online resources, computer software or good old-fashioned pen and paper. More than one-third (38 percent) said they plan to use an accountant or tax professional to file their taxes.

While some aren't aware of deduction options on their tax returns, others aren't paying close attention to the calendar. One-in-ten (10 percent) of those who have ever filed income taxes said they have missed the deadline to file income taxes in the past, a mistake that can result in penalties from the IRS.

"Tax season can be a stressful time of year, but it's important to focus on having your return completed correctly and in a timely manner," says Jackie Warrick, President and Chief Savings Officer at "Regardless of your plans for filing your return this year, make sure to do the legwork to learn what you may be owed, how you can maximize your refund and to figure out if you can save on the preparation itself."

Paying attention to tax parameters is essential for an accurate and timely refund, but there are other ways to ensure you're saving as much money as possible. Warrick offers the following tips for saving a little green before April 17:

All in the family: Fourteen percent of U.S. adults said they plan to ask a friend or family member to help prepare their taxes this year. Consider asking those who are close to you if they can lend a helping hand. It may make the process easier and can help you save extra dough.

Use a coupon: Many professional and online tax preparation services offer coupons to help filers save money. Head online to check out the tax preparation offers from services like H&R Block and Turbo Tax.

Seek out free resources: Organizations like VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) and AARP, among many others, offer complimentary volunteer resources depending on various criteria. Before you file your return, check to see if you qualify for free assistance.


Green Bunny: Tips for Filling Eco-Easter Baskets

March 6, 2012 5:38 pm

Easter is on its way! In preparation, Surf Sweets®, a leading brand of organically sweetened candy, unleashed a bevy of worker bunnies onto the net in search of the top eight eco-friendly Easter basket tips and treats for under $20.

“More and more parents are looking for better-for-you, more natural options for treating their families,” says Bert Cohen, President and Founder of TruSweets, LLC. “Our Surf Sweets team is no different,” he adds. “As parents ourselves, we’re always looking for unique products for our families that are made by like-minded companies committed to making ‘better for you’ products that help our planet.”

The Surf Sweets team assembled this list of eco-friendly and organic items you might want to put in your eco-Easter baskets this holiday season:
1. A tisket, a tasket, buy just one Easter basket. It’s smart to invest in just one Easter basket per child and reuse them year after year. Buying new baskets each year can be wasteful. Better yet, repurpose an old basket with a fresh coat of paint. Whatever you do, avoid buying a basket made from petroleum-based plastic.
2. Shred your own Easter grass. We have a great new use for your shredder…Easter basket grass. Prevent landfills from filling up post-Easter season with fake plastic grass by shredding grass yourself with old newspapers or magazines.
3. End Easter egg emission. Petroleum-based plastic Easter eggs generate tons of emission and landfill waste each year. Consider a switch to Eco Eggs—made from corn starch instead of petroleum-based polymers—and reduce your carbon footprint. They are made from non-toxic, durable plastic, have a tight snapping closure and are fully compostable after use. They come in five assorted colors: pink, yellow, green, blue, and purple. Try the 48-ct box for only $15.
4. Get your eco artist on. Clementine Art offers modeling clay, paints and crayons that are all natural, certified non-toxic and environmentally friendly, all for under $14. Even the packaging is made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled and reusable materials.
5. Who ate the sidewalk chalk? Conceptualized and crafted by a mom and artist, Edible Veggie Sidewalk Chalk is lead-free and made with vegan, organic food-based ingredients including beets, spinach and blueberries. It’s fun to draw with and tastes good too. It contains no wheat, sugar or preservatives. Available in Original and Swirl for $12.
6. Jump BPA-free double-dutch. What could be better for the planet than crisscrosses and double-unders when they are done with a BPA-Free Plastic Jump Rope? For only $10.99, this eco-jumper is made with USA made, 100 percent organic cotton rope (7 feet long and adjustable) and 100 percent recycled BPA-free plastic handles. Available in pink, purple and green.
7. Have 100 percent kid-powered fun. Whether reading under the covers, making fun shapes on the wall or finding your way in the dark, every child should have a flashlight – with no batteries. The $9.95 Hand-Powered Zoo Flashlights from Ecotronic are magical sources of light. With just a friendly squeeze it’s ready to light your child’s way into the night. One minute of squeezing gives 5 to 10 minutes of light. Available in four different animals: Tiger, Penguin, Monkey and Panda. No batteries mean less waste in landfills, which means less carbon in the atmosphere. Even the packaging is biodegradable.
8. Tap your child’s inner gardener. Young plant lovers can watch nature at work by growing a beautiful flower garden and fresh herbs in just days with the world’s most earth-happy gardening set. This Green Toys Indoor Gardening Kit is made from advanced environmentally friendly materials, helping to reduce fossil fuel use and CO2 emissions, all in the name of good green fun. The nine-piece kit includes a peapod-shaped planter tray, three planting pots, a trowel, soil and three packs of organic seeds (Teddy Bear Sunflower, Basil, Zinnia) with easy-to-follow planting instructions. Find it for only $19.50 at Amazon.


Word of the Day

March 6, 2012 5:38 pm

Brokerage. Business of a broker. Also, the amount charged for a broker’s service.

Question of the Day

March 6, 2012 5:38 pm

Q: What should I look for in a warranty from a remodeling contractor?

A: A well-written warranty document detailing specific information should be provided and incorporated as an addendum to the construction contract. Information should also be provided as to the procedure to follow for prompt warranty services, as well as what happens should a dispute arise over warranty issues.

6 Easy Fixes for Common Home Problems

March 5, 2012 6:00 pm

You’ve just moved into your new home—or new to you, at least. But while the congratulations cards are still coming in, you begin to notice a few little flaws you never noticed earlier—like stains in the bathtub, or a dusty chandelier that may not have been cleaned since the day it was installed.

Never fear, say the home repair gurus at Real Simple magazine. Even novice homeowners can make simple repairs with the expertise of a professional. Here are easy fixes for six of common challenges that may face the novice homeowner:
• Bathtub stains – Combine equal parts cream of tartar and baking soda with enough lemon juice to make a paste. Rub the mixture into the stain with your fingers or a soft cloth. Let sit for half an hour, then rinse with warm water.
• Tub decals – Spray the decals and surrounding area with WD-40, lifting the edges to get underneath if possible. Let sit, then gently scrape away the decals using the edge of a credit card. Degrease the tub with liquid dishwashing soap.
• Dirty chandelier - Allow the fixture to cool. Wear a pair of white cotton gloves―one dry, one dampened with glass cleaner. (For crystal, use one part rubbing alcohol to three parts distilled water.) Wipe each prism first with the damp glove, then the dry one.
• Stuck sliding windows - A little silicone spray lubricant, sold at hardware stores, will grease the skids. Spray it onto a rag, then wipe along the tracks, whether they’re metal, wood, or plastic.
• Dried out cutting board - Revive by gently warming a bottle of pure mineral oil (available at drugstores) in a bowl of hot water, then wiping the oil onto the surface with a soft cloth. Wipe off the excess four to six hours later.
• Stuck-in light bulb - Press the center of a foot-long strip of duct tape onto the middle of the bulb. Fold each loose end in half so it sticks to itself. Gripping each end between your thumb and index finger, give a counterclockwise twist to loosen the bulb.

Clean Up Tips for after the Tornadoes

March 5, 2012 6:00 pm

Recent tornadoes tore through the Midwest, leaving tons of homeowners responsible for cleaning up the aftermath.

The Restoration Industry Association provides the following tips for individuals impacted by the storms:
• Notify your insurance company of the loss.
• Keep a notebook to track dates and times of conversations with individuals pertaining to your claim.
• Secure buildings to prevent vandalism or further damage from weather. Most insurance policies require homeowners to take reasonable action to protect a property from further damage. Tarp or board up open spaces only if safe and appropriate.
• Shut off main water, gas and electricity supplies.
• Save receipts for meals, hotels, toiletries, replacement clothing, prescriptions, etc.
• Take photos of each room or area for future reference and insurance claims. This will provide a digital inventory of some visible contents.
• If electrical appliances, including televisions and computers are damaged, do not turn them back on when power is restored. This can result in electric shock and/or do further damage to the appliance. Electronics can often be cleaned & restored by contractors who know what they're doing.
• When it is safe to enter a property, look for valuables and important papers (e.g., birth/marriage certificates, wills, tax records, etc.)
• Beware of scammers offering restoration services. Check references thoroughly.
• Wear heavy rubber gloves or work gloves and thick-soled shoes, preferably not tennis shoes.
• Wash your hands frequently—especially before touching your face or eating.
• Be careful of sharp items such as broken glass, nails, etc. while searching debris.
• Drink lots of water to stay hydrated.
• Do not use bleach to disinfect since it is corrosive and can react with other substances. Use household disinfectants.
• Hard surfaces can be disinfected as well as some soft goods, depending on washability.
• Transport computers, art work and musical instruments to a dry environment.
• Damaged papers and books can be frozen temporarily to prevent further disintegration until they can be restored by a professional.
• Homeowners may hire any company they choose for restoration work, not just a company recommended by the insurance company.


Stay on the Lookout for Shady Contractors Chasing Recent Storms

March 5, 2012 6:00 pm

In the wake of recent severe thunderstorms, wind and hail damage across the country, homeowners could now be faced with another disaster: unscrupulous storm-chasing contractors.

Storm chasers often go from house to house looking for people who need help cleaning up storm damage, offering promises of quick repairs for cash up-front.

“If a person you don’t know comes to your door promising to help if you’ll just pay in cash, just say ‘no,’” says Angie Hicks, founder of Angie’s List, which provides consumer reviews on local contractors and service companies. “Severe storms can be traumatic, and people trying to put their lives back together shouldn’t have to worry about trouble from shady contractors. With just a little research, you can find a reliable person who will get you back on the feet and keep you there.”

Roofs often take the brunt of the damage from storms, especially hail. Hail damage costs U.S. homeowners more than $1 billion in property damage each year. Only the destruction wrought by wind storms and tornadoes causes more damage, according to the National Weather Service. Be sure to know what your insurance policy covers in the event of hail damage. If you have damage, contact your agent as soon as possible.

Some storm-chasing roofing companies tell homeowners that they need their roof replaced, when it often just needs a few repairs. This is why hiring a company with a good reputation is so important, because few homeowners want to—or can—climb up on their roof and figure out what’s really needed.
“If your home suffers damage, get estimates from at least three licensed, local contractors with a good reputation,” Hicks says. “Understand that the best service companies are going to be the busiest, so patience is key. You might have to wait a little longer to get the work done, but you want to have it correctly the first time. You don’t want to get stuck paying for the same job to be done twice because you hired the first person to come knocking on your door offering help.”

Tips to avoid shady storm chasers:

• If a stranger comes to your storm-ravaged yard offering to repair your roof, remove trees or do other major repair work for cash upfront, just say no.
• Do your research: Check references and the status of the contractor’s bonding and liability insurance coverage.
• Don’t cave into pressure or scare tactics.
• High-quality tree services, plumbers, roofers and hauling companies are in high demand when storms hit. Beware the company with time on its hands when every other similar company can’t even answer the phones.
• Don't hire the first contractor who comes along and offers to do the job. Get at least three estimates to compare.
• Get estimates in writing and a contract that includes the project price, materials to be used and a timeline for completion.

Tips on what to do after a storm:

• Do a visual inspection: Look at your home, automobiles and other property exposed to the storm. Take a picture of any damage you find.
• Call at least three reputable contractors: Get apples to apples estimates for the repairs you need.
• Review your insurance policy: Ensure you know what you’re entitled to. Some insurance companies surcharge or up rate for any claim, therefore it is best to know if you have damage before you call.
• If there is damage: Call your insurance agent right away to file a claim.
• Check contractor credentials: Check that your contractor has a good reputation, is licensed, insured and can do the work.
• Get it in writing: Expect to pay a deposit for materials, but always get a contract in writing that discusses payment terms. Make sure the contract includes a termination clause, should the contractor fail to meet your guidelines. Never pay cash in advance for work.


Spend Less and Live More

March 5, 2012 6:00 pm

Are your family finances tight? Do you cringe when your kids start a new season of baseball or ballet because you know you are about to cough up $300 in gear?

Raising children can be expensive—but it doesn’t always have to be, according to Kate Raidt , author of The Million-Dollar Parent. Raidt, who is featured in Parents, Parenting and Woman’s Day magazines, suggests the following four tips to help your family enjoy the fun things in life but also relieve the financial stress that comes with raising children:

1. Ask for hand-me-downs. From sports gear to ballet apparel, Raidt suggests always asking for hand-me-downs. “When my daughter needed tap shoes ($60 a pair), I found a mom in the class before us whose daughter had just outgrown her tap shoes and she gave them to us for free! When we needed ballet shoes, the dance studio had an entire box full of donations and lost-and-found that they were selling for $2. Ask other parents or the sports league for used gear—and you will always find a better deal (or free) rather than buying these things new,” writes Raidt.

2. Babysitting Swaps. Raidt saves money on babysitting by finding arranging babysitting swaps. To do this, find a family with children of similar ages and swapbabysitting duties every now and then; one week, you will watch their kids while they go out together. Next time, they will watch yours. “Not only did this spruce up our marriage by having more “alone time” but we have not spent a penny on a babysitter in years. We have saved over $3,000 per year by implementing babysitting swaps!”

3. Tap Natural Resources. In most cities, tap water—especially once it’s been filtered—is perfectly healthy to drink. “Today’s families are drinking far too many sodas, juices and sports drinks and not nearly enough water anyways. So save money, calories, tooth decay, diabetes and obesity by drinking tap water in lieu of sugary drinks,” writes Raidt.

4. Reuse. Getting second-hand clothes, toys and furniture is a great way to save money and go green. “By shopping at yard sales, you pay 5 cents on the dollar what you would pay at a store—and you are the only person who knows it’s not brand new. Also, every family should have a yard sale of their own twice per year to clear out the clutter,” writes Raidt.


Question of the Day

March 5, 2012 6:00 pm

Q: How are individual property tax bills figured?

A: Unlike the income tax and the sales tax you pay, the property tax is not based on how much money you earn or how much you spend. It is based solely on how much the property you own is worth.

The real property tax is an ad valorem tax, or a tax based on the value of property.

Ideally, the owners of property of equal value pay the same amount of property taxes, and the owners of more valuable property pay more in taxes than the owners of less valuable property. The tax is calculated using a variety of formulas and is based on a property’s assessed value—its full market value or a percentage thereof –and the tax rate of the taxing jurisdiction, minus any property tax exemptions, such as those offered for the elderly or veterans.

Getting to the Heart of a Healthy Diet

March 2, 2012 5:08 pm

Healthy habits such as eating well, being physically active, and maintaining a healthy weight are key strategies for managing cardiovascular disease—the number one cause of death in the U.S., according to the American Heart Association. That is why it is incredibly important to approach breakfast with your heart in mind to start the day off right.

Kellogg's is now making it easier for shoppers to find its great tasting, fiber-rich heart-healthy cereal options with a new front-of-pack label. Their "Heart Healthy Selection" logo will appear on nine varieties, including new Raisin Bran Cinnamon Almond.

Considering the American Heart Association predicts cardiovascular diseases will increase by about 10 percent over the next 20 years, and that 40 percent of all adults (116 million people) will have at least one form of this disease, it is important to eat for your heart now. Here are some steps the brand recommends:
• Look for heart-healthy cereals.
Heart-healthy cereals are great ways to kick-start your intake of fiber and whole grain each day. Additionally, they are low in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol and provide many key nutrients that the body needs.
• Pick fruits and veggies. Their vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber do your heart good. Many contain potassium, which helps maintain healthy blood pressure. Adding fruits to cereal can really pack a nutritional punch to your morning breakfast bowl.
• Limit sodium. Eating less sodium (found in salt and other ingredients) may help support healthy blood pressure. Look for reduced—or low—sodium versions of frozen dinners, soups, canned vegetables, and sauces. Prepare foods with less salt and zing up the taste with herbs, spices, lemon juice or flavored vinegar.
• Trim saturated fat, cholesterol and trans fat. They not only raise the calories but can raise your risk of heart disease. Choose lean cuts of meat (with "loin" or "round" in the name) and skinless poultry. Use low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt and cheese. Buy packaged foods labeled "0 grams" trans fat per serving. Low saturated fat (1 gram or 5 percent or less of the Daily Value/serving) is ideal.
• Put more fish on the menu. Eat "oily" fish such as salmon, trout and herring at least twice a week for their heart-friendly omega-3 fatty acids, and prepare by baking, broiling, grilling, or poaching.