Gunning Daily News
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.
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.
March 2, 2012 5:08 pm
You’ve landed an interview for a job you want with a company you would like to work for. Congratulations! It’s a great first step. Now, what can you do to pull off such a great interview that an employment offer comes next?
Prepare, say employment specialists at Indiana University, who offer five tips for putting your best foot forward at your next important job interview:
• Research the company – Employers are impressed when you know something about their company: what they do, their size, their values or mission, and the job they are seeking to fill. Get online to find out all you can – and be thinking, before the interview, how and why you would be a good fit.
• Practice describing yourself – In the course of the interview, you will likely be asked about your skills, your personality traits, and past employment experience. Practice emphasizing the positives, describing what you’ve learned from overcoming any weaknesses, and pointing out how your previous successes will add value to their company.
• Try to relax – Nervousness before an interview is normal. Take time to dress suitably, eat a high protein meal or snack, and leave plenty of travel time so you arrive calm and a bit early. The interview begins the moment you arrive, so be sure to smile warmly, shake hands when appropriate, and look everyone in the eye—beginning with the receptionist or assistant.
• Take notes – In a small notebook, feel free to take notes on job specifics the interviewer mentions – or to write down comments or questions you want to voice when you have the opportunity to do so.
• Turn the tables – At some point, you will be asked if you have questions. Make the most of the opportunity based in part on the notes you have taken. You may want to discuss the line of supervision, typical assignments, or opportunities for advancement. A first interview is generally not the time to discuss salary or benefits unless the interviewer brings up the subject. It is very appropriate to ask what the next step is in the hiring process.
• Write a thank you – Send a short, written thank you note to the interviewer within two or three days of the interview. Unless you have had previous email contact with the interviewer, use regular mail.
March 2, 2012 5:08 pm
Fraudsters have discovered new ways to steal money and information thanks to the popularity of social networking sites, unsecured public Internet access points and online activities like shopping, buying and selling, dating and gaming. Online fraud may be the latest way to scam people, but it is not the only approach that is used.
"The best way to avoid becoming a victim of fraud is to protect your personal and financial information at all times. Whether you're at home, in a public place, on the phone or online, keep in mind that someone could steal personal information if it is not properly protected," says Ursula Menke, Commissioner of the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC). "Fraud can be committed by anyone—someone close to you, someone in your community, or a distant stranger," she adds.
• Never provide your personal or financial information unless you trust the person you are communicating with. Some fraudsters pretend to be from reputable organizations in order to get the details they need.
• Keep your personal information in a secure place and dispose of it by shredding it.
• Never email your personal or financial information.
• Be very wary of clicking on links included in emails, because they may lead to fraudulent websites pretending to be legitimate. Instead, enter the website address of the organization you are looking for in the address bar of your browser yourself.
• Before entering any personal or financial information, look for websites with addresses starting with "https" or that have a padlock image in the address bar. This will indicate that the information entered on these pages is secure.
• Keep your computer antivirus, firewall and spyware software up to date.
• Regularly check your accounts and statements for any suspicious or incorrect activity and report it immediately to your financial institution.
If you become a victim:
• Don't be embarrassed to report it. Fraud can happen to anyone.
• Start a written log: write down when you noticed the fraud and the actions you took, including names of people you spoke to and dates of communications.
• File a report with your local police.
• Contact your financial institutions and any other companies (for example, your phone company, cable provider, etc.) where your accounts were tampered with, or are at risk of being tampered with.
March 2, 2012 5:08 pm
Tax season is winding down. So, if you haven’t already completed your filing, you should be in the midst of pulling all your documents together. One thing you may be wondering about is what the rules are with regards to qualifying relatives as tax dependents.
Most Americans are familiar with general tax rules. One regulation allows for parents to claim their children as dependents on their tax return. This gives them an exemption. And it lightens their tax bill.
So do you have a relative living at home? It may mean you could claim them as your dependent. But in order to be a qualifying relative, they must meet four tests:
1. The qualifying relative cannot be someone else's qualifying child.
A child can only be claimed once. So if the child in question is someone else's qualifying child, they cannot be your qualifying relative. For example, assume you have a son who lives with your parents. Your son is your parents' qualifying child. This means he cannot be your qualifying relative.
2. The individual is a member of your household or is related to you.
In order to be a qualifying relative, the individual must either live with you or is related to you in a way that is acceptable by the IRS. Examples of relatives that do not need to live with you to qualify include your child, stepchild, foster child, sibling, half-sibling, parents, and others. Check the IRS website for a more detailed listing.
3. The qualifying individual must meet the gross income test.
The relative in question must have a gross income for the year of less than $3,700.
4. You must support the relative.
You must have provided more than half of the individual's financial support during the past year.
If you have questions about whether or not your qualifying relative can in fact qualify as your tax dependent, consult a tax preparer or attorney.
March 2, 2012 5:08 pm
Breach of contract. When one party fails to live up to the terms and conditions of a contract, without a valid, legal excuse.
March 2, 2012 5:08 pm
Q: What if my contractor bungles the job?
A: If you have a legitimate complaint, keep after the contractor until the needed repairs or alterations are made. If this fails, contact your local Consumer Protection Agency. Keep a copy of the contract, receipts, and photographs of the work. Although it has no legal authority, you also may want to contact the Better Business Bureau, as well as your state’s Contractor License Board. And you can take the contractor to Small Claims Court, although the amount you would be able to recover varies from state to state. California, for example, allows judgments up to $7,500. It’s $5,000 in Virginia and less in other jurisdictions.
March 2, 2012 4:08 pm
After months of searching, you’ve finally landed an interview for the job of your dreams. You’ve chosen your wardrobe, Googled the company so you can intelligently discuss the issues, and thought through questions you may be asked. That’s all fine, says Andrew Sobel. But if you haven’t brushed up on the questions you want to ask the interviewer, you’re missing a key part of your preparation—the part that may win you the job.
“If you talk to recruiters and executives who are actively hiring, they will tell you that there are three types of questions they get: no questions, bad questions, and—very rarely—memorable questions,” says Sobel, author (along with coauthor Jerold Panas) of Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others.” And the candidates who ask the memorable ones are often the ones they make offers to.
“A recruiter for a well-known, fast-growing technology company told me, ‘You’d be surprised how many job candidates have absolutely no questions for me at all, or they ask dumb or boring questions like ‘So what do you do?’” he adds. “By asking questions—not just any questions but memorable, thought-provoking ones—you come across as a cut above the average candidate.”
It makes sense. After all, anyone can anticipate common interview questions and craft what they think are impressive answers ahead of time. But candidates who ask insightful, incisive questions prove they’re thinkers and connectors.
“You can tell people all day long how qualified you are, how talented you are, and what a tremendous asset to the company you would be,” says Sobel. “But no statement is ever as impactful as a well-timed, well-executed question. In all situations, power questions help us connect and engage with others in meaningful ways.”
You want a recruiter or executive who interviews you to tell a colleague afterwards, “I had a great conversation with that candidate. He had really thought a lot about our business.” That’s what gets you the callback, explains Sobel. And good questions are the way you create a thought-provoking, value-added conversation.
First, avoid these types of questions in a job interview:
• Informational questions: Don’t take up a manager’s time asking, “How much vacation will I get?” Get the basic information you need before you go in for an interview.
• Closed-ended questions: If someone can give a “yes” or “no” answer, it diminishes your prospects for having a good conversation.
• “Me” questions: An executive is interested in how you will add value to her organization and whether or not you’re a good fit. Skip questions like “I skydive every Saturday—so will I ever be asked to work weekends?”
That said, here are the kinds of questions you should be asking in a job interview:
1. Credibility-building questions: “As I think back to my experience in managing large sales forces, I’ve found there are typically three barriers to breakthrough sales performance: coordination of the sales function with marketing and manufacturing, customer selection, and product quality. In your case, do you think any of these factors are holding back your sales growth? What do you believe are your own greatest opportunities for increasing sales effectiveness?”
2. “Why?” questions: “Why did you close down your parts business rather than try to find a buyer for it?” or “Why did you decide to move from a functional to a product-based organization structure?”
3. Personal understanding questions: “I understand you joined the organization five years ago. With all the growth you’ve had, how do you find the experience of working here now compared to when you started?”
4. Passion questions: “What do you love most about working here?”
5. Value-added advice questions: “Have you considered creating an online platform for your top account executives, so that they can share success stories and collaborate better around key client opportunities? We implemented such a concept a year ago, and it’s been very successful.”
6. Future-oriented questions: “You’ve achieved large increases in productivity over the last three years. Where do you believe future operational improvements will come from?”
7. Aspiration questions: “As you look ahead to the next couple of years, what are the potential growth areas that people are most excited about in the company?”
8. Organizational culture questions: “What are the most common reasons why new hires don’t work out here?” or “What kinds of people really thrive in your organization?”
9. Decision-making questions: “If you were to arrive at two final candidates with equal experience and skills, how would you choose one over the other?”
10. Company strengths-and-weaknesses questions: “Why do people come to work for you rather than a competitor? And why do you think they stay?”
In general, says Sobel, good questions prove you’ve done your homework. They show you’re not just concerned about yourself but that you’ve given some thought to the future of the company. They allow you to demonstrate your knowledge without sounding arrogant. And they greatly improve your chances that the interviewer will like you—and we tend to hire those we like!
“If you want to be noticed by recruiters, don’t talk more,” he summarizes. “Instead, ask better questions. You’ll soon find yourself answering the best question of all: How soon can you start?”
March 2, 2012 4:08 pm
According to the 2011 DaVinci Roofscapes’ Homeowners Exterior Preferences Study, more than seven in 10 homeowners (71 percent) believe the outward appearance of their home reflects their personality. Those people who identify their personalities closest to their home’s exterior live in the Midwest, while those with the least connection are residents of the Northeast.
Homeowners who closely align their home’s exterior with their own personality cited a variety of reasons for the similarity, including:
- “It’s bold and different like me.”
- “Having personally designed my home I feel it reflects my likes and preferences.”
- “I am a contemporary person; the house is contemporary.”
- “It too is old, but really stylish.”
- “It looks simple and unpretentious … which is how I think of myself.”
- “The exterior of my home is conservative in appearance, which is the same as my personality.”
Homeowners also indicated in the study that the colors of their home’s exterior match up and reflect their personalities, citing:
- “I am a traditionalist. I think the colors of my house are very traditional.”
- “The (house) color and trim was chosen by me and is unique to my personality.”
- “I have chosen colors (for my home’s exterior) that are traditional and dramatic rather than the drab beige people consider safe.”
“This part of the study tells us that a majority of homeowners see a relationship between their personalities and their home exteriors,” says Ray Rosewall, CEO and president of DaVinci Roofscapes. “This helps us understand why roofing color options are important to homeowners. They see their home’s exterior— including the colors on the exterior—as a positive reflection of who they are. This explains why we’ve seen soaring sales of personalized color configurations of our roofing products in the past several years and an overall increase in color blends by our customers. People are sharing their personality through their home’s exterior!”
The nationwide consumer study, conducted online by Harris Interactive©, also indicates that homeowners in the Midwest are the most likely to feel connected to the outward appearance of their home (80 percent), followed by the South at 73 percent and the West at 71 percent. Homeowners in the Northeast feel the least amount of personality connection (65 percent) with their home’s exterior.
“Homeowners in the study also indicated that when house hunting or designing their own homes, the most attention-grabbing feature of the exterior was the style of the home, followed by how the home looked on the property,” says Rosewall. “We believe this information firmly links a homeowner’s personality with a specific style home. As opposed to buying a house simply because it’s a ‘good deal’ or in a good location, people seek out the style of home that most reflects how they view themselves and want others to see them.”
For more information, visit www.davinciroofscapes.com.
March 2, 2012 4:08 pm
The Internal Revenue Service recently issued its annual “Dirty Dozen” ranking of tax scams, reminding taxpayers to use caution during tax season to protect themselves against a wide range of schemes ranging from identity theft to return preparer fraud.
The Dirty Dozen listing, compiled by the IRS each year, lists a variety of common scams taxpayers can encounter at any point during the year. But many of these schemes peak during filing season as people prepare their tax returns.
“Taxpayers should be careful and avoid falling into a trap with the Dirty Dozen,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. “Scam artists will tempt people in-person, on-line and by e-mail with misleading promises about lost refunds and free money. Don’t be fooled by these scams.”
Illegal scams can lead to significant penalties and interest and possible criminal prosecution. The IRS Criminal Investigation Division works closely with the Department of Justice to shutdown scams and prosecute the criminals behind them.
The following is part II of the Dirty Dozen tax scams for 2012. Keep an eye out for part III, coming soon.
Hiding Income Offshore
Over the years, numerous individuals have been identified as evading U.S. taxes by hiding income in offshore banks, brokerage accounts or nominee entities, using debit cards, credit cards or wire transfers to access the funds. Others have employed foreign trusts, employee-leasing schemes, private annuities or insurance plans for the same purpose.
The IRS uses information gained from its investigations to pursue taxpayers with undeclared accounts, as well as the banks and bankers suspected of helping clients hide their assets overseas. The IRS works closely with the Department of Justice to prosecute tax evasion cases.
While there are legitimate reasons for maintaining financial accounts abroad, there are reporting requirements that need to be fulfilled. U.S. taxpayers who maintain such accounts and who do not comply with reporting and disclosure requirements are breaking the law and risk significant penalties and fines, as well as the possibility of criminal prosecution.
Since 2009, 30,000 individuals have come forward voluntarily to disclose their foreign financial accounts, taking advantage of special opportunities to bring their money back into the U.S. tax system and resolve their tax obligations. And, with new foreign account reporting requirements being phased in over the next few years, hiding income offshore will become increasingly more difficult.
At the beginning of this year, the IRS reopened the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) following continued strong interest from taxpayers and tax practitioners after the closure of the 2011 and 2009 programs. The IRS continues working on a wide range of international tax issues and follows ongoing efforts with the Justice Department to pursue criminal prosecution of international tax evasion. This program will be open for an indefinite period until otherwise announced.
The IRS has collected $3.4 billion so far from people who participated in the 2009 offshore program, reflecting closures of about 95 percent of the cases from the 2009 program. On top of that, the IRS has collected an additional $1 billion from up front payments required under the 2011 program. That number will grow as the IRS processes the 2011 cases.
‘Free Money’ from the IRS & Tax Scams Involving Social Security
Flyers and advertisements for free money from the IRS, suggesting that the taxpayer can file a tax return with little or no documentation, have been appearing in community churches around the country. These schemes are also often spread by word of mouth as unsuspecting and well-intentioned people tell their friends and relatives.
Scammers prey on low income individuals and the elderly. They build false hopes and charge people good money for bad advice. In the end, the victims discover their claims are rejected. Meanwhile, the promoters are long gone. The IRS warns all taxpayers to remain vigilant.
There are a number of tax scams involving Social Security. For example, scammers have been known to lure the unsuspecting with promises of non-existent Social Security refunds or rebates. In another situation, a taxpayer may really be due a credit or refund but uses inflated information to complete the return.
Beware. Intentional mistakes of this kind can result in a $5,000 penalty.
False/Inflated Income and Expenses
Including income that was never earned, either as wages or as self-employment income in order to maximize refundable credits, is another popular scam. Claiming income you did not earn or expenses you did not pay in order to secure larger refundable credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit could have serious repercussions. This could result in repaying the erroneous refunds, including interest and penalties, and in some cases, even prosecution.
Additionally, some taxpayers are filing excessive claims for the fuel tax credit. Farmers and other taxpayers who use fuel for off-highway business purposes may be eligible for the fuel tax credit. But other individuals have claimed the tax credit when their occupations or income levels make the claims unreasonable. Fraud involving the fuel tax credit is considered a frivolous tax claim and can result in a penalty of $5,000.
False Form 1099 Refund Claims
In this ongoing scam, the perpetrator files a fake information return, such as a Form 1099 Original Issue Discount (OID), to justify a false refund claim on a corresponding tax return. In some cases, individuals have made refund claims based on the bogus theory that the federal government maintains secret accounts for U.S. citizens and that taxpayers can gain access to the accounts by issuing 1099-OID forms to the IRS.
Don’t fall prey to people who encourage you to claim deductions or credits to which you are not entitled or willingly allow others to use your information to file false returns. If you are a party to such schemes, you could be liable for financial penalties or even face criminal prosecution.
Promoters of frivolous schemes encourage taxpayers to make unreasonable and outlandish claims to avoid paying the taxes they owe. The IRS has a list of frivolous tax arguments that taxpayers should avoid. These arguments are false and have been thrown out of court. While taxpayers have the right to contest their tax liabilities in court, no one has the right to disobey the law.
For more information, visit www.irs.gov