Gunning Daily News
February 10, 2012 5:00 pm
Like many life events, beginning a married life brings many exciting changes. Perhaps not as exciting, but equally important, is your new tax filing status. For couples who tied the knot in 2011, Jackson Hewitt Tax Service® offers newlyweds several important tips on how to get the most out of their new tax filing status.
"Newlyweds and married taxpayers can choose to file jointly or separately based on their individual situation, but keep in mind that this filing status can change each year," says Mark Steber, chief tax officer, Jackson Hewitt Tax Service Inc. "Generally, using the 'married filing jointly' status provides the lowest tax liability and the highest standard deduction. However, if one of the filers has large deductions or expenses, the 'married filing separately' status may be more beneficial."
Steber reminds newlywed couples filing for the first time to keep the following in mind:
• The Internal Revenue Service recognizes a couple's marital status on the last day of the year. Even couples who wed right before midnight on December 31 are considered legally married for the full 2011 tax year;
• Couples should note that certain credits, including the Child and Dependent Care Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit and certain education credits, are not available under the "married filing separately" status; and,
• Tying the knot often results in a new last name. Names listed in your tax return should match all forms of identification, including social security card, passport, driver's license and documents from employers, loan holders and investment accounts.
February 10, 2012 5:00 pm
Congratulations! You've just received the news that you're expecting. Did you already have travel plans booked? Or are you planning to take a babymoon prior to the little one's arrival but not sure about the safety of flying while pregnant?
Air travel is generally safe for pregnant women. However, traveling pregnant does come with some warnings. To help ease some of the anxiety, read on for a sample of the travel tips from the team at Cheapflights as well as some of the very practical advice we've collected from experts on flying while pregnant.
1. Quick tips for healthy air travel while pregnant
• Travel with at least one companion who also has your emergency contact info in addition to your doctor's number programmed into their phone.
• Carry documentation with your expected date of delivery, doctor's contact info, and your blood type.
• Stay hydrated. Dehydration on airplanes can be worse when you're pregnant, so drink plenty of caffeine-free, non-alcoholic fluids before, during, and after the flight.
2. When is the best time to fly? According to the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, air travel is safest for pregnant women during the second trimester—weeks 18 to 24. If you are considering a flight during your pregnancy, check with both your doctor and the airline before you book.
According to one of our experts, Colleen Lanin of TravelMamas.com, "In the first trimester you may be too nauseated to enjoy your time away. In the third trimester you may be too uncomfortable and not feel up for doing much of anything."
3. Each airline has its own rules for flying while pregnant - If you're booking your flights with an agent, let them know that you're pregnant when you book your flight and check that you are permitted to fly. If booking your flights online, be sure to check the airline's website. It is worth calling ahead to alert the airline about your pregnancy—this should also ensure that you get special service to keep you comfortable. It's also recommended that you avoid smaller planes that fly below 7,000 feet, and choose larger planes with pressurized cabins.
4. Make yourself comfortable - Especially during pregnancy, reserving the right seat on the airplane can make a difference. You will need to be able to get up and move around the plane. Try and reserve a spacious seat when you make your booking. Many airlines' websites have information about the varying legroom on each of their seats. If you plan to travel pregnant, it's worth spending a few extra bucks to get a bit more room. Be aware, though, that traditional "extra legroom" seats, such as those on the exit aisles, are often not permitted to those who are pregnant.
Another of our experts, Jodi Grundig of MomsFavoriteStuff.com, adds this tip, "While I generally love direct flights, if you are flying long distance, two shorter flights may be better. That way, you can get out, stretch, eat a nice meal and recharge."
5. Tips for your vacation - Once the flight's over, it's time to enjoy the vacation. Here are just a few more things to consider:
• Skin is more sensitive during pregnancy, so wear stronger sunscreen than usual.
• Keep a list of names and numbers to be contacted in case of emergency.
• Keep a list of local hospitals from the embassy or tourist board.
February 9, 2012 5:48 pm
When you hear the word "geek," visions of someone overly intellectual and socially awkward may come to mind. Add the title "dad" to that geek and the picture becomes a middle-aged man wearing black socks with sandals and a pocket protector. But a survey titled "Confessions of a Geek Dad," conducted by Answers Research on behalf of Cisco Home Networking Business, shows today's geeks are cooler, connected and more engaged fathers than you'd think.
According to the survey, 71 percent of geek dads say they spend more time doing activities with their kids than their fathers did with them. Also, 72 percent say they're more excited about teaching kids how to use tech tools than the traditional workbench tools their dads taught them. And it looks like this "tech tool school" is always in session in the home, with 93 percent of geek dads saying they assist their kids with their tech toys.
"These statistics help describe a new generation of dads who've grown up with an ongoing evolution of new technologies and now use tech to connect with their family," said Cat Schwartz, tech expert and blogger. "These dads aren't just tech-savvy; they know how to translate that knowledge and excitement into fun and memorable traditions with their kids."
Schwartz says creating new family traditions with tech in the home is easy and fun—regardless of whether you're a geek dad or not. She offers these tips to get started:
Begin with Opening the Box - When a new device comes into the household, involve the entire family in the set-up process (or at least watch it). This helps everyone understand how to use the product, so they can hopefully fix it if it stops working. It also allows you to discuss guidelines when using the device, and talk about the features and controls that impact your kids.
Don't Suffer the Buffer - It's frustrating when you're streaming video or music and it stops and starts due to buffering issues. You can't achieve maximum performance from tech devices without a strong wireless router.
Establish Tech Rites of Passage for Kids - In my home, we reward our kids with a phone at age 12 for their safety. We put rules into place as to how minutes will be earned and when they can carry and use it. Also, we sync all of our phones to our wireless network to connect from while at home, so we save minutes on our data plan.
Special Creative Keepsakes - Harness technology to introduce fun traditions. At least once a year, we take a family photo that we send to loved ones. With today's digital cameras and imagery editing tools, we can digitally add images of family members unable to be with us. It's a fun way of bringing everyone together when we're miles apart.
"One of the best things about technology is that there is a continual stream of new and exciting innovations," says Schwartz. "This gives parents so many options to create fun tech traditions that are unique to their family every year."
February 9, 2012 5:48 pm
Most couples share comfort, joy and faith, but how many share financial responsibility? One spouse usually takes the lead on financial matters and ignorance is not bliss for the financially inactive spouse. Life changing events, such as death, disability or divorce, can wreck havoc when the financially aware partner is gone.
"Having observed many couples through the years, it's inevitable that one spouse is more 'financially attuned' than the other," says Jim Waters, founder and president of PartnersInWealth in Houston. "But too often the one 'who does the finances' leaves the other in the dark."
Every February 14, candy, flowers and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine. Waters suggests that you take care of the ones you love by following these seven steps for financial fitness.
1) Honesty – Be honest as to why one is the more involved, more interested or more knowledgeable when it comes to financial matters. A division of labor based on knowledge, time or passion is reasonable.
2) Respect – Acknowledge questions you have. Ask if there's anything on the Statement of Net Worth that you don't understand.
3) Patience – Set aside time to discuss finances. Make sure the less involved spouse could handle the finances for six months or longer. Make it easy for that individual to get involved by opening the mail and paying the bills together. Set aside time to answer any questions.
4) Communication – Share any fears or concerns about this process. Discuss and reinforce your common vision and values. Acknowledge the more involved spouse for their efforts and encourage the less involved spouse to take a more active role in finances. Active participation is the first step to a deeper understanding.
5) Follow through – Mark your calendars and discuss finances regularly. Tie the discussion to something fun.
6) Discretion – Know each other's tipping points and thresholds. Get to know each other's financial comfort zones when it comes to investments, income and estate tax reduction, insurance, estate and philanthropic planning, and asset protection.
7) Flexibility – Be open to change and be willing to learn. Throw judgment out the door and help find solutions that make sense to both of you. "You go to dinner together. You go on vacations together. Why don't you manage your personal finances together?" Waters says. "This will build money compatibility for you and your spouse. You can have a better relationship and understanding with each other."
Finances are the main cause of disagreements between couples. It pays to learn to spend wisely, establish security and align money with values.
February 9, 2012 5:48 pm
Yield. What an investment or property will return; the profit or income.
February 9, 2012 5:48 pm
Q: Are fees and assessments owed a homeowner’s association deductible?
A: Generally not because they are considered personal living expenses. But if an association has a special assessment to make capital improvements, condo owners may be able to add the expense to their cost basis when the property is sold. Another exception may apply if you rent your condo – the monthly condo fee is deductible every year as a rental expense.
February 9, 2012 4:48 pm
Spring is just around the corner, and many city dwellers are starting to turn their attention to their neglected yards, terraces, or rooftop spaces and beginning to make plans for spring gardens. To many people living in a city like New York, creating a garden is their primary means for creating a sanctuary away from the urban hustle and bustle that they have to deal with during the rest of the day.
Having an outdoor space is really like having additional rooms in your apartment. Space is a valuable commodity, so adding outdoor rooms for sitting, eating, relaxing, and entertaining is not only aesthetically pleasing, but a smart investment as well. A well-designed garden is built to engage the senses and transport visitors to a place of peace and beauty. In a land of concrete and steel, these gardens are some of the most treasured green spaces on the planet.
Urban gardening comes with its own unique set of challenges. Roof gardens have to deal with extremes in temperature and high winds that can quickly shred large-leaf plants not suitable to life atop a mountain-like rooftop. Most roof gardens are in somewhat remote locations, where you can sometimes work for an entire day on a garden without seeing another living soul, even though on the street below thousands of people may have walked by without a clue that a beautiful garden paradise exists several floors up. Roof gardens are like little secret jewels hidden out of reach in the clouds, nestled between skyscrapers and birds.
If planting a roof garden seems daunting, here are a few tips to help get you on your way to creating an urban paradise:
Check Building Codes
Before starting a garden, check with the building superintendent to see about building codes and weight limits for rooftops and terraces.
Use Appropriate Containers
Containers should be lightweight and portable, resist cracking in freezing weather, and hold enough soil to minimize the drying effects of wind and sun.
Install an Irrigation System
In the heat of summer, plants exposed to a full day of sun and wind may need constant watering and can easily burn to a crisp if forgotten about for even a day.
Know Your Conditions
The intense sun, wind, and freezing temperatures on a rooftop or terrace can be a full zone or two different than that on the street down below. A temperature gauge can help to determine whether or not you're gardening in the arctic or the Sahara.
Choose the Right Plants
Buy smaller-leaved plants that won't get torn apart by the wind. Plants should also be able to tolerate a wide range of temperature extremes. Conical-shaped trees tend to do better and won't get blown over by wind.
Design for Seasonal Interest
If you can see the garden from indoors, it's a good idea to mix evergreens with annuals and perennials in the same planters so you will have colorful blooms in warmer months and something green to look at when the weather turns frosty.
Protect Plants from the Elements
Stabilize evaporation rates and freeze-thaw cycles by applying a 2-3" layer of mulch to your containers.
Spring Cleaning Essentials
Over time, the soil in your containers will start to decompose and lose its nutritional value. Remove the top 1-2" of soil from containers each spring and add fresh soil to reinvigorate plants.
Fertilize, Fertilize, Fertilize
Plants in containers eat up fertilizer much more quickly than plants in the ground. During periods of active growth, you should plan on fertilizing every two weeks for blooming and fruiting plants and once a month for all others.
Prune and Divide
Very large plants will need to be pruned or divided every year to keep them from outgrowing their containers. Prune spring-flowering plants after they bloom. Prune all others after the first frost.
Source: Amber Freda Home & Garden Design
February 9, 2012 4:48 pm
While Valentine’s day may be keeping hearts warm this month, your heat is still working overtime to keep your home comfortable. The following suggestions can help keep your home warm, and your finances in good shape.
• Begin by checking your equipment. When properly sized and installed, a heat pump or furnace can save as much as 20 percent on annual energy costs.
• Sealing gaps and cracks in your home can also save energy costs—up to 10 percent. And tightening ducts will further reduce energy bills.
• Clean or change your filter regularly, and if you use a heat pump, remove any debris around the outside unit.
• Run your system through a full heating cycle, and schedule an inspection with a service technician to ensure the most efficient operation of your heating equipment.
• Finally, consider replacing aging equipment with a more energy-efficient unit.
Source: All Seasons Comfort, http://ascheating.com/
February 8, 2012 5:36 pm
I already started digging into some of the connected appliance and home applications on display this January at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas. In reviewing many of the innovative new consumer trends, I took note of the first generation of "connected appliances" hitting the market this year.
Besides the Whirlpool and LG systems we already covered, Samsung Electronics Co. made a splash at CES with the launch of the industry’s largest capacity (4.5 cu. ft.2) front-loading washer which integrates Samsung's new Smart Control System. The company claims their WF457 "delivers the easiest and most efficient laundry experience ever."
Recognized by ENERGY STAR as a ‘Most Efficient 2011’ clothes washer, the WF457 uses just 96 kWh/year in electricity and up to 70 percent less water than top-loading washing machines, helping consumers save even more money on utility bills.
In addition, the WF457 is the first Samsung washer to be Smart Grid-ready. We previously covered this national initiative created in conjunction with utility providers to enhance efficiency in consumers’ electricity consumption and CO2 emissions, saving energy and reducing electricity bills.
The WF457 was also named a 2012 CES Innovations Award honoree in the eco-design category, because its WiFi-enabled Smart Control system allows consumers to stay connected to the washer cycle without having to remain close by the machine.
Consumers can, via a wireless router and a smart phone application, monitor cycle selections, remaining time and finishing alerts, as well as remotely start or pause the washer—a huge benefit to busy users who spend time running back and forth from the laundry room trying to estimate when the load is done.
In addition, Samsung’s Smart Care system makes user manuals obsolete by quickly diagnosing washer issues and sending alerts to consumers’ smart phones. And the washer features the industry’s largest 8-inch color LCD tablet-sized touch screen.
The WF457 washer is also the first from Samsung to feature SpeedSpray, which delivers a cleansing shot of water with dissolved detergent and then a rinsing shot for improved rinsing performance. Samsung says its SpeedSpray feature results in a cycle time that is up to 25 percent shorter compared with conventional washers.
February 8, 2012 5:36 pm
There is no denying it; tax season is in full swing. While some of us may be finished with our filing, others are still in the process. Whether you’re buying, staying or selling, in this tough housing market, the more you know the better.
Here are a few quick homeowner tax facts, provided by REALTOR.org:
o 38.5 million taxpayers claimed a deduction for mortgage interest, deducting a total of $470 billion, in 2008.
o 42 million taxpayers in the United States claimed a deduction for real estate taxes in 2008, deducting a total of $172 billion.
o The average taxpayer claiming the real estate tax deduction subtracted $4,090 from taxable income in 2008.
The following tips can help you save:
1. Understand your capital gains tax
When you sell your home, you're taxed on any profit over a set amount, which changes based on your marital status. However, calculation on your gains isn't as simple as price sold minus price paid. The IRS takes into account expenses invested in improving the property, so be sure to save receipts for any repairs, maintenance and upgrades.
2. Get a reliable estimate of your property tax bill
Don’t rely solely on the tax information in the property listing. Your tax bill can differ from the previous owner's bill, so do your research. This is a top tip for those looking to buy a new home.
3. Deduct the interest
Many don’t realize that you can deduct the interest you pay on your home loan, which reduces your tax liability. Since your mortgage payments for the first few years are almost entirely interest, this means they are almost entirely tax deductible.
4. Lower your interest rates—deduct property taxes and points paid
The IRS allows you to deduct your state and local property taxes from your income tax return, which can help to offset their expenses.
5. Market value declined? Request a property tax reassessment
You can get your taxes lowered if the value of your home has decreased. To do this, show proof of your home's current market value and recent comparable sales in your neighborhood.