Gunning Daily News

Question of the Day

December 14, 2011 5:24 pm

Q: Are there standard ways to determine how much a home is worth?

Yes. A comparative market analysis and an appraisal are the two most common and reliable ways to determine a home's value.

Your real estate agent can provide a comparative market analysis, an informal estimate of value based on the recent selling price of similar neighborhood properties. Reviewing comparable homes that have sold within the past year along with the listing, or asking, price on current homes for sale should prevent you from overpaying.

A certified appraiser can provide an appraisal of a home. After visiting the home to check such things as the number of rooms, improvements, size and square footage, construction quality, and the condition of the neighborhood, the appraiser then reviews recent comparable sales to determine the estimated value of the home.

Lenders normally require an appraisal – which run between $200 to $300 – before they will approve a mortgage loan. This protects the lender by ensuring the home is worth the money you want to borrow.

You also can check recent sales in public records, through private firms, and on the Internet to help you determine a home’s potential worth.

Holiday Safety Alert: Consumer Injuries Involving Decorating on the Rise

December 13, 2011 5:10 pm

Holiday decorating plans do not normally include lacerations, falls and fires. Unfortunately, these hazards make an unwelcome appearance in the homes of thousands of consumers each year. To help avoid hidden decorating dangers, CPSC and UL are providing families with tips for a safe holiday home.

Reports of falls from ladders while stringing lights and hanging decorations, incidents of lacerations from broken glass ornaments, and other holiday-related injuries are increasing. During November and December 2010, CPSC estimates that more than 13,000 people were treated in emergency departments nationwide due to injuries involving holiday decorations. This is an increase from 10,000 in 2007 and 12,000 in 2008 and in 2009.

Although estimates of deaths and injuries related to Christmas tree and candle fires are down, there are still an alarming number of incidents. Live trees or other evergreen decorations that have dried out burn fast and hot in a matter of seconds if they come in contact with an open flame.

Between 2006 and 2008, there was an annual average of four deaths and $18 million in property damage related to Christmas tree fires. During this same time period, CPSC received reports of about 130 deaths and $360 million in property losses related to candle fires.

"A well-watered tree, carefully placed candles, and carefully checked holiday light sets will help prevent the joy of the holidays from turning into a trip to the emergency room or the loss of your home," says Chairman Inez Tenenbaum.

"This is easily the busiest time of year, but it's important to make time for safety while celebrating the holidays," says John Drengenberg, director of consumer safety at UL. "By committing a few minutes each day to safety, many accidents can be avoided and your holidays will be memorable for all the right reasons."
CPSC and UL suggest using the following 12 safety tips to help keep your holiday home safe this year:

Trees and Decorations
1. Buying live trees,
check for freshness. A fresh tree is green, its needles are hard to pull from branches, and its needles do not break when bent between your fingers. The bottom of a fresh tree is sticky with resin and, when tapped on the ground, the tree should not lose many needles.
2. Setting up a tree at home, place it away from heat sources, such as fireplaces, vents, and radiators. Because heated rooms rapidly dry out live trees, be sure to monitor water levels daily and keep the tree stand filled with water. Place the tree out of the way of traffic, and do not block doorways with the tree.
3. Buying an artificial tree, look for the label "Fire Resistant." Although this label does not mean that the tree will not catch fire, it does indicate that the tree is more resistant to catching fire.
4. Decorating a tree in homes with small children, take special care to avoid sharp, weighted, or breakable decorations. Keep trimmings with small removable parts out of the reach of children who could swallow or inhale small pieces, and avoid trimmings that resemble candy or food that may tempt a child to eat them. 

1. Keep burning candles within sight.
Extinguish all candles before you go to bed, leave the room, or leave the house.
2. Keep candles on a stable, heat-resistant surface where kids and pets cannot reach them or knock them over. Lighted candles should be placed away from items that can catch fire and burn easily, such as trees, other evergreens, decorations, curtains and furniture. 

1. Use only lights that have been tested for safety
by a nationally recognized testing laboratory. Lights for both indoor and outdoor usage must meet strict requirements that testing laboratories are able to verify.
2. Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Throw out damaged sets and do not use electric lights on a metallic tree.
3. Check each extension cord to make sure it is rated for the intended use.
4. Check outdoor lights for labels showing that the lights have been certified for outdoor use, and only plug them into a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI)-protected receptacle or a portable GFCI. 

1. Use care with "fire salts,"
which produce colored flames when thrown on wood fires. They contain heavy metals that can cause intense gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting if swallowed. Keep them away from children.
2. Do not burn wrapping papers in the fireplace. A flash fire may result as wrappings ignite suddenly and burn intensely.


Tips for Smart Charitable Giving at Holidays

December 13, 2011 5:10 pm

Donating to your charity of choice in someone else’s name is a meaningful way to celebrate the holidays. However, doing your research before deciding on an organization will pay off in the long run and ensure you aren’t being scammed or taken advantage of.

"There are many worthy charities and residents should feel free to contribute to causes that mean something to them," said Carol Aichele, Secretary of the Commonwealth in Pennsylvania, whose department oversees charities in the state.

Most charities are legitimate and use the majority of their money for worthwhile projects, but some may misrepresent their cause or spend a high percentage of donations on administrative and fundraising costs. Before giving to any charitable organization, ask what share of your donation will go toward such expenses.

Other tips for informed charitable giving include:
• Never give to a charity about which you know nothing.
• Ask for written information about the charity's programs and finances.
• Don't feel pressured into giving on the spot or allow someone to come to your home to pick up the contribution.
• Never commit to donate on the phone if you're not familiar with the group.
• Never give cash, credit card numbers or bank account numbers. Always write a check payable to the charity so you have a record of your donations.
• All charities have expenses, so understand how your donation will be spent.
• Consult with your tax advisor to determine whether your contribution is tax deductible. Charitable donations made before Dec. 31 may be tax deductible for the tax filing due the following April.


Top Four End-of-Year Financial Planning Tasks

December 13, 2011 5:10 pm

Between turkey and holiday cookies, don't forget the most important type of planning you should do this year: financial planning. M&I, a part of BMO Financial Group, offers these four aspects of your finances everyone should review before 2012 arrives.

Budgets: Review your monthly budget and track your spending. Keeping track of where your money is being spent will highlight unnecessary expenses. Begin saving today. A savings account can help when life throws an unexpected curve ball. Ideally, build an emergency fund that could pay your necessary expenses for six months.

Creating budgets with your children is also a great way to teach kids about money and the difference between a need and a want.

Retirement: Examine how much you've been putting in your retirement account this year. If possible, plan to contribute the maximum allowable amount to your 401(K) and take advantage of your workplace retirement plan to gain matching contributions. If your workplace does not have a matching program consider a Roth IRA.

College: College planning is essential for every family whether you are just starting out or are planning to support a grandchild's education. If you have not started preparing for future college expenses, start now. College savings plans can offer considerable tax benefits. Each state offers residents a 529 college savings plan that provides tax benefits or other perks to help parents and students prepare for college bills.

Investments: Invest wisely. Investigate investment options to determine which is best to meet your financial needs. A few options include money market accounts, CDs and government bonds, and IRAs. Solid investments can reap dividends in the future.

We all know how important it is to save money and prepare for the future and reviewing your budget and investments will ensure you're meeting your financial goals.

For more information, visit

Beyond the Brush: Five Ways to Help Promote Healthy Teeth and Gums

December 13, 2011 5:10 pm

Routine tooth brushing and flossing and regular check-ups by a dental professional remain the cornerstone of a healthy mouth. However, according to the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP), pairing a few well-known healthy-lifestyle habits with your daily oral health regimen may also help reduce your risk for periodontal disease.

According to the AAP, the following tips may help sustain healthy teeth and gums while also helping you live an overall healthy lifestyle: 

• Eat and drink up. It is well known that eating a balanced diet leads to proper nutrition and helps keep the body running effectively. Studies published in the Journal of Periodontology (JOP) have also shown that certain foods can promote teeth and gum health. Foods containing omega-3, calcium, vitamin D and even honey have all been shown to reduce the incidence or severity of periodontal disease. 

• Hit the gym. Frequent exercise is a recognized way to avoid being overweight, and it may ultimately reduce your risk of periodontal disease. In a study published in the Journal of Periodontology, researchers found that subjects who maintained a healthy weight and had high levels of physical fitness had a lower incidence of severe periodontitis than those that did not exercise. 

• Stress less. Stress can lead to a variety of health complications, including periodontal disease. Research published in the JOP showed a relationship between stress and periodontal disease. Increased levels of cortisol, which the body releases when experiencing stress, can intensify the destruction of the gums and bone due to periodontal disease. In addition, another JOP study indicated that people experiencing stress are more likely to neglect their oral hygiene. 

• Kick the habit. Smoking is not only a leading cause of respiratory and cardiovascular disease in the United States, it is also a major risk factor for periodontal disease. Several research studies have shown that smoking not only increases the chance of developing periodontal disease, but it can also affect the success of treatments for existing periodontal disease. 

• See the doctor. Regular check-ups by a physician can help with early diagnosis of several health issues, including periodontal disease. A large body of research associates gum disease with other chronic inflammatory diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. Therefore, by screening for systemic disease early and receiving any needed treatment, you may also benefit your periodontal health.


Word of the Day

December 13, 2011 5:10 pm

Restrictive covenants. Clauses placed in a deed to restrict the full use of the property by controlling how future landowners may or may not use the property; also used in leases.

Question of the Day

December 13, 2011 5:10 pm

Q: Should an architect and contractor have a “vested” interest in one another?

A: During a home construction project, it does not hurt to have a situation where the architect and contractor already have an existing working relationship. In fact, such an association could benefit a project by ensuring the smooth integration between the design and implementation. In a residential project, there is sometimes a triangle of tension between the architect, the contractor and the homeowner in terms of finger pointing and assigning blame. There is greater coordination of efforts, and generally less stress, with a design/build firm where the architects and contractors are accustomed to working together and are knowledgeable about construction costs and can fit design plans and specifications to your budget.

Question of the Day

December 12, 2011 1:54 pm

Q: What should I weigh before considering an addition to my home?

A: Thoroughly assess your space. You may find you have the room you need, particularly if there are unused or underutilized areas in your home. Perhaps a garage, attic, side porch, or basement can be converted to fit the use you have in mind. Or maybe a small area can be carved from a larger area like a kitchen or living room to create a powder room. These improvements are certainly cheaper than a major construction job.

Make Your Year-End Tax Savings List Now

December 12, 2011 1:54 pm

It's the season for making a list and checking it twice, but a holiday to-do list isn't the only one you should be working on before the year ends. Be your own Santa and write up a list of money moves you can make now that will be a gift to yourself come tax time. Take a look at these year-end tax tips from the Illinois CPA Society to see what works best for your financial situation.
  • Make Charitable Donations – You can deduct donations on your 2011 return if you itemize your tax return. Monetary gifts, the value of materials or food donations, and even the out-of-pocket expenses you incur while volunteering, such as gas and travel costs, can all be deducted. You can also deduct the fair value of any clothing or household items in good condition that you donate. If you are donating inherited items or furniture, an appraisal may be helpful to determine value. With any donations, make sure to get receipts for documentation.
  • Consider Energy-Saving Home Improvements – If you were planning on replacing that old furnace anyway, you could save up to $150 with a qualified energy efficient unit if you do it by the end of the year. Insulation, new windows and doors, solar heaters and other items are also covered under The Nonbusiness Energy Property Credit and the Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit. Details can be found at
  • Pay Bills Early – Paying certain bills in 2011 will allow you to write off a deduction earlier. For example, if you pay your January 2012 mortgage bill on or before December 31, you may deduct an extra month of interest in 2011.
  • Contribute to Your Retirement Plans – A contribution to your 401(k) plan is pre-tax money excluded from your income so it lowers your tax bill. It's a good idea to contribute as much as possible to reduce the taxes you pay and to stay ahead of any possible tax reforms that may limit future contributions. For 2011, you can contribute up to $16,500 to a 401(k) plan (or $22,000 if you’re 50 or older).
  • Look Into Expiring Tax Breaks – There are several tax breaks that expire at the end of 2011 and you want to be sure you've made the related expense within the calendar year. These include the classroom expense deduction which allows teachers to deduct up to $250 for books, supplies and other related expenses, and a tuition deduction where up to $4,000 in tuition can be deducted. Amounts paid in 2011 for classes starting in early 2012 can qualify for a deduction on your 2011 tax return. These breaks may be reinstated, but it's best to act now.
Working with a CPA throughout the year will keep you well-prepared to get the best return on your taxes.

eBay, Gogo Offer Delta Passengers Free Wi-Fi for the Holidays

December 12, 2011 1:54 pm

eBay is giving passengers aboard all Gogo-equipped Delta Air Lines flights the gift of free Wi-Fi this holiday season. Starting December 12 through January 2, passengers can access 30 minutes of free Gogo during any of Delta's more than 2,500 daily Wi-Fi equipped flights courtesy of eBay. In addition to the free half-hour session, passengers will also be able to shop on eBay throughout the duration of the flight.

"As people head out to visit their relatives on Delta for the holidays, we are delighted to be able to partner with eBay to offer 30 minutes of free Wi-Fi so they can shop for last minute gifts, connect with friends and family, or send holiday greetings from 30,000 feet," said Ash ElDifrawi, Gogo's chief marketing officer. "This is always a hectic time of year and we're happy to be able to offer Delta passengers this holiday gift."

To access the free Wi-Fi, just connect to Gogo on your Delta flight using your own Wi-Fi enabled device, open your browser, enter your email address in the special eBay promotion on the home page and click the "Give Me Free Wi-Fi" button.