Gunning Daily News

The Art of No-Expense Gift Giving

October 26, 2011 5:24 pm

Whether your budget for the holidays is high or low, you should always try to stay within the limit you set for yourself. If you find you've maxed out this year's gift budget, yet still have people left to check off your gift list, the art of no-expense gifting may be your best option. 

Money Management International (MMI) offers insight into the art of no-expense gifting with three ideas that won't put you over your holiday budget.

Give free printable gift certificates. Great gifts don't have to cost a lot of money. Free printable holiday gift certificates allow you to offer an experience or an act of service while still giving the recipient a wrapped gift. Free printable gift certificates are actually great to give all year long.

Give homemade treats. Give your loved ones a heartwarming treat from the oven. Bake homemade sweet bread, gingerbread cookies, or mini raspberry cupcakes. Deliver the treats in festive containers. Your family and friends will be pleasantly surprised with the edible delights. For recipe ideas, download the free Cheap Eats eBook.

Give a regift. A regift is a gift you've received that you pass along to someone else. While there are some cringe-worthy regifting tales, there are also some heartwarming regifting stories. Visit Regiftable.com for ideas and stories that will help you select an appropriate regift that the recipient will appreciate.

While some might argue that no-expense gift gifting is cheap, Cate Williams, vice president of Financial Literacy at MMI, disagrees. "No-expense gifting is really about giving a gift the recipient will value and appreciate," she says. "While not spending money on a gift is frugal, the thought and consideration the gift-giver puts into giving a gift the recipient will appreciate keeps the gift from being cheap."

Prepare for Winter Driving before Jack Frost Arrives

October 26, 2011 5:24 pm

Last winter, snow covered the ground in all 50 states and an equally menacing winter may be approaching again this season. Cooper Tire & Rubber recommends drivers not only install winter tires before the first storm hits, but also use the changing seasons as a reminder to engage in routine tire maintenance.

"In areas that typically experience harsh winters, drivers should consider replacing their all-season tires with a product made specifically for that severe climate," says Chuck Yurkovich, vice president of global technology for Cooper Tire. "The key is to have those discussions with a trusted dealer before the first storm hits. Even if an area does not typically receive harsh winter weather, it's important to conduct routine tire maintenance checks as the seasons change."

The compound is formulated to respond with higher levels of grip in ice, slush and other winter conditions.

In addition to properly equipping vehicles with winter tires, Cooper Tire advises drivers to follow basic winter driving and tire maintenance tips:

Drive cautiously: Experts say the best advice for driving in harsh winter weather is to not drive at all; but driving – even in ice or snow – is an everyday part of life for the owners of more than 250 million vehicles on the road in the U.S.*
• Double the distance when braking anytime conditions are not dry. It will take longer to come to a stop in snowy or icy conditions.
• Do not assume a four-wheel drive vehicle will stop faster than a two-wheel drive vehicle – four-wheel drive offers no braking advantage.
• Always reduce speed during winter conditions.
• When purchasing winter tires, replace all four tires. Due to the different grip capabilities of summer, all season and winter tires, the driver will not get all of the handling and traction benefits if all tires are not replaced.
• Drivers should keep in mind that it is best to check their owner's manual to see how their vehicle should be serviced in cold weather.

Examine tread: The only part of a vehicle to touch the road is the tires, and tire tread is a vital part of handling, cornering, accelerating and braking.
• For winter weather driving, a general rule is the more tread depth, the better. Tire tread depth should be more than 2/32 of an inch deep all around the tire. Drivers can check tread depth by using a U.S. penny. Insert the edge of the coin into the tread with Lincoln going in headfirst. If the top of Lincoln's head is covered by tread that means there is at least a minimum acceptable amount of tread; if the top of his head is visible at any location on the tire, the tire is worn out and it's time to replace it.
• While examining the tread, also look for signs of uneven wear or damage such as cuts, cracks, splits, punctures and bulges. These conditions shorten the life of tires and, if not corrected, further tire damage or air loss may occur.

Test air pressure: Tire pressure plays a critical role in the overall performance of tires. Under inflation creates excessive stress on the tire, while over inflation can cause uneven wear in addition to handling and braking issues.
• Tire pressure decreases by about one pound per square inch for every 10-degree drop in outside air temperature, so it is vital that drivers check the air pressure regularly as winter weather approaches.
• Drivers should follow the guidelines found in the vehicle owner's manual or tire placard (or sticker) attached to the vehicle door edge to determine the correct air pressure for their vehicle's tires. A common myth is that the tire pressure listed on the sidewall is the optimal pressure, while in reality it is the maximum pressure.
• Air pressure should be checked when the tires are cool, meaning they are not hot from driving even a mile.
• Should any of these checks reveal the need for required maintenance – or when in doubt about the condition of their tires—drivers should take vehicles to a tire dealer for a professional inspection.

For more information on proper tire maintenance, visit www.coopertire.com.

Word of the Day

October 26, 2011 5:24 pm

Mortgage company or mortgage banker. Financial intermediary that offers mortgages to borrowers, and then resells them to various lending institutions, government agencies, or private investors.

Question of the Day

October 26, 2011 5:24 pm

Q: How much can I afford to pay for a home?

A: The general rule of thumb is that you can buy a home that costs about two-and-one-half times your annual salary. A good real estate agent or lender can determine how much you can afford and estimate the maximum monthly payment based on the loan amount, taxes, insurance and other expenses.

Landscaping Lessons for the Fall Season

October 25, 2011 5:08 pm

Recycle fall leaves into compost, a soil amendment or a nutritious topdressing for the lawn. It saves time, improves your landscape, and is good for the environment, states gardening expert, TV/radio host and author Melinda Myers.

Shred fall leaves with a mower and leave them on the lawn. As long as the grass blades can be seen for the leaf pieces, the lawn will be fine. Those shredded leaves will break down adding nutrients and organic matter to the soil.

“It is also a good time to make your last application of fertilizer for your lawn,” explains Myers. “Use a slow release organic nitrogen fertilizer, like Milorganite, that won’t burn the lawn. Plus, the phosphorous is non-leaching and recent research found when the micro-organisms break down this fertilizer some of the phosphorous and potassium tied up in the soil is released for plants to use.”

Northern gardeners with bluegrass, fescue and rye grass lawns can make their last application in late fall before the ground freezes. Those in the south growing Bermuda, St Augustine and other warm weather grasses can make their last fertilization about one month before the lawn goes dormant. That’s about the time of the first killing frost. Fertilizing later can result in winter damage.

“Bag any leaves you don’t want to leave on the lawn and dig them into annual flower and vegetable gardens,” adds Myers. “They will break down over winter improving the soil.”

Use any remaining shredded leaves as mulch on the soil around perennials, trees and shrubs. The shredded leaves help conserve moisture, moderate temperature extremes and reduce weed problems. And once decomposed, help improve the soil.

Still leaves left? Start a compost pile by mixing fall leaves with other yard waste. Don’t add aggressive weeds or those gone to seed. Leave insect and disease infested or chemically treated plant debris out of the pile. Don’t add fat, meat and other animal products that can attract rodents. Moisten and occasionally turn the pile to speed up the process. Soon it will turn into a wonderful soil conditioner to put back into the landscape.

Nationally known gardening expert, TV/radio host, author & columnist Melinda Myers has 30 years of horticulture experience and has written over 20 gardening books, including Can’t Miss Small Space Gardening.

For more information, visit http://www.melindamyers.com.

Keep the ‘Boo,’ while Avoiding the ‘Boo-Boos’ at Halloween

October 25, 2011 5:08 pm

The Halloween season is filled with scary thrills and fun, but also potential danger. Pumpkin carving, costumes, unfamiliar homes, and young children traveling in darkness all provide possible scenarios for accidents and injuries. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) urges children and adults to take proper precautions to ensure a safe Halloween.

Statistics:
A nine-year study examined holiday-related pediatric emergency room visits between 1997 and 2006. (Results of the study show Halloween among the top three holidays for ER visits.):
• Finger/hand injuries accounted for the greatest proportion of injuries on Halloween (17.6 percent)
• Of the finger/hand injuries sustained on Halloween, 33.3 percent were lacerations and 20.1 percent were fractures
• Children, ages 10-14 sustained the greatest proportion of injuries (30.3 percent)

Halloween Safety Tips:
• In general, children should not carve pumpkins. However, some Halloween carving devices, designed especially for children, may be safe for use with parental supervision. Children also can empty the seeds out of the pumpkin, or use a pumpkin decorating kit that does not involve pumpkin carving.
• Adults carving pumpkins should remember to use a pumpkin carving kit, or knives specifically designed for carving, as they are less likely to get stuck in the thick pumpkin skin.
• Always carve pumpkins in a clean, dry and well-lit area and make sure there is no moisture on the carving tools or your hands.
• Should a pumpkin carver cut a finger or hand, make sure the hand is elevated higher than the heart and apply direct pressure to the wound with a clean cloth to stop the bleeding. If continuous pressure does not slow or stop the bleeding after 15 minutes, or if the cut is deep, an emergency room visit may be necessary.
• Be considerate of fire hazards when lighting jack-o-lantern candles or use non-flammable light sources, like glow sticks or artificial pumpkin lights.
• Costumes should be flame-resistant and fit properly. Be sure the child's vision is unobstructed by masks, face paint or hats. Costumes that are too long may cause kids to trip and fall, so trim or hem them as necessary.
• Children should wear sturdy, comfortable, slip-resistant shoes to avoid falls.
• It is important that children walk on sidewalks and never cut across yards or driveways. They also should obey all traffic signals and remain in designated crosswalks when crossing the street.
• Trick-or-treaters should only approach houses that are well lit. Both children and parents should carry flashlights to see and be seen.
• Be aware of neighborhood dogs when trick-or-treating and remember that these pets can impose a threat when you approach their home.
• Also, it's a good idea to carry a cell phone while trick-or-treating in case of an emergency.

Expert Advice:
"Every Halloween orthopaedic surgeons treat cuts, lacerations and injuries just from carving a pumpkin," says Christopher Doumas, M.D. "It's important to realize that there is a wrong way to do this, and for starters, children and adults should never use a kitchen knife. Use proper utensils, carve away from the body, and never rush when engaging in this popular fall activity."

For more information, visit http://www.aaos.org.

Rug Enthusiasts: How Not to Get Ripped Off

October 25, 2011 5:08 pm

When Stephen "Dusty" Roberts and Barry O'Connell get together, talk invariably turns to rugs. So it was inevitable that Roberts, a rug care industry personal coach (http://www.imaruglover.com), and O'Connell, a world-renowned oriental rug expert (http://www.spongobongo.com/), would draw upon their mutual passion and expertise to create the Great NYC RugLover Tour—and, following the tour, to pass on the insight they gained leading a group of rug enthusiasts through the city's most stunning collections of antique and high-end collectible rugs.

Held last weekend, the tour took participants to New York's most prestigious showrooms, including those of Hagop Manoyan and the Nazmiyal Collection, New York's leading Antique Oriental Rug store and were invited to a Christie's auction preview with leading Washington DC rug dealer Mark Keshishian and America's top rug scholar, Mr. Peter Saunders. The tour was concluded with a tour at the city's oldest rug cleaning company, Rug Renovating.

Roberts and O'Connell offer tips to help rug buyers get what they pay for:
1. All wool is not created equal. "Scratch the rug's surface," Roberts advised. "If a little wool comes off, that's fine, but if a lot comes loose, move on."
2. Look at the back. "If you can't see the rug's pattern on the back, it's glued together and will have odor issues in the future," said Roberts. Only buy a rug if you can see the pattern all the way through to the back.
3. Beware of false sales. A store regularly advertising going-out-of-business sales or discounts of 50% or more is pulling a fast one, said O'Connell. Other rug sellers to avoid: traveling auctions and online auction sites. "Play it safe and buy from a rug dealer with a real storefront," Roberts advised.

For a more tips, click here.

How to Navigate 2011 Tax Changes

October 25, 2011 5:08 pm

Every year brings with it new changes related to W-2 and 1099 forms and reporting requirements. Due to the government's increasing focus on the proverbial "tax gap," it's more important than ever for small business to understand the changing W-2 and 1099 reporting environment. Greatland, one of the country's leading providers of W-2 and 1099 products for business, wants employers to know some of the key changes that will affect small business this year.

Reinforced Compliance and Increased Penalties
The tax gap is the difference between the taxes owed and the amount the federal government actually receives in paid taxes. Most recent figures show this gap to be greater than $345 billion. One of the primary drivers cited as contributing to the tax gap is the underreporting of business income. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is facing increased pressure to close this gap and remedy the problems that contribute to underreporting. As Greatland noted earlier this year, in 2010 and 2011, the IRS has and will continue to be even stricter about enforcing compliance, and will implement new form changes and reporting requirements aimed at gathering more information.

The IRS has always imposed consequences for misfiled or late tax forms, but as of January 1, 2011, W-2 and 1099 penalties for failure to file correct and timely returns have increased. Penalties range from $30-$250 per incorrect return. Employers need to file on time and file correctly to avoid issues.

W-2 & W-3 Form Changes and New Additions
The recently passed Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 called for an extension of unemployment benefits, a two percent employee payroll tax cut, and allowed businesses to expense 100 percent of certain investments in 2011. When filing this year, employers recall that this act also has temporarily reduced the rate of social security tax withholding (for employees only) from 6.2% to 4.2% for wage payments made in 2011. Social Security tax withheld is reported in box 4 on the W-2 form.

Also new in tax year 2011: a portion of the W-2 (box 12-code DD) is now designated for employers to report the cost of coverage under an employer-sponsored group health plan. Part of the Affordable Care Act, this requirement is optional for all employers in 2011 in order to provide them more time to update their payroll systems before it becomes mandatory in 2012. The IRS provided further relief for small employers filing fewer than 250 W-2 forms by making the reporting requirement optional through 2012, and continuing elective treatment for smaller employers until further notice. This new reporting requirement is for informational purposes only and is not taxable. Roth contributions under a governmental section 457(b) plan are another new addition to this year's W-2 form (box 12-code EE) and the section designated to report HIRE wages in 2010 (box 12-code CC) is now obsolete.

To improve document-matching compliance, a 'Kind of Employer' option has been added to the W-3 form, which includes five new checkboxes for individuals to select if they are a state/local employee, federal government employee, etc. Filers are now required to check one of these new boxes or select the "None Apply" option if appropriate. The advance earned income credit payment was eliminated for tax year 2011; therefore, this correlating box has been deleted from all 2011 W-2 and W-3 forms.

In addition to the above W-2 and W-3 form changes, Greatland also noted several specific form updates to various 1099 forms. Below are several of the more prominent changes for 2011:

• All 1099s: The pilot program for shortening an individual's identifying number (TIN) on paper payee statements has been EXTENDED through 2012. The payees' identifying numbers that can be truncated are: Social Security Number, IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, or IRS Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number. The identifying number can be truncated by replacing the first 5 digits of the number with either asterisks or X's and truncations can only appear on paper payee statements.
• 1099-K: Form 1099-K, for merchant card and third-party network payments, is new in 2011 and will be used by payment settlement entities to report merchant card payments and third-party network transactions to participating payees.

• 1099-SA & 5498-SA: Excess employer contributions (and the earnings on them) withdrawn from employee HSAs by the employer should not be reported as a distribution on Form 1099-SA or as a contribution on Form 5498-SA.

Below are some important dates for filers to remember as they enter tax season:

• January 31, 2012 – Due date to send most 1099s and Copies B, 2, and C of form W-2 to each employee / recipient
• February 28, 2012 – Due date to send Copy A of form 1099 to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
• February 29, 2012 – Due date to send Copy A of form W-2 to the Social Security Administration (SSA) on paper
• April 2, 2012 – Due date to send copy A of form W-2 to SSA and form 1099 to IRS electronically (e-file)

For more information, visit www.greatland.com.

Question of the Day

October 25, 2011 5:08 pm

Q: What is the first step to buying a home?

A: Make sure you are ready—psychologically and financially. Ask yourself the following questions: Do I have steady income? Is my debt lower than my total income? Do I have enough money to pay for the down payment and closing costs? Am I working hard enough to improve bad credit?

A house needs constant care and attention. Also ask yourself if your budget will allow for unexpected repairs and upkeep. Once you can honestly answer “yes” to these questions, you are several steps ahead of the game and that much closer to becoming a homeowner.

6 Saving Strategies That Work

October 24, 2011 5:36 pm

Between regular bills and unexpected expenses—like that blown tire or the leak in the water heater—it sometimes seems that saving money is as impossible as pie in the sky. But while none of the savings strategies listed here will be new to you, say the money mavens at Walletwatcher.com, the secret to stashing needed cash is to make these old savings standards work for you in new ways.

• Paycheck deductions – You’ve heard it 100 times, but it’s true: having money deducted from your paycheck, or diverted to savings from direct deposits to your checking account, is the best way to save without “missing it.” But the deduction doesn’t need to be major. Start with a $10 per check deduction. Even that adds up. After six or eight months, increase the deduction by $10 or $20. Before long, you’ll have a comfy little cushion to fall back on.
• Cash only – It can be hard to wean yourself from the ease of using credit cards, even when you find you can’t pay the cards off each month. Ease off by declaring two or three days per week as, “cash only” days—and stick to your guns. No cash, no purchase—even it’s just a grande latte.
• Break bad habits – aside from health or other issues, smoking regularly, or stopping for a beer after work or a fancy coffee each morning are habits that really add up. Adjusting your lifestyle in small ways can put you on track to saving if you stash the cash you didn’t spend each day.
• Eating out – Cut out two or three restaurant meals each week and put the money you saved into an envelope. You may be surprised at how much it totals in a week. Packing lunch and cooking in a little more often can pay off big in savings.
• Saving coins – Empty your pockets or change purse each evening into a jar or piggy bank. You may be amazed each month to see how that change adds up!