Gunning Daily News

Last-Minute Income Tax Filing Checklist

April 14, 2011 12:13 pm

RISMEDIA, April 14, 2011-With the U.S. federal income tax filing deadline just a few days away, many U.S. taxpayers are still preparing to file their returns, and Freedom Tax Relief, LLC has provided the following checklist to assist in the process.

"The IRS has reported that it has received some 89.7 million income tax returns so far, about 63 percent of the 141 million returns they anticipate for 2010," said Jeff Staley, managing partner of Freedom Tax Relief. "That means that nearly 40 percent of taxpayers have yet to file. It's time for those people to get serious about completing their tax returns."

The Internal Revenue Service in the past has reported that people who will receive a tax refund usually file earlier than those who do not expect a refund. Many people who owe taxes or expect to break even have yet to complete their returns. To finish preparing their tax returns, Staley suggests taxpayers review these items:

1. Gather all needed information before beginning. Many online resources can provide a checklist of materials needed to prepare an income tax return. Tax preparers or tax preparation software will also provide those lists. In general, taxpayers need data about their income, expenses (especially for business and home purchases), charitable contributions and medical expenses. Taxpayers should collect this information before sitting down to complete the return.

2. Complete the income tax return form. People who have a simple return, without business income and without prioritizing deductions, can often complete a free form, available online from the IRS. For more complex situations, carefully evaluate needs before selecting forms.

3. Check the completed form for errors. Even if a professional tax preparer completed the form, filers should read through their returns to be certain they understand them and do not find discrepancies. Tax return software usually provides an error review; taxpayers should take advantage of that utility to check for and correct common errors.

4. Check with a tax expert to answer questions. If serious questions arise as a taxpayer reviews the tax return, it is worth the investment to obtain answers from a tax expert. Some online services will respond to questions for a fee. A professional tax preparer often will charge as much to review a return as to complete it in full. Some tax preparers will answer questions regarding a self-prepared or online-prepared return for a fee.

5. Don't forget to file! Taxpayers who complete their forms early are at risk of putting the forms aside and forgetting to actually file, either by mail or via the full online e-file process.

6. Follow up to be sure the form was accepted. Those using an e-filed form will receive a receipt confirming that the IRS received and accepted the return. Many states provide similar confirmation. It is important for taxpayers to watch their email or check back with the e-file system to confirm receipt and acceptance of the tax return.

7. Keep documentation in a safe place. After filing, it remains important that taxpayers retain all documentation that pertains to the income tax return. Many of these documents must be available for review for seven years following income tax filing (check with a tax specialist to determine specific requirements). Taxpayers should carefully store information including W-2 forms, 1099 forms, and proof of expenses and charitable contributions in files labeled with the tax year, kept in a safe place.

8. Revise W-4 if needed. Taxpayers who wind up making significant payments of taxes to the IRS on filing day might wish to revise their W-4 forms to have more taxes withheld from their paychecks this year. Greater withholding will ensure that more tax is paid to the IRS throughout the year, and that less is required in the next tax filing season (assuming income and other financial considerations remain the same).

9. Save for estimated taxes if needed. Similar to the above, if a taxpayer has, or starts, a business, he or she might be required to file quarterly estimated income taxes. If that is the case, the taxpayer should plan to save a portion of each month's income to cover those taxes. He or she should also place a reminder on the calendar to make those quarterly payments on time to avoid penalties and interest.

For more information, visit

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.

Furnace Filters and Their Effect on Indoor Air Quality

April 14, 2011 12:13 pm

By John Voket, RISMedia Columnist

RISMEDIA, April 14, 2011-While spring may make some of us sneeze or a little short of breath thanks to seasonal allergies, your home should be one place where you're able to breath easy. That being said, I went looking for some information about indoor air quality to pass on and ran into a great resource. Tim Kerfin of Kerfin Inspections Inc. working the Chicagoland region shared his recent blog about the effect furnace filters have on indoor air quality.

His observations could surprise you-and save you loads of money if you're currently buying expensive air filters for your furnace.

Kerfin says the furnace filter's purpose is to help keep your furnace clean, not your home. He says filter manufacturers do an excellent job marketing filters that clean your air, but the only thing they do is restrict the air flow throughout your home and stress out your furnace and air conditioning units.

For those who want supplemental air quality protection, Kerfin says there are some excellent air filters on the market that are separate from the furnace, or homeowners may consider installing a UV light in their furnace that kills mold spores.

Kerfin steers his clients to resources like the US EPA, which points out some air cleaners are highly effective at particle removal, while others, including most table-top models, are much less so. Air cleaners are generally not designed to remove gaseous pollutants.

The effectiveness of an air cleaner depends on how well it collects pollutants from indoor air (expressed as a percentage efficiency rate) and how much air it draws through the cleaning or filtering element (expressed in cubic feet per minute).

According to the EPA, a very efficient collector with a low air-circulation rate will not be effective, nor will a cleaner with a high air-circulation rate but a less efficient collector. Another important factor in determining the effectiveness of an air cleaner is the strength of the pollutant source. Table-top air cleaners, in particular, may not remove satisfactory amounts of pollutants from strong nearby sources.

People with sensitivity to particular sources may find that air cleaners are helpful only in conjunction with concerted efforts to remove the source.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.

9 Easy Ways to Green Your Lifestyle

April 14, 2011 12:13 pm

By Barbara Pronin, RISMedia Columnist

RISMEDIA, April 14, 2011-As more consumers understand the threat of global warming, it becomes more important to make 'greener' lifestyle choices; that is, to buy products and make lifestyle changes that benefit the environment we live in.

While updated standards are in place today to increase the efficiency of major appliances, there are many small changes every homeowner can make to save energy, improve the environment, and save some money in the bargain.

Here, according to a consensus of utility companies nationwide, are nine easy ways to do your part:

Reduce usage Stem the flow of plastic into our oceans by taking reusable cloth bags to the market when you shop, and a reusable coffee mug when you make your morning coffee stop. Turn off the water while brushing your teeth and unplug appliances that will not be used for long periods especially that semi-empty extra refrigerator or freezer that is sucking up energy in the garage.

Recycle right You may think you've recycled that empty plastic detergent bottle, but only clean waste is actually recycled. Rinse all plastics, glass jars and soda cans before tossing them into the recycling bin. Remove the glossy advertising inserts before saving and bundling newspapers. Take those styrofoam packaging peanuts that came in your package and donate them to a local packaging store.

Buy organic Patronize local farmer's markets for organically grown produce and opt for certified organic packaged foods that have been grown without the use of pesticides and chemicals. Choose cleaning products that are environmentally safe and, when possible, consumer goods made with recycled materials.

Save energy replace incandescent light bulbs with fluorescents to save both energy and money. Seal off gaps under doorways to keep heat and air conditioning in. Programmable thermostats, double pane windows and attic insulation are relatively inexpensive investments that will more than pay off in the long run.

Involve the family Get the kids thinking and plan a monthly Family Green Meeting. Give a small prize to the family member who suggests the best green project for each month: start a family vegetable garden; organize a neighborhood recycling program; a list of ways to save water, energy.

Tune-up Tune up heating and cooling systems once each year, and change filters monthly or as needed. Sealing your heating and cooling ducts could improve the efficiency of your system by as much as 20%.

Decrease your carbon footprint Try walking, biking, car pooling or using mass transit whenever possible. Remember that fully inflated tires get better gas mileage, so check them often.

Green your thumb - Plant trees, both to shade and cool your home naturally and to help regulate climate change overall.

BYOB - Bring your own cloth bags to the grocery store to cut down on plastic use.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.

Word of the Day

April 14, 2011 6:13 am

Right of first refusal. A person's right to have the first opportunity to either lease or purchase real property.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.

Word of the Day

April 13, 2011 9:13 am

Reserve account. An account for money collected each month by a lender to pay for property taxes and property insurance as they come due.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.

Q: Are home selling costs deductible?

April 13, 2011 9:13 am

A: If you sell your home and realize a taxable gain even after the exclusion, you can reduce your gain with selling costs.

Your gain is defined as your home's selling price, minus deductible closing costs, minus your basis. The basis is the original purchase price of the home, plus improvements, less any depreciation.

Real estate broker's commissions, title insurance, legal fees, administrative costs, and inspection fees are all considered to be selling costs.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.

Healthy Snacks for Hectic Schedules

April 13, 2011 9:13 am

RISMEDIA, April 13, 2011-While many of us try to make healthy eating a priority, the reality is that our busy schedules can make it difficult to eat right while on-the-go. But, if you keep your fridge and pantry stocked with a few key ingredients, it becomes a whole lot easier to make snack choices that are both satisfying and nutritious.

Keep these four foods on hand as healthy, on-the-go snacks that will help you avoid the temptation of vending machine junk food.

Fruit. Whole fruits are a great way to enjoy a nutrient-dense snack when you're in a hurry. Apples, bananas, pears, grapes and oranges don't require any preparation-just grab and go. Frozen fruit is picked at the peak of ripeness and flash-frozen to preserve their nutrient value. Keep frozen strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, mango and cherries on hand for a fast and nutritious smoothie.

Nuts. Tree nuts have no cholesterol and are a good source of protein, fiber and healthy fats, which fill you up and help you keep going. They're also a great source of vitamin E and B vitamins, and minerals like magnesium, copper, zinc, selenium, phosphorus and potassium. Buy unsalted nuts in bulk and portion them out by putting a handful into a snack-sized resealable bag.

Popcorn. Air-popped popcorn is a whole grain food that's low in calories and fat. It's also an energy-producing complex carbohydrate and a good source of fiber. Air-popped popcorn has only 31 calories per cup. Make a satisfying snack by mixing one cup air-popped popcorn with a few peanuts and dark chocolate chips.

Whole soy. Whole soy is minimally processed to keep soy's naturally occurring nutrients intact. Soy in its whole form is packed full of isoflavones (plant-based compounds with antioxidant properties), vitamins, minerals, fiber, healthy fats, and complete, high-quality protein. Plus, whole soy is low in saturated fat and cholesterol free. You can enjoy whole soy in edamame or dry-roasted soy nuts.

For more information, visit

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.

Tips for Choosing the Right Vacuum

April 13, 2011 9:13 am

By Barbara Pronin, RISMedia Contributing Editor

RISMEDIA, April 13, 2011-If you are ready to purchase a new vacuum cleaner, there aren't too many decisions to make. But making the right decisions on a few key issues will help you choose one that will serve you well for years.

Bag or bagless: Both clean equally well, but a bagged cleaner will lose effectiveness as the bag begins to fill. For peak efficiency, bags should be changed when they are half to two-thirds full. In a bagless cleaner, the dirt is captured in a clear container so you can see when it needs to be emptied. The bagless system provides more suction power and more constant airflow, but will lose suction when the filter gets clogged. Some bagless vacuums use centrifugal force to separate dust from particles, helping the filter stay clean longer.

Upright or canister: Canisters were once thought to be easier to use in hard to reach places and on a variety of flooring. but today's uprights have added features such as bare floor height adjustments, and are easily maneuverable. Also, the upright's onboard cleaning tools make them pretty versatile. If you have stairs, some uprights now have detachable canisters that make cleaning those stairs easier.

Amp power: Amps are a measurement of the electrical current used by the motor and do not necessarily indicate greater cleaning ability. Performance is the result of good suction/airflow plus brush action.

HEPA vacuums: HEPA stands for 'high efficiency particulate air,' and are thought to be better for allergy sufferers because their filters retain more and larger particles than other cleaners. It does a good job of cleaning up dust and allergens that have settled on furniture, floors and carpet, but it may not do the whole job. It takes a HEPA air cleaner to draw airborne allergens toward its filter.

Choosing a vacuum cleaner is mostly based on personal preference. Be sure to check for easy to use controls, a well-located on-off switch, and one that is lightweight and relatively quiet.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.

Maintaining a Healthy Kitchen

April 13, 2011 9:13 am

RISMEDIA, April 13, 2011-Exactly how clean is your kitchen? Not as immaculate as you might imagine says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to the CDC, while surfaces may look clean, many infectious germs may be lurking around. A regular cleaning schedule helps protect your kitchen from lurking grunge that can cause odors and harbor disease, says "Healthy Housekeeper" Laura Dellutri. She also recommends paying special attention to both the obvious and not-so-obvious spots in the room- like your garbage disposer, a big contributor to your sink's secret grime.

Dellutri offers these tips for helping maintain a healthy kitchen:

Suspect Kitchen Sinks: Disinfecting the sink after washing meats, fruits and vegetables will help prevent germs and bacteria from multiplying on sink surfaces and help avoid cross contamination in the room. All you need is chlorine bleach, water and a soft cloth. Dilute the bleach with water and wipe the sink with cloth dipped in the solution. Rinse immediately and wipe dry with a soft cloth. If the sink looks dull or cloudy, wipe it with a soft cloth moistened with undiluted white vinegar.

Disease-Ridden Disposers: Garbage disposers typically serve as an exit for fresh and left-over foods, but without proper cleansing they can create odors and house organisms that may cause illness and disease such as pneumonia, bronchitis and intestinal flu.

Grimy Dishwashers: Despite the myth that dishwashers are self-sufficient and clean themselves, hard water deposits, rust and food may be left inside the dishwasher, disrupting its performance and causing odors.

Reeking Refrigerators: To effectively clean your fridge and free it from odor-causing culprits, a complete refrigerator overhaul is the best solution. Empty the refrigerator completely and remove any expired foods. Use hot soapy water with a germicidal cleaner to remove all food particles and spills. Before restocking the fridge, place washable refrigerator liners over shelves to help prevent the need to scrub when a spill occurs. Storage is also critical- it prevents odors and spills with well-sealed plastic containers. And of course, an open box of baking soda inside the refrigerator will absorb new odors.

Spotty Microwaves: Splatters of food in a microwave not only look and smell bad, but they may also decrease efficiency. To clean the appliance, fill a microwave-safe bowl halfway with water, add a tablespoon of vinegar, and place it inside the microwave. Let the microwave run for five minutes, then wipe down the inside with a clean towel or paper towel. The heated water and vinegar will steam up the microwave walls and make wiping away dried-on food a cinch.

"Truly rescuing your kitchen from a state of grunge and grime might seem overwhelming, and there are a lot of hidden areas to think about," says Tony Cronk, VP of Marketing for Summit Brands.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.

Water Damage 10 Tips for Homeowners

April 13, 2011 9:13 am

By Barbara Pronin, RISMedia Columnist

RISMEDIA, April 13, 2011-Water damage in your home, whether caused by rainstorms, burst pipes, a water heater or an appliance that sprung a leak, offers a real challenge for homeowners. There isn't much you can do to protect yourself in advance, but knowing how to respond in a waterlogged emergency can make a real difference in minimizing the damage overall.

Because bacterial growth can begin right away, experts suggest calling in a water damage professional without delay. Here are some more tips for handling the situation until professionals arrive:

1. Never try to vacuum wet floors or carpets. You place yourself at risk for electric shock.

2. Do not enter a room with standing water if the electricity is still on. Wait until a professional arrives.

3. Turn the air conditioner system on low if you have one, or turn on any ceiling fans, box fans or oscillating fans throughout the house.

4. If the outside temperature is 65 degrees or higher, turn on the dehumidifier if you have one.

5. Lift saturated area rugs and place them outdoors. Warning: they will be heavy!

6. Grab as many large towels as possible and blot or wipe down wet furniture and floors to minimize both water damage and mildew accumulation.

7. Lift and tack up any wet draperies or curtains that are skimming wet floors or carpets.

8. Remove wet books as well as damp clothing, tablecloths or bedding and spread them outside to dry.

9. Gather up family photos, artwork and any valuable documents that are not in a weatherproof box and put them in a safe place outside of the house.

10. Open all interior and exterior doors, windows, closets, dresser drawers, etc. to help maintain air circulation and speed the drying process.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.