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3 Lesser-Known Tax Breaks Homeowners Miss

January 19, 2016 2:55 am

Did you know most homeowners can write off all mortgage interest up to $1.1 million for primary and secondary residences, as well as property taxes? Credits for property taxes and other tax breaks are also offered to in 21 states and the District of Columbia.

But mortgage interest and property taxes are not the only tax savings homeowners can enjoy. Look to see if you qualify for other deductions, including:

Discount Points: You can deduct points in the year that you pay them; you can only use this tax break on your primary residence; paying points must be an established business practice in your area.

Profits: In 1997, Congress passed a law that made the first $250,000 in profits ($500,000 for married couples) tax-free as long as you lived in the home for two of the last five years before the sale.

It's important to remember that calculating federal (and local) income taxes can be highly complicated. Any information provided here should always be validated by a licensed tax professional before taking any tax deduction.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports that in 2012, Americans took $68.5 billion in mortgage interest deductions (MID) when filing their tax returns, saving an average of $1,900.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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7 Ways to Cut Winter Heating Bills

January 19, 2016 2:55 am

High winter heating bills can make mincemeat of your budget—but a few tricks can help keep you toasty and warm this winter and keep heating costs under control. Home improvement experts suggest these seven tips:

1. Service the Furnace – Seems like a no-brainer, but many homeowners forget or put off having the furnace checked each fall. Being certain that your system is working efficiently can help save you big bucks.

2. Flip the Ceiling Fan – Warm air rises. While it may seem odd to have the ceiling fan on in cold weather, flipping the switch to spin in a clockwise manner will help to warm up the room.

3. Reflect the Radiator – If you have radiators in your home, place a sheet of aluminum foil behind each one. The radiator will heat the foil, which will reflect heat back into the room.

4. Put a Stop to Drafty Doors – Warm air escapes and cold air enters from the space under your front door. Stop the leakage with a piece of foam pipe insulation cut to the right size. It’s lightweight and easy to remove and reuse as needed.

5. Put a Jacket on Your Water Heater – According to the U.S. Department of Energy, you can save an average of $20 a month on your heating bill just by wrapping your water heater in an insulating blanket, available at most home stores.

6. Consider the Cost of Exhaust – Using the exhaust fan is a good way to remove humid air from the bathroom after showering, but turn it off as soon as feasible. Using the fans for long periods can run up your heating bill because the warm air pulled out is replaced with cold air, which needs to be heated.

7. Let the Sun Shine In – Many families leave their blinds or drapes closed when they leave home for the day. Letting the daytime sun in–especially in south-facing rooms–can bring in enough warmth to help your rooms stay warmer into the evening even after the window coverings are closed.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How to Prepare for a Pre-Listing Home Inspection

January 19, 2016 2:55 am

If an inspector is coming to look at your home before you list it, you may have a few questions. What will the home inspector be looking at? How can you prepare for the inspection?

For insight and answers, we turned to the National Association of Home Inspectors (NAHI), who've outlined many steps you can take before your pre-listing inspection—and most can be done at little or no cost to you. These include:
  • Removing grade or mulch from contact with siding; six or more inches of clearance is preferred.
  • Diverting all water away from the house, i.e. downspouts, sump pump, condensation drains, etc.; grade should slope away from the structure.
  • Painting all weathered exterior wood and caulk around trim, chimney, windows and doors.
  • Sealing asphalt driveways, if cracking, and pointing up masonry chimney caps.
  • Cleaning or replacing the HVAC filter.
  • Testing all smoke detectors to ensure they are in safe working condition.
  • Having the chimney, fireplace or wood stove cleaned and providing the buyer with a copy of the cleaning record.
  • Ensuring that all doors and windows are in proper operating condition, including repairing or replacing any cracked window panes.
  • Ensuring that all plumbing fixtures (toilet, tub, shower, and sinks) are in proper working condition; checking for and fixing any leaks; caulking around fixtures if necessary.
  • Installing GFCI receptacles near all water sources.
  • Checking to ensure that the crawlspace is dry, installing a proper vapor barrier if necessary, and removing any visible moisture from a crawlspace.
  • Checking that bath vents are properly vented and in working condition.
  • Removing paints, solvents, gas, etc., from crawlspace, basement, attic, porch, etc.
  • Having clear access to attic, crawlspace, heating system, garage and other areas that will need to be inspected.
  • Turning on all utilities, including water, electric, water heater, furnace, air conditioning and breaks in the main panel.

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Vacationing This Year? Your Generation May Inform Your Travel Log

January 18, 2016 12:55 am

Recent AARP research shows nearly all Americans are planning to take a leisure trip this year—but that’s where the commonalities end.

“[The AARP] survey shows that there is a clear generation gap among baby boomers, Gen Xers and millennials when it comes to taking a vacation, from planning to trip experiences to sharing memories,” says Stephanie Miles, vice president of Products and Platforms for AARP. “While everyone wants to travel, they have differing tastes and ways of making their trips their own.”

How exactly do these generations differ? Boomer respondents to the AARP survey plan to take the “trip-of-a-lifetime,” whereas Gen Xer respondents are planning multi-generational trips motivated by family. Millennial respondents, on the other hand, are seeking romantic getaways, particularly to international destinations.

Millennial respondents also plan to pack lighter than preceding generations, according to the survey, opting to bring casual wear like jeans and flip flops. Gen Xer respondents would be remiss without their camera to document their trip, and boomer respondents plan to tote along “a good book” and a list of emergency contact information.

Generational divides exist when it comes to travel costs, too. Boomer respondents to the survey say increased airfare would affect their vacation plans, even though they tend not to have a budget. Both Gen Xer and millennial respondents are more likely to make budgets for their trips.

A generation gap is also apparent when booking accommodations. Up-and-coming hospitality trends, like Airbnb and VRBO, are more popular with millennial respondents than any other generation.

Source: AARP

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Poll: Sunny Outlook Fosters Better Financial Habits

January 18, 2016 12:55 am

Many of us take stock of our financial situations come the New Year, setting goals in hopes of practicing better money management habits. But how exactly do we determine what those resolutions should be?

As it turns out, perceptions about the economy can have an impact on those pledges, according to a recent Harris Poll®. In poll findings, those hopeful for an improved economy were more likely to make savings plans for the year ahead, and those anticipating a worsening economy were more likely to try to cut back on spending.

Poll respondents with a positive perception of the economy were likely to make goals such as paying down debt, saving more for retirement and undertaking home improvements to increase home value.

Poll respondents with a positive perception of the economy were also likely to get rid of one or more credit cards.

Source: The Harris Poll®

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6 Tips for Buyers and Sellers to Best the Market

January 18, 2016 12:55 am

This year’s housing market is expected to favor sellers—and for buyers, those circumstances will likely result in multiple-bid situations. Whichever camp you fall into, it’s important to understand how to navigate this type of market in order to achieve the best possible outcome in the transaction.

“The 2016 housing market is forecasted to be mainly a seller's market, filled with increasing home prices, relatively low inventory and fierce competition between buyers," says realtor.com® Chief Economist Jonathan Smoke. "Buyers looking to close this year need to keep an open mind and be prepared to move quickly when they find a home that meets their needs. For sellers, it's about understanding the ins and outs of their local market so they can optimize the price of their home and close quickly."

For homebuyers, Smoke recommends:

Being the early bird – Over 85 percent of buyers who plan to purchase in the next year intend to buy in the spring or summer of 2016, according to a recent realtor.com® survey. With roughly 50 percent more listings inventory relative to the number of potential home sales expected in January and February, buyers who start their search early face less competition with nearly the same number of homes.

Comparison shopping for mortgages – Mortgage rates are expected to reach 4.65 percent and prices are predicted to rise 3 percent year-over-year in 2016. Buyers planning to finance their purchase should put as much effort into getting the right mortgage as they do finding the right home. A lower interest rate can make the difference in qualifying for a home and save thousands over the life of the loan.

Considering a new home – In 2016, the number of new homes on the market is expected to grow more rapidly, resulting in a 16 percent increase in new home sales year-over-year. Buyers should consider the new home options in their market; they are likely to have less competition and to enjoy a broad selection of homes. While new homes are typically higher in price, they are usually larger and offer performance advantages and warranties that could reduce operating and maintenance costs.

For home sellers, Smoke advises:

Listing during peak season – Unlike buyers, demand benefits sellers. Prime home buying season begins in April and reaches its peak in June, according to a realtor.com® analysis of home sales. Sellers who list their home during the prime spring and summer months benefit from a larger population of buyers and potential bidding wars, which often result in higher prices and faster closings.

Pricing a home to the market – In 2016, prices are expected to increase nationally 3 percent year-over-year. Local prices changes are anticipated to be more dramatic. Sellers who work with a local REALTOR® to optimize the price of their home based on its unique features and surrounding neighborhood are often able to receive the highest price for their market and sell more quickly.

Offering incentives – Last year, 37 percent of all sellers offered incentives to attract buyers. Sellers who are open to negotiating beyond price are more likely to find scenarios that result in wins for both sides resulting in a potentially faster sale and more seller profit.

Source: realtor.com®

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Gardening in Winter? It Can Be Done!

January 15, 2016 12:49 am

Ready…set…spring!

One way to beat the winter doldrums this season is to liven up your home with greenery. Green thumb or not, the key is to start small, says gardening author Ann Whitman, who suggests beginning with a terrarium, a miniature tabletop garden.

“Terrariums invite you in for a closer look and provide a perfect escape from the winter weather outside,” Whitman says. “Terrariums are easy to care for and don’t require any special skills for success…not much more than occasional watering and trimming.”

The proper vessel is most crucial to your terrarium’s success. Modern models are substantial, and angled with beveled glass and copper-colored metal trimming (real copper would turn green). Take care to select plants that are specifically suited for terrariums—they should not require a high level of maintenance.

Aside from a terrarium, you can jump-start your outdoor garden (yes, in the dead of winter!) by planting seeds indoors, says Whitman. If your home does not receive adequate sunlight, consider purchasing a light system to ensure the seeds thrive through the season.

“Greenery” in your home might also include springtime scents, Whitman adds. Botanical essential oils, such as lavender, eucalyptus, orange, peppermint or rosemary, are the pure, extracted essence of plants, unadulterated by chemicals or other ingredients. Just a few drops in a diffuser can help inject life into your home ahead of the first day of spring.

Source: Gardener’s Supply Company

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Home-Related Loan Delinquencies Dive toward Historic Norms

January 15, 2016 12:49 am

Delinquencies, or payments that are 30 days or more overdue, on home-related loans are declining toward historical norms, a sign of continued progress for the housing market. Both open- and closed-end home-related loans, according to a recent report by the American Bankers Association (ABA), showed an overall decrease.

“The steady decline in home-related delinquencies has been a bright spot as they grind their way back to pre-recession levels,” says James Chessen, chief economist of the ABA. “We expect this trend to continue as the housing market keeps gaining strength.”

Delinquencies on closed-end property improvement loans and open-end home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) dropped to 0.87 percent and 1.31 percent, respectively. Closed-end mobile home and home equity loan delinquencies rose slightly, to 3.59 percent and 2.91 percent, respectively. A closed-end loan is for a fixed amount of money with a fixed repayment period and regularly scheduled payments. An open-end loan is for a fixed amount of available credit but a balance that fluctuates depending on usage.

“A good economy and lower delinquency rates go hand-in-hand, and the Fed is betting on a stronger economy in 2016,” adds Chessen.  “If the economy remains solid and jobs continue to grow, we would expect delinquency levels to continue hovering near these historic lows. As always, disciplined financial management by consumers is an essential ingredient for lower delinquencies.  Now is a great time for consumers to reflect on their holiday expenditures and resolve to reduce any excess debt in the New Year.”

Delinquent borrowers should speak with creditors as soon as possible to assess their options.

Source: ABA

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Mortgage Rates Fall for Second Straight Week

January 15, 2016 12:49 am

Mortgage rates have dropped for the second week in a row.

The average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) dipped below 4 percent to 3.92 percent with an average 0.6 point, down from 3.97 percent the week prior, according to Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®). The 15-year FRM averaged 3.19 percent with an average 0.5 point, down from 3.26 percent the previous week.

The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) also decreased, moving to 3.01 percent from 3.09 percent last week with an average 0.4 point.

“Long-term Treasury yields continue to drop, dragging mortgage rates down with them,” explains Freddie Mac Chief Economist Sean Becketti. “Turbulence in overseas financial markets is generating a flight-to-quality which benefits U.S. Treasury securities. In addition, sagging oil prices are capping inflation expectations. The net effect on the 30-year mortgage rate was a 5 basis point drop to 3.92 percent."

Source: Freddie Mac

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Say It Ain't Snow! 3 Safety Tips for Drivers

January 14, 2016 2:46 am

It’s no secret winter storms can severely diminish driving conditions, and many leave icy, pothole-ridden roads in their wake. But according to a recent survey by Hankook Tire, many drivers don’t have a solid grasp on the rules of the road—in fact, the majority of survey respondents did not know to keep a distance of 10-12 seconds, or six car lengths, between their vehicle and the driver in front of them during adverse road conditions.

If your area is prone to winter weather, keep in mind these safety tips before trekking out in your vehicle, courtesy of Hankook Tire.

• Don't Mix Tires – Never mix tires with different tread patterns, performance ratings or sizes. Use identical tires on all of your vehicle's wheel positions in order to maintain the best control and stability. In cold temperatures where slick surfaces require significant grip, a dedicated winter or all-season tire is best.

• Check Tire Pressure – As the temperature drops, so does tire inflation, decreasing 1-2 pounds for every 10 degree-drop in ambient air temperature. Make sure your tires are properly inflated regularly during winter.

• Keep a Full Tank – Or at least half-full. A car's fuel lines can freeze up very easily in the winter, and this usually happens when the gas level is below half the tank.

Source: Hankook Tire

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