Avoid common tax-filing mistakes
NEW YORK – Feb. 27, 2019 – More than 150 million tax returns are expected to be filed to the Internal Revenue Service this year. It's likely some may have errors. Don't let it be you. Every year, tax professionals usually see the same common errors, with varying consequences. This year is extra thorny because taxpayers also face a new filing landscape after the tax law introduced major changes. Among them are the increased standard deductions, the doubling of the child tax credit and the capping of state and local tax deduction.
These changes could make it easier to get tripped up. So, it pays read up on the new tax law, take it slow and review your return before filing. Here are 10 mistakes to avoid.
1. Don't miss this new credit
Tax pros worry that Americans may miss the new credit for dependents introduced by the tax law. The nonrefundable tax credit is worth up to $500 for each qualifying person and begins to phase out at $200,000 in adjusted gross income ($400,000 for joint filers).
The dependent must have made less than $4,150 in gross income last year, while you provided more than half of the person's financial support. A dependent can be a child who is 17 or older, a relative, or a nonrelative who lived with you for the entire year.
2. Not filing a return
Some Americans aren't required to file a federal tax return because they don't earn enough in income. Those income thresholds vary depending on status and age. But even if you don't need to file a tax return because of low income, do it anyway, says Kathy Pickering, executive director of H&R Block's Tax Institute.
"You may be eligible to claim a refundable credit or you may have a refund owed to you," Pickering says. "There's roughly $1 billion in unclaimed refunds from people not filing a return."
If you lost your job and claimed unemployment benefits, you also need to file a return, she says. That's because some people don't request for taxes to be withheld from their unemployment checks and end up owing the government. "That can get people in trouble," she says.
3. Picking the wrong filing status
Attention single parents: You may want to choose the head of household filing status, rather than single status. Head of household comes with a larger standard deduction and often a lower tax rate. To qualify, you must:
"I know it can be difficult to work with a separated spouse to file taxes, but choosing married filing separately is, unfortunately, the most punitive filing status," she says. That's because the status disqualifies you from certain credits and deductions.
If you want to change your status after you file your taxes, you must file an amended paper return.
4. Filing without all documents
Make sure you have all your W-2s from every employer, 1099 forms that show other income and other documents to claim certain credits or deductions, such as a tuition statement for the American opportunity credit, which is for expenses from the first four years of higher education up to $2,500 per student. If you rush to file your taxes and forget a document, you will need to file an amended return.
"Those can't be e-filed, so it's a super pain," says Mark Jaeger, director of tax development at TaxAct. "You must fill out the paperwork and send it in, which takes another six to eight weeks to process."
5. Forgetting big life events
Think about your life's highs or lows last year, such as getting married or divorced, having a baby or becoming widowed, receiving a promotion or losing your job. All these can affect your taxes.
6. Entering incorrect info
A typo can cause a lot of headaches. In some cases, the IRS will reject an electronic tax return right after it's submitted if a Social Security number or misspelled name doesn't match its records. You can easily correct the information and resubmit.
But if you enter the wrong bank account number for your direct deposit, the IRS won't know until the deposit is rejected by your bank. In that case, the IRS will send a paper check, but it will be six to eight weeks later, Jaeger says.
7. Missing earned income tax credit
Every year, almost a quarter of taxpayers miss out on this valuable credit worth up to $6,431 in 2018. It's forgotten so much that the IRS has dedicated an awareness day for the credit.
"This is a huge credit for low and middle-class taxpayers," says Lisa Greene-Lewis, a certified public accountant and tax expert at TurboTax. "People usually think they make too much money to qualify."
8. Paying someone to do your taxes
Forget the tax accountant if you have an easy tax return. You probably have a simple one if you:
Who gets to claim the child? The correct answer can become complicated if someone other than the child's parents is supporting the child.
For instance, a single grandparent whose grandchild lives with them may be able to claim head of household status and claim a child tax credit. In some cases, the grandparent may also qualify for the earned income tax credit.
10. Missing the other education credit
Many taxpayers may be familiar with the American opportunity credit for higher education expenses. But there's another credit for other educational expenses. It's the lifetime learning credit, and it's worth up to $2,000 per tax return. "That one can cover expenses even if you're not in a four-year degree program, such as training for a job certification," Pickering says.
Copyright 2019, USATODAY.com, USA TODAY, Janna Herron
Study: What do home inspectors usually find?
LAS VEGAS – Feb. 20, 2019 – A study of 50,000 home inspections by Repair Pricer – a company that estimates repair costs for items cited in home inspection reports – found that some repair costs tend to appear more often.
Nearly 55 percent of home inspections nationally cited doors that needed adjusting, for example; and 54 percent lacked exterior caulking and sealant, which could leave the home susceptible to extensive water damage. And about 48 percent of homes lacked GFCI protection to minimize the risk of electrocution in areas like the kitchen or bathroom.
The most expensive home defects ranged in repair prices from slightly more than $1,000 to less than $10,000:
Top 10 common home defects – percentage of homes – price to repair
While expensive repairs are less common, one in 10 inspections cite a roof nearing the end of its useful life as the most expensive common repair generally noted. However, one in five reports find a problem with window seals, which can cost over $1,000 to repair
5 most expensive repairs found – percentage of homes – price to repair
What should buyers do with inspection report information?
Repair Pricer says buyers' first instinct is often to ask sellers to make repairs, but "this tactic can frequently backfire. Even if the seller agrees … they're under no obligation to implement quality repairs and frequently execute the cheapest option or fix, potentially leaving the buyer with substandard work, no transferable warranty and no recourse."
Seller repairs can also give buyers a "false sense of security, believing their agents have negotiated and built a home warranty into their contracts." The best tactic, according to Home Repair, is to ask the seller for a repair credit if appropriate under the contract, and hire a contractor after closing to complete the repairs to the buyer's standards – not the seller's.
© 2019 Florida Realtors®
Pay attention to the items mentioned, for a good home inspector will certainly discover these items that need repaired or replaced. Doing some due diligence prior to a property going under contract can and will minimize any complications down the road. If your property is ready for inspection, it's not a bad idea to have an inspection report to present when listing your property. This not only cuts one step out of the buying process, it also shows you're confident your property is "fit to sell" and you will meet less resistance for counter offers.
If you're ready to sell, send us a message and let's talk.
‘Modern’ and ‘contemporary’ aren’t the same thing?
NEW YORK – Jan. 28, 2019 – Buyers may say they want a "modern" or a "contemporary" home, but those two words aren't interchangeable. So, what do they really mean?
Modern and contemporary styles share many of the same traits, but they're two distinct styles – and they often get confused, according to an article by Marvin Windows and Doors that sets out to clarify the two styles.
Contemporary tends to refer to architecture of today and, as such, it's constantly evolving. It could contain a mix of aesthetics, including traditional and even modern architecture. Contemporary homes are often characterized by asymmetrical shapes, mixed materials, open spaces, energy efficiency, curves or sweeping lines, abundant natural light and a combination of indoor-outdoor spaces that blurs the line where the indoor space ends and the outdoor space begins.
Modern, on the other hand, tends to center on straight lines and limited details. That's the big difference from contemporary styles, which use curves and sweeping lines. Modern uses sharper, very sparse lines.
"Modern design is a more honest look at what a building is – load-bearing columns, beams that transfer the weight, and not putting things in for decoration," says Rebecca Comeaux, an associate at Lake/Flato Architects in San Antonio. "It's still beautiful, but there's kind of a level of honesty and simplicity in the design."
Modern design is marked by rectangular exteriors with flat roofs; clean, straight lines with limited detail; open floor plans; changes in elevation, like split-level spaces; monochromatic color palettes; and spaces that have minimal decoration.
Source: "Modern vs. Contemporary: Do You Know the Difference?" BUILDER (2019)
© Copyright 2019 INFORMATION INC., Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688
It’s amazing how much a pet can give you just by simply existing. According to the Centers for Disease Control, owning a pet can help increase your fitness level, lower stress, help improve your health and generally make you happier. And, although not specifically mentioned by the CDC, any pet owner can add a few more contributions, like urine stains on the carpet, fur clinging to every surface and the occasional hairball (unless your pet is a fish, then all bets are off).
For owners of terrestrial animals, cleaning the carpet is going to be a necessity sooner rather than later. And doing it right means not having to do it over and over again (hopefully). Because animals tend to do their business where they’ve done it in the past, getting that particular smell out of the rug is an important art to learn if you intend to share your life with a cat or a dog.
First, About Carpets and LiquidsThere’s a lot of very bad advice online about how to clean up your pet’s urine spots. You know the ones. You walk through the bedroom at night and — bam — there it is. Some random bloggers would have you put down a paper towel and then basically try to absorb the liquid by stomping it out. Unfortunately, that’s about the worst thing you can do.
Carpets are really absorbent, but much of that absorbency is down below, in the pad, which is covered up by the rug. So when you stomp on a liquid mess, what you’re really doing is spreading it further through the pad, creating an even wider puddle in a place where your flimsy paper towels can never go.
Unless you’re prepared to rip up the carpets and deal with the puddle, consider purchasing a tool that can extract fluid from rugs, like a handheld extractor, a floor cleaner with an extract-only mode or, in a pinch, a wet/dry vac (this one is harder to get smelling fresh and clean again). Any of these tools is far more effective than a paper towel — or even a whole roll.
When it comes to cleaning urine out of carpet, always follow the same procedure:
Of course, liquids aren’t the only gifts your pets will leave behind. When it’s a bit more solid, you’ll want to follow similar guidelines, except when you clean the solids, use a putty knife to avoid pushing the solids deeper into the carpet. If it’s any serious kind of solid, you’ll want to swap the bio-enzymatic cleaner for one that’s also oxygenated.
So Much Hair, Everywhere
You love your pet. You do. But he has so much hair and he’s just carelessly leaving it wherever it happens to fall. This is why it comes to you to clean up behind what may be the worst roommate there has ever been. Pet hair in carpets can require a lot of effort to keep cleaned up, but if you can’t choose between the pet or the carpet, give these tips a try:
Ultimately, many pet owners decide that they spend way too much time cleaning up after their pets instead of interacting with them and install hard flooring. Sure, the dog hair may start piling up in the corners and behind the doors, but those ten hours a week you could be spending with him rather than cleaning up after him are a pretty important part of his short life.
Keep the Carpets and the Pets…Even if you become the master of carpet cleaning, you’ll want to have a professional come out at least once a year to give your rugs a good once-over. You can find the name of a random carpet cleaner online or in the Yellow Pages, but how do you know if you can trust them? Those coupons they sent don’t say a thing about their skill level.
Your HomeKeepr community, however, can tell you a lot. For example, if your real estate agent has recommended a carpet cleaning company, you can be sure that it’s one to be trusted. Your agent staked their reputation on their recommendation, and they use the place themselves. We believe that recommendations mean a lot more than reviews — we stake our reputation on it every day!
If you’re shopping for a house, or even just considering buying one, there’s one person that you absolutely need on your side: a Realtor. Potential buyers often think they can go it alone, but there are a number of things they may not be considering.
What is a Buyer’s Agent and How are They Compensated?A Buyer’s Agent is your representative throughout the transaction. When you choose a Buyer’s Agent to represent you, they’re going to keep your best outcome in mind. They’re not only legally bound to protect you throughout a real estate transaction, many Buyer’s Agents are also naturally protective of their clients.
Many people are nervous about choosing a Buyer’s Agent because they’re under the impression that they may have to pay an extra fee for their services. However, the fees that the real estate agent and their company earn are set long before you walk in the door. Buyers don’t typically pay their agent directly since the brokerage commission is figured into the price of the house. So cost is not typically an issue for a buyer.
Buyer’s Agents Make Everything Easier for You Furthermore, your Buyer’s Agent is a lot more than a pencil pusher. They can help make your purchase so much easier in a million ways. Here are just eight of them:
You just found out that you’re being relocated by your job, or maybe you were offered a job that was too good to be true in another state. Either way, you’ve got a big move ahead of you and there’s a lot to think about before you even start. Moving far away from home can ultimately be a hugely positive experience, even if it is a bit of a hectic process. You can do this, though. Roll up your sleeves, grab a box and get to it.
There’s Plenty to Consider When Relocating. Your big move is a big deal, don’t think it’s not. You’re going to need all the help you can get, so before you do anything else, contact a Realtor with a relocation specialty in the city where you’ll be landing. You’re going to need someone who knows the lay of the land and can help you find the kind of home you really need, as well as helping you arrange financing and ensuring that everything closes on schedule.
Of course, housing is only a small part of a bigger relocation picture. It’s a stressful time for man and beast alike, but these seven tips will help you survive the experience:
#1. Have plenty of money available. Of course, you know you’ll have to pay something for housing and put down a deposit to turn on the utilities at your new place, but there are often additional expenses that you might not be thinking about right now. For example, will you need help with childcare while you’re packing? Is it likely that you’ll need to stop on the trip to spend the night in a hotel?
Plan for your expenses, then add as much as you can to the pool. The more money you have to work with, the less you can stress if an emergency were to occur.
On this same note, be sure to ask your employer how any moving or signing bonuses will be handled. If you’re counting on that money to make the move possible, you could be in a sad state if your company waits until after you’ve started the job to pay this bonus out.
#2. Get everybody on the same page. Moving to a new place can give the average person plenty of room to let their imagination run wild. It’s important that you and your family get on the same page with respect to the details of your move and stay focused on it.
Have a family meeting, or a chat over dinner, and write down what everybody hopes to get out of the move. Then have a sober discussion about how many of those things are realistic.
Once all of that is knocked out, draw up a plan and give everyone a copy of it so there are no misunderstandings. This can be a time when emotions run high and exhaustion makes people do or say things they might not otherwise, having a neutral document to refer back to during arguments can help cooler heads prevail.
#3. Prepare kids for stressors. Even the most hardy of children is likely to have some kind of serious emotional reaction to moving from your current home. When they’re old enough to understand that you’re also moving far, far from their hometown it can get downright ugly.
Your child is going to understandably need to mourn the loss of their friends and nearby family members. But you can make moving easier for children of every age by trying to maintain some kind of routine during the run-up to moving day and maintain it as best you can until everyone is settled in.
#4. Give yourself twice as much time as you think it’ll take for pre-moving tasks. If you’re not planning on hiring a mover, or even if you’re doing your own packing to help the cost of the move, it’s important that you give yourself plenty of time. Decluttering, especially, can be difficult when you’re trying to figure out just what will fit on the moving truck. Depending on how quickly you have to get to your new job, you can get help from charities with thrift stores by asking them to pick up your used, but clean, furniture, excess dishes and pans and even fun bric-a-brac to save you trips back and forth. Plan your time and stick to the plan.
#5. Visit your family doctor one more time. Having a final visit with your doctor gives you an opportunity to discuss anything that has been problematic for you, as well as getting your medicine refilled so you’ll not run out before you find a new PCP. This is a great time to ask about getting copies of your records, too! Make sure to do the same for your children and pets.
#6. Stop by the shop. While you’re getting your own check up, don’t forget about the vehicle or vehicles that you’re taking with you. Drop in at your local mechanic, the one you use for everything and trust to do the job right, and have them inspect and repair anything that looks like it needs to be addressed. Ask if you need new tires, spark plugs or a tune-up. There’s nothing as stressful as getting into a car that’s fully packed and full of kids or pets only to discover that your car has a bunch of symbols on the dash lit up that were never lit up before.
#7. Keep your eye on the prize. Preparing for a move when you have to do it all in one go can be amazingly stressful on body and soul, which is why it’s ultra important that you remember the why of all of it. You’re moving for a better opportunity, good schools, a chance to use your degree for once — whatever your reason, it’s yours and it’ll help if you keep that front and center.
Need Help Packing, Unpacking or Transporting Your Treasures?Just log in to the HomeKeepr community, where you’ll find all kinds of home pros, from movers to Realtors with relocation specialties. No more digging around the web for reviews on individual companies, HomeKeepr runs on recommendations — and if your future mover is highly recommended by your current Realtor, that’s one less thing to worry about.
If you’ve been following along, you know that last time around we covered a lot of the important things you should be thinking about when buying an older home. They’re great, but they can also be expensive and needy — definitely not for everybody. Today, we’re looking at buying a new construction home. Although it’s a chance to get the house you’ve long wanted, buying a brand new house can also be fraught with problems.
New Construction Homes and Their BuildersThere are no two ways about it, a new construction home can be the best decision you’ve ever made. Not only are they up to current building codes, they’re well-insulated, nothing needs to be fixed — all you have to do is move in and keep your new house clean.
There are essentially two distinct types of builder: custom and speculative.
Custom home builders wait for a person who wants a house built to come along, then they work closely with the home buyer, architects, electricians and other home pros to create your dream home. That being said, custom home builders tend to be on the upper end of your local housing market, but some also cater to people who want a smaller home.
Speculative builders (also known as production builders) build a bunch of houses and hope someone will come to buy them. These folks are generally responsible for creating whole neighborhoods out of thin air. One day, you’re driving by a field, the next week it’s a 100-lot development with 20 houses already going up. Speculative builders are nothing if not fast. You won’t necessarily get the house of your dreams unless your dreams are pretty vanilla, but you will have a home that’s new, up to code and that will keep you out of the rain. Super important, that.
New Construction Pros and ConsYou may be considering a new house, but aren’t sure you’re totally willing to wait for one to be finished. If only there were a place you could get an overview of the pros and cons of buying new. Wait, there’s a list below!
Pros of New Construction:
Owning a brand new house is a pretty sweet deal for most people. Here’s why:
Of course, a new house isn’t for everyone. There are a few drawbacks to building from the ground up, including:
The misconception when buying:
Many think because they are working with a builder, they don't need an agent for representation. Keep in mind, builder contracts are heavily skewed to the builder with little wiggle room for the buyer. A licensed Realtor is able to help you negotiate the best possible deal and make sure you're treated fairly. The builder pays the Realtor and the cost is NOT passed onto the buyer as some believe. Having your agent present during negotiation will help keep the scales balanced thought the negotiation process.
New Year, New Home?If you think a new home is for you, our EXP Team can recommend some great home builders in your area. Just visit the our home page and click "Builder Update"! You can always use our HomeKeepr app to connect with home pros like interior decorators and architects, the kind of people who will help you and your builder turn pile of lumber into a home you’ll love for a long time.
September 6, 2018 Mel Biondi
You’ve finally done it! You have a house under contract and you’re doing the paperwork to get your mortgage lined up. When your Realtor calls to ask you who you want to use for your home inspection, you freeze. Your brain has to go back and repeat that part. You get to pick your own home inspector? How do you even go about doing that?
Choosing a home inspector isn’t a difficult process, but as usual, we have tips to help you make it even easier.
Inspectors, Assemble!When you don’t have an existing relationship with a home inspector, your Realtor will likely present you with a list of pros that they recommend highly. Even though time is of the essence because your inspection period is ticking away, you can quickly assess each recommended inspector to find the one that’s right for your home purchase. After all, not every inspector can be an expert in every type of construction or neighborhood. You need the person who best fits your purchase!
Now, for some helpful tips!
1. Check that all potential inspectors are members of a reputable home inspector association. InterNACHI and ASHI are the two largest. ASHI, for instance has been accrediting home inspectors for more than 40 years and requires that inspectors complete at least 250 inspections before they can call themselves “certified.” It’s a high achievement for a home inspector, and a confidence builder for their clients. You want someone who is willing to do the work and go the extra mile. Your new mortgage isn’t chump change, so it’s important you go in with your eyes open.
2. Ask what inspections they perform. Some home inspectors only do a general home inspection, which can be fine if you’re not afraid of that 15 year old air conditioner condenser. But because home inspectors come from all areas of the construction industry, some have specific expertise that can be helpful in finding problems that you probably didn’t notice when you walked into the house of your dreams.
3. Have they inspected houses like yours? There’s a huge, huge difference between a brand new house and one built in 1904. Not only are construction techniques very different, the sort of strange upgrades that may have been made to the older home would never be seen in a newer house. An inspector that has little to no experience with a house like yours may flag things wrong that are actually very typical for a home of that age. You don’t want to get your inspection back and panic because your inspector held an older house to a newer standard, for example.
4. Do they provide photos within their reports? There’s no standard format for a home inspection report, though there are a limited number of software packages for inspection companies. They have a lot of options, including providing optional photos of trouble spots or other items the inspector may feel needs pointing out. If your potential home inspector doesn’t provide photos, it can be hard for you to monitor potential problems or for future pros to find and fix the issues pointed out. Photos are absolutely a must-have.
5. How soon can they come out? It might seem like a silly question, but you’re very likely working with a limited window of time to ask for repairs. That means the sooner your new home inspector can get out, the better. It takes several hours to complete a home inspection, as well as time to compile the report and deliver it to your agent. You also never know when you’re going to need an additional specialty inspection of systems like your HVAC, roof, foundation and so forth. If you’re down to your final cut and one can come out tomorrow and the rest can’t until next week, it’s not a hard call.
Tip Number 6: Ask Your HomeKeepr Network…While you’re checking out potential home inspectors, don’t forget to log into HomeKeepr to see who we recommend. Whether you’re looking for a general home inspector or an electrician to check out the breaker box, they’re all members of your referral network and are ready to come when you call.
Questions? Reach out at any time!
November 15, 2018 Mel Biondi
There are a whole boatload of articles on the Internet about the home renovations that offer the best return on your hard-earned cash, but not so many about the ones that are literally just black holes that suck said cash out of your pocket and never, ever tell you where it went.
That changes today. Everybody talks about the good, let’s talk about the bad and the ugly!
First and Foremost: Personalization Has LimitsWhen you bought your house, there were probably some very specific things about it that you promised yourself you’d change as soon as possible. From dated light fixtures to unbearably pink carpet, there’s always something. Hold on to that thought for a moment.
Now, pretend that you’re the person looking at this same house after you pulled out the pink carpet and changed those fixtures. Is this a house that now has wide appeal, or does the fact that you hung floral wallpaper on the ceiling create a whole new level of problems?
Of course you want to make your house your own, but if you think you’ll be selling in the near future to relocate, upgrade or downsize, maybe don’t go too nuts. Keep in mind that most buyers will accept some level of personalization, provided you don’t push it. You don’t have to live in a bland cracker box, but there’s something between that and a 1970’s disco inferno.
Renovation Loss Leaders By the NumbersIt’s really important that you consider future owners when you go to the trouble to make a major upgrade to your home. But sometimes, even the most thoughtful and beautiful renovation can cost a lot more than it will ever be worth (and often, the most beautiful are the most susceptible to this).
It’s a good thing, then, that Remodeling Magazine has been tracking the average costs of the 21 most popular projects since 2002 and the value they retained at sale. If someone told you that adding eccentric details like green shag carpet can be a big punch to the checkbook, it probably wouldn’t shock you. But you might be surprised at these projects Remodeling Magazine turned up as the worst investments, based on national averages:
5. Upscale Bathroom Remodel. Cost: $61,662. Return: $34,633 (56.2%)
There isn’t a person in this country who hasn’t dreamed of a bathtub the size of a swimming pool, glass tile surfaces everywhere and a shower with five or six different shower heads. And although this will be an absolutely amazing experience while you own your home, you can’t take that stuff with you. It also won’t return anywhere near what you’ve invested in it.
If you’re thinking about a bathroom remodel, consider sticking to the midrange. They cost about $19,134 on average and return $13,422, or about 70 percent of your investment.
4. Upscale Bathroom Addition. Cost: $83,869. Return: $45,752 (54.6%)
Adding a bathroom on to a house was a big return bust in 2018. Not only did the upscale bathroom addition return just 54.6%, even the midrange bathroom add-on, where returns tend to be a bit better, returned just under 60%. That midrange bathroom remodel is looking better all the time.
3. Upscale Major Kitchen Remodel. Cost: $125,721. Return: $67,212 (53.5%)
Despite the fact that a midrange minor kitchen remodel will return about 81 percent of its value, an upscale major remodel doesn’t even come close. This is probably because of budget-consuming components like new cabinets, new granite or marble slab counters, floor tile and high end appliances from manufacturers like Viking. Honestly, if you’ve done this kind of remodel, why are you even moving? Seems you’ve found your perfect house already.
2. Upscale Master Suite Addition. Cost: $256,229. Return: $123,797 (48.3%)
Downgrading to a midrange master suite addition won’t help you get much more out of your dollar, it only changes the return from 48.3% to 56.6%. A new master suite is one of those things that you may find you use extensively, but shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars for one may be a sign you’re not ready to give up on your existing home after all.
1. Midrange Backyard Patio. Cost: $54,130. Return: $25,769 (47.6%)
Generally speaking, outdoor-facing projects tend to return better because they increase the overall curb appeal of a home. And even though midrange wooden deck additions return 82.8% and midrange composite deck additions return 63.6%, the backyard patio is the single worst return on your home renovation dollars in 2018. This may be due, in part, to the fact that it adds nothing to curb appeal and is almost assumed to be the norm in most markets.
When It Comes to Home Renovation Projects, Think SmallThe key to better returns on home renovation is to think small. Replace that ugly light fixture in your foyer, swap the vinyl flooring in your entry for tile. A home that is neat, clean and well-lit will always sell better than one that has something a bit quirky about it, no matter how much it cost to install.
When you need to update your home, but DIY just isn’t your thing, drop in on your HomeKeepr family. The community can recommend talented and affordable painters, carpenters, handymen and more! Since they come so highly recommended, you can be sure that you’re getting the best craftsmen in your area.
If you have any questions, reach out to us at any time!
James C. Kelly is a wealth strategist at PNC Wealth Management.
It’s hard to believe, but the year is winding down. Before you know it, the holidays will be over and everyone may be making – and hopefully sticking to – New Year’s resolutions. “In between wrapping presents and attending holiday parties, there are financial strategies to employ to help you start off next year on the best foot financially,” said James C. Kelly, wealth strategist at PNC Wealth Management®. Kelly outlined year-end planning strategies that everyone can benefit from – regardless of age or financial status.
1. Review your estate plan and beneficiary designations.
Regardless of your age or how much you have in your bank account, it’s important to create and regularly review your estate plan with your legal advisors. Your estate plan dictates what will happen to your possessions, finances and dependents after you pass away. Things may have changed over the past year, and you should ensure your plan reflects your current lifestyle and family situation. “When reviewing your estate plan, you want to review who is included and whether the plan reflects recent life changes,” Kelly explained. “If you have children, it’s important to designate who will care for them if you aren’t around.” Your estate plan may also include things like standby guardianship and power holders (for example, financial and medical power of attorney). You should review these considerations with your legal advisors
2. Check your tax withholding.
Even though you won’t file your taxes until next year, if you wait until then to make adjustments, it’ll be too late to impact your 2018 taxes. Be sure to direct any tax questions to a tax advisor. “One of the country’s most comprehensive tax reform packages went into effect at the beginning of this year,” Kelly said. “You want to make sure that you’re aware of your tax obligations and current withholdings before Dec. 31, so you don’t have any surprises come filing season.” The IRS offers an online withholding calculator.
3. Tap into unused benefits.
Many employers’ health insurance plans include benefits such as flex spending accounts (FSAs) or health savings accounts (HSAs). If your employer offers an FSA, you may need to spend that money before the end of the year – or lose it forever. Qualifying households can allocate up to $5,000 per year for dependent-care services and $2,650 per year for medical expenses. If you have an HSA, you have until year-end to max out your contributions: $6,900 per year for those under 55 per household, and $7,900 per year for Americans 55 and older per household.
4. Check your credit report.
Everyone gets one free credit report every 12 months from each of the three major credit bureaus at www.annualcreditreport.com. Consider checking one report every four months to help you catch any fraud sooner rather than later.
“Take advantage of your free credit report so you’re aware of your financial status and also to make sure nothing unusual or fraudulent occurred over the past 12 months,” Kelly said. “Once you get your free credit report, I recommend saving it and keeping a hard copy. You never know when you’re going to need it.” If you notice any suspicious activity, contact the reporting bureau.
5. Max out your 401(k) plan
Hopefully you’ve been contributing enough to your 401(k) plan to at least receive a company match if your employer offers one, but are you taking full advantage of the tax-advantaged retirement savings vehicle? Individuals under age 50 can max out their 401(k) plan by contributing $18,500 per year, and those age 50 and older can put an extra $6,000 into their 401(k) plan per year.
“A 401(k) is a great tool to help save for retirement,” Kelly noted. “If you’re able to contribute more – or even better, max out your contributions – you have until the end of the year to do so.” Certainly the end of the year can be a busy time, but your future self will thank you for taking advantage of these year-end planning strategies!
Kelly also advised that if you’re 70 ½ or older you should make sure to take your required minimum distribution from your IRA before the end of the year.
If we can be of any assistance with your year-end tax strategy, feel free to reach out at any time.
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