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Three Tax Tips for Newlyweds

March 2, 2012 3:54 am

Like many life events, beginning a married life brings many exciting changes. Perhaps not as exciting, but equally important, is your new tax filing status.

"Newlyweds and married taxpayers can choose to file jointly or separately based on their individual situation, but keep in mind that this filing status can change each year," says Mark Steber, chief tax officer, Jackson Hewitt Tax Service Inc. "Generally, using the 'married filing jointly' status provides the lowest tax liability and the highest standard deduction. However, if one of the filers has large deductions or expenses, the 'married filing separately' status may be more beneficial."

Steber reminds newlywed couples filing for the first time to keep the following in mind:
  • The Internal Revenue Service recognizes a couple's marital status on the last day of the year. Even couples who wed right before midnight on December 31 are considered legally married for the full 2011 tax year.
  • Couples should note that certain credits, including the Child and Dependent Care Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit and certain education credits, are not available under the "married filing separately" status.
  • Tying the knot often results in a new last name. Names listed in your tax return should match all forms of identification, including social security card, passport, driver's license and documents from employers, loan holders and investment accounts.
Source: www.jacksonhewitt.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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What Does Your Home Say About You?

March 2, 2012 3:54 am

According to a recent survey, more than 7 in 10 homeowners (71 percent) believe the outward appearance of their home reflects their personality. Those people who identify their personalities closest to their home’s exterior live in the Midwest, while those with the least connection are residents of the Northeast.

The information gathered in the 2011 DaVinci Roofscapes’ Homeowners Exterior Preferences Study - a nationwide consumer study, conducted online by Harris Interactive© - reports that homeowners who closely align their home’s exterior with their own personality cited a variety of reasons for the similarity, including:
  • “It’s bold and different like me.”
  • “Having personally designed my home, I feel it reflects my likes and preferences.”
  • “I am a contemporary person; the house is contemporary.”
  • “It too is old, but really stylish.”
  • “It looks simple and unpretentious … which is how I think of myself.”
  • “The exterior of my home is conservative in appearance, which is the same as my personality.”
Homeowners also indicated in the study that the colors of their home’s exterior match up
and reflect their personalities, citing:
  • “I am a traditionalist. I think the colors of my house are very traditional.”
  • “The (house) color and trim was chosen by me and is unique to my personality.”
  • “I have chosen colors (for my home’s exterior) that are traditional and dramatic rather than the drab beige people consider safe.”
DaVinci attributes the increased sales of its personalized color configurations and color blends to this relationship between homeowners’ personalities and their home exteriors. The study also indicated that when house hunting or designing a home, the most attention-grabbing feature of the exterior was the style of the home, followed by how the home looked on the property. This means that opposed to buying a house simply because it’s a good deal or in a good location, people seek out the style of home that most reflects how they view themselves and want others to see them.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Make Your Home More Eco-Friendly

March 2, 2012 3:54 am

There are many ways to take your green efforts at home beyond recycling and replacing light bulbs. The following suggestions from Rent.com offer homeowners and renters more ways to be environmentally friendly around the house.

Power
  • Find out if your local utility company offers green power using the EPA Green Power locator. Clean energy options include highly efficient combined heat and power, as well as renewable energy sources. It will typically cost you a few more cents per kilowatt hour but that can be offset by energy efficient appliances.
  • The energy used in the average house is responsible for twice as many greenhouse gas emissions as the average car. One of the biggest sources of this energy usage is heating and cooling. Take steps to insulate and air-seal your home as much as possible. Also, replace older equipment and appliances with Energy Star qualified options. Energy Star products have met strict standards for energy efficiency without sacrificing performance and will save you at least 30 percent on energy costs while using significantly less natural resources.
Water
  • Consider installing a WaterSense labeled showerhead to save more than 2,300 gallons of water per year for the average household, and simultaneously reduce energy demands on water heaters. If every household in the U.S. installed WaterSense labeled showerheads, more than 250 billion gallons of water would be saved per year, which could supply more than 2.5 million homes with water needs for a year.
Waste
  • Thirty percent of the food produced worldwide is never eaten, and the energy and water used to produce it is lost forever. Shop for only grocery items that you know you will use and opt for locally grown fresh foods. And, consider this: According to Environmental Defense, if every American replaced one meal of chicken per week with a vegetarian option, the carbon dioxide savings would be equal to taking more than half a million cars off the road. Skip meat a few times a week to make a major impact.
  • Don’t stop recycling – since 1990 we have increased the amount of waste recycled from 15 percent to 34 percent. In 2010, we recycled 85 million tons of waste, the energy savings equivalent of nearly 230 million barrels of oil.

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EPA Proposal Could Trigger Rising AC Costs

March 1, 2012 3:52 am

The National Home Service Contract Association (NHSCA) is advising consumers of a possible spike in the cost of maintaining older home air conditioning systems due to a recent proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

On January 1, 2010, the EPA placed a ban on the manufacture of new air conditioners using R-22, a refrigerant more commonly known as Freon® because of its ozone depleting effects. The use of R-22 was not banned, but rather allowances were dictated on its future manufacture and distribution in order to service existing home air conditioners.

Some air conditioner manufacturers responded by manufacturing “replacement” units designed to be Freon compatible. They are shipped with a “dry” charge, such as Helium or Nitrogen, but allow for the use of Freon at a later time. Consequently, demand for Freon remains high.

On January 4, 2012, the EPA proposed a rule which, if adopted, would significantly reduce production and distribution of Freon by approximately 50 percent. This has significantly increased, even doubled or higher, the price of Freon in recent weeks.

Home service contracts generally provide service, repair or replacement for items such as dishwashers, ovens, disposers, electrical and plumbing systems - and most importantly, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems (HVAC). Many home service contract providers also offer a menu of optional items such as pool and spa equipment, well pumps, and free standing appliances such as refrigerators and clothing washers and dryers for an additional fee. Contracts do not cover pre-existing conditions, but will provide service, repair or replacement for failures arising due to normal wear and tear during the contract period.

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The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index Increases

March 1, 2012 3:52 am

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index®, which had decreased in January, increased in February. The Index now stands at 70.8 (1985=100), up from 61.5 in January. The Present Situation Index increased to 45.0 from 38.8. The Expectations Index rose to 88.0 from 76.7 in January.

The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey®, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen, a leading global provider of information and analytics around what consumers buy and watch. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was February 15.

Says Lynn Franco, Director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center: "Consumer confidence, which had declined last month, posted a sizeable improvement in February. The Index is now close to levels last seen a year ago (Feb. 2011, 72.0.). Consumers are considerably less pessimistic about current business and labor market conditions than they were in January. And, despite further increases in gas prices, they are more optimistic about the short-term outlook for the economy, job prospects, and their financial situation."

Consumers' assessment of current conditions was more favorable in February. Those claiming business conditions are "good" increased slightly to 13.3 percent from 13.2 percent, while those claiming business conditions are "bad" decreased to 31.2 percent from 38.3 percent. Consumers' appraisal of the labor market was also less pessimistic. Those stating jobs are "plentiful" increased to 6.6 percent from 6.2 percent, while those saying jobs are "hard to get" decreased to 38.7 percent from 43.3 percent.

Consumers were more optimistic about the short-term outlook than they were last month. The proportion of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months increased to 18.7 percent from 16.7 percent, while those anticipating business conditions will worsen decreased to 11.8 percent from 14.6 percent. Consumers' outlook for the labor market was also more upbeat. Those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead increased to 18.7 percent from 16.4 percent, while those anticipating fewer jobs declined to 16.9 percent from 19.1 percent. The proportion of consumers expecting an increase in their incomes improved to 15.4 percent from 13.8 percent.

Source: The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Survey®, February 2012

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Survey: Nearly One-in-Ten Adults Overlook Tax Deductions

March 1, 2012 3:52 am

With tax season in full swing, a new CouponCabin.com survey reveals that many Americans miss money-saving opportunities when filing their taxes. Nearly one-in-ten (8 percent) U.S. adults said they aren't aware that deductions can be made on their tax returns. In addition, of those eligible for deductions, almost two-in-five (37 percent) report they will not or are not sure if they will claim multiple deductions on their income tax return this year.

The survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of CouponCabin among 2,550 U.S. adults ages 18 and older.

Missing deduction opportunities could be a result of the large number of U.S. adults who plan to prepare their income taxes without the help of a certified professional. Nearly half (45 percent) said they will prepare their taxes this year by themselves, using online resources, computer software or good old-fashioned pen and paper. More than one-third (38 percent) said they plan to use an accountant or tax professional to file their taxes.

While some aren't aware of deduction options on their tax returns, others aren't paying close attention to the calendar. One-in-ten (10 percent) of those who have ever filed income taxes said they have missed the deadline to file income taxes in the past, a mistake that can result in penalties from the IRS.

Paying attention to tax parameters is essential for an accurate and timely refund, but there are other ways to ensure you're saving as much money as possible. CouponCabin offers the following tips for saving money on this year’s taxes:
  • All in the family: Fourteen percent of U.S. adults said they plan to ask a friend or family member to help prepare their taxes this year. Consider asking those who are close to you if they can lend a helping hand. It may make the process easier and can help you save extra dough.
  • Use a coupon: Many professional and online tax preparation services offer coupons to help filers save money. Head online to check out the tax preparation offers from services like H&R Block and Turbo Tax on CouponCabin.com.
  • Seek out free resources: Organizations like VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) and AARP, among many others, offer complimentary volunteer resources depending on various criteria. Before you file your return, check to see if you qualify for free assistance.

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New Glass Offers Style and Privacy Options

February 29, 2012 3:52 am

Glass takes on new creative and functional potential thanks to designs that offer high style and privacy. The new Privacy Glass Collection from glass engineers Therma-Tru, for example, features glass in finishes such as Chord, Chinchilla, Rainglass and Granite.

Whether used as a door or in side-light panels, the privacy glass is triple-paned for energy efficiency and security. The textured privacy glass is sealed between tempered, clear glass sheets to provide reduced heat transfer, increased thermal performance and improved sound-dampening features within a reliably-constructed frame. The ENERGY STAR® qualified glass panels are also available with impact-rated options for areas that experience severe weather conditions.

The triple-paned privacy glass allows a home to benefit from natural light while still maintaining privacy. Big-on-style finishes include:
  • Chord glass features a vertical, flowing pattern reminiscent of waves on the water. Privacy rating of 10.
  • Chinchilla glass resembles a free-flowing configuration, presenting quiet lines and unique curves. Privacy rating of 10.
  • Rainglass encompasses ripples of cascading water in an elegantly-fashioned glass. Privacy rating of 8.
  • Granite glass features a coarse grained arrangement with surface variations over the entire piece of glass. Privacy rating of 10.
New privacy glass designs are expected to offer home builders a unique way to set homes apart in the market, while offering existing homeowners a way to upgrade their doors and entryways, and areas such as windows over garden tubs.

Source: www.thermatru.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Case-Schiller Reports U.S. Home Prices at Post-Crisis Lows

February 29, 2012 3:52 am

U.S. home prices in December fell to their lowest level since the housing crisis, according to the most recent Case-Shiller Index. The report underscores the fact that the current real estate market still represents a prime opportunity for homebuyers.

The S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city composite fell 1.1 percent in December, resulting in an overall 4 percent downturn for 2011. According to journalist Steve Goldstein in yesterday’s Marketwatch, the index hasn’t been this low since February 2003 and has dropped 33.8 percent from its peak.

All cities saw price declines in December, except for Phoenix and Miami, with Atlanta, Las Vegas, Seattle and Tampa reporting record lows. The data on housing prices contrasts with recent reports on activity, possibly showing that the low prices are actually spurring more home sales, according to the Marketwatch article.

Analysts anticipate the possibility of home prices declining even further as unreleased foreclosure and bank-owned properties—referred to as “shadow inventory”—have yet to hit the market. While the foreclosure inventory has reported signs of decreasing over the past two years, there are still a significant number of distressed properties affecting the marketplace and home prices in general.

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Aging-in-Place Remodeling on the Rise as Seniors Stay Home

February 29, 2012 3:52 am

The market for aging-in-place remodeling continues to grow as more homeowners choose to remain in their homes as they age, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). NAHB Certified Aging-In-Place Specialists (CAPS) experts were joined by representatives from AARP for a press conference held at the recent International Builders’ Show (IBS) to discuss how the aging-in-place market has changed as it moves mainstream, what consumers are looking for and what universal design and aging-in-place trends will be popular in the future.

Nine out of 10 people age 50 and older say they want to remain in their homes and communities for as long as possible. According to CAPS, the current 50-plus generation is typically healthier and wealthier than previous generations of similar age; they want their homes to accommodate their active, independent and upscale lifestyles.

Additionally, while the majority of CAPS consumers are 55-64 years of age, remodelers report that 23 percent of clients are younger (45-54 years of age) and planning ahead to age-in-place. According to NAHB, as aging-in-place modifications and universal design move into the mainstream, the CAPS program provides builders with the expertise necessary to provide accessibility, safety and low maintenance living to homeowners of any age.

The CAPS program was launched by NAHB in partnership with AARP, the NAHB Research Center and the NAHB 50+ Housing Council in 2002 and has been on the leading edge of home modifications for aging-in-place since its inception. The program has graduated more than 4,000 specialists in 10 years.

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Home Remodeling Expected to Rebound

February 28, 2012 3:52 am

After three years of slumping business, builders anticipate that the home remodeling and improvement sector will pick up in 2012, according to a recent article in The Orlando Sentinel.

During the recent National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Conference, NAHB researcher Paul Emrath, reported that remodeling was beginning to edge up.

In 2011, U.S. residential remodeling added up to an estimated $279 billion, about the same as in 2010 but down almost 15 percent from 2007. New-home starts have fallen more than 70 percent around the country since the market peak in 2005.

While not coming close to approaching that peak, The National Association of Home Builders is forecasting an almost 9 percent increase in remodeling this year and more than an 11 percent jump nationwide in 2013. Emrath attributes the slow rebound to the decline in house prices and a lack of equity.

More than half of the home remodeling projects last year cost in excess of $25,000, and total home remodeling and improvement expenditures now add up to more dollars than new-home construction, according to the builders association. Remodeling accounts for close to 70 percent of U.S. residential construction expenditures.

The biggest share of home improvement spending, roughly 20 percent, goes for exterior repairs or upgrades. But kitchen and bathroom jobs are a close second at 19 percent of remodeling work. Upper-end discretionary remodeling projects that were popular in housing’s hey-day, are expected to be few and far between. Until nationwide home values improve, homeowners are expected to be more conservative with their remodeling.

Previously foreclosed homes needing repairs will continue to be a benefit to remodelers. Lenders are also spending money to improve distressed homes, with Fannie Mae spending more than $600 million to repair foreclosed properties.

The large inventory of foreclosed homes currently on the market, stand to help the remodeling business for some time to come.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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