(BPT) - No wonder you're thinking of selling your home - it's a "seller's market" right now. The housing supply has dwindled, creating more demand for fewer homes.
At the same time, according to Realtor Tammy Reinke, buyers' expectations are higher than ever. They've become accustomed to model-perfect homes.
What's the upshot? "Sellers have a choice," says Reinke. "You can win the price war - or win the beauty contest." By winning the beauty contest, you'll gain pricing leverage. And if your home shows well, it can even spark a bidding war - generating offers that exceed your asking price.
Here are three top "beauty" tips to set your home apart from other contestants, and set yourself up for a fatter settlement check.
1. Dirt's a deal-breaker: Make a clean sweep
"Buyers want to see a clean home," says Reinke. "And the first thing to deal with is stained carpets and ceilings."
Stained carpets should be cleaned or replaced. Stained ceilings deserve your attention, too. They can scare off prospective buyers who fear that ceiling imperfections might be a sign of bigger problems.
"If you've got a stained popcorn ceiling, don't bother trying to spot paint over it, it doesn't work," Reinke says. Even professionals find it difficult to match the original finish and color. In addition, flocked or heavily textured ceilings are best replaced because they look so outdated.
Instead, consider installing ceiling tiles or panels directly over the offending ceiling, using a simple DIY track-and-clip system. To weigh all your ceiling replacement options, pop some real popcorn and settle back with the Armstrong Ceiling video guide to ceilings for lots of ideas and inspiration.
2. Declutter de house
Buyers can't picture themselves in your home if they can't see past your piles of stuff. "There's a difference between clutter and an intentional collection," says Tiffany Little, a senior interior design at Albion Associates.
Pull together different items - like pottery or framed photography - using a common design element like color, similar patterns, texture or materials. "It's OK to leave some surfaces empty, and to create a display of personal mementos in a stylish, organized manner in other areas," says Little. "This makes the personal items even more special."
3. Spark design interest
So you've cleaned and decluttered, but now your rooms seem blah and uninviting. Nothing enlivens a space like a splash of color. Toss some bright new pillows on the sofa or add tasteful artwork or accessories to complement your color scheme.
Paint adds personality, too, but choose your colors carefully so your wall palette flows naturally from room to room. "I like using a neutral color palette for larger rooms - from ivory tones to values of grey," says Little. She adds mid-tone colors to smaller rooms, while selectively using vivid or deeper colors as accents with accessories and artwork throughout the home.
Finally, don't forget to add texture, whether with a woven area rug or sculptural wire baskets. "Texture adds great dimension and depth to a room," says Little.
"I especially love the look of Armstrong Ceilings decorative metal ceiling panels in textured tin or copper as accents above a kitchen island. This turns the ordinary, smooth sheetrock ceiling into a wow factor. By adding this textured ceiling color in with a few of the dishes, or countertop items, it unifies the room's palette," she added.
With a bit of primping, your home can win the ultimate beauty contest and attract a buyer who's willing to meet your price, or even pay a premium to call it their own.
(BPT) - The stock market is off to a rocky 2016 and experts advise we buckle up. Uncertainty around China, oil and interest rates is leading to waves of selling and a sharp decline in the market. This volatility is a reminder that we should expect the best and prepare for the worst. At the very least, we're in for a roller coaster of uncertainty, and now is the time to get financially prepared. Here are three ways to get your money in order for uncertain times.
1. Stow away cash in an emergency fund.
You should have six months' expenses saved in case of an emergency. And by emergency, we aren't talking about a desperately needed wardrobe upgrade, or a European vacation to cope with a mid-life crisis. This should be money set aside to deal with life's emergencies like layoffs, medical bills or unforeseen crucial expenses. Don't feel bad if you haven't saved up six months' expenses though - according to a recent Bankrate survey, fewer than four in 10 Americans can handle expenses outside their normal budget. To get a rough goal for your emergency fund total, simply add up all recurring monthly expenses including rent/mortgage, food, gas, car payment, cable, phone, etc. and multiply by six. Try to put 5-10 percent of each paycheck after taxes to this fund, and be sure to put the money into accounts that are liquid and stable, like a checking, savings or money market account.
2. Play it safe with investing.
Investing shouldn't entail blindly paying a stockbroker and assuming all the risk with no tangible goal for success. New investing tools have emerged that bring elite investment options to everyday Americans. These can be great assets in a tough economy. Aspiration, for example, offers strategies that limit the volatility of the stock market and invest in companies with sustainable business practices toward the environment and their own workers that make them poised for growth. Best of all, customers set their fee, even if it's zero. Yes, you read that right - Aspiration lets investors pay them whatever they think is fair, and it can be changed at any time. If this sounds like a gimmick, know that Aspiration is a trusted brand that was just named one of Fast Company's Top 50 Most Innovative Companies of 2016.
If you prefer paying an advisor for advice, Personal Capital is another new-school financial company that provides award-winning technology to help you manage day-to-day finances and investments. Personal Capital offers investment advice from licensed financial advisors, at a significantly reduced all-in management fee.
Once your portfolio is set, start investing a modest amount each month. Even $50 a month will add up over time, and that money will do you more good in the long run than one night at the bar, 10 overpriced lattes, or five deli lunches.
3. Open a fee-free bank account.
The days of big banks dominating the industry and charging outrageous fees could be coming to an end. Convenient banking options exist that bear interest and don't charge an arm and a leg for services. Take the Aspiration Summit Account, a checking account that offers a 1 percent annual percentage yield (100 times the interest rate you get at big banks), $0 monthly service fees, and free access to any ATM in the world. Instead of spending millions on Washington lobbyists or corporate jets for its executives, Aspiration puts that money back toward making this the best account possible for its customers. And it gives 10 percent of all its revenue to charities helping struggling Americans. Money magazine named this the "Best Checking Account in America." Another option is your local credit union which will often have better services and fairer interest rates than a big bank.
Once your finances are in order, peace of mind can set in. A down economy is hard on everyone, but knowing you've taken the basic steps to save in case of emergency will pay off huge in times of need. And if the stock market never crashes and the economy only points upward, you can always use the spare cash for a down payment on that European vacation you've always wanted.
(BPT) - Imagine logging into your investment account to check on your mutual fund, only to discover the money you invested for your child’s college and your retirement was suddenly gone. You immediately call your financial adviser or fund company and, to your surprise, learn the state where you live has deemed your account “abandoned” and required the fund company to turn it over to the state.
Though this may seem improbable, it is a story unfolding across our country. States are holding more than $40 billion in accounts deemed “lost,” “abandoned,” or “unclaimed” — and some of it could be savings you spent years building.
States are able to seize such property under so-called escheatment laws. These laws originally were enacted with the intention of allowing a state to take possession of individuals’ lost property so the state could use its greater resources (such as tax and property records) to find lost owners and reunite them with their property. Today, however, these laws instead become a huge source of revenue for cash-strapped states.
Unless the 90 million Americans who own mutual funds make regular contact with the financial institutions holding their accounts, state governments can legally require those institutions to turn these accounts over to them — and can then use the money to offset state budget shortfalls. Importantly, automated account features such as recurring deposits or regular withdrawals don’t qualify as contact under some state laws. Unless you proactively contact your financial institutions regarding your account once every three, five, or seven years (depending on the state’s law), your account can be considered abandoned — meaning the state can claim it.
Account owners can take steps to protect themselves. The Investment Company Institute recommends all owners of financial accounts take the following steps to avoid becoming a victim of these laws:
1. Visit protectyourfinances.org and click on the “What You Can Do to Protect Yourself” link to search records in states where you have lived and determine if any are holding money that belongs to you. In addition, because of the way these laws work, you should check for property in the states of Delaware, Maryland, and New York — even if you have never lived there.
2. Contact the financial institution holding your mutual fund shares at least once every three years — even if you have no reason to do so. As noted above, automated account features (such as regular ongoing purchases, or redemptions or reinvestment of dividends) do not necessarily count as contact. Just because your account has automated features or you receive regular account statements does not mean that you are protected from these laws!
3. Make sure each financial institution where you have an account has your current mailing address.
4. Open and review all mail you receive from your financial institutions, and pay attention to any notice asking you to contact the financial institution.
5. Cash any check you receive from your account, even if it’s a dividend check for a very small amount of money. (In some states, your failure to cash a check can begin the process that could lead to a state taking your entire mutual fund account.)
6. Vote any proxy sent to you.
7. Consider keeping a list of all your financial accounts, with the names of the institutions and account numbers, for family members to access in the event of an emergency or unexpected death.
Still have questions? Visit www.protectyourfinances.org for more information. Protect your financial property and don’t let state governments claim what is rightfully yours.
(BPT) - Middle school is a make-or-break time for budding scientists.
The subject matter gets more difficult, test anxiety often occurs and other interests emerge. U.S. students rank 27th in math and 20th in science out of 34 countries scored, according to the latest research from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That lagging interest in STEM - science, technology, engineering and mathematics - is contributing to an ongoing U.S. shortage of highly-skilled workers that may reach 3 million by 2018.
3M, a company rooted in science, understands the need for the next generation of science innovators, inventors and leaders. For decades, 3M scientists and engineers have developed products that solve problems and improve lives. A shortage of STEM-savvy workers will slow innovation across all industries.
If your child has a passion for science, encourage their curiosity. Here are some ideas from 3M science experts on how to further foster a love of science:
1. Find an after school program or STEM mentor.
A high-quality STEM after school program leads to improved attitudes toward STEM fields and careers; increased STEM knowledge and skills; and higher likelihood of pursuing a STEM major in college according to a study from the Afterschool Alliance. Another option is to find a mentor. Teachers, college students and working professionals are often eager to share their knowledge with budding young scientists. Many universities and businesses encourage mentorship, and your school's science teachers might have some suggestions on where to find one that's right for your child.
2. Plan at home experiments.
According to 3M science mentors, taking science out of a book and applying it to real life is one of the best ways to spark an interest in science. You can find plenty of science experiments to conduct inside your home. A great resource is www.scienceofeverydaylife.com, which features fun activities that explain science principles, like how solar energy works by cooking a pizza with the sun or how chemical reactions function by making homemade ice cream.
3. Encourage exploration.
As interest grows, students are eager for more challenges. For instance, with the Summer Olympics on the horizon this year, a sport-loving student may want to explore more about the forces that impact gold medal-quality swimming, running or cycling. Linking science to another interest can further their passion.
4. Give them a challenge.
A range of opportunities exist for interested students at science-based summer camps, after school programs or fairs. If your child is already on a path of science experimentation and innovation, consider encouraging him or her to enter science challenges and competitions. Each year 3M and Discovery Education partner to develop the Young Scientist Challenge. Students in grades 5-8 can enter the contest by creating a one to two-minute video on a proposed solution to solve an everyday problem. All video entries must be submitted online at www.youngscientistchallenge.com by April 20, 2016.
5. Hit the road.
Going to an observatory or space museum is fun, but also a major learning opportunity. Before taking the trip, view the destination's website with your child and identify areas of particular interest. That will build anticipation and really amplify the visit.
Over its nine years of involvement in the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, 3M has seen the tremendous impact a parent, family member or mentor can make in a child's curiosity and confidence in science. That foundation yields strong critical thinking skills and opens the door for rewarding career opportunities with lasting benefits.
Job Interview Success Tips
How to take smart notes and improve your answers to job interview questions
(Family Features) For recent grads and young professionals, first job interviews are a crash course in interpersonal skills, thinking on ones feet and the danger of homonyms. To ease the learning curve a bit, use these tips to take smart notes during your job interview, answer questions intelligently, schedule the second (or third) interview and, of course, land your perfect job.
What is the interviewer looking for?
The notes you take in the meeting will help you process the information that the interviewer is sharing, help you organize your thoughts so you can then share your problem-solving skills during the interview and be used later in your thank you email and subsequent interviews.
It's a delicate balance. Take too many notes and you've missed part of the conversation and you aren't making eye contact. Take too few notes and you have no documentation of the meeting. By taking notes in bullet point form with Bamboo Spark, you will have a complete overview of the relevant points of the interview, including:
Immediately after the interview, find someplace quiet and take additional notes on anything you missed during the interview. Notes could include: impressions of the interviewer, next steps or cultural insights you didn't want to document in the moment.
What to do with your notes
After the interview, follow up with a thank you email. In this email, expand on a few of the solutions you offered to the company's problems and mention any cultural items in which you think you might have a fit.
If you are offered a second or third interview, go back to your original notes and rewrite them in narrative form. This will help you prepare for your next interview. In each interview, your responses should build on the information of past interviews. Your answers should be more thoughtful and better informed, proving that you are able to consume information, process it and offer solutions.
Seal the deal
For more productivity tips and to learn more about Wacom's consumer products, please visit bamboo.wacom.com.
(BPT) - Tax season is in full swing, and according to the IRS, Americans often leave more than a billion dollars on the table in unclaimed refunds.
With the average refund hovering at $2,800, ensure you get back your maximum refund and avoid these common filing mistakes this tax season.
1. Using an incorrect filing status.
When filing your taxes, you may be confused about whether your filing status is single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, or head of household. Your filing status affects a few things: what kind of credits and deductions you might be eligible for, your tax bracket, and the value of your standard deduction.
Filing status is a grey area for a lot of filers who are married and may fall into multiple categories. If you're legally married and going through a divorce, you could potentially file as married filing jointly, married filing separately, or head of household. You can't file as head of household if you and your spouse lived together at any point in the last six months of the tax year. In fact, the head of household filing status might be the one that causes the most headaches.
Confused about which filing status applies to you? Consulting with an experienced professional tax preparer can help set you on the right course. They can help determine if you qualify for a filing status that is more to your advantage.
2. Taking the standard deduction instead of itemizing.
Only one in three taxpayers itemize their deductions, but millions may be missing out on the benefits.
Often times, home ownership is a life change that helps taxpayers move from taking the standard deduction to itemizing. Itemizing your deduction allows taxpayers to deduct qualifying charitable donations, medical expenses, state income or sales tax, and employee business expenses, among others. Itemizing can save taxpayers hundreds of dollars. For example, if a single taxpayer pays $9,600 in mortgage interest, property taxes and charitable donations, that is $3,300 more than the standard deduction of $6,300. With a marginal tax rate of 25 percent, itemizing saves this taxpayer up to $825.
3. Forgetting to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit.
The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a tax benefit for lower-income workers. The IRS estimates 20 percent of those eligible for the EITC fail to claim the credit on their taxes. In fact, many overlook the EITC because they may not earn enough money to have to file a return, but because the EITC is a refundable credit, those who do not owe taxes can still be eligible to receive this credit.
Another mistake taxpayers make? Paying full price at the tax office! If you filed your taxes with someone other than H&R Block last year, H&R Block will do your taxes for half of what you paid last year. Make an appointment today at hrblock.com/payhalf before the offer runs out on March 31.
(BPT) - Sponsored Advertising Content by Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc.
The average tax refund for the 2014 filing season was nearly $3,000 and the IRS doles out about 100 million of them every year, according to IRS data. If you'll be getting a refund this year, instead of spending it on more stuff you don't need, why not invest in your future and use your refund to help you make that first-time home purchase you've been dreaming about?
"Your tax refund can be a great tool to help you progress toward homeownership," says Eric Hamilton, president of Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc. "You can use it in a number of ways to facilitate the home-buying process, from putting it toward a down payment on a new home to paying down high-interest credit card bills - a move that may help improve your credit score and borrowing power."
Here are six ways first-time homebuyers can use their tax refund to help them get into their new home:
1. Put it toward a down payment.
The days of buying a house without any down payment are pretty much gone for most people. Depending upon the loan program, a down payment can be significant. The more you put down, the less you will have to borrow, and the less you'll pay in interest over the life of your mortgage. You can open a separate savings account and use it to build your down payment fund and deposit your tax refund into it so you won't spend it. Vanderbilt offers an online guide to down payments at www.vmfhomeloan.com.
2. Use it to improve your credit score.
A good credit score can help you get the best possible mortgage offer, so put your tax refund toward actions that may help improve your score. For example, paying down high-interest revolving debt can help improve your credit score, so use your refund to pay off credit cards and avoid accumulating any more credit card debt while you're saving toward your first home purchase.
3. Apply it to closing costs.
When a home purchase is financed, closing costs like attorney's fees, appraisal and inspection fees, title insurance, and escrow costs are typically charged and are not always permitted to be rolled into your monthly mortgage payment. Financing costs can be quite expensive and are required in addition to the down payment, and you may need to pay these costs in cash. Your tax refund can be a great way to help pay for closing costs.
4. Put it toward taxes and insurance.
Once you own a house, you'll need to pay property taxes on it and insure it. You can also put your tax refund toward paying these costs. Or, if your taxes and insurance are paid through your mortgage, use your tax refund to purchase additional insurance - and greater security - such as an umbrella policy. Consult your insurance agent to determine whether purchasing additional insurance coverage is right for you.
5. Use it to cover moving costs.
Even if your entire home-buying process goes smoothly and you've done a great job of saving money and managing your finances, you'll still face expenses associated with moving into your new home. Your tax refund can help cover the cost of renting a moving truck, purchasing packaging material, paying deposits to start utilities service and more.
6. Use it to build your emergency fund.
Every homeowner should have an emergency fund - a savings account with a balance sufficient to cover several months' of expenses, including your mortgage payment. An emergency fund can help protect you from financial issues if you lose your job or experience an unexpected expense, such as a major car repair.
To learn more about mortgages and manufactured homes, visit http://www.vmfhomeloan.com/.
NMLS Licensing Disclosure
Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc., 500 Alcoa Trail, Maryville, TN 37804, 865-380-3000, NMLS #1561, ( http://www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org/), AZ Lic. #BK-0902616, Loans made or arranged pursuant to a California Finance Lenders Law license, GA Residential Mortgage (Lic. #6911), Illinois Residential Mortgage Licensee, KS Licensed Mortgage Co. (SL.0000720), Licensed by the NH Banking Department, Mississippi Licensed Mortgage Company, MT Lic. #1561, Licensed by PA Dept. of Banking.
(BPT) - Starting a business can be intimidating, but with a solid business plan and guidance from the small business community of experts, it can also be incredibly rewarding. Whether you own a local restaurant or an online Etsy shop, one of the biggest things to get used to as a new small business owner is filing taxes for the first time. If you're filing a business return, hiring an experienced professional tax preparer can help you avoid making common mistakes that can impact the success of your small business.
To get the most from your deductions, here are five tips for small business owners to keep in mind this tax season:
1. What tax deductions can I claim? Even if the expenses were incurred during the previous calendar year, the IRS allows businesses to deduct up to $5,000 worth of certain start-up expenses in the year the business began (subject to limitations). In addition to these costs, corporations and partnerships are allowed to deduct up to $5,000 of their organizational costs in their first year of operation.
2. Is my car mileage deductible? If you use your home as a place of business and consider it your principal place of business, car owners are typically allowed to deduct mileage costs from their home to business-related stops.
3. Can I deduct business travel expenses? When you are traveling away from your usual business location, you may be able to deduct ordinary and necessary expenses related to your work. These expenses include transportation costs, lodging, dry cleaning or laundry, tips, baggage charges and business equipment usage expenses such as fax machines or phones. Meals can be deducted if the trip is overnight but there is a 50 percent limitation on these deductions.
4. Are personal care and clothing expenses deductible? No, the IRS has a very strict rule against personal clothing being deducted even if they are bought for business use and only worn at work.
5. How does the Affordable Care Act (ACA) affect my taxes and deductions? The Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) Marketplace allows for small business to purchase health insurance for their employees. If you pay at least half of your employee's premiums and have less than 25 full-time and equivalent employees with an average annual wage of less than $50,000 ($51,600 for 2016), you may be eligible for the small business health care tax credit. See the calculator at healthcare.gov.
Tax preparation is not one-size-fits all, and navigating credits and deductions makes them even trickier - especially for small business owners and individuals with more complicated tax situations. Filing a business return for the first time can be a daunting task, but it doesn't have to be. A new offering is launching this year called Block Advisors that specializes in personalized tax preparation, tax planning, small business taxes and year-round support. For small business owners, Block Advisors also provides back-end needs like payroll and bookkeeping. Visit blockadvisors.com for more information or to find your nearest location.
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