Jeff Shauger, Associate Broker, ABR, CDPE, CRS, ePRO, GRI , SRES, SRS
 
Jeff Shauger, Associate Broker, ABR, CDPE, CRS, ePRO, GRI , SRES, SRS

Jeff's Blog

The Financial Challenges Faced by Veterans

November 11, 2015 2:40 am

Active members of the military, veterans, and their families are routinely facing complex challenges in their daily lives. Among the matters that weigh heavy on servicemembers and their families are debt management and savings, which are common challenges for civilians, as well. Among the aspects of military life that pose challenges to personal financial management:

Frequent Relocation – With each move, military families are presented with new housing choices and a different local economy to consider. Length of time at a duty station, employment options for spouses, and cost of living are all factors that can have a significant impact on household budgets and savings plans.

Employment for Military Spouses – A single income is often not enough to make ends meet; however, the changing local economy and the cycle of relocation make it nearly impossible for spouses to maintain steady employment. Carefully planning a budget to operate on a single income when necessary is the key to balance income and expenses while avoiding unnecessary reliance on debt.

Deployment – Deployed members of the military are protected from a pileup of interest and fees on existing debts through the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act (SSCRA, also known as the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act or SCRA). Although this protection can cap annual interest rates at 6 percent during deployment, it only applies to debt incurred before beginning active duty and requires a written request for relief to the lender. Responsible debt management that prevents further balance increases is an important consideration for deployed servicemembers and their families on the home front.

Transition to Civilian Life – Employers are encouraged to hire military veterans for a number of good reasons. Former servicemembers are among the best trained and most highly skilled employees available in today’s workforce. With all of the advantages of a distinguished military record, there can still be a few bumps along the way during the move from active duty to civilian life. Changes in salary and housing expenses can pose their own challenges that may require some reliable advice from objective sources.

“The men and women who serve our country as members of the military are faced with unique circumstances that can impact the financial choices they make,” says National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) President and CEO Susan C. Keating. “Our network of member agencies is proud to provide professional resources to guide military members and their families through financial matters throughout all stages of military life.”

Source: NFCC

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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How Much Is Too Much? Get the Facts on Tax Withholding

November 10, 2015 2:40 am

Is your withholding on par with your tax liability? The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recommends taxpayers assess their withholding sooner rather than later to ensure the correct amount of tax is withheld. If not enough tax is withheld, taxpayers will owe tax at the end of the year and may have to pay interest and a penalty. If too much tax is withheld, they will lose the use of that money until they get their refund.

When should you check your withholding?

• If you receive a large refund or find you have an unexpected balance due
• If you experience a financial or personal change that may affect your tax liability, such as a marriage, divorce or birth of a child, or if you’ve purchased a home
• If there are changes in federal tax law that may affect your tax liability

To determine the status of your withholding, use the IRS Withholding Calculator on IRS.gov.  This easy-to-use tool can help figure your federal income tax withholding so your employer can withhold the correct amount from your pay. This is particularly helpful if you’ve had too much or too little withheld in the past, if your situation has changed, or if you’ve started a new job.

You may also use the worksheets and tables in Publication 505, Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax, to see if you are having the right amount of tax withheld.

Events during the year may change a taxpayer’s marital status or the exemptions, adjustments, deductions, or credits they expect to claim on their return. When this happens, you may need to give your employer a new Form W-4, Employee's Withholding Allowance Certificate, to change your withholding status or number of allowances.

Generally, taxpayers should give their employer a new Form W–4 within 10 days after either a divorce, if they have been claiming married status, or any event that decreases the number of withholding allowances they can claim.

Source: IRS.gov

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5 Home Fire Safety Tips

November 10, 2015 2:40 am

Unfortunately, reports of home fire incidents are a common occurrence during the winter season. A home fire can be devastating to households who may not only experience property damage, but also the loss of sentimental, irreplaceable belongings.

To avoid being left out in the cold by a home fire, the American Red Cross strongly advises homeowners to:

• Follow the three feet rule. Heating equipment is one of the leading causes of home fire deaths. Keep children, pets and anything flammable at least three feet away from heating equipment. Turn off portable space heaters when you leave the room and when you go to sleep.

• Use gas wisely. Four percent of Americans admit to having used a gas stove to heat their home. Never use a cooking range or oven to heat your home.

• Use flashlights, not candles. Use battery operated flashlights or lanterns instead of candles during power outages.

• Sound the alarm. Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas. Test smoke alarms once a month. If they’re not working, change the batteries and test again.

• Plan and practice. Ensure that all household members know two ways to escape from every room of your home. Make sure everyone knows where to meet outside in case of fire. Practice escaping from your home at least twice a year and at different times of the day.

Source: The American Red Cross

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6 Kitchen Design Dilemmas and How to Solve Them

November 10, 2015 2:40 am

(BPT)—Kitchen design is an art form, one where function and beauty harmoniously co-exist. Achieving that balance, however, isn't always easy. When renovating a kitchen, homeowners can find themselves facing challenging design dilemmas. And they are not alone.

"When redesigning or refreshing a kitchen, the goal is to create a space that is hard-working, yet beautiful," says Nate Berkus, renowned designer and artistic advisor to LG Studio. "Look for items that really represent who you are and your design personality, and you'll create an area you and your family will love both now and 10 years from now."

Berkus points to six common kitchen design dilemmas and offers suggestions on how homeowners can remedy those issues:

1. Space Challenges – When you don't have enough room for the large table your family needs, get creative. Consider building an L-shaped bench around a farm table and adding extra chairs. It's a clever use of space and will create a cozy nook where your family can gather for meals or kids can do homework. Plus, the bench can double as storage space.

2. Last Year's (or Last Decade's) Cabinets – Cabinets are one of the first things you notice in any kitchen, and they're also one of the most important in terms of functionality. If your cabinets provide ample space but look dated, Berkus suggests giving them a facelift with varying materials and finishes, like a wood or paint color that's different from the rest of the kitchen.

"I always appreciate a simple, clean style, but with cabinets, I tell my clients they shouldn't be afraid to mix it up," Berkus says. “I recommend sticking with a neutral palette for cabinets, whether you're installing brand new ones or painting your existing cabinets. White, charcoal and gray will always be elegant, and you can't go wrong with black - it's absolutely one of my favorites. It makes a dramatic statement and looks fantastic paired with stainless steel appliances."

3. Small Budgets, Big Taste – When you long for that sleek, built-in look but don't want to break the bank, counter-depth appliances are a great design choice. They seamlessly integrate with cabinetry no matter what the material, supporting that clean look you ultimately want your kitchen to reflect.

4. Unattractive, Inefficient Lighting – Lighting is one of the most important design elements in any room, and it's the one thing people often overlook when re-designing their kitchens. "Lighting can instantly change the whole feel of a space," Berkus says. "I believe it is one of the most important decisions you can make in any room, especially the kitchen, which, let's be honest, is usually the hardest working room in your home."

To create lighting that is both useful and beautiful, remember to light the room in layers - from above, under cabinets to illuminate work areas and all-around accent lighting to create ambiance.

5. Counter Space Confusion – Figuring out how much counter space you'll need is always tricky. Start by considering all the ways you'll be using your counters. You'll need food prep areas, of course, but will you also want a breakfast bar where your family can sit for meals and snacks? Will you need extra room for countertop appliances?

"My rule of thumb is, to always double the amount of counter space you think you'll need," Berkus says. "You can never have too much, especially if you like to cook and entertain."

6. A Too-Clean Slate – A large, open-concept kitchen can seem appealing, but it can also be daunting to design and decorate.

"Don't be afraid to do something unexpected in the kitchen to break up the space," Berkus says. "I love the idea of creating an unexpected seating area in your kitchen. Shop your weekend flea markets or online stores for a vintage sofa, coffee table and rug to set up an area for your family to relax in."

Ultimately, Berkus says, keep in mind that the kitchen truly is the heart of the home. "Kitchen design is about creating a space in your home that brings the whole family together, and is the best place to reflect your sense of personal style."

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Will You Shop before the Black Friday Frenzy?

November 9, 2015 2:40 am

Black Friday bust? Unlike previous years, holiday shoppers aren’t waiting for Black Friday and Cyber Monday to make purchases, according to a recent RetailMeNot report. In fact, just 10 percent of shoppers believe Black Friday savings are worth the wait.

“Consumers in record numbers are questioning the value of offers on Black Friday,” says Trae Bodge, senior lifestyle editor at RetailMeNot, Inc. “And while this perception appears to be driven by media speculation, it serves as a catalyst for many shoppers to begin preparing and shopping for the holiday season as soon as Labor Day.

“Having a strategy is key,” continues Bodge. “Savvy shoppers are preparing their gift lists, considering budgets and downloading shopping apps that make deal-hunting easier.”

Shoppers should reconsider making all holiday purchases at once, because deals tend to ebb and flow, RetailMeNot reports. For example, electronics and computers hit their peak from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday and then into the first week of December, with an average discount ranging from 38 to 40 percent off. And during late-period shopping (post-Cyber Monday through the end of the year), items like discounted gift cards represent tremendous savings opportunities. Shoppers can purchase discounted gift cards, apply coupons to that purchase and then use a cash-back credit card to extend their savings even further.

A fun fact from the RetailMeNot report: the most popular celebrity holiday shopping buddy is Kelly Ripa, followed by Kate Gosselin, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kristen Bell and Lady Gaga.

Source: RetailMeNot

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Building a Deck? Start Now to Enjoy by Spring

November 9, 2015 2:40 am

(Family Features) Considering building a deck? Late autumn and early winter are the best times to plan – in fact, completing prep work in the off-season will allow you to enjoy your new deck that much sooner come spring, say the experts at Trex, a nationally-renowned provider of decking and railing. So why wait? Get started with these tips.

1. Partner with a Professional – Unless you plan to build the deck yourself, the first item on your to-do list should be hiring a contractor. Quality deck builders book projects well in advance and often have a waiting list by spring. By doing your research early, you can pre-book for the following season. Fall and winter are ideal times to conduct interviews, review portfolios and gather references.

2. Design Your Dream – Designing your deck can be fun, but time-consuming. Starting early allows you to complete the process with maximum creativity and minimal stress. Ultimately, a deck should be designed around how you plan to use it (e.g. relaxing, entertaining, etc.) Beyond function, consider views, sunlight and shade, and entrances and exits from the home and into the yard. All of these factors will have an impact on your deck's size, shape and scale.

3. Decide on Decking – It's important to choose quality materials that withstand wear and tear. A high-performing, wood alternative is easy to maintain and defends against severe weather and mishaps. Composite decking is resistant to fading, staining, scratching and mold, leaving you with less work and more time for relaxation. When considering materials, you can experiment by ordering sample composite deck boards to see firsthand how different colors and textures work with your home's architecture and style.

4. Think beyond the Boards – Often overlooked, substructure and railing can have a tremendous impact on the performance, appearance and cost of a deck. For the substructure, talk with your contractor about the differences between materials. Steel deck framing, for instance, offers stability and durability benefits over wood, plus greater design flexibility, sustainability, safety and fire resistance. Railing adds both safety and style to decks. Available in a wide array of styles, shapes and materials, you can tailor your railing to personalize and frame your outdoor space.

5. Understand Costs and Value – Keep costs in mind throughout the planning process. Several factors will affect material and labor costs, including the size and shape, along with any extras you may want to incorporate. In addition, consider if you want to incorporate integrated features like built-in benches, planter boxes and storage, and budget accordingly for extras such as a pergola, fire pit or lighting, which can add comfort, character and convenience to your outdoor retreat.

Source: Trex

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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10 Ways to Boost Creditworthiness

November 9, 2015 2:40 am

Using credit responsibly is an integral part of personal financial health. Not only is credit a key factor in securing loans for a home, vehicle or other major purchases, landlords often look at credit before approving new renters, as well.

"Improving and maintaining a positive credit history is important for people of all backgrounds, ages and life phases," says Mike Sullivan, director of education for Take Charge America, a national nonprofit credit counseling and debt management agency. “A few credit missteps can set back your financial goals significantly, even years in some cases.”

To do just that, Sullivan recommends the following tips.

1. Limit the Number of Cards
People are bombarded with dazzling credit card offers, but applying for too many can negatively impact credit while also increasing the risk of deep debt.

2. Avoid Fees
Credit card companies charge fees for late payments—even when it’s just a day or two—and for exceeding card limits, even if it’s only a few dollars. Worse, exceeding limits or making late payments may trigger a higher interest rate and show up on your credit report.

3. Pay Off Balances Every Month
Many people fall into the trap of making just the minimum payment, but paying off balances ensures consumers aren’t wasting money on interest.

4. Never Get a Cash Advance
The prospect of quick cash is tempting, but advances almost always come with hefty fees and high interest.

5. Don’t Close Old Accounts…
While this may seem counterintuitive, closing a card may negatively impact your credit because it reduces credit-to-debt ratio and credit history, both major factors credit bureaus use to calculate scores.

6. …Unless There Is a Steep Annual Fee
In this case, the benefits of closing the account may outweigh the potential effect on credit.

7. Review Statements Each Month
It’s important to check your account statements monthly to ensure they are accurate and that you understand the terms.

8. Opt-Out of Prescreening
Minimize the temptation to open new cards by opting out of pre-screened offers at optoutprescreen.com.

9. Use the Perks
Credit cards offer perks beyond travel rewards and cash back, but many don’t know about them. Agreements spell out all of the benefits, from buyer protection and car rental discounts to extended warranties and free airport lounge access.

10. Use Cards Online
With identity theft on the rise, use credit when making purchases online. If your number is stolen, you will not be out any money while the card company investigates. With debit cards, the money may be inaccessible while the situation is being resolved.

Source: Take Charge America

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Survey Takes a Suitcase Snapshot of Traveler Packing Habits

November 6, 2015 2:40 am

Fold or roll? Procrastinate or plan ahead? Carry-on or check? A recent Cheapflights.com survey unpacked the packing practices of American travelers, finding that across the board, most American travelers are organized.

"When you people-watch at the airport, you see an amazing cross-section of travelers passing through with luggage of every shape and style," says Amanda Festa, editor at Cheapflights.com. "From heaping baggage carts and bulging backpacks to sleek rollerboards and kids atop ride-on suitcases, luggage is proof there's a story behind every journey, and it starts with getting packed and organized for a trip. We wanted to know more about how Americans pack and what, if any, common practices we share. It turns out there are a lot!"

According to the results of the survey, just over 56 percent of travelers make packing lists and 77 percent plan or lay out outfits. Forty-two percent start packing two to three days before leaving on a trip, and an additional 30 percent start packing a week ahead of a trip.

The survey also found that getting by with only carry-on luggage is the goal for more than half of Americans travelers. Thirty-nine percent of survey respondents admit to regularly pushing the limits on the size and quantity of the luggage they try to carry on. On the checked bag front, 31 percent say they've pushed the limits on size and weight, and 42 percent try to minimize this issue by weighing their luggage before going to the airport.

As for the fold versus roll debate? Seventy percent of survey respondents report folding their clothes; just 30 percent report rolling them. Suitcase cracked!

Source: Cheapflights.com

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Turkey Talk: Thanksgiving Tabletop Décor with a Twist

November 6, 2015 2:40 am

(BPT)—Without a doubt, the turkey majorly influences all things Thanksgiving, right down to our tabletop décor. Turkeys and the platters they’re served on have a colorful history, nearly as old as the holiday itself.

"You can find a turkey platter that will blend well with any china pattern, from the very old to the very new," says designer Julie Robbins. "Turkey platters aren't necessarily bird-themed; you'll find them in designs ranging from florals to even scenic vistas. I suggest starting a wonderful family tradition of dedicating a special platter for your Thanksgiving turkey and making it the centerpiece of your holiday gathering."

Lenox and several other manufacturers produce turkey-shaped platters and other autumn themed serving pieces in alternative metal serveware. This is a special alloy that maintains a constant temperature to keep foods warm or cold when heated or chilled.

Whether you're planning a huge buffet or an intimate dinner with close family and friends, Robbins says the color trends for Thanksgiving entertaining remain a bright version of fall: strong oranges, sages and brilliant turquoises.  Both individual candles and groupings of candles are also popular picks for the Thanksgiving tabletop.

If Tom Turkey isn't the right design element for your table, Robbins says you can still create a seasonal feel, minus the bird.

"You can use fall leaf or even woodland patterns to create a classic Thanksgiving table without going with a turkey motif. Beautiful classic fruit patterns give your table that horn of plenty flair,” Robbins says.

To tie this look together, Robbins suggests combining whole spices, such as cinnamon and nutmeg, with natural elements like nuts, small pumpkins, fall fruits and colorful leaves to create a cornucopia-type centerpiece.

Source: Replacements, Ltd.

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The Top 5 Energy-Saving Window Treatments

November 6, 2015 2:40 am

Did you know certain window coverings can provide energy savings of up to 10 percent a month? Advancements in window treatments have led to increased energy efficiency in many models manufactured today. The most energy-efficient of these include:

Cellular Shades – Cellular shades are often called honeycomb shades. The shade is made of individual cells that trap air inside them and significantly help control the temperature of a room.

Indoor Shutters – Indoor shutters are still one of the most classic window coverings and they are very energy-efficient in design. Wood shutters offer plenty of charm to a room and are very easy to clean and maintain. They offer great insulation by trapping air between the window and shutter.

Blackout Drapes – The beauty of drapes is they can offer a soft, colorful look that many people love in a room while at the same time providing energy efficiency. When shopping for drapes, purchase ones with thick lining that will protect the interior from summer sun and winter cold. For maximum energy efficiency and appeal, hang drapes high and wide around the windows.

Window Films – Window films are thin sheets of plastic that you can adhere directly to your window panes in order to help insulate and privatize your home. You can also install reflective films that reflect the warm rays of the sun away from your home.

Roman Shades – Roman shades are a cost-effective window treatment for energy saving as long as they are properly selected and installed. Roller shades can help insulate your home from heat and cold transfer.

Source: San Diego Window Fashions

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