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

Can’t Pay Your Taxes? Know Your Options

April 6, 2012 4:50 am

If you’re among the many Americans who find that they are unable to pay their taxes due to a variety of financial challenges and circumstances, know that you are not alone. An inability to pay taxes owed, however, should not prevent you from filing. This will only make matters worse.

According to the IRS, if you cannot afford to pay monies owed to the government, you should still file by the deadline date and pay as much as you can. This will prevent you from incurring a late filing penalty fee—5 percent per month of the balance due. Paying as much as you can when you file your return will reduce interest and penalty charges.

New York City-based tax practitioner David Selig offers this additional advice to those who cannot pay their taxes:
  1. File your tax return irrespective of your ability to pay. In 99.9 percent of all cases, failure to pay is only a civil matter, whereas failure to file is, under IRC 7203, a misdemeanor. Additionally, in some egregious cases, failure to file can actually be elevated to a felony.
  2. In most cases, the IRS will give you an installment agreement. However, be sure to go over your budget carefully before you call the IRS. Remember, the government will try to collect as much as it possibly can—theoretically, in the shortest amount of time. Unfortunately, the majority of installment plans fail because the taxpayer agrees to pay more than he or she can afford. Review your budget carefully so that you’re better prepared to negotiate a plan that works.
  3. Get professional help. If you owe more than $25,000, it's a good idea to be represented by a licensed professional who understands the rules of procedure and IRS guidelines. The IRS has streamlined the approval process if the amount owed is not more than $25,000 and can be paid off within a five-year period.

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Boomers Lack Vital Care Resources for Aging Parents

April 6, 2012 4:50 am

A burgeoning elderly population and lack of caregiving preparedness underscore the critical need for senior care resources, according to a survey conducted by Care.com, an online resource helping families connect with local caregivers for children, adults and seniors, pets and their homes.
Key findings of the survey include:
  • 46 percent of respondents have a good understanding of their aging loved ones' preferences for care, but don't know the details surrounding how to proceed.
  • 44 percent of respondents are tapped into their aging parents' behavioral/physical changes and are deeply concerned about their health and well being.
  • 47 percent of respondents are tasked with housekeeping, transportation and financial management duties for their aging parents.
  • 32 percent of respondents carry the full load of caregiving responsibilities for their aging parents.
  • 47 percent of respondents say concerns over finances and paying for long-term care are top of mind when addressing their aging loved one’s care needs.
Care.com advises those with aging parents to make plans for care as far in advance as possible and while one’s parents can still be part of the decision-making process.

"As a social worker with expertise in eldercare, I have heard the life stories of family caregivers, the heartache, the loss, the fear of aging and debilitation, the burdens, and the rewards," explains Jody Gastfriend, vice president of Care Management for Care.com. "As these findings show, making effective decisions about the care of a loved one often takes more time than anticipated and requires an understanding of the long-term care system that many caregivers lack."

For more information, visit care.com.

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Green Housecleaning Makes for a Healthy Home

April 5, 2012 4:48 am

Many homeowners and professional housecleaners are trading their bleach, pine-scented and other potentially toxic cleaning chemicals in for more environmentally friendly and all-natural cleaners. According to consumer service-review website, Angie's List, there is an increase in both consumers seeking out eco-friendly cleaning companies and in professional cleaning companies that offer 'green' options.

"Spraying potentially toxic chemical-based cleaners into the air, pouring them down the sink or dumping them in landfills has a negative effect on both our health and our environment," says Angie's List founder Angie Hicks. "Your home no longer needs to smell like bleach or other chemicals to be considered clean. There are plenty of all-natural cleaning products that do an equally effective job, are easy on your pocketbook and are better for you and your family's health and for Mother Earth."

Many professional housecleaners are relying on biodegradable, non-toxic cleaners like baking soda, white distilled vinegar and some essential oils with disinfectant qualities (lemon, tea tree oil and eucalyptus, for example) to clean and disinfect. Distilled vinegar, for example, will kill nearly all bacteria with which it comes into contact, while baking soda is great for scrubbing out stains and even freshening up carpets and sink drains.

Some cleaning companies make a concerted effort to find other ways to further reduce their environmental impact, like cleaning and reusing towels and rags instead of using and throwing away power towels or sponges.

"As awareness for eco-friendly cleaning increases, many cleaning companies are turning exclusively to non-toxic products or are willing to supply them at a customer's request," Hicks explains. "Homeowners interested in hiring an eco-friendly housecleaner should still do their research before they hire and ask what products the housecleaner plans to use. Also check that the housecleaner is licensed, insured and bonded. That protects the company and the homeowner in the event an employee is injured on the job or damages property.

Consumers interested in purchasing eco-friendly cleaning products should always read the ingredient list to determine what the product is really made from. Many over-the-counter cleaning products are touted by the manufacturer as being green but still contain chemicals.

"It's never too late to go green when you clean," Hicks adds. "Box up all those chemicals you no longer want and take them to a local hazardous waste center. Replace them with all-natural cleaning products or by using an eco-friendly cleaning service. Your home will still smell and look great."

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Window Safety and Your Children

April 5, 2012 4:48 am

This week marks National Window Safety Week, presenting a good opportunity to consider safety guidelines regarding your windows…especially when it comes to children. The experts at Simonton Windows offer the following suggestions:
  • Remember the primary purpose of a window screen is to keep insects outside. Never push on screens, as they will not support the weight of a child or family pet.
  • Lock windows when not in use to protect against intruders and make it more difficult for curious young children to open them.
  • Do not paint or nail windows shut. Every window in the home that is designed to be opened should be operational in case of an emergency.
  • Refrain from nailing or attaching decorative lights to the interior or exterior of window frames.
  • Plant shrubs or grass, and place “soft landscaping” like bark or mulch, directly underneath windows to help lessen the impact should someone accidently fall out of a window.
  • Make sure windows in every room and on every floor have clear openings that meet egress requirements in the living spaces as required by state and local building codes. Egress windows provide emergency exits in your home during a fire.
  • Practice home emergency fire drills and make sure children know under what circumstances to use a window to exit a home. If a door is hot to the touch, then both children and adults should exit through an open window.
  • Unless it is absolutely necessary, do not to break the window glass. Doing so could cause injury. During family safety drills, show children how to operate windows and how to use chain escape ladders that should be kept in all bedrooms located above ground level.

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Lenders Expect Delinquencies to Drop, Credit to Expand

April 5, 2012 4:48 am

There is growing optimism among the lending community, which bodes well for would-be borrowers. FICO’s quarterly survey of bank risk professionals revealed a gradual reversal in the sentiment of U.S. lenders, as expectations for loan repayments and credit availability were more upbeat in the first quarter of 2012 than in the previous quarter. The survey, conducted for FICO by the Professional Risk Managers' International Association (PRMIA), found fewer lenders expecting a rise in delinquencies on home loans, car loans, and small business loans than at any time since FICO launched its survey in early 2010.

In the latest survey, the number of respondents expecting mortgage delinquencies to rise during the next six months was 12 percentage points lower than last quarter – dropping from 47 to 35 percent. The survey found 28 percent of respondents expected delinquencies on small business loans to increase, which is 11 percentage points lower than last quarter. And 20 percent of respondents expected delinquencies on car loans to increase, 13 percentage points lower than last quarter.

With regard to credit cards, 32 percent of respondents expected delinquencies to increase. That is an improvement of seven percentage points over last quarter and it is the lowest figure since the second quarter of 2011.

FICO analysts attribute the increase in positive expectations to the modest improvement in unemployment rates. Barring any unforeseen bumps in the near future, loan delinquencies are expected to continue declining.

One area that remains a cause for concern, however, is student lending, with 51 percent of respondents expecting delinquencies to rise. That is 16 percentage points lower than last quarter, but it is still the second-highest level recorded since FICO initiated its survey.

According to the survey, while the credit gap appears to be closing in most areas, there is still concern regarding housing—56 percent of respondents believed credit supply would not meet demand for residential mortgages.

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Car Experts Rate Top Hybrids

April 3, 2012 4:38 am

Cars.com, a popular online resource for buying and selling new and used vehicles, just released a list of the best "Hybrids for the Money," as ranked by the site's team of editors.

"Gas prices remain high as we approach the summer driving season, which adds even more relevance to our annual look at how much today's hybrids actually save buyers," explains David Thomas, Cars.com managing editor. "While high mileage figures may seem like they'd impact your family's budget in a positive way, you also have to look into the efficient car's sticker price to know if making the switch would be a wise decision."

In ranking each hybrid, the site's editors looked at a vehicle’s average fuel economy and base sticker price. "We don't account for equipment levels, quality judgments, cost of ownership or any variances from EPA mileage estimates," says Thomas. "The goal here is to pay the least for the most mileage."
Here’s a list of the best-in-class hybrids, according to cars.com:
  • Subcompact: 2012 Toyota Prius c – MSRP: $18,950; 53mpg city/46mpg highway
  • Compact: 2012 Honda Insight – MSRP $18,350; 41mpg city/44mpg highway
  • Midsize: 2012 Toyota Prius – MSRP $24,000; 51mpg city/48mpg highway
  • Family Sedan: 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid – MSRP $25,900; 43mpg city/ 9mpg highway
  • Compact Crossover: 2012 Ford Escape Hybrid – MSRP $30,570; 34mpg city/31mpg highway
  • Midsize SUV/Crossover: 2012 Toyota Highlander Hybrid – MSRP $38,540; 28mpg city/28mpg highway
  • Full-size SUV/Crossover: 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid – MSRP: $51,970; 20mpg city/23mpg highway
  • Pick-up Truck: 2012 Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid – MSRP $39,640; 20mpg city/23mpg highway
  • Luxury SUV: 2012 Lexus RX 450h – MSRP: $45,235; 32mpg city/28mpg
  • Luxury Car: 2012 Infinity M35h – MSRP: $53,700; 27mpg city/32mpg highway
Source: Cars.com

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Insurance Options for the Long Term

April 3, 2012 4:38 am

While just 50 years ago the average life expectancy was 62.5 years, today that number has risen to 78.2 years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. More Americans are heading into their senior years than ever before, which means the need to make the right decisions regarding elder care is essential.

According to retirement income specialist, Steve Casto, author of “Is Your Retirement Headed in the Right Direction?” there are important questions and answers to consider before making critical decisions about a long-term care plan.

Casto says one of the most common issues is often the difference between what you think you’ll need and what you can actually afford. He offers the following questions and answers to help guide elder-care decisions:

Q. Should I opt for nursing-home or in-home care insurance?
A. When selecting insurance plans, protect against your worst risk first. In-home care is more about maintenance, while care outside the home is focused on crises. Home care is good for when a person needs help getting around. If you had a stroke, however, you’d need to be cared for outside the home initially, so there is a need for both.

Q. What should I select as my daily allowance?

A. If your health deteriorates, a daily allowance of $100 per day could cover all your care outside the home, but only a third of the care inside the home. Your home-care costs could rocket to more than $400 or more per day, so plan for the worst.

Q. What is an elimination period?
A. Sometimes referred to as the “waiting” or “qualifying” period, this refers to the length of time between the beginning of an injury or illness and receiving benefit payments from an insurer. With long-term care, the typical elimination period is 90 days, which means you are responsible for covering the first 90 days of care on your own. Most people believe that Medicare covers the first 90 days, which is incorrect. It only covers it under certain conditions, and not all patients meet those conditions, which include:
  • A nursing home stay that follows a three-day hospital stay
  • Admission to a nursing home within 30 days of hospital discharge
  • A Medicare-certified nursing home
  • Physician-certified need for skilled care on a daily basis
According to Casto, your best bet is to be insured through a long-term care policy for that first 90 days.

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Housing Market Awakens

April 3, 2012 4:38 am

The housing market is awakening from its depression-like condition of the past few years and beginning to make a nascent recovery, according to Freddie Mac’s recently released U.S. Economic and Housing Market Outlook for March.
  • According to the report, several positive indicators bode well for the real estate market, including:
  • Stronger economic growth this year will translate into a further reduction in the unemployment rate below 8.3 percent.
  • With stronger economic growth, home sales and originations forecasts have been revised upward.
  • Expect 30-year fixed-rate mortgages to gradually increase throughout the year to about 4.5 percent.
  • New rental construction for 2012 is likely to be the highest since 2005 if the current pace is maintained.
  • Even with a 1 percent dip in new and existing home sales in February, median sales prices moved up 0.3 percent on a year-over-year basis, a hint that home values may be stabilizing in more markets around the nation.
According to Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac vice president and chief economist, “The housing market continues to struggle amid strong economic headwinds. However, a variety of encouraging indicators suggest that the housing market may be feeling a nascent recovery, and more neighborhoods may see a stabilization in overall demand and housing values this spring."

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Bringing Your Bucket List Online

April 2, 2012 4:38 am

While you might not be ready to share your bucket list with the world, a new app lets you share your life’s dreams and goals with your social network.

The My Bucketlist app from Remembered.com guides you through creating a list of goals you’d like to achieve in your lifetime, and then brings in friends and family to help you complete them. The app relies heavily on social media like Facebook to connect people from all over the world. Features include the ability to invite friends, create events, and share photos and videos. Once a goal is created, it is matched with connections in your network to assist, and also vendors who can offer discounts and group offers to help fulfill that goal. Of course, this also allows advertisers to reach key groups of potential customers.

"My Bucketlist allows the opportunity to become part of a community of friends and family that encourage, organize, accomplish and share their life goals," says Adolfo Espadas, lead developer at Remembered.com. "By connecting people with similar goals, we believe our users will have a better rate of success as they work together and support each other."

To learn more, visit mybucket-list.net.

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Did You File in 2008? More Than 1 Billion Dollars in Unclaimed Refunds Awaits

April 2, 2012 4:38 am

According to the Internal Revenue Service, there are still unclaimed refunds for those who did not file 2008 tax returns. More than one million taxpayers have yet to file a 2008 tax return and could be entitled to a refund. However, the window of opportunity closes on April 17, 2012.

"The IRS offers a three-year window for filing a federal tax return, and for the 2008 tax year, the cut-off date is coming soon," explains Mark Steber, chief tax officer at Jackson Hewitt Tax Service. "Approximately half of the refunds available are for $637 or more, so it's wise to spend the time filing for 2008 now, as you are tackling this year's preparation and filing."

The IRS has taxpayers in every state who are potentially owed refunds from 2008. States with the highest number of unclaimed refunds are California (with 122,500 individuals who did not file a 2008 return), Florida (70,400) and New York (60,300).

There are several reasons why a taxpayer may have neglected to file, including having too little income to require filing. But even if someone's income was too low, they likely had money withheld from their employment that is now available to them as a refund. In addition to receiving money that was withheld, filing a 2008 tax return also allows those who are eligible to claim certain credits, such as the Recovery Rebate Credit, the First-Time Homebuyer Credit or the Earned Income Tax Credit.

To claim a 2008 refund, taxpayers must have filed for the 2009 and 2010 tax years. Taxpayers will not incur any late filing penalty and will be able to receive their refund if they file a return by April 17, 2012.

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