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

More Households Pouring Savings into Rainy Day Funds

April 7, 2016 4:55 am

More households are pouring savings back into rainy day funds.

According to a recently released survey by NeighborWorks America, a non-profit community development organization, more households are setting money aside for an emergency—71 percent of Americans this year versus 63 percent last year.

Predictably, those with a higher income are much more prepared to reserve emergency funds, a survey finding that underscores the fragile financial circumstances many still face. Specifically, 91 percent of Americans surveyed with an annual income above $100,000 have emergency savings, compared to 63 percent with an annual income below $40,000 and 39 percent with an annual income of less than $20,000.

The survey also highlights a significant gap in emergency savings capacity between homeowners and renters. Eighty-four percent of homeowners surveyed with an annual income between $40,000 and $59,000 have saved money in case of emergency; 58 percent of renters in the same income range have done the same.

A similar divergence also occurs at the higher income level: 97 percent of homeowners with an annual income of $100,000 or more report having emergency savings, compared to 67 percent of renters in the same income range.

Source: NeighborWorks America

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That Lawn's a Looker! 5 Fertilizing Tips

April 7, 2016 4:55 am

(Family Features)—Behind every lush lawn is a power-packed fertilizer. Fertilizer supports healthy growth by heightening grass density, lowering ambient temperature and building resistance to the elements, pests and weeds, according to the experts at TruGreen. It also helps deepen pigment, resulting in a vibrant green lawn. We all want that!

Select and apply fertilizer specific to your lawn with these tips:

1. Identify the Grass – The grass will help determine which type of fertilizer to apply. Warm-season grass turns brown after the first frost; cool-season grass stays green nearly all year in cool and transitional zones, but will turn brown in summer in warm-season zones.

Southern states tend to support warm-season grasses, such as Bermudagrass or Zoysiagrass, while northern states house cool-season grasses, like Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass or tall fescue. Across the central states are large sections of transitional areas, which are home to both warm- and cool-season grasses.

2. Determine Soil Type and Drainage – Your fertilizer selection will also depend on the soil type of your lawn. Sandy soil drains well, giving grass plenty of access to oxygen; however, nutrients can leach out with draining water. Clays and other poor-draining soils can be fertile, but can still result in unhealthy grass.

3. Learn the Number System – Bags of lawn fertilizer feature three numbers, such as 28-3-5 or 20-5-10, which represent the percentages of nutrients. The first number is nitrogen (N), which helps grass grow and become greener. The second number is phosphorus (P), which stimulates root and seedling development. The third is potassium (K), which promotes tolerance against disease and drought.

Avoid fertilizers containing high amounts of phosphorus, unless establishing new turf by seed, or if a deficiency indicates otherwise.

4. Know Your Options – Most in-store fertilizers come in two categories: quick-release and slow-release. Quick-release granules send nutrients to the soil fast, which helps the lawn green up in a shorter time span, but also increases the risk of damage and disease if the product is over-applied. Slow-release fertilizers may not provide immediate results, but they will require less frequent applications.

5. Set a Schedule – Striking the proper balance when fertilizing is essential. Too much can leave fertilizer burn, and too little can leave your yard prone to weeds. Be sure to follow the directions on the bag, or, consider hiring an expert to assess your lawn—he or she can pinpoint the ideal times to fertilize.

Source: TruGreen

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Tax Season: Claiming the Home Office Deduction

April 7, 2016 4:55 am

Many homeowners are eligible to claim a deduction for business use of their home—commonly known as the home office deduction—when filing their taxes. Eligible taxpayers have the option to choose the simplified method when claiming the deduction, according to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The simplified method is designed to reduce the burden of recordkeeping, as well as paperwork, for small businesses. This optional deduction is capped at $1,500 per year, based on $5 a square foot for up to 300 square feet.

By selecting the simplified method, home-based businesses need only complete a short worksheet in the tax instructions and enter the result on their tax return. Normally, home-based businesses are required to fill out a 43-line form (Form 8829), calculating allocated expenses, depreciation and carryovers of unused deductions.

Self-employed individuals choosing the simplified method claim the home office deduction on Schedule C, Line 30; farmers claim it on Schedule F, Line 32; and eligible employees claim it on Schedule A, Line 21.

When choosing the simplified method, home-based businesses cannot depreciate the portion of their home used in a trade or business, but they can claim allowable mortgage interest, real estate taxes and casualty losses on the home as itemized deductions on Schedule A. These deductions need not be allocated between personal and business use, as is required under the regular method.

Business expenses unrelated to the home, such as advertising, supplies and wages paid to employees, are still fully deductible. Long-standing restrictions on the home office deduction, such as the requirement that a home office be used regularly and exclusively for business and the limit tied to the income derived from the business, still apply under the simplified method.

Further details on the home office deduction and the simplified method can be found in Publication 587 on IRS.gov.

Source: IRS.gov

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3 Tax Concerns to Be Aware of This Year

April 6, 2016 4:55 am

We’re in the throes of tax season, and this year, three distinct tax-related factors have presented challenges for many: the sharing economy, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and anti-fraud measures, reports H&R Block.

With more taxpayers relying on the sharing economy, their tax obligations and benefits have become more complex. Taxpayers who gig are generally subject to a 15.3 percent self-employment tax and must file quarterly estimated payments, unless they have sufficient tax withheld from another job where they earn wages.

The increased tax complexity also means new tax benefits in the form of deductible expenses, which could include health insurance premiums, retirement plan contributions, one-half of self employment taxes, the cost of advertising, licensing, insurance, repairs and supplies.

"Keeping a business-only bank account usually makes it easier to keep good records and file accurate tax returns, but in the sharing economy, it isn't always possible to keep separate business and personal accounts,” explains Kathy Pickering, executive director of The Tax Institute at H&R Block. “For example, a driver will probably use the same car for both business and personal use. This makes good record-keeping all the more important, and, unfortunately, the tax-filing process all the more complicated for those participating in the sharing economy. We have seen clients who rent out their home through a website who now are accidental landlords and are seeing their tax situation change dramatically.”

The ACA is also a point of confusion for taxpayers, who are concerned both about avoiding the penalty—which has more than doubled since last year—or how to qualify for an exemption if they were without insurance.

Like last year, taxpayers enrolled in marketplace insurance need to use information on the 1095-A to reconcile their advance premium tax credit and file a complete tax return. More than one million taxpayers put their tax credit at risk by either not filing or reconciling the credit appropriately last tax season.

“Even those who have received the Advance Premium Tax Credit for a second year are still asking questions about how it impacts their tax returns,” Pickering says. “Add in additional forms for millions more taxpayers and we are hearing more questions than in the past regarding ACA.”

Additionally, taxpayers have expressed confusion over anti-fraud efforts, albeit tempered by understanding. Some states have increased their review processes to validate returns, and some have delayed distributing refunds until March 1 or later. Taxpayers may have to verify their return online or by submitting documentation before they can receive their refund. States are issuing checks in lieu of direct depositing the refund into bank accounts in some circumstances.

“Tax identity theft can take victims several months or even years to resolve,” Pickering says. “Taxpayers understand the importance of reversing the growth of tax identity theft and a majority are willing to wait a little longer for their refund if it helps combat tax fraud.”

Source: H&R Block

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Has the 'ecobee' Found a Fertile Flower in Amazon's Echo?

April 6, 2016 4:55 am

Once in a while, we hear about a logical pairing of home efficiency systems that can’t 'bee' ignored. A recent announcement from the manufacturers of the innovative HVAC controller ecobee heralded an exciting new relationship—with Amazon and its Echo device.

The ecobee3 smarter Wi-Fi thermostat with room sensors is the first thermostat to be directly compatible with Amazon Echo, offering homeowners added convenience and comfort in their everyday lives through Amazon’s cloud-based voice service, Alexa.

The Toronto-based company says Alexa, the brain behind Amazon Echo, will be able to facilitate requests from across the room. For example, users can say, “Alexa, set my thermostat to 72,” or, “Alexa, increase the temperature in my house,” to control their ecobee3.

As the one of the top-selling Wi-Fi thermostats in North America, the ecobee3 is the only thermostat that uses sensors to deliver comfort in preferred rooms. And its unique design resolves what its creators say is a basic flaw in traditional thermostat design: only measuring temperature in one location, which contributes to hot and cold spots throughout the home.

The ecobee3 saves homeowners an average of 23 percent on their heating and cooling bills (based on an October 2013 analysis), and is touted to be compatible with 95 percent of residential homes in North America.

Creating further environmental benefit, the ecobee3 does not rely on batteries that must be tossed when they are exhausted. Its innovators say ecobee3 receives power through a C-wire or its Power Extender Kit (PEK).

Charlie Kindel, director of Amazon Echo and Alexa, says using only your voice to control the temperature in your house is another great way to create smarter homes. The ecobee3 is available for $249 on/at Amazon, Apple, Best Buy and Home Depot.

The kit comes with one free wireless room sensor and supports up to 32 sensors. Additional room sensors can be purchased in a package of two for $79 each.

Not an Echo user yet? The ecobee3 is also compatible with Apple HomeKit, Samsung SmartThings and Wink. Visit ecobee.com to catch more buzz about this pairing.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Go Green to Save Green: 5 Eco-Friendly Home Improvement Tips

April 6, 2016 4:55 am

(BPT)—Upgrading your home can impact its carbon footprint. Ensure that impact is for the better with these eco-friendly home improvement tips!

1. Choose Green Materials –Select materials that have a low impact on the environment. Reclaimed wood, for example, is renewable. Other eco-friendly alternatives include linoleum (instead of vinyl), low- or no-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints, bamboo and cork.

2. Rent Tools – Think twice before purchasing tools for the project. Renting tools not only saves you money, but also limits the energy consumption, pollution and waste associated with manufacturing, storing and maintaining new equipment. Visit RentalHQ.com to find the tools you need.

3. Hire Eco-Minded Professionals – If you're undertaking a large-scale remodel, make your green goals heard. Seek out contractors and design professionals that will keep the environment front and center.

4. Use Energy-Efficient Equipment – If the project involves upgrading appliances, implement products with the ENERGY STAR® label—this means that the product meets government standards for energy efficiency.

5. Invest in Water-Saving Features – For kitchen or bath remodels, consider installing low-flow faucets, dishwashers, toilets or showerhead—these significantly conserve water, and can save you hundreds on your bills each year.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Savings Plans Boost Retirement Confidence

April 5, 2016 4:52 am

Retirement concerns have become magnified as a result of the recession, but uncertainty has begun to level off, offering evidence of recovering financial circumstances for pre-retirees, or “workers,” according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s (EBRI) annual Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS).

Gauging confidence about income, the survey found 21 percent of workers feel “very confident” about having enough money for a comfortable retirement. Forty-two percent of workers feel “somewhat confident”—up over 5 percent in the last year.

Workers surveyed who reported they or their spouse have money in a defined contribution (DC) plan or individual retirement account (IRA), or have benefits in a defined benefit (DB) plan from a current or previous employer, are more than twice as likely as those without any of these plans (26 percent versus 10 percent) to feel “very confident.”

“Among those who are confident about retirement, it’s overwhelmingly among those who have a retirement plan,” says Jack VanDerhei, research director for the EBRI and co-author of the survey.

Workers who currently aren’t saving enough for retirement plan to cope with the shortfall by “saving more later on” or “working longer,” according to survey results. This is counter to the findings of retirees surveyed: many reported being unable to work longer due to health concerns.

The survey results also point to a debt-confidence correlation: just 9 percent of workers who described their debt as a major problem say they are very confident about having enough money to live comfortably in retirement, compared with 32 percent of workers who indicated debt is not a problem.

Notably, less than half of workers (48 percent) report having calculated how much money they will need to have saved for a comfortable retirement; 39 percent simply guessed how much they will need to accumulate.

Chiefly driving these trends is the desire to postpone retirement. Thirty-seven percent of workers cited in the survey expect to retire after age 65—contradictory to the experience retirees reported.

Source: EBRI

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Renting a Vacation Home? Know Your Options

April 5, 2016 4:52 am

Peer-to-peer vacation rental listings are on the rise, but some renters find more favor with rental management companies, according to a recent industry study.

While there are benefits to both peer-to-peer and managed rentals, tales of rentals-gone-bad seem to spike when the home is booked directly with the host homeowner—renters cited in the study said they felt safer staying in a managed rental than staying in a peer-to-peer listing.

Unlike direct-from-homeowner rentals, vacation rental managers oversee the process from start to finish, and have established standards for quality, service and security for their properties. Peer-to-peer rentals leave the standards up to each individual homeowner.

“The reality is most homeowners don't have the time to adequately meet guest expectations when it comes to safety, cleanliness and assistance, and as a result they find the tasks daunting,” says Gail Mandel, CEO of Wyndham Vacation Rentals, which conducted the study.

“Guests should know they do not have to go it alone,” Mandel adds. “But if they do, they should keep in mind important tips, like renting from a reputable source, watching for signs of fraud and only using secure payment methods.”

Source: Wyndham Vacation Rentals

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Survey: Homeowners Lacking in the Lawn Care Department

April 5, 2016 4:52 am

Many homeowners have landscapes to tend to—but only a fraction know how to maintain them.

Findings from a recent survey by the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) suggest the majority of homeowners lack lawn care know-how, demonstrating misperceptions across the board. Survey data reveal nearly three-quarters of homeowners believe they know how to care for their lawns, yet significant percentages fell short when asked about specific maintenance measures:

• Sixty-four percent falsely believe grass seeds need to be fertilized in spring.

• Fifty-seven percent falsely believe that if a lawn is not green, it is not healthy.

• Thirty-two percent admit they are not sure how often a lawn should be watered.

Still, this gap in knowledge has not deterred homeowners from seeking a lush lawn—even if that means soliciting professional expertise. Over 90 percent of respondents to the survey have had landscaping services performed in the last year, with approximately 80 percent relying on someone in their household and more than 40 percent hiring a professional to carry out those duties.

Source: NALP

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Achoo! 2016's Top 10 Spring Allergy Capitals

April 4, 2016 4:49 am

Fifty million Americans suffer from seasonal allergies, with tree pollen the primary cause of symptoms in spring.

The most challenging cities for allergies this season, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), are:

1. Jackson, Miss.
2. Memphis, Tenn.
3. Syracuse, N.Y.
4. Louisville, Ky.
5. McAllen, Texas
6. Wichita, Kan.
7. Oklahoma City, Okla.
8. Providence, R.I.
9. Knoxville, Tenn.
10. Buffalo, N.Y.

“AAFA's annual Spring Allergy Capitals report provides important insights into cities where people are most affected by seasonal symptoms due to environmental factors such as pollen, behaviors such as allergy medication usage and the availability of board-certified clinicians,” explains Cary Sennett, AAFA's president and CEO. “Whether you live in one of these allergy capitals or anywhere else, it's important to work with your health care providers to recognize the elements that trigger your allergies and determine the best treatments to enjoy your life unencumbered by seasonal nasal allergies.”

“Many different types of seasonal nasal allergy treatments are available, including prescription medications and new combination therapies, mono-therapies, short- and long-term treatments that may help relieve symptoms,” adds Dr. Purvi Parikh, a board-certified allergist and immunologist. “Because spring is the time when most people with allergies experience their worst seasonal allergy symptoms, it's important that allergy sufferers seek advice from a health care professional before the season hits full force.”

To view the complete list of cities in the Spring Allergy Capitals report, visit www.AllergyCapitals.com.

Source: AAFA

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