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Thomas Skiffington,  CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
Thomas Skiffington, CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
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Perkasie, PA 18944
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Tom's Blog

How to Engineer Your Financial Future in 2014

January 24, 2014 7:42 pm

Financial resolutions can be the most difficult to keep. They can include minute detail, number crunching, plenty of files and discipline that can affect a person’s entire lifestyle, says veteran investment advisor Paul Taylor, a member of the National Ethics Bureau.

“Many folks simply are not predisposed to combing through the details of their financial situation; for them, the financial world is abstract and filled with arbitrary rules, constantly changing interest rates and other complexities, but being more involved in your own money is well worth the investment,” says Taylor, an architect-turned-founder and owner of Capital Advisory Group & Tax Planners of Lake Norman and Capital Investment Advisors, Inc, (www.CapitalAdvGroup.com).

“While professional help is recommended for many aspects of a person’s financial affairs, it’s ultimately up to the individual to understand his or her own money.”

There are many things the average person can do to take control of their financial life. Taylor offers the following suggestions:

• For your cash flow, keep in mind the four A’s: Accounting, Analysis, Allocation and Adjustment. The four A’s describe a systematic and disciplined approach to your daily, weekly, monthly and yearly spending habits. Accounting involves gathering all your relevant financial information – income, recurring bills, and other expenditures – creating a central list of each item, and pulling it together in a place where it’s easily accessible. Analysis is reviewing the information to determine whether you have a shortfall or surplus, and finding places to reduce expenses. Saving $100 a month on dining out, for instance, would allow you to apply $100 to your mortgage loan principle, saving you a substantial amount in interest payments. Allocation involves determining your financial commitments and priorities, needs versus wants, and distributing your income accordingly. Adjustment involves periodic reviews of your financial information and shifting assets to meet changing needs.

• Utilize estate planning tools such as wills and trusts; make sure the details are accurate. Wills and trusts allow you to spell out how you would like your property to be distributed, and much more. A will gives you the opportunity to nominate your executor and guardians for your minor children. If you fail to make such designations through your will, the decisions will probably be left to the courts. Bear in mind that property distributed through your will is subject to probate, which can be a time-consuming and costly process. Trusts, which are more complex, let you customize the distribution of your estate with the added advantages of property management and probate avoidance.

• Start planning your retirement sooner rather than later. There are a variety of retirement planning options that can meet your needs. Your employer funds some; you fund some. Bear in mind that, in most cases, early withdrawals before age 59½ may be subject to a 10 percent federal income tax penalty. The latest date to begin required minimum distributions is usually April 1 of the year after you turn age 70½. Withdrawals from tax-deferred plans are taxed as ordinary income. The top planning options include defined benefit pension; money purchase pension; profit-sharing plan; savings plan; employee stock ownership plan; tax-sheltered annuities; individual retirement accounts; self-employed plans; simplified employee pensions; and savings incentive match plans for employees.

• Remember the first commandment in safe investment: diversification. Virtually every investment has some type of risk associated with it. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Diversification is one of the main reasons why mutual funds may be so attractive for both experienced and novice investors. Many non-institutional investors have a limited investment budget and may find it challenging to construct a portfolio that is sufficiently diversified. For a modest initial investment, you can purchase shares in a diversified portfolio of securities. Depending on the objectives of the fund, it may contain a variety of stocks, bonds and cash vehicles, or a combination of them.

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Word of the Day

January 24, 2014 7:42 pm

Convey. To transfer property from one person to another.

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Q: What Are the Main Reasons Why Homeowners Remodel?

January 24, 2014 7:42 pm

A: There are many reasons. Home remodeling can improve the appearance of your home, enhance its value, add to your quality of life, and appeal to future home buyers. According to a recent survey by the National Association of Home Builders, the top four reasons homeowners remodel is to obtain more space, avoid buying a new home, enjoy more amenities, and adjust to lifestyle changes. 

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Don't Be Hoodwinked by 'Gray Market' Goods

January 23, 2014 7:42 pm

Up until recently, I would hear whispers about gray market goods, but it was usually associated to knock off fashion accessories and designer jeans. Enter the Alliance for Gray Market and Counterfeit Abatement with a potent warning to homeowners when it comes to gray market home appliances, electronics and even certain building materials.

 

Gray market goods are manufactured abroad for sale in other countries and imported into the U.S. without permission of the trademark holder, according to the Better Business Bureau. In some cases, merchandise is manufactured under different specifications and may not meet US regulatory requirements, BBB notes.  

 

A larger problem for consumers, is that in an effort to stem the unauthorized sale of these items, manufacturers' warranties will not cover gray market goods, so if the product breaks the cost of repairs or replacement may eliminate any savings.

 

Gray market distributors sell through small websites and online auctions. So the Alliance for Gray Market and Counterfeit Abatement reminds consumers that these unscrupulous re-sellers may advertise products as new, authentic, and branded goods.

 

But customers may wind up receiving goods ranging from used or  re-marketed products, to those that have been wholly or partially  counterfeited or mislabeled. Better Business Bureau offers the following tips to avoid problems with gray market merchandise:

  • Check to see if the price is unrealistically low - beware of a brand name product that is being sold at significantly below the manufacturer's price.  
  • Ask the seller - Sellers are obliged to disclose whether they are selling a gray market product.  Your state or county Consumer Protection office may require such disclosure.
  • Carefully inspect the merchandise - Check to see whether the manual and other printed material is in English.
  • Ask about repairs - Gray market merchandise will most likely not be eligible for repair at a manufacturer's authorized service center.
  • Use a credit card - A credit card allows you to dispute charges for a purchase of gray market merchandise that was misrepresented at the time of sale.
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10 Tips for an Affordable and Memorable Destination Wedding

January 23, 2014 7:42 pm

(BPT) - A flurry of congratulatory phone calls, social media announcements and sparkling ring pictures all mean one thing: engagement season has arrived. With approximately 39 percent of marriage proposals taking place between Thanksgiving and Valentine's Day, engaged couples are taking note of one of the fastest-growing nuptial trends - destination weddings.

These days, one in four weddings is a destination wedding, giving couples - and their guests - a reason to blend the joy of a marriage celebration with a fun and memorable vacation. Planning a destination wedding suitable for all your attendees is easier than you think, thanks to some key insights from Myrtle Beach-based expert wedding planner, Cheryl Cox.

Plan ahead. Cox says nine to 12 months is the optimum planning time, especially for a destination wedding. Many couples start planning a destination wedding as soon as they get engaged. While the summer months are typically most popular for couples, when choosing a date, Cox recommends considering a Friday or weekday wedding, or planning the big day during the less-crowded but still desirable shoulder seasons (spring and fall).

Select a destination that caters to all guests. Consider a location with something for everyone. Myrtle Beach, S.C., is the perfect example. The destination offers pristine greens for golf enthusiasts, museums and historic plantations for cultural buffs, delicious Coastal Carolina cuisine for the foodies, fun in the sun with a day at the beach or one of the many water parks, and for brides looking for some quality time with the girls, numerous spas for a day of pampering. Plus, there are plenty of lodging options for your guests including oceanfront resorts, beach home rentals and quaint bed and breakfasts.

Research ceremony locations. Beautiful and unique ceremony locations are one of the perks of having a destination wedding. "Research wedding venues, travel and accommodation options, and rates, then rank the venues you like best," suggests Cox. As a Myrtle Beach wedding planner, she notes that the area's 60 miles of stunning coastline make the perfect romantic backdrop. Whether you're looking for a beachside wedding outside a charming beach home or at the Myrtle Beach State Park, or a historic location like Litchfield Plantation or Pine Lakes Country Club, there are countless ceremony locations to choose from. You can even tie the knot 200 feet above the ground on the Myrtle Beach Skywheel. Visit www.visitmyrtlebeach.com for more information.

Help guests plan activities. Travel is the foundation for long-lasting memories. In fact, a recent Harris Interactive survey found 62 percent of adults said their earliest memories were of family vacations taken when they were between ages 5 and 10. Help your guests - particularly families with young ones - get the most out of their trip by suggesting activities or even making reservations for dinners, tee times, theme parks, museums, etc., before arrival.

Hire a wedding planner. Planning a destination wedding doesn't need to be stressful - hire a wedding planner. "Wedding planners know the local wedding professionals and venues including the city regulations for beach weddings," says Cox. The perfect beach wedding can be accomplished with the help of a wedding planner as they know the ins and outs of planning a beautiful beach wedding so couples and their guests can enjoy the true beauty of a beachside wedding.

 Consider a pre-wedding visit. "If possible, attend a local wedding show to meet wedding professionals one-on-one or plan a 'wedding planning trip' to visit venues and meet with wedding vendors," Cox suggests. "Remember to take notes so you can recall all the details when you're back home."

Get wedding insurance. Give yourself peace of mind by purchasing the appropriate wedding insurance. And, Cox notes, "Research to find the best coverage for your wedding - I highly recommend it."

Be mindful of budget. Start your marriage off on the right financial foot by keeping your wedding on-budget. Many couples planning destination weddings find them to be similar or even more affordable than traditional weddings back home. Myrtle Beach offers a variety of wedding venue options at various price points, so you can have your dream beach wedding and still stay on a budget.

Enjoy! This is perhaps the most important step of all. Don't forget to enjoy the experience of planning this memorable day and enjoying the company of your guests. Take pictures, sample cakes, pick out flowers and remember these moments and the beautiful destination you selected.

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Word of the Day

January 23, 2014 7:42 pm

Default. Breach of a contract or failure to meet a legal obligation. Nonpayment of a mortgage beyond a certain number of payments is considered a default.

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Get Back to Basics with Business Technology

January 22, 2014 9:30 pm

(BPT)—Technology can do a lot for home offices as well as small and medium-size businesses, but choosing and investing in the appropriate level of technology can sometimes feel overwhelming and time-consuming. Business owners and consumers alike sometimes overspend on technology rather than selecting the right tools to help them improve their productivity while keeping their costs at a minimum.

"As business owners, we face the challenge of accounting for everything that keeps our businesses running," says Michael Spadaro, owner of Profound Cloud, a New York-based IT consulting firm, and member of the Brother Small Business Advisor Panel. "One solution to help avoid overspending on technology is finding tools that multitask, but don't go overboard on features that won't be used."

If you're starting a new company or looking to make technology investments to help grow your business this year, you might consider making changes in these areas:

* Phones—If several employees in your company need individual phone lines, you might want to search for a phone service that houses multiple lines within a single system. But if your employees frequently travel for client meetings, be sure to investigate if it would be more economical to eliminate landlines altogether and provide employees mobile phones set up under a single business contract. Take a careful analysis of how many phone lines are needed so you don't over-invest.

* Printers—Only purchase what you need for your business. If you only print documents like emails and reports, but don't need to print in color, consider a black and white laser printer, which will typically have a lower purchase price than its color laser equivalent. Automatic two-sided printing and super high-yield replacement toner cartridges can help keep printing and supply costs in line, too. The Brother HL-6180DW is a robust machine ideal for small businesses or workgroups that need a reliable black and white printer, while the MFC-8950DW is a multi-function printer that also scans, copies and faxes.

* Organization systems—Staying organized is critical to any business looking to be productive and profitable. Scanning paper documents to online storage services like Google Drive, Evernote and Dropbox can help reduce clutter and enhance organization, but you'll probably still have hardcopy files you need to keep on hand. Depending on how many files you need to physically store, you might be able to use a simple filing cabinet or banker's boxes, rather than a complicated professional organizational system. Just be sure to carefully and neatly label everything using a label printer so you can quickly identify and access the appropriate file when needed.

These tips can help your company get back to the basics and maintain a healthy bottom line. Take a look at your current technology and see if there are areas where you could cut back and simplify what you're using and how you're working. Visit www.brother-usa.com for help in choosing the right printing, scanning and labeling products to help you reduce your costs and boost your productivity.

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Simple Tips Keep Clutter at Bay

January 22, 2014 9:30 pm

(Family Features)—If yours is like the average American household, you have amassed a collection of unorganized stuff, tucked away in piles or behind closed doors to deal with "later." Establishing good organization habits and creating proper storage areas can transform that chaos now and set the stage for less mess in the future.

Following are some simple tips to help make your apartment or home clutter-free, and get you started with some new habits to keep disorganization at bay.

1. Don't buy things you don't need. Living clutter-free gives you a better perspective of what you have, so you don't make unnecessary purchases, which can be costly and only add to the clutter in your home. Be wary of accumulating "aspirational clutter"—things you plan to use someday, but never quite get around to using. Though tempting, also avoid freebies and gifts with purchase that you don't really need. Remember, clutter creates more clutter.

2. Create zones. In other words, make a space for everything. Your entryway can become a repository, so sort mail immediately (recycle what you don't need), hang coats rather than draping them on available furniture and use a shoe bin or tray to organize pairs you wear frequently.

In the bedroom closet, use vertical space to create additional storage with organizing units. Wood organizers offer an attractive way to de-clutter with kits and add-on pieces that let you create a customized storage system for your personal needs. A second shoe rack in the closet helps organize shoes you wear less often. In the living room, create specific storage spaces for remotes, blankets, gaming equipment and other items using storage bins and containers that complement your decor.

3. Reset yourself. Every night before you turn in, take a few moments to put things where they belong. This gives you a fresh, stress-free start in the morning and peace of mind knowing where everything you need is located.

4. Turn clutter into cash. Motivate yourself to de-clutter by making money on your unused and unwanted possessions. You can sell gently used clothing to local consignment shops, or donate to Goodwill, Salvation Army or another nonprofit organization. Remember to get a donation receipt, because you may be able to take a tax deduction.

Source: www.ClosetMaid.com

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7 Tax Moves to Make Now

January 22, 2014 9:30 pm

Even before you file your 2013 tax returns, say MarketWatch finance experts, you should be thinking about tax moves you can make right now to keep you organized and prepared for the next tax year:

  • Set up your 2014 tax file – Label an expandable file, so you have a specific place to store your 2014 records and receipts. The sooner you start filing them away, the less likely you are to be frantically searching when tax time rolls around again.
  • Set up your 2014 tax calendar – Individuals can use IRS Publication 509 to pinpoint quarterly tax and other deadlines for the year. (Businesses can refer to the IRS Small Business Calendar showing the 2014 due dates.)
  • Update your address – If you moved during 2013, update your address with everyone who may be sending you tax-related documents: Former employers, banks, lenders, brokerages, the IRS and your state tax agency, plus clients, investments, trusts, and the like. Homeowners using a P.O. Box or other address to receive mail should also do something to establish your home address as your principal residence, such as update voter registration or driver’s license address.
  • Update name changes – New brides generally remember to change their names on driver’s licenses and paychecks, but often forget to notify the Social Security Administration. You won’t be able to e-file your tax return with your new name if it doesn’t match the Social Security Record.
  • Get Social Security Numbers – Did you have a new baby in 2013? Did your spouse get a Green card? File applications for their ID numbers now. It can take months to get them issued.
  • Get a special IRS PIN – Tax identity theft was a huge problem last year. Were you a victim? Contact the IRS and have them issue you a special IP PIN (identity protection personal identification number). Notifying the IRS about an identity theft will flag your account. Once the IP PIN is issued to you, no one will be able to file a tax return under your Social Security Number and generate a phony refund.
  • File a new W-4 with your employer. – Update your withholding so you don’t find yourself short next year – or with more of a refund than necessary. Use the IRS withholding calculator to determine the correct amount to withhold.
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Word of the Day

January 22, 2014 9:30 pm

Contingency. A provision in a contract that keeps it from becoming binding until a certain event happens. A satisfactory inspection report might be a contingency.

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