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Tom's Blog

Tips for Juggling Career and Family

January 28, 2014 8:09 pm

Larry Katzen forged an ambitious career as a leader at one of the world’s most prestigious accounting firms.

But he has been equally ambitious with his family life; he’s the father of quadruplets—three sons and a daughter. And he felt it was important to serve his community, sitting on more than 10 boards of directors.

“It was an incredible challenge and I don’t regret one minute of it!” says Katzen, author of “And You Thought Accountants Were Boring - My Life Inside Arthur Andersen,” (Larryrkatzen.com), a look at working in one of the world’s most historically important accounting firms while nurturing bonds with his wife and children.

“The quadruplets were born April 22, 1974, before multiple births became fairly common, so we were front-page news and featured on all the national TV news shows,” Katzen says. “But that also tells you there weren’t many other parents who could give us advice, and certainly no internet forums to turn to!”

At the time, Katzen was also working his way up the ladder and taking on new challenges at Arthur Andersen, one of the “Big 8” accounting firms. How did he and his wife, Susan, manage?

“It comes down to sticking to some basic principles: doing the right thing, for one, and listening to your heart,” Katzen says.

He draws on his 35-year career and family life to offer these tips for working parents with multiple children:

• Cultivate support systems! One of the wonderful things about Arthur Andersen was the people who worked there, including his bosses, Katzen says. “They knew the physical and financial struggles Susan and I faced caring for four babies and, because I never gave less than my all at work, they did what they could to work around my situation,” he says. That included a heftier-than-usual annual pay raise that Katzen learned only years later was approved because the firm’s partners knew he would need the extra money.

Susan reached out to moms of multiples to develop her own support system, and the couple hired a recent high school graduate to help care for their rambunctious brood a couple days a week.

“There’s no glory in not asking for support and help,” Katzen says.

• Combine business and family. Katzen traveled frequently for his job and, when his children were 9 years old, a business friend suggested he bring them along, one at a time, on his trips.

“The first was my daughter, Laurie. We flew to New York on a Friday and spent the weekend shopping, dining, taking in a show. For the first time ever, we were alone together without any disruptions,” Katzen says. “Neither of us ever forgot that weekend.”

• Consider buying a small vacation home. Traveling with four young children was extremely difficult, especially nights in motels, where the family would split up into two rooms – one parent and two children in each.

“When we discovered Sun Valley, Idaho, the children were 6. On our first trip there, they quickly learned to ski, and they clearly loved the snow – we could hardly get them to come inside,” Katzen says.

The family so enjoyed the vacation, they looked into the prices of condos.

“We found a furnished condo at a very affordable price and for the next 13 years, we enjoyed summers and winters in Sun Valley,” Katzen says. “It may sound like a big investment, but when you consider the costs of motels and dining out for a family of six, it works out well – and it’s a lot more comfortable.”

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How Health Care Reform Could Impact Your Tax Returns This Year and Next

January 28, 2014 8:09 pm

(BPT)—Several key tax law changes in the Affordable Care Act have been implemented in 2013 and 2014. The impact of those changes on federal tax returns due April 15, 2014 and 2015 hinge mainly on your household's adjusted gross income (AGI) and health insurance situation.

"The impact on this year's federal tax returns is mainly limited to taxpayers in higher income brackets and those with high unreimbursed medical expenses," says TaxACT spokesperson Jessi Dolmage. "The health insurance mandate starts to be enforced on tax returns filed in 2015."

Changes for tax returns due April 15, 2014

Taxpayers with a modified AGI of $200,000 or more in 2013 ($250,000 if filing jointly, or $125,000 if married filing separately) will pay an additional 3.8 percent tax on investment income, such as interest, dividends, capital gains, rental and royalty income. The 3.8 percent tax is in addition to the tax you already pay on investment income.

Your investment income may be reduced by expenses that can be allocated to your investment income, such as investment interest expenses, advisory and brokerage fees, and rental and royalty expenses. The amount may also be reduced by state and local income taxes that can be allocated to investment income items.

Those same taxpayers also started paying an additional 0.9 percent Medicare tax on wages and compensation in excess of $200,000 in 2013. The tax is automatically withheld from employee wages so you'll simply need to report the amount in Boxes 5 and 6 of your Form W-2 on your tax return. The tax for business owners and the self-employed will be calculated using figures on Schedule SE.

Taxpayers who itemize must now meet a higher floor to deduct unreimbursed medical expenses. The threshold has increased to 10 percent of your AGI. If your 2013 AGI is $50,000, for example, you can only deduct medical expenses that exceed $5,000 ($50,000 X 10 percent = $5,000). If you're age 65 or older, the threshold remains at 7.5 percent.

"You can easily and confidently navigate these changes with free online, download or mobile tax solutions," says Dolmage. "The program will guide you through each change and help maximize your credits and deductions."

Health insurance changes for tax returns due next year

If you purchase health insurance through a state or federal marketplace, you may qualify for the advanced premium tax credit. The credit will be paid directly to your insurance company in most cases, resulting in lower monthly premium costs.

If you prefer to pay your entire premium, you can receive the credit as a refund when filing your federal tax return due April 15, 2014. "TaxACT will reconcile the credit with your income after you enter all of your information," says Dolmage. "You may receive a larger credit or have to pay back some or all of the credit if your actual income is more or less than the amount you estimated when purchasing insurance."

If you don't have minimum essential health insurance for three or more consecutive months in 2014, you may pay a penalty on your federal tax return due April 2015. The penalty amount depends on the number of months you're uninsured, household income and the number of uninsured adults and children in the household. The penalty will be 1 percent of your 2014 income or $95 per person, whichever is higher. The penalty for uninsured dependents under the age of 18 is $47.50 per child, up to $285 total per family.

TaxACT provides health-related tax guidance plus HealthWatch, a detailed analysis of the potential impact of the Affordable Care Act on your taxes and health insurance for 2014.

Learn more about tax law changes at www.irs.gov.

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Word of the Day

January 28, 2014 8:09 pm

Equity build-up. Term used to refer to the increase of one’s equity in a property due to mortgage balance reduction and price appreciation.

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Q: If Faced with Foreclosure, What Are My Options?

January 28, 2014 8:09 pm

A: Talk with your lender immediately. The lender may be able to arrange a repayment plan or the temporary reduction or suspension of your payment, particularly if your income has dropped substantially or expenses have shot up beyond your control.

You also may be able to refinance the debt or extend the term of your mortgage loan. In almost every case, you will likely be able to work out some kind of deal that will avert foreclosure.

If you have mortgage insurance, the insurer may also be interested in helping you. The company can temporarily pay the mortgage until you get back on your feet and are able to repay their “loan.”

If your money problems are long term, the lender may suggest that you sell the property, which will allow you to avoid foreclosure and protect your credit record.

As a last resort, you could consider a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure. This is where you voluntarily “give back” your property to the lender. While this will not save your house, it is not as damaging to your credit rating as a foreclosure.

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Kick Those Winter Blahs by Hitting the Refresh Button

January 27, 2014 5:57 pm

Nothing chases away the blahs of mid-winter like a good splash. So I checked in with our great resource, Linda Gottlieb, an interior decorator with Decor&You to help you infuse your home with winter energy.

Gottlieb says too many people believe that changing the look and feel of a home is a difficult and expensive task, when there are simple ways to spice up the atmosphere of a home drastically, without breaking the bank.

Gottlieb's tips on how to revive and refresh your home include:

* Color Splash: Paint is one of the most inexpensive and drastic ways to alter the mood of a room. Gottlieb says pick a color that you are drawn to, one that you would love to see every single day. If applying that color to an entire room makes you nervous, apply the paint to one accent wall instead. Hint: blue pigment can make you feel more relaxed and green colors invoke creativity.

* Organize Beautifully: Belongings can make your space look smaller and disorganized. So beat the clutter, while adding style. Gottlieb says using wicker baskets on top of, or below, existing furniture is a perfect storage solution for achieving a fresh look while still hiding items.

* Bring a Room to Life: Not only are plants a beautiful and easy way to make a room look fresh and vibrant, Gottlieb says they also have health benefits. Use this mood-boosting excuse as a reason to treat yourself to fresh flowers every once in a while.

* Mirror Mirror: Small space got you down? Adding mirrors is a quick and easy fix. There are thousands of different styles of mirrors, many with beautiful ornate detail. Gottlieb says all of the options are cheaper than re-constructing the shape of a house, so splurge on one that you really love.

Source: decorandyou.com.

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Stoke Your Home's Heat with the Hottest Fireplace Trends

January 27, 2014 5:57 pm

Over the years, fireplaces have been a familiar feature in many homes, however until very recently, they have undergone very little change from the traditional hearth.

According to Napoleon Fireplaces, 2014 is heating up to be a very different year for the fireplace. Fireplaces are becoming the design focus for many rooms in the house and with new technological advances it’s now possible to do more with the fireplace than ever before.

“We’re seeing some very interesting home designs that incorporate fireplaces in many creative new ways,” says David Coulson, of Napoleon Fireplaces. “While the traditional hearth will be a mainstay for many homes, modern fireplaces with crisp lines and glass frames will continue to rise in popularity with new homes and redesigned rooms. That being says we’re seeing several new trends emerge this season that are really changing the way people are thinking about fireplaces.”

Coulson suggests keeping the following hot trends in mind when looking for a new fireplace this season.

·         Modern: The upcoming season will continue the trend of sleek and modern fireplaces. Look for clean, linear lines with less metal and more glass. People want the full flame and don’t want black or chrome metal frames blocking the view or interfering with the lighting.

·         Gas: Gas fireplaces will continue to rise in popularity this season. The convenience of flicking a switch compared to collecting, piling and lighting firewood is quickly winning out. The younger generation of fireplace buyers want a quick lighting fireplace that is cleaner and easier to maintain.

·         Outdoors: 2014 will be a big year for the outdoor fireplace as people create or expand on their backyard oasis. The idea of turning a backyard into another room of your house is fueling the outdoor fireplace trend and Napoleon has developed several new models to accommodate this demand.

·         Heat rises: Much like HD televisions, consumers are placing their fireplace inserts higher up on the wall. New technology allows for home owners to insert enclosed gas fireplaces almost anywhere in the house and many people are taking inspiration from designers who are playing with the traditional ideas of where you find a fireplace.

·         Unlikely locations: Much like the migration of fireplaces up the wall, more fireplaces are being installed in unlikely rooms, like the kitchen or the bathroom. These fireplaces however are typically used to decorate the room, not to heat them.

Source: www.NapoleonFireplaces.com.

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Word of the Day

January 27, 2014 5:57 pm

Contract. A legally enforceable agreement between two or more parties. To be valid, a real estate contract must be dated, in writing, include a consideration, have a description of the property, the place and date of delivery of the deed, and spell out all terms and conditions that were mutually agreed upon. It also must be executed (signed) by the buyer and seller.

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Q: What’s the Best Way to Choose a Home Loan?

January 27, 2014 5:57 pm

A: A lot will depend on the length of time you plan to live in the home, other financial obligations, and potential savings gained from comparing the monthly costs of a home against the up-front costs and closing costs involved with a particular loan.

Also, you will need to be comfortable with whatever choice you decide to make. Trust your instincts and do not be pressured into signing for a loan that will not really work for you.

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Tips for Homeowners Looking to Score during Big Game

January 24, 2014 7:42 pm

Homeowners and renters looking to make extra money by renting out their homes to visitors in town to watch the Broncos play the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII are urged to first contact their insurer, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

"Before renting out all or part of your home, tell your insurer about your plans to make sure you're covered if your property is damaged or if someone is injured," said Jeanne M. Salvatore, senior vice president, chief communications officer and author of the I.I.I.'s Fine Print Blog.

This is the first time the Super Bowl is being held in the New York City metro area. As a result, the market for rental properties near the game's venue, Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey—just eight miles west of mid-town Manhattan—is red-hot. Peer-to-peer rental websites such as Airbnb are letting consumers tap into this demand, potentially earning a "postseason bonus" by making their homes available to the thousands of football fans and visiting Seattle and Denver faithful.

Some insurance companies may allow policyholders to use their property as a rental for a one-time, special occasion like the Super Bowl, as long as the insurer is informed about it ahead of time. Other insurers, while allowing this type of arrangement, may insist on other criteria being met, such as the homeowner acquiring additional insurance coverage.

Keep in mind that there are some insurers who will consider any rental of your home to be a business venture, requiring the purchase of a business policy—specifically either a hotel or a bed and breakfast policy—because a standard homeowners insurance policy excludes losses arising from the operation of a business.

"Technological advances have allowed for the growth of the sharing economy" said Salvatore. "But, if you participate, it is your responsibility to make sure you're adequately insured. And, if you are a renter also talk to your landlord or look at your lease to make sure you are allowed to rent out your home.

Source: Insurance Information Institute

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How to Shop for Dental Insurance

January 24, 2014 7:42 pm

(BPT)—Dental health is essential to overall health, affecting everything from our hearts to our mental well-being. Yet despite ample research that underscores the importance of taking care of our teeth, millions of Americans never go to the dentist. A lack of dental insurance is one of the top reasons Americans don't keep up with their dental care.

"In 2008, the last year for which statistics are available, the National Center for Health Statistics estimated that 45 million Americans were without dental insurance," says Stacia Almquist, senior vice president of dental for-Assurant Employee Benefits. "Five years and a recession later, it's reasonable to assume that number has stayed the same or grown. While at the same time dental insurance is as important—and affordable—as ever."

Most people covered by dental insurance today receive the benefit as part of an employer-sponsored benefits package. And as awareness of the importance of dental health grows, more people are urging their employers to offer the benefit or are looking at buying individual dental coverage.

Not all dental plans are created equal, so it is important to understand what you are purchasing. "Changes in health care law and increased opportunity for people to purchase their own health coverage have made many consumers more aware of the need for informed decisions when choosing health insurance," Almquist says. "Choosing a dental plan should also be an informed decision."

If you're in the market for stand-alone dental coverage (and if you don't already have dental insurance, you should consider it) or get to pick a plan through your employer, keep these points in mind when comparison shopping:

* Understand the alphabet soup of dental plans - Two common insurance acronyms include PPO (preferred provider organization) and DHMO (dental health maintenance organization). Most PPO plans have a large dental network of providers and provide 100 percent benefit coverage for preventive care, cleanings, check-ups, protective sealants and X-rays, while major services such as crowns and bridges are usually covered at 50 percent. A DHMO usually has a smaller network of dentists than a PPO network, with the trade off being that members typically pay less out of pocket for services.

Dental discount plans are also available. Discount plans are not insurance, but are similar to wholesale store plans where you pay a discounted fee for products or services.-

* Look for options and extras - Look for a dental plan with a network that offers the options that you need. Your relationship with a dentist is as valuable and personal as one with your primary care physician. Make sure the dental network you choose includes a dentist you are comfortable seeing or one that has dental recruiters who are willing to try to recruit your dentist. Ultimately more dentists in the network mean more options for you and your family.

Also look for ancillary services such as dental hotlines similar to Ask-A-Nurse lines where you can get 24/7 answers when dental emergencies arise.

* Maximize your dental dollars - Most dental plans limit the amount they will pay in a given year. It's important to know what that cap is because you will need to pay full dental costs after you reach that limit in a year. Some dental PPOs let you share unused dental dollars with family members. Programs such as Family Share Max replace traditional individual maximums and allow families to pull from one shared dental coverage pool in a way that most effectively meets their specific needs and budgets.

Ultimately taking care of your teeth today keeps costs down for you and your family in the future.

"Poor dental health has been linked to a range of other health issues, from cardiovascular disease and premature birth to increased risk of Alzheimer's and eating disorders," says Almquist. "Fortunately, it's possible to help protect your dental health with the right insurance coverage."-

Still confused? Don't hesitate to seek the advice of an insurance broker who offers a variety of dental insurance products.

Source: www.assurantemployeebenefits.com.

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