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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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Tom's Blog

Word of the Day

August 20, 2013 6:18 pm

Rent control. Government-imposed restrictions on the amount of rent a property owner can charge.

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Q: Can I Deduct Improvements Made to My Home?

August 20, 2013 6:18 pm

A:  Yes, but only after you have sold it because improvements add to the basis of your home. Remember your gain is defined as your home’s selling price, minus deductible closing costs, minus your basis.  The basis is the original purchase price of the home, plus improvements, less any depreciation.

The IRS defines improvements as those items that “add to the value of your home, prolong its useful life, or adapt it to new uses” – such as putting in new plumbing or wiring or adding another bathroom.

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4 Tips to Help Guard against Identity Theft

August 20, 2013 12:12 am

Identity theft begins when someone’s personal information gets stolen or lost and is used by identity thieves for a variety of fraudulent purposes. Anyone who has ever been a victim can attest to how difficult and time-consuming it can be to straighten out your credit standing, tax status and/or bank accounts.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) offers four tips to help protect yourself from becoming a victim:

  • The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email or social media tools to request personal or financial information – nor does it send emails stating you are being electronically audited or that you are due for a refund. If you receive such an email claiming to be from the IRS, forward it to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov
  • Identity thieves access personal information by different means, such as stealing your wallet or purse, posing as someone who needs information about you, looking through your trash, or accessing information you provide to an unsecured Internet site. Be alert to pickpockets and scams, shred any correspondence containing personal data, and provide account information only via secured websites.
  • If your Social Security Number (SSN) is stolen, anyone can use it for a variety of fraudulent purposes. You must provide your SSN to your employer when you are hired, but stow it in a secure place after that. Do not routinely carry in your wallet.
  • If you believe you may be at risk of identity theft due to a stolen wallet or questionable bank or credit card account activity, you should alert the IRS. You will need to provide proof of your identity via some government-issued document such as an SSN, driver’s license or passport, along with a copy of any police report you filed and/or a completed IRS Form 14039 affadavit. For more information, call the IRS toll-free at 1-800-908-4490.
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Things to Think About When Planning Your Child's College Funding

August 20, 2013 12:12 am

It's not unusual for parents to begin talking to their kids about college early on. Tutors help keep them on track at school, and  after school activities, sports and hobbies are often encouraged not only to keep kids busy, but to keep them well-rounded and build up their future college applications.

While you make sure your child is well prepped for college, you should also be preparing your finances early on.

“Can you afford the college that will give them the best chance in life? Will paying for their education force you to have to work well into your golden years? These are the questions I ask parents every day,” says John McDonough, CEO of Studemont Group College Funding Solutions, CollegeFundingFreedom.com.

“Many parents really don’t know how to begin answering these questions; they are afraid of walking into a financial situation that they won’t be able to safely walk out of. But the alternative – saddling their children with debt well into their 30s and 40s – is not an appealing alternative.”

McDonough reviews four disturbing trends in the challenge of paying for a college education:

• The net worth of today’s 30-somethings: Adults in their 30s have 21 percent less net worth than 30-somethings 30 years ago, according to a new Urban Institute report. Why? Much of it has to do with high-interest student loans and credit card debt. The return on investment of a college education is excellent—college grads earn 84 percent more than those with only a high school diploma, according to Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. But paying off that investment without outside help is exceedingly burdensome for a graduate.

• Student loan debt is even greater than credit card debt: That’s right—topping all Americans who have made poor decisions with their credit cards are ambitious high school graduates, whose collective student load debt shoots past $1 trillion! More important than this being a crucial social epidemic, it’s potentially a very real problem for your child. President Obama scored some political points in identifying with most Americans when he said his student load debt was paid off only after he was elected to the U.S. Senate. Two-thirds of students leave college with some form of debt, according to the Federal Reserve Bank.

• Fluctuating interest rates: Recent controversy over federal Stafford loans interest rates adds to the insecurity of borrowing as a college financing strategy. Given the unpredictability of Congress, which allowed the U.S, credit rating to drop while standing on political principles, one can’t reliably predict whether interest rates will rise or fall.

• Your children cannot refinance their loans: While a borrower who has racked up tens of thousands of dollars in gambling debt can refinance their payments, student loans remain at fixed rates. In collecting money on student loans, there is no statute of limitation, and today it’s very common – the norm, actually – for student loan holders to take nearly two decades to pay off their debt. With the annual average cost of public universities exceeding $22,000 per year, and the same often surpassing $50,000 at private universities, it’s no surprise.

Source:  CollegeFundingFreedom.com

 

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The Best Back-to-School Resolutions

August 20, 2013 12:12 am

(BPT)—With kids across the country heading back to school, a common question at family dinner tables will be: "What did you learn today?"

Kids will be learning reading, writing and arithmetic as they head back to school, but what about lessons involving money? For most people, our relationship with money is based on our childhood experiences, and many children look to their parents for these important lessons. Yet, according to a recent Capital One survey of parents and teens, less than half of teens have worked with their parents to develop a budget for spending and saving their money.

As students prepare for a new school year, it's a great time to start fresh with new resolutions around spending and saving. Talk to your kids about wants vs. needs, saving, budgeting, using credit wisely and other money management habits that can last a lifetime.

Here are a few ways to get started:

  • Crunch numbers together and establish a budget. As your teen starts earning an income through a job or an allowance, ask him or her to pitch in and contribute toward purchases he or she might otherwise take for granted. Create a budget together totaling your teen's contributions and what you can afford to contribute, and then stick to it when you head out to the stores.
  • Only shop for what's needed. Sit down together to make a list of what essentials your teen already has, what is needed and how much is budgeted for this shopping trip. This comes in handy for back-to-school shopping as well as the holiday shopping season.
  • Do your homework. This is a good way to show your teen that homework extends beyond the classroom and well into adult life. Researching the items on the shopping list before leaving the house allows your teen to comparison shop, looking at prices and the quality of the items. For teens on-the-go, there are also a great deal of apps available that can easily compare pricing of items. And not surprisingly, you might discover your teen has different priorities than you when it comes to deciding which items to purchase. Only 22 percent of teens surveyed considered the price of an item to be the top priority, whereas 46 percent said style and appearance were more important. Run a calculation of how much money could be saved between the lower-priced items and the items on the "want list."
  • Set financial goals. Remind your teen to look beyond high school and discuss what items he or she would like to own in the future. It might be an electronic product, a car, paying for a future vacation, or helping to pay for college. The survey found that 83 percent of teens plan to attend college after high school, but 51 percent of those teens were not saving money to help pay for it. Help your teen set up a plan for how they will spend and save the money they earn or receive as gifts.
  • Lead by example. Encourage good financial behavior by teaching your teen how to write checks, the use of credit cards and their associated fees and the importance of paying bills on time. Have them around the next time you pay your monthly bills, so they can see how much is spent on utilities, auto insurance and even food. This gives them a good picture for their future and how they might need to make financial decisions to cover essential expenses.
  • Introduce investing basics. Open a custodial account and help your kids pick the stocks they like most. Contribute a portion of their allowance or agree to match your teen's contributions, and watch the account grow together. Set monthly meetings to review investments, make changes and pick new stocks to purchase. Beginning the stock discussion early will empower your teen with the comfort and knowledge they'll need when they are an adult.

By taking time to discuss spending, saving, budgeting and investing, you can help your teens save money now and point them in the right direction for a successful financial future.

Source: www.capitalone.com/financialeducation

 

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Word of the Day

August 20, 2013 12:12 am

Settlement. The day on which title is conveyed.

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Q: What is Universal Design and How Does It Relate to Remodeling?

August 20, 2013 12:12 am

A: Universal design is an approach to design that focuses on making all products and environments as usable as possible by as many people as possible regardless of age, physical ability, or situation.  In recent years, the housing industry has recognized the importance of a "universal" approach to residential design that modifies standard building elements to improve a home's accessibility and usability.  This allows for more equitable, flexible and simple use.  Many books exist on the subject, including Residential Remodeling and Universal Design: Making Homes More Comfortable and Accessible, a resource guide offered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  HUD’s guide provides technical guidance on selecting and installing universal features during home remodeling or renovation. The modifications can range from expanding doorway dimensions to replacing kitchen appliances.  The guide emphasizes eliminating unintentional barriers and using designs and features that could benefit people with a broad range of needs.

 

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Trusting the Weakest Link: What Data Breaches Mean to You

August 16, 2013 5:51 pm

(BPT)—You've seen it in the headlines. Hundreds of data breaches, often at large corporations, happen every year - and consumers suffer the consequences.

Data breaches have become a constant reality of a connected world. Although many people choose to ignore the problem, you can take steps to defend yourself.

What is a data breach?

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a data breach "includes the loss of control, compromise, unauthorized disclosure, unauthorized acquisition, access for an unauthorized purpose or other unauthorized access, to data, whether physical or electronic."

In other words, a breach occurs when a corporation, organization or institution is intentionally hacked or robbed, or inadvertently exposes information through a clerical or technical error. Data breaches aren't always due to malicious attacks. Sometimes they're the result of a mistake, but the consequences are still grave.

When a data breach occurs, confidential information, such as your Social Security number, bank account details, credit card numbers, personal health information or even wireless phone and utilities accounts are released.

In 2011, there were 855 data breach incidents, according to "2012 Data Breach Investigations Report" from Verizon Enterprise. In the past, corporations like Sony and Citibank have had the misfortune of experiencing such a crime. The real misfortune, however, is the victimization of the consumer.

Why should you care?

The odds are you'll be part of a breach sooner or later. The Verizon 2012 Data Breach Investigations Report cites 174 million compromised records in 2011.

Unfortunately, it's completely out of your hands. Let's say you do everything right on your end: shred documents, use secure websites, etc. You're still only as safe as your weakest link.

That weak link could be anywhere your personal information resides - at your doctor's office, employer, bank, favorite restaurant or even the place you got your hair cut last week. You may be doing a lot right, but what about everyone else?

The worst part is that victims of data breaches often become victims of identity fraud. According to a study done by Javelin Strategy and Research, "Data shows that consumers who received breach notifications in 2012 had a substantially higher risk of identity fraud - over 4 times higher - than those who didn't receive these notifications."

In addition, the Verizon 2012 Data Breach Investigations Report also shows that only eight percent of victims discover their own breaches. So 92 percent learn about it from a third party, but that can take weeks or months. The longer your information is out there undetected, the higher your risk for fraud.

If you do receive a letter, your information is out there for good. Even if you don't experience fraud immediately, you could later - several months or even years later. That's why it's important to take privacy seriously.

What can you do?

While companies continue to boost security in order to respond to this threat, here are a couple of ways you can strengthen your defense against data breaches.

  • Do not provide your Social Security number unless it is absolutely necessary - simply ask if it's required.
  • Never use your name, a child's or pet's name in your passwords.
  • Create passwords with upper and lower case letters, non-sequential numbers and symbols. Change them at least quarterly.
  • Do not use the same password for multiple accounts; this will minimize the damage in case your information is compromised.
  • Review your bank statements monthly and your credit reports annually. Even if you haven't received a notification letter, you could already be a breach victim.
  • Above all, it's important to stay cautious. Data breaches might be an inevitable consequence of a connected, wireless culture, but that doesn't mean you should become complacent.

Source: LifeLock.com

 

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Baby Monitor Hacked: 4 Simple Steps to Prevent It

August 16, 2013 5:51 pm

Two parents in Texas learned the hard way that baby monitors can get hacked. They heard a creepy voice calling out to their sleeping 2-year-old daughter.

The hacker cursed and said explicit things to the child, and even called her by her name. He also took control of the camera and could see into her room, reports CBS News.

The Texas parents didn't call the cops, and the hacker hasn't been located. But for parents who use baby monitors, there are some simple steps you can take to try to keep creepers at bay. For example:

  • Set a wireless network password. If a password isn't set, anyone can join your wireless network. Cracking into webcams is similar to breaking into a website. If a password "is not set, or is weak, the website that is used to manage the device can be compromised," a security specialist told CBS News.
  • Use WPA2. Use Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) to set up a password. WPA2 has strong encryption standards, making it more difficult for hackers to compromise. A WPA2 in conjunction with a good password is golden.
  • Create a unique password. Think "QWERTY" is special? Well, it's not, and neither is "password" or "12345!" A strong password is long and contains numbers, upper-and-lower case letters, and $pec!@l ch@r@cter$.
  • Change your password. Even a strong unique password can be compromised. Another important precaution to take is to change your password every so often. Changing a password every 90 days is pretty standard.

Calm Down, Parents

Take this incident as a teachable moment on using passwords, but don't get paranoid. Baby monitor hijacking is a rarity and happens on a "slim-to-none" basis, according to The Christian Science Monitor.

If your child is one of the very, very few to fall victim to a monitor hack and be harmed by it, only then should you call the police or speak to an attorney.

But for the rest of you, know that millions of monitors have been sold, in addition to webcams used as makeshift monitors. Yet they haven't been making headlines because no serious hacking danger accompanies using them.

This incident will certainly give fodder to newbie parents who take worrying about their babes to unprecedented heights -- can you even imagine the shot nerves of a technophobic new parent?! -- but you must resist the urge to overreact.

Source: findlaw.com

 

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Seven Steps to a Last-Minute Vacation Bargain

August 16, 2013 5:51 pm

The clock may be ticking toward Labor Day and Back-to-School, but it isn’t too late to find a last-minute vacation bargain.

Travel writers at USA Today suggest seven steps to finding a deeply discounted travel opportunity that may be too good to refuse:

  • Pack your bags – Rock bottom prices at beachfront hotels and resorts are often offered just before Labor Day. Get your bags packed so you can just add toiletries and medications when the right opportunity is found.
  • Plan ahead – If you are going to need pet or house sitters or have to arrange for time off, pick the week you want to go and plan ahead to secure them at short notice.
  • Decide what’s important – If you don’t have a particular destination in mind, you will have many more opportunities to choose from. However, if you do have a destination in mind, you will have more of a focus for your bargain hunt.
  • Set your budget – A week-long tropical cruise on three days' notice can give you impressive savings, until you factor in the cost of booking a flight 72 hours in advance. You may elect to focus on destinations you can drive to. In any case, once you have a budget established, make every effort to stick to it.
  • Build a community – There are plenty of bargain travel deals online. But another way to find cheap last-minute travel is with a package tour, and a cancellation can leave a travel agent scrambling to fill an empty slot. Call or visit a few and let them know what you're looking for.
  • Join a travel site –Search for one dedicated to your kind of travel, such as cruising or beach vacations. Being on an e-mail list may help you secure a last-minute deal.
  • Be open to the unexpected – If you're just looking to get away from it all, be open to what comes along. It may not be the destination you had in mind, but the more specific the travel deal you're looking for is, the harder it will be to come by. Perhaps four nights out of town at a posh bed and breakfast (for the cost of only two nights) isn't what you had in mind when you started bargain hunting. But your bag is packed, and it may be just the ticket you need!
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