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Tom's Blog

Marital Matters: 3 Things You Can't Include in a Prenup

February 16, 2012 6:26 pm

"My husband will perform all dish-washing duties for the duration of our marriage."

Guess what? You probably can't include that in your prenup, as tempting as it is. Prenuptial agreements are versatile. Though, what you can put into your agreement may vary. Prenup laws are mostly state-dependent.

They're also mainly meant to address asset division and a couple's finances. So what can't you put in your prenup agreement?

1. "I waive all child support duties."

No. You do not. More specifically, you can't.
Child support and child custody issues typically cannot be included in prenuptial agreements. This is considered a matter of public policy. After all, the money goes to financially support a minor. Courts usually use a "best interest of the child" standard to determine the amount of support granted.
The same goes for child custody issues and visitation rights.

2. "I will not pay any alimony."

Different jurisdictions treat alimony provisions differently. Some strike them down and explicitly have statutes that bar waiving alimony in the prenup. Others allow the clause. Some states will limit any alimony agreements.

3. "We will spend all our holiday time with my parents."
Provisions that detail personal instead of financial matters may get thrown out. This includes provisions that govern who does what chores, where the couple will spend their holidays, and other issues. Courts often do not want to relegate domestic matters to a contract.

There are other provisions that may be struck down as well. For more information about what you can or can't include in your prenup in your state, consult a family law attorney.

Source: www.findlaw.com
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Top 10 ‘Riskiest’ Online Cities of 2012

February 16, 2012 6:26 pm

You may know about the crime rates in your city—but do you know about the online crime rates? Norton teamed up with independent research firm Sperling's BestPlaces to uncover the nation's top 10 cities that have the highest number of cybercrime risk factors.

The Top 10 Riskiest Online Cities in the U.S. are:
1. Washington, D.C.
2. Seattle, Wash.
3. San Francisco, Calif.
4. Atlanta, Ga.
5. Boston, Mass.
6. Denver, Colo.
7. Minneapolis, Minn.
8. Sacramento, Calif.
9. Raleigh, N.C.
10. Austin, Texas

Cities with the greatest risk factors do not necessarily correlate with the highest infection rates, reflecting the fact that many consumers are taking precautions to keep themselves safe.

"In our examination of the riskiest online cities, we've considered a number of factors that can potentially affect online safety," says Bert Sperling, founder of Sperling's BestPlaces and lead researcher for the analysis. "By looking at data from consumer lifestyle habits as well as cybercrime data provided by Symantec, maker of Norton products, we're able to provide a holistic view of the various factors that put a person at potential risk."

Sperling's BestPlaces determined the per-capita rankings by examining several consumer behaviors—from the prevalence of PCs and smartphones, to ecommerce, social networking and accessing potentially unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots, among others.

As the leading riskiest online city, Washington, D.C., placed exceptionally high in almost all the categories measuring potential risk, and had the second-highest reported usage of smartphones. The nation's capital also ranked high among cybercrime data factors, including attempted malware infections and attempted Web attacks.

The second city on the list, Seattle, which was the riskiest online city in 2010, scored at the top in the majority of the categories surveyed, including email usage and social networking activity. Both Seattle and San Francisco (which ranked third), reported high numbers of Wi-Fi hotspots and hours spent on the Internet.

Residents of Atlanta and Boston, which ranked fourth and fifth respectively, share high rankings among the cybercrime data. In particular, Atlanta recorded the highest per-capita number of spamming IP addresses. Both cities' inhabitants exhibit a tendency toward potentially risky online consumer behavior, such as online financial transactions.

According to the research, Denver and Minneapolis placed high among potentially risky factors within the cybercrime data. Sacramento, the only city that wasn't included on the 2010 top 10 list, ranked above average across all categories, while Raleigh and Austin reported high levels of risky online behavior.
"With the explosion of smartphones, tablets and laptops in recent years, and the rise of apps and social networking sites, our online and offline lives are blending together in ways that we've never before experienced," says Marian Merritt, Norton Internet Safety Advocate. "While there are many positive aspects as a result, this analysis highlights the potentially risky factors we face each time we go online. By taking a few simple precautions now, people can make sure they stay protected against online threats."

Of the 50 U.S. cities examined, Detroit was once again ranked the least risky online city, returning low scores in the number of Wi-Fi hotspots, potentially risky online consumer behavior and PC expenditures. Other low-ranked cities include Tulsa and El Paso, which placed in the 48th and 49th spots, respectively.
"Here at the National White Collar Crime Center, we've long worked to serve law enforcement in the prevention, investigation and prosecution of Internet crime -- a fight that has never been more important as we move into an increasingly connected world," says Greg Donewar, manager of the National White Collar Crime Center. "In fact, over the past year, we've seen a considerable increase in cybercrime attacks, and whether a person lives in the riskiest online city or the safest, consumers everywhere need to be aware of the inherent dangers of online activity."
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Tax Tips: Strange Tax Deductions

February 16, 2012 6:26 pm

Tax season is upon us, and in hopes of saving money, many are making some fairly far reaches. The Minnesota Society of Certified Public Accountants (MNCPA) recently surveyed its CPA members to identify the most creative tax deductions proposed by their clients.

"It's a good bet that many of these deductions would have triggered a letter from the IRS, had a CPA not intervened and encouraged the tax filers to not include them on their tax returns," says MNCPA Chair Sara Portner.

Taxes have gotten more complicated in recent years because of changing tax laws on both a state and national level. According to Portner, some credits and deductions allowed on the federal return must be added back when preparing a state return.

Here is the MNCPA list of strange and unacceptable deductions for 2011:

1. Questionable dependents. One woman wanted to include the months she was pregnant in 2011, even though she relinquished rights upon the child's birth; another taxpayer wanted to claim his elected official because he "pays his salary." Yet another taxpayer wanted to claim a former spouse.

2. Disallowed charitable donations.
The market value of whole blood that the taxpayer donated; a $100,000 deduction for burning down an old cabin; gambling losses; private school tuition; raffle tickets.

3. "Fido" as a business expense. Pets proved popular with taxpayers wanting to deduct everything from pet food to vet bills.

4. Inflated mileage calculations. A handyman proposed to take a $25,000 mileage deduction, even though he had only $10,000 in revenue. He justified it by saying he drove 50,000 business miles in one year.

5. Creative medical expenses. A rental house in Arizona for the taxpayer's health; an in-ground swimming pool without a doctor's order; a spouse's drug habit; breast implants and tummy tucks.
6. Investment or not? An attorney's fees for a divorce were considered an "investment" by the former spouse.

7. Unscrupulous business travel and entertainment deductions. A personal luxury car; three country club memberships; a motor home and the full cost of a wedding.

Questions about what you can and can't deduct on your taxes? Contact a CPA.

Source: www.mncpa.org
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Cloudy with a Chance of File Sharing

February 16, 2012 6:26 pm

Anyone who has even the smallest toe in the technology pool has heard of the cloud, which has been the latest buzz in file sharing and storing. But where did this trend come from, and how did it get so popular?

1. Devices. We now have more gadgets that we want to use to access files. Smartphones, laptops and tablets are all used outside of the home, and a synchronized storing space makes sense.
2. A change in workspace. Now that people have all these high-tech gadgets, they are using them to work outside of the office. This means they will want to access and update files on the go.
3. Speedy networks. Now that networks are faster, and Wi-Fi is available everywhere from your super-market to coffee shop, sharing files is easier and we want them to be accessible.
4. Inexpensive storage. Now that storage is cheaper, cloud-based services make sense to consumers financially.
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Word of the Day

February 16, 2012 6:26 pm

Amortize. Pay a debt in monthly or other periodic installments until the total amount, along with the interest, if any, is paid.
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Question of the Day

February 16, 2012 6:26 pm

Q: What guidelines should I use to find a contractor?

A: Use caution. Your home is your most valuable financial asset. You will want someone who completes the job, not botch it up. It is important that you find a competent and reliable contractor who will successfully complete your home improvement project.

Here’s what you can do:

- Avoid the Yellow Pages. Check with family, friends, neighbors and co-workers for recommendations.
- Contact local trade organizations, such as the local Builder Association or Remodelers Council, for the names of members in your area.
- Deal only with licensed contractors. The state licensing board and local Better Business Bureau also can tell you if there are any outstanding complaints against the license holder.
- Interview each contractor, request free estimates, if possible, and ask for recent references. Make sure bids are based on similar project specifications. And do not automatically settle for the lowest bid.
- Ask for proof of worker's compensation insurance and get policy and insurance company phone numbers so you can verify the information. If the contractor is not covered, you could be liable for any work-related injury that takes place during the project. Also check to make sure the contractor has an umbrella general liability policy.
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Indoor Air Pollution: How Clean Is Your Carpet?

February 15, 2012 6:22 pm

With medical costs on the rise, Americans are more concerned about healthy living than ever. Yet, an invisible threat exists; it's called indoor air pollution. The associated health risks have been among the most overlooked of problems in modern society. "Your carpet probably contains about 200,000 bacteria per square inch, making it 4,000 times dirtier than your toilet seat." -Phillip Tierno, Director of Clinical Microbiology and Immunology, NYU [Men's Health].

Numerous government and private health institutions have discussed the direct correlation of indoor air pollutants and bacteria with a host of serious allergies, skin irritations, and respiratory illnesses. Setting higher EPA standards for indoor air quality has been a long overdue discussion, and the spotlight is now on a highly unregulated carpet and rug cleaning industry. Up until now, organizations such as the Carpet and Rug Institute have educated the public with guidelines on how to choose the right carpets, rugs, and cleaning products, while others simply hand out seals of approval alongside membership. The real challenge lies in industry-wide education, followed by industry-wide collaboration to mitigate public health risks.

The EPA has supplied the public with information on "Residential Asthma Triggers and Indoor Air Quality," but it does not address any preventative measures or sanitary recommendations for household area rugs. According to the government, vacuuming a wall to wall carpet and 'keeping it clean' is about the extent of their solution.

Most area rug cleaners advertise the new EPA guidelines which mention hidden health hazards due to dust, dust mites, and indoor allergens. Many encourage consumers to wash their rugs and solicit for business, but will often disregard the cleaning practices required to ensure these guidelines are met. Given all the latest organic and green cleaning price gimmicks, the question becomes: how does an average mother go about choosing a reliable cleaning service? How would one know if an elderly parent with asthma isn't being affected by the same rug after it was cleaned?

One of the biggest obstacles consumers face is that the market has been saturated with wall to wall carpet cleaners perpetuating the myth that topical steam cleaning, spot cleaning or chemical dry cleaning is adequate for an area rug.

Good Morning America had recently published an article titled "The Indoor Pollution Threat You May Not Have Known Existed," which provides a few good tips. However, most literature still fails to provide a comprehensive to do list for homeowners. Many homes have area rugs likely in need of attention, and homeowners aren't always to blame.

In a world rapidly changing for the greener, the biggest hurdle for cleaners is the capital investment required to keep up with technology that protects consumers. Unfortunately, many are falling short of the mark. Some carpet cleaning outfits will outsource to professional rug cleaners, and it will often take a bit of interrogation for a consumer to find out they're not the actual company cleaning your rug.

According to RevitaRUGS, common rug cleaning machinery has no discretion for rug pile, type or material. Many cleaning machines are near obsolete, as they are not equipped to adjust for pile height, thickness and material for different rug types. Wool, silk, hand-made, and machine made rugs all require different methods of cleaning and care.

The excessive use of soap and unfiltered water eventually causes buildup of organic and inorganic matter in the rug's foundation. This buildup leads to irreversible damage and becomes an attractant for further dust and dirt, defeating the purpose of cleaning.

Needless to say, a customer should not expect a clean bill of health. With respect to hand-made heirlooms, or expensive Oriental and Persian rugs, when exposing the rug fibers to this damaging process it will degrade the material and depreciate the value.

Amidst hundreds of green cleaning claims with no unified government standard for area rug cleaning industry regulations, choosing a service wisely is an arduous task. Basically, anyone with access to soap, water, and a floor scrubber, polisher, or multi-task machine can claim to clean an area rug properly.

Consumers should be looking for businesses that deep clean, disinfect, and systematically remove dust particles, in addition to using mild soaps and pure water to effectively reduce allergens and improve indoor air quality.

Source: RevitaRUGS, http://revitarugs.com


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Passion for Pools Goes Far beyond Swimming

February 15, 2012 6:22 pm

Owning a pool has always been considered one of the top home luxuries, and the dream of owning a backyard pool or spa is still high on the list of home amenities for U.S. homeowners. But, when they envision an oasis of cool, refreshing blue-green water, swimming is not their goal. That's because today's desire for pools and spas goes far beyond working on strokes and flip turns.

According to Clive Ensher, president of the Northeast Spa and Pool Association, the term 'swimming pool' is actually a misnomer these days. "Swimming is pretty far down the list when people talk about why they want a pool or spa," he notes.

"Today, people associate pools with fun, family togetherness, luxury, parties, freedom, relaxation and other lifestyle benefits."

The attitude change coincides with the evolution of pool and spa design. No longer restricted to the oval, rectangular and kidney shapes of years past, today's pools can fit virtually any space, budget or lifestyle--from tiny, shovel-excavated "cocktail" pools behind urban row homes, to mini-pools and spas for soaking and socializing, to expansive pools on lavish estates.

As limits on size and shape have diminished, a view of pools as value-added home improvements is gaining steam. According to Steve Gorlin of Gorlin Pools and Spas in Toms River, N.J., "Today's homeowners are investing in their outdoor spaces as a way to increase home value and maximize the enjoyment of the home environment. The pool is a starting point for so many other amenities, including bars, outdoor kitchens, beautifully paved patios and decks, landscaping and more. Many homeowners extend the aesthetic by adding LED lighting, waterfalls and underwater sound systems to the pool design."

While not always the primary reason for a pool or spa purchase, the health and fitness benefits of water are not lost on consumers. Those who enjoy the endorphin-producing, body-toning, cardio benefits of lap swimming can achieve their goals in a full-size pool, lap pool or small pool with a swim stream. The simple practice of soaking in a hot tub or heated pool can have a positive effect on sleep patterns, arthritis relief, blood pressure, circulation and pain control. Research studies also indicate that hydrotherapy is helpful in managing diabetes, cancer and other diseases.

Source: www.nespapool.org.
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Danger on Tap? Good Housekeeping Reports on the Unregulated Chemicals That May Be in Your Water

February 15, 2012 6:22 pm

Hormones, drugs, chemicals found in gasoline and pesticides are among hundreds of contaminants that could be flowing from your faucet. And they are not on the government's list of contaminants to regulate, so they won't appear on your water report. Even at low levels, no one knows how dangerous these chemicals might be when mixed together or consumed over a lifetime. But there are already troubling signs: male fish exposed to common hormones that lose their ability to reproduce and, possibly, higher rates of prostate cancer in countries with higher use of birth control pills (where the chemicals possibly leak into ground water).

To help consumers take their safety into their own hands, Good Housekeeping partnered with the Arizona Laboratory for Emerging Contaminants at the University of Arizona, one of the world's leading labs for study of unregulated chemicals. Together with the Good Housekeeping Research Institute, the lab performed extensive testing to see whether everyday filters found in water pitchers and refrigerators can remove these chemicals.

Good Housekeeping also reported on risks from chemicals that are regulated— which can and do slip through cracks in the system. In 2010, for example, 10 percent of all community water systems, serving more than 23 million people, sold water to consumers that violated at least one health-based standard of the Environmental Protection Agency.

To test the filters, the Arizona laboratory spiked Tucson, AZ, municipal water with 15 contaminants of concern that have all been found in drinking water. Then, to simulate the weeks or months of use that pitcher and fridge filters would get in a real home, the researchers passed gallons and gallons of contaminated water through each device until it reached the manufacturer's estimated filter lifetime.
The results showed that refrigerator filters worked best, and some pitcher-style filters worked to some degree. The bottom line is that consumers should take responsibility for their drinking water. If you’re curious about what’s in your tap, consider purchasing a contaminant-detection kit. To make sure you and your family are drinking clean water, equip your home with a water-filtration system, which can range from $15 to $50.

To view the full report, as well as Good Housekeeping’s review of several different contaminant-detection kits and home water-filtration systems, click here.

Source: www.goodhousekeeping.com
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3 Ways to Reduce the Risk of Teen Car Accidents

February 15, 2012 6:22 pm

Teenage drivers are four times more likely than an adult driver to get into a car accident according to the Centers for Disease Control. The elevated risk comes in wake of a young driver's inexperience coupled with the natural tendency to want to test or break the rules. Now parents can take a proactive approach to improving their teen's driving by considering these 3 tips for reducing car accident risk.

Sign a parent-teen contract together
Parents and teens who have common ground can often work together to promote safety behind the wheel. To avoid car accidents, parents and teens are encouraged to download the free parent-teen driving contract below before your teen hits the road.

Install technology that reveals your teen's driving habits
GPS-enabled tracking systems can be a parent's best friend when it comes to their teen's driving behavior—especially if their teen is allowed to drive without supervision. There are several available products available for purchase that allow parents to instantly locate the vehicle, keep track of speeding, set up acceptable routes for travel, and receive notifications upon a teen's departure and arrival. A simple Google search will render many GPS units made especially for teen drivers.

Disable their cell phones while driving
Many cell phone companies offer parents the opportunity to disable their teen's cell phone when driving. Special technology disables the phone when moving is sensed. Check with your cell phone service for available options.

Source: San Diego personal injury attorneys, http://seriousaccidents.com/
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