Thomas Skiffington, CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
701 W. Market Street
Perkasie, PA 18944
Office Phone: 215-453-7653
Toll Free: 800-440-remax
March 7, 2012 7:08 pm
It’s that time of year when most taxpayers are gathering their paperwork, dusting off the calculator, and looking for new deductions. If you are among them, suggests MyBankTracker.com finance writer Marina Schifrin, you may want to look into some unusual deductions that have worked for some innovative taxpayers. (Note: the wise taxpayer will check the tax codes carefully or consult with a tax professional before deciding to make similar claims.)
• Taking a dip – A man with breathing problems was told by his doctor to start swimming daily. Deciding it was easier to install a pool in his back yard than go to a gym or public pool, he did so—and improved his breathing problems as noted by his doctor. The Tax Court allowed a deduction for the cost of the pool under the category of medical expenses.
• Babysitting – Babysitting fees are technically covered if you used a sitter to free up the time you give to charity. It applies as long as you didn’t make any money while working for the charity. (There are also allowable child care deductions of up to 35 percent of federal tax credit for those who are eligible. Information is on form 2441.)
• Pet airfare – Pet owners who had to relocate for a job and elected to move their pets with them were able to deduct the cost of airfare for moving the pet.
• Convention costs – Employers who held company business conventions in Bermuda, parts of the Caribbean, or other U.S. territories have enjoyed tax deductions as well as nice weather. Such deductions are not applicable for conventions held in many European countries.
• Greener grass – Business owners who work from home may claim certain household expenses as part of the cost of doing business. Such costs may even include landscape maintenance if the business owner regularly meets clients at home.
March 7, 2012 7:08 pm
Now is the time when college-bound students are receiving their official financial awards from the colleges and universities to which they applied. Scott Anderson, President of eduLaunchpad.com, says “In order to make sure you get the best college financial package and pay the least amount possible, you need to examine every offer with a critical eye.”
Here are three steps every college student can take to make sure they are getting their money’s worth from the college financial offers.
Don’t take the first offer you receive. You need to wait until you have all the college financial offers in hand before you make a decision on which college to attend. The financial offers are the real price tags of the colleges, not the sticker price or cost of attendance. And until you have all the financial offers in hand, you just don’t know what each school will cost.
Make sure you’re comparing apples to apples. Schools do not necessarily report all the same costs in their prices. Some schools report tuition, room, and board. Some schools report tuition, room, board, and books. Some schools report tuition, room, board, books, and supplies. You need to be using a standardized cost model to compare the costs associated with each school. The costs described at eduLaunchpad.com are all determined by adding the same factors for each school: tuition, room and board, books and supplies, and transportation. You start with this standardized price and subtract the financial offer from the college to get a true cost for you. In this way, you ensure you are comparing apples to apples.
Ask the school if they can do more. The first offer you receive from a college is not necessarily set in stone. Very often, you can get a better financial offer if you go back and ask. It is called the Appeals Process. There are all kinds of reasons that you might want to file an appeal. Perhaps a parent lost their job. Or last year’s income was much higher than this year’s income. Maybe a grandparent just moved in with you. Or the student has an illness or condition that won’t allow them to work while in school.
What parents need to keep in mind during this time is college is big business, and the student and parents are the colleges’ customers. You are the consumer and should treat college the same as any other major purchase, like home or a car. Don’t accept the first offer if it doesn’t work for you. If the college wants your student, they will often consider sweetening the deal. Smaller and private colleges often have more flexibility with their offers than the larger and state colleges.
March 7, 2012 7:08 pm
Although a majority of the United States has experienced a significantly mild winter in comparison to the past couple years, the lack of snow and cool temperatures does not mean your lawn and landscape will thrive without a commitment to take better care of it on a daily basis.
“Many homeowners try to save money and tend to lawn care themselves, but end up skipping crucial steps that are routine for us to keep a lawn lush and healthy,” says Lawn Doctor Director of Technical Services, John Buechner. Spring lawns require extra care following dormant growth.”
Here are five spring lawn care tips designed to promote a healthy yard well into the summer.
Lawn Pest Control: “We’re not the only inhabitants to enjoy a mild winter. Lawn insect populations are often reduced by harsh winters. This spring, a proactive approach toward lawn pest control will be vital towards fighting a larger population of insects that have thrived during the mild winter,” says John Buechner, Lawn Doctor’s Horticulture expert. “Fertilization, weed and lawn pest control combined with proper mowing will stop problems before they start and ensure a beautiful, healthy summer lawn.”
Fertilization: Just like you, your lawn needs a healthy, balanced diet for optimal growth and nourishment. Spring is a crucial time to fertilize because it replenishes the food reserves your yard draws from while dormant in the winter and fuels grass’ rapid growth phase. A top recommendation in lawn care is to utilize a balanced fertilizer consisting of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium is best, with 30 percent of the nitrogen slow release. Don’t over-fertilize your lawn – no more than one pound of nitrogen should be applied per 1,000 square feet. A thick, healthy lawn also helps prevent weeds.
Weed control: “After a mild winter, annual weeds that germinate in the fall, like henbit and chickweed, will be more visible and require higher levels of broadleaf weed control through herbicides,” says Buechner. There are hundreds of different types of weeds that may invade your turf this spring. Apply a pre-emergent weed killer on lawns to prevent grassy weeds from germinating. Spring broadleaf weeds like dandelions, clovers and plantains, are best prevented by maintaining a proper mowing height and fertilization.
Mowing: Contrary to popular belief, setting your mower at a very low height can actually increase weeds by exposing the soil surface to sunlight and removing stored nutrients in leaf blades. Cool weather grasses, such as bluegrass, ryegrass and fescues, should maintain a height of 2.5 to 3.5 inches. Warm season grasses, like Bermuda, Zoysia, St. Augustine and Centipede, should be kept at 1.5 to 2.5 inches tall.
Seeding: Spring is also the perfect time to plant summer annuals and vegetables, but seeding in fall is beneficial because there are fewer weeds, more moisture and cooler temperatures allow seedlings to develop.
March 7, 2012 7:08 pm
Builder’s warranty. Written statement by a builder assuring that a dwelling was completed according to a stipulated set of standards. It protects the buyer from any latent defects.
March 7, 2012 7:08 pm
Q: Does my contractor have to provide a warranty for the work?
A: It depends on whether one is required by state law. If your contractor offers a warranty, which ensures quality workmanship and required repairs if faulty products or workmanship is discovered, ask to see a copy of the written provisions to make sure you have sufficient protection from defective work. You may want to become familiar with your state law, if applicable.
March 6, 2012 7:08 pm
Easter is on its way! In preparation, Surf Sweets®, a leading brand of organically sweetened candy, unleashed a bevy of worker bunnies onto the net in search of the top eight eco-friendly Easter basket tips and treats for under $20.
“More and more parents are looking for better-for-you, more natural options for treating their families,” says Bert Cohen, President and Founder of TruSweets, LLC. “Our Surf Sweets team is no different,” he adds. “As parents ourselves, we’re always looking for unique products for our families that are made by like-minded companies committed to making ‘better for you’ products that help our planet.”
The Surf Sweets team assembled this list of eco-friendly and organic items you might want to put in your eco-Easter baskets this holiday season:
1. A tisket, a tasket, buy just one Easter basket.
It’s smart to invest in just one Easter basket per child and reuse them year after year. Buying new baskets each year can be wasteful. Better yet, repurpose an old basket with a fresh coat of paint. Whatever you do, avoid buying a basket made from petroleum-based plastic.
2. Shred your own Easter grass
. We have a great new use for your shredder…Easter basket grass. Prevent landfills from filling up post-Easter season with fake plastic grass by shredding grass yourself with old newspapers or magazines.
3. End Easter egg emission
. Petroleum-based plastic Easter eggs generate tons of emission and landfill waste each year. Consider a switch to Eco Eggs—made from corn starch instead of petroleum-based polymers—and reduce your carbon footprint. They are made from non-toxic, durable plastic, have a tight snapping closure and are fully compostable after use. They come in five assorted colors: pink, yellow, green, blue, and purple. Try the 48-ct box for only $15
4. Get your eco artist on. Clementine Art
offers modeling clay, paints and crayons that are all natural, certified non-toxic and environmentally friendly, all for under $14. Even the packaging is made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled and reusable materials.
5. Who ate the sidewalk chalk?
Conceptualized and crafted by a mom and artist, Edible Veggie Sidewalk Chalk
is lead-free and made with vegan, organic food-based ingredients including beets, spinach and blueberries. It’s fun to draw with and tastes good too. It contains no wheat, sugar or preservatives. Available in Original and Swirl for $12.
6. Jump BPA-free double-dutch.
What could be better for the planet than crisscrosses and double-unders when they are done with a BPA-Free Plastic Jump Rope
? For only $10.99, this eco-jumper is made with USA made, 100 percent organic cotton rope (7 feet long and adjustable) and 100 percent recycled BPA-free plastic handles. Available in pink, purple and green.
7. Have 100 percent kid-powered fun.
Whether reading under the covers, making fun shapes on the wall or finding your way in the dark, every child should have a flashlight – with no batteries. The $9.95 Hand-Powered Zoo Flashlights
from Ecotronic are magical sources of light. With just a friendly squeeze it’s ready to light your child’s way into the night. One minute of squeezing gives 5 to 10 minutes of light. Available in four different animals: Tiger, Penguin, Monkey and Panda. No batteries mean less waste in landfills, which means less carbon in the atmosphere. Even the packaging is biodegradable.
8. Tap your child’s inner gardener.
Young plant lovers can watch nature at work by growing a beautiful flower garden and fresh herbs in just days with the world’s most earth-happy gardening set. This Green Toys Indoor Gardening Kit is made from advanced environmentally friendly materials, helping to reduce fossil fuel use and CO2 emissions, all in the name of good green fun. The nine-piece kit includes a peapod-shaped planter tray, three planting pots, a trowel, soil and three packs of organic seeds (Teddy Bear Sunflower, Basil, Zinnia) with easy-to-follow planting instructions. Find it for only $19.50 at Amazon
March 6, 2012 7:08 pm
Brokerage. Business of a broker. Also, the amount charged for a broker’s service.
March 6, 2012 7:08 pm
Q: What should I look for in a warranty from a remodeling contractor?
A: A well-written warranty document detailing specific information should be provided and incorporated as an addendum to the construction contract. Information should also be provided as to the procedure to follow for prompt warranty services, as well as what happens should a dispute arise over warranty issues.
March 6, 2012 5:08 pm
With foundation repair costs in the thousands of dollars, most homeowners have to find ways to finance the project. What can make the project even more cost-consuming is choosing the wrong company and dealing with a botched job.
As always, before plunging a large amount of money into any project, the homeowner needs to be comfortable with the work ahead and have a clear picture of what the scope of the repair will be.
Foundation repairs are sometimes complicated and experience in the field is of great importance, so choosing the right company for the repair is important. The homeowner should be sure they understand the warranty coverage offered by the company bidding for the repairs, including all the fine print. Always check references and previous jobs.
While selecting the company, homeowners should keep in mind that some of the more established foundation repairs companies will offer financing and allow the homeowner to spread the burden of what sometimes can be a very costly project. Home equity loans are sometimes a good option due to the low interest on the borrowed money.
Homeowners insurance policies most of the time do not cover foundations issues and foundation repairs unless those issue are caused by a sudden release of water due to a malfunctioning appliance, improperly installed or defective plumbing. Of course the homeowner should consult with their insurance company and the policy documents to see if the repairs are covered.
Often, homeowners may not think their foundation repair is of the upmost importance and may put off the project. This is a big mistake, and can actually increase the cost of repairs and reduce the property value. Therefore, homeowners need to consider the implications of short term cost, versus long term cost, keeping in mind that unfortunately, foundation problems will not go away or improve over time if left unaddressed.
March 6, 2012 5:08 pm
As families pack up for a week of fun and relaxation over spring break, everyone knows to take plenty of sunscreen to protect against sunburn. But taking steps to protect against identity theft are just as important.
"Identity theft can happen at any time but can be more likely while traveling because you're carrying a lot of sensitive information in a distracting and unfamiliar environment," says Jim Sathre, Senior Vice President, M&I, a part of BMO Financial Group.
Identity theft occurs when someone obtains your personal information—such as your Social Security number—and illegally uses it to open accounts or initiate transactions in your name. This can cause financial loss and damage your credit. The most common identity theft occurs when your wallet or purse is stolen, as the thief has access to check cards, IDs and other personal information to make transactions.
“Identity theft does not have to be the demise of your spring break or upcoming vacation,” says Sathre. Take a few simple precautions so you can enjoy your vacation without worry." Sathre recommends taking the following steps when traveling to protect you and your family from identity theft.
• Protect your Social Security number. Don't carry your card with you. If asked for your number, ask why the information is needed.
• Never leave your personal documents unsecured in a hotel room. This includes statements, checks and legal papers. Many hotels offer a security box in each room. This rule is especially important in foreign countries.
• Carry the minimum. You do not need to travel with every piece of personal information you own. Only carry necessary credit cards and documents.
• Beware of your surroundings. When accessing an ATM or using your PIN, beware of your surroundings. Cover your hand when typing in codes.
• Don't check-in personal information. At airports, never place personal documentation in luggage that you intend to check-in. Once it is checked-in, it is out of your control and sight.
• Use security measures when carrying money. Reduce the risk of personal information loss and identity theft by consciously using travel accessories like security money belts, a security travel purse, security travel bags and money clips.
For more information, visit www.ftc.gov/idtheft.