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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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Office Phone: 215-453-7653
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Tom's Blog

The Top 5 Mistakes Tax Payers Make

January 18, 2012 4:52 pm

Tax season is upon us, and it’s time, notes MSN Money writer Jeff Schnepper, to take a look at the most common mistakes taxpayers make in their haste to complete their returns:

• Bad math – According to the Internal Revenue Service, simple errors in addition and subtraction are the number one mistake taxpayers make—next to mistakes in transferring figures from one schedule to another. If your error leads to a tax deficiency, you will be billed for what you owe. If you overpay, the excess is applied to future taxes or credited or refunded at your request. Either way, it can be a hassle, so check your figures at least twice.
• Forgetting interest and dividends – Interest and dividends are reported to the IRS by banks, brokerage houses and financial institutions. The IRS attempts to cross-check these figures with taxpayer reports, and they send out notices for unpaid taxes, interest and other unreported income. Unfortunately, about half the 10 million correction notices the IRS issues are incorrect or unclear. If you get a correction notice, follow instructions for contesting it or contact your local problem resolution office.
• Losing track of receipts – Keep a record of deductible receipts and checks for at least three years, because unless the IRS can prove fraud, the statute of limitations to disallow deductions is three years. After that, they are prohibited from questioning those figures. Separate receipts and checks by deductible category, because the easier you can make it for IRS auditors to check, the more they will accept you know what you are doing and make things easier for you.
• Forgetting to donate by Dec. 31 – Remember to donate your old clothes, furniture, etc. to charity by the end of the tax year because their wholesale value is allowable as a charitable deduction. Get a dated receipt and remember you can deduct allowable mileage costs for delivering the items yourself.
• Failing to claim tax credits – Tax credits come right off the amount you owe the IRS – so make sure your tax return includes all the tax credits you are entitled to for retirement savings, education costs, child and dependent care expenses, or earned income tax credits, to name a few. A worksheet in your tax return instruction sheet can help you calculate the proper credit amount.
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Understanding Passive Solar Systems

January 18, 2012 4:52 pm

With the cost of many "Green" features including active and passive solar systems continuing to come down in 2012, we turned to the National Association of Home Builders to learn what homeowners should expect if they are planning, or seeking greater energy efficiency and money-saving systems.

According to the NAHB, passive solar design can reduce or eliminate the need for mechanical heating and cooling and daytime artificial lighting, with low maintenance risks over the life of the building.

Passive solar design does not need to be complex—given the proper building site, virtually any type of architecture can integrate passive solar design—but anyone engaged in such projects require a working knowledge of solar geometry, window technology and the local climate.

It takes more thought to design with the sun; however, passive solar features such as additional glazing, added thermal mass, larger roof overhangs, or other shading features can pay for themselves.

Just remember, passive solar design techniques may have a higher first cost but are often less expensive when the lower annual energy and maintenance costs are factored in over the life of the building. Passive solar design strategies vary by building location and regional climate, but the basic techniques remain the same—maximize solar heat gain in winter and minimize it in summer.

Specific techniques include:
• Start by using energy-efficient design strategies.
• Orient the house with the long axis running east/west.
• Select, orient, and size glass to optimize winter heat gain and minimize summer heat gain for the specific climate. Consider selecting different glazings for different sides of the house (exposures).
• Size south-facing overhangs to shade windows in summer and allow solar gain in winter.
• Add thermal mass in walls or floors for heat storage.
• Use natural ventilation to reduce or eliminate cooling needs.
• Use daylight to provide natural lighting.
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Managing the Ups and Downs of Business Cash Flow

January 18, 2012 4:52 pm

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, only one out of every two new start-ups survives after the first five years of business. That means that half fail, many times due to financial missteps.

Cash flow is a major factor in a business's success. Regardless of its size, a business's cash flow drives everyday operations, expansion and purchasing power. As most businesses face continued unpredictability in the local economy, managing the ups and downs of cash flow can have a major impact on reaching future goals.

Few business owners realize what untapped—and often free—resources are available to help them manage finances and stimulate positive cash flow.
"Businesses—especially the more than 1.5 million small businesses in Florida—are major contributors to our state's economy," said Dave Maraman, Florida Regional President, M&I, a part of BMO Financial Group. "We feel a strong sense of responsibility in providing strategic counsel and vital financial tools that will help them grow their businesses and ultimately grow our local economies."

To help businesses meet the challenge of effectively managing accounts payable and accounts receivable, Maraman offers five simple tips to get business owners on the right track in 2012.

1. Pay your company first. A cash reserve can go a long way in making certain that in times of low cash flow, you are able to continue day-to-day operations.
2. Create a budget and track expenses. Even if a business's profit is more than the monthly expenses, it's important to keep a budget and continually track monthly operating costs and income. Always knowing the state of your business's finances allows you to spot red flags and issues before they become unmanageable.
3. Don't let past due accounts slide. If you're having trouble with receiving payment, re-invoice three to five days after the account is overdue. The longer a business waits to get paid, the less likely they are to receive all of the payment or even get the funds.
4. Focus on your largest debtors. Invoice customers who owe the most first.
5. Consider giving a discount for paying within 20 days. Depending on the nature of your business, it might make sense to offer a slight discount for those that pay by credit or debit within 20 days of the invoice.

In addition to cash flow management, financing can help provide business capital. Understanding financial options can help manage everyday expenses and purchasing needs. There are three primary ways to meet financing needs.

1. Business loans. For businesses that meet all credit and financial criteria, a conventional business loan allows for an infusion of cash that can allow a business to expand, buy necessary equipment or meet cash needs. SBA loans can be a great option for many businesses. For information on SBA loans, visit www.sba.gov.
2. Credit card. A business credit card can be used for everyday spending and has a set repayment schedule.
3. Credit line. A credit line can provide cash in a crunch to help cover the cost of operating expenses, unexpected expenditures or the purchase of additional inventory. A line of credit is not the right option for the purchase of capital assets, which might be better suited for a business loan. A credit line is great for purchases that are too large for a credit card but are not large enough to warrant a business loan.

Staying on top of finances can help a business run more smoothly, and using the right credit vehicles can assist with other cash flow options to fit individual needs.

Source: www.mibank.com.
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7 Mattress Buying Tips for the New Year

January 18, 2012 4:52 pm

The average person loses the outer layer of their skin approximately each 35 days. The average person spends about 30 percent of their time in bed. Dead skin cells that fall off the body during sleep land in people's beds. Discount Mattress & More is looking forward to helping consumers find affordable new mattresses in 2012.

When buying a new mattress, keep in mind:

1. Firmness is subjective
Some like firmer beds, others less firm. There is no ideal firmness. Firmer is not always better. Firmness is dependent on personal preference.

2. Coil count matters, to a degree
Don't fork over big dollars for coil count that exceeds it's effectiveness. Over 400 coils in a queen-size mattress is plenty of support.

3. Price
Shop around. Compare coil counts, materials, warranties, etc. Higher prices do not guarantee a better quality mattress. A discount store that picks up distressed or surplus inventory can pass along great savings v.s. a retail store.

4. Sagging mattresses
A sagging mattress should be replaced. Even if your mattress isn't visibly sagging, it could be breaking down. Your comfort is the gauge, but we recommend new mattresses before sagging is obvious.

5. Bed manufacturers are distinct from one another

Unlike the car industry where some models are virtually interchangeable (i.e. Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan), mattresses are distinct for each manufacturer. Although mattresses may be comparable, none are identical.

6. Memory foam vs. traditional mattresses
Cheap memory foam mattresses wear out quickly. Expensive memory foam mattresses may last longer, but they come with a hefty price tag. Memory foam toppers over the top of a spring coil mattress is an inexpensive way to have the memory foam feel without the expensive memory foam cost.

7. Research mattresses
Take some time to research mattresses online before going to a store. Information is your best prior to your shopping experience.

Source: www.discountmattressindianapolis.com
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Word of the Day

January 18, 2012 4:52 pm

Title insurance. An insurance policy that protects against any losses incurred because of defects in the title not listed in the title report or abstract.
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Question of the Day

January 18, 2012 4:52 pm

Q: How can I find out how my property is zoned?

A: Zoning ordinances and maps are a matter of public record. Visit your local zoning office, city hall, or some other local planning board and get a copy of your local ordinance.

In some areas, if you have a legal description of the property (name, address, tax map, and parcel number), you can call the zoning office or city hall, or even e-mail your request for information.

Some communities also have their zoning maps and ordinances online and in local libraries.
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Home Decorating Trends of 2012

January 17, 2012 6:50 pm

Rebecca Kolls, the consumer strategist of home and garden for Iconoculture—a leading consumer trends advisory firm—has been getting a lot of attention talking about the most anticipated 2012 home decorating trends.

She says 2012 will not be about flashy, over-the-top design; but rather, about decorating for real life—a home that's smaller, more well-equipped and custom-made for its owners' lifestyles.

Kolls says 2012 trends highlight practicality, rightsizing, style-telling and universal design. She says despite a decrease in average overall square footage, kitchens are growing, homeowners are adding more porches, ditching the conventional living room concept and embracing fewer - yet larger - rooms.

Instead of one purely decorative element, Kolls says homeowners are springing for more affordable luxuries with experiential benefits.

In the bedroom, these purchases include new mattresses for increased comfort and a better night's sleep, plus items like improved lighting and window coverings that facilitate a gentle transition from sleeping to waking. Bathroom remodels include items like towel warmers, steam showers and multiple body spray outlets that promote relaxation and spa-like indulgence.

Furthermore, Kolls says homeowners in 2012 will be looking to tell a story through their decorating, with pieces that put a personal stamp on their spaces. People are stylizing the most-used room in the home—the kitchen—by adding workstations, artwork, photography and more furniture-like cabinetry enhanced by decorative cabinet knobs and pulls.

And since baby boomers are caring for their parents, their children, and sometimes even grandchildren, all while making plans for their own future, Kolls says more will want to spend the rest of their lives in their own home.

That also means homes with several generations under one roof will be utilizing technology to help keep all members of the family safe and well. In fact, Kolls predicts that wireless home health monitoring technologies are expected to grow by $4.4 billion by the year 2013.

That is a trend we'll talk more about in the New Year.
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Design a Winning Game Plan for Your Small Business

January 17, 2012 6:50 pm

When it comes to starting your own business, having a good game plan is crucial —especially for entrepreneurs. This is something former NFL starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe understands first-hand. The importance of building a reliable team, outlining a game plan, hard work and persistence involved in starting up and running a business are all necessary steps Bledsoe has mastered along the way.

"In 2007, when I was in my mid-30's, I retired from the NFL after 14 years in the league. My wife Maura and I have had a passion for wine for many years, so when planning for retirement became a reality, the wine business became a very attractive choice," explains Bledsoe.

With a lot of effort, patience and time, Bledsoe's dream is coming true. Now the proud owners of Doubleback Winery in his hometown of Walla Walla, Wash., the Bledsoe's and their staff are preparing to release their third vintage.

"Starting a new business can be very challenging. I am learning new things almost every day. That is one of the reasons I have teamed up with FedEx to share my small business game plan. Even though I still feel like I'm a rookie in business, I have found there are many important principles that carry over from my previous career to my new one."

Bledsoe's Game Plan
Football teams spend months leading up to the season planning—they pick players and design offense and defense strategies. The same approach applies to any good business.
• Pick a winning team. It's important to have confidence in your staff and ensure that everyone works together well, especially for small businesses. Make sure each team member feels supported and empowered because, just like in football, it takes contributions from every member of the team to achieve success.
• Have a playbook ready. As a small business owner, you need to keep a dual focus on what's happening right now and what might happen tomorrow. Take time to think through best-case (and worst-case) scenarios for your business, and develop plans for them. If your business takes off quickly, make sure you're ready to speed ahead to keep up with demand by having the right people and vendors in mind to help you succeed. Always be thinking of your next play.
• Stay patient and persevere. The process of taking an idea from concept to reality takes patience. It took a full seven years from the time we planted our vineyards until the first bottle of Doubleback wine was produced. Expect setbacks and delays along the way that will test your character and maybe even your desire to keep going. Ultimately, you will become a better business person and leader because of adversities.
• Lead by example. As an entrepreneur, it's your job to lead effectively by setting a positive tone and knowing when to get involved and when to step out of the way. It's also important to share your success with others. Don't settle for being your team's quarterback; aim to be voted team captain.
Source: www.fedex.com/smallbusiness
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Make a Difference, Adopt a Shelter Pet

January 17, 2012 6:50 pm

If you're thinking about getting a new pet, consider going to an animal shelter to find that new family member. There are about 3,500 shelters in the United States that serve an estimated 5 to 7 million homeless animals, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Why adopt from a shelter?
• You will make a pet happy. By adopting from a private humane society or animal shelter, breed rescue group, or the local animal control agency, you'll help a homeless pet find a new home.

• You will receive a healthy pet. Most shelters follow strict medical protocols including examinations when pets come in and vaccinations before they leave. In addition to medical care, shelters also screen animals for specific temperaments and behaviors to match each pet with the perfect family. Animal shelters have happy, healthy pets just waiting for someone to take them home.

• You will support your community and save money at the same time. Adopting from an animal shelter is usually less expensive, as your local shelter will just ask for a moderate adoption fee that will mainly cover basic routine medical care costs. Shelter pets are also usually already spayed or neutered and vaccinated. Finally, you help promote responsible pet ownership through your community.
Questions to ask

When you visit an animal shelter, ask the staff some key questions. Ask about:
• The pet's history - Find out as much as you can about the pet's background. Was it a stray or given up by its owner? Did it come from a loving home? Did it live with other pets or with children?
• Medical and behavioral assessments - Find out what evaluations have been done and what lifestyle would suit it best. Ask about the pet's interaction with the staff, and what their impressions are.
• The adoption timeline and process - Some shelters will let you take an animal home right away, while others take a slower approach. Find out what to expect up front.
• Spaying/neutering - Most shelters have policies to make sure that animals leave spayed or neutered. Some take care of this before the animals are available for adoption. Others schedule the procedure when the animal goes home and either finalize the adoption once it is performed, or refund the spay/neuter deposit once proof is provided.
Source: www.HillsFoodShelterLove.com.
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Hot Product Alert: Smart Credit Card

January 17, 2012 6:50 pm

Millions of Americans have their identities swiped each year, proving identity theft to be a top concern for most consumers. With fraud fright a realistic worry, a new credit card is touting greater security.

The new Dynamics Inc. credit card, recently unveiled at the annual CES show, contains internal electronics with a magnetic strip programmed in real time.

The New York Times notes that Dynamics Inc. is currently testing out some versions of the card with customers, and reviewers and reporters at say it look and feels like a standard credit card.

But how does it work? Each card has an empty section that replaces several numbers on the strip. There are also five built-in buttons on the card. A card owner needs to punch in their code, which generates a unique credit card number that changes after each purchase. In order to make a purchase with a stolen card, thieves would have to know your unique code.

It appears smart credit cards may soon be trending, and new technology, like the Dynamics Inc. card, will help diminish identity theft in the future.

Source: www.findlaw.com.
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