Top 5 Tax Moves to Make by December 31

As December begins and the holiday season and spirit of giving move into full swing, why not make a few tax moves now that could give you added savings when you file your 2011 tax return? The year-end is an ideal time to lower your 2011 tax liability and increase the size of your refund when tax time arrives early in 2012.

There is still time for a final push to claim several tax benefits before 2011 winds to a close. Many taxpayers will be doing things like giving to charities and pre-paying January tuition, but the key is knowing how these and other common expenses may count as tax deductions if you qualify. There are five key considerations taxpayers should be thinking of before December 31 to reduce taxable income and increase deductions or credits to claim:taxes

1. Save more for retirement – By increasing retirement plan contributions, you can reduce your income for tax purposes. Taxpayers can contribute up to $16,500 to a 401(k), 403(b) or Federal Government Thrift Savings Plan; those over age 50 can contribute an additional $5,500.

2. Prepay January payments in December – Taking care of your January mortgage payment, 4th quarter state tax estimate, or winter semester tuition now lets you claim these payments on your 2011 tax return.

3. Get to the doctor! – If you are holding off on a major medical procedure until after the holidays, stop procrastinating and make an appointment now to increase your 2011 medical expense deductions.

4. Give to charity – Giving cash and non-cash donations to charity can give back on your taxes. And volunteering time counts too, which means the more than 80,000 volunteers who lent a helping hand to the Joplin, Mo. tornado victims may be able to deduct their out-of-pocket expenses on a tax return.

5. Save energy, save $500 on your taxes – If you are planning to buy an energy-saving, hot water heater or install energy efficient windows or insulation to your home, do it now. Up to $500 in credit may be available for making energy-related home improvements.

Please speak with your tax professional for clarification on any of these suggestions.

Source: www.jacksonhewittonline.com


Maintain Your Fireplace and Keep It Safe

Homeowners are now getting ready to put their fireplaces to good use. Heed the following safety tips to help aid in the prevention of chimney fires and carbon monoxide intrusion, and to help keep heating appliances and fireplaces functioning properly.

1. Get an annual chimney check. Have chimneys inspected annually, and cleaned as necessary, by a qualified professional chimney service technician. This reduces the risk of fires and carbon monoxide poisonings due to creosote buildup or obstructions in the chimneys.

2. Keep it clear. Keep tree branches and leaves at least 15 feet away from the top of the chimney.Maintain your fireplace

3. Install a chimney cap to keep debris and animals out of the chimney.

4. Choose the right fuel. For burning firewood in wood stoves or fireplaces, choose well seasoned wood that has been split for a minimum of six months to one year and stored in a covered and elevated location. Never burn Christmas trees or treated wood in your fireplace or wood stove.

5. Build it right. Place firewood or firelogs at the rear of the fireplace on a supporting grate. To start the fire, use kindling or a commercial firelighter. Never use flammable liquids.

6. Keep the hearth area clear. Combustible material too close to the fireplace, or to a wood stove, could easily catch fire. Keep furniture at least 36” away from the hearth.

7. Use a fireplace screen. Use metal mesh or a screen in front of the fireplace to catch flying sparks that could ignite or burn holes in the carpet or flooring.

8. Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Place detectors throughout the house and check batteries in the spring and fall. When you change your clocks for Daylight Savings Time, remember to check your batteries.

9. Never leave a fire unattended. Before heading to bed, be sure that the fire is fully extinguished. Supervise children and pets closely around wood stoves and fireplaces.

For more information, visit www.csia.org.


Indoor Air Quality and Health – How One Impacts the Other

indoor air qualityMaintaining a healthy home means promoting a healthy lifestyle, but some Americans aren’t aware of the important role indoor air plays in creating a healthy home. In fact, nearly half of Americans (49%) believe indoor air quality has little to no impact on overall health, according to an online indoor air quality consumer survey conducted by Harris Interactive.

The truth is that improved indoor air quality can lead to a healthier lifestyle for you and your family. The good news is that there are simple steps you can take to improve the air quality in your home and your overall quality of life. If you are remodeling or building your home, there are several changes that can minimize contaminants and improve the air you breathe inside your home.

According to the study, Americans are more likely to improve air quality by making temporary changes—cleaning carpets, using cleaning products that promise to reduce pollutants and cleaning and/or disinfecting ducts. However, there are things that can have a longer lasting affect such as:

-Keeping your house mold-free. Mold spores produce allergens that can trigger asthma attacks and cause sneezing, runny nose and red eyes.
-Using safer building materials such as stainless steel, tile, adobe and insulation without added formaldehydes.
-Keeping your home free of radon. The colorless, odorless gas can cause lung cancer.
-Ensure your home is properly insulated to prevent leaks.

For more information, visit http://www.epa.gov/iaq/


Rent or Buy? Do the Math…

Owning a home has never been more affordable than in today’s market, according to NAR’s Housing Affordability Index.

The affordability index compares median income, median home price and mortgage rates. An index value of 100 means a family with the median income has exactly enough income to qualify for a mortgage on a median-priced home, assuming a 20 percent downpayment. The index rating has fluctuated within the 180 to 200 range since the beginning of this year. An HAI of 180 means that a family earning the median income has 180 percent of the income needed to qualify for a mortgage on a median priced home.

For deeper perspective, consider a family with an annual income of $60,000 renting at $1,000 per month. By comparison, a 30-year mortgage payment on a $170,000 home at a rate of 4.5 percent, assuming a 20 percent downpayment, would be $700 per month.


Prudential ranked highest among Home Sellers in J.D. Power and Associates Report!

Prudential Real Estate Ranked Highest in Overall Satisfaction for Home Sellers Among National Full Service Real Estate Firms by J.D. Power and Associates!

This is the second time in three years we’ve earned this distinction, and Prudential is the only brokerage network in the nation to improve in home-seller satisfaction in 2010.

 

This distinction comes on the heels of additional great news from our Relocation Division.  Trippel Survey & Research LLC, a customer satisfaction research company specializing in relocation data, ranked Prudential Real Estate and Relocation Services first among several of the largest firms providing relocation services in its 16thannual Nationwide Relocation Survey.  And earlier this year, PRERS ranked first in overall satisfaction in Trippel Survey & Research’s sixth annual Relocation Managers’ Survey on International Policy and Services Providers’ Performance.

We’re proud of our affiliation with the Prudential brand and of the great service we deliver. Ranking highest in the nation in seller satisfaction shows our clients appreciate and acknowledge our skill, expertise and service. Coupled with our tremendously high QSC ratings, this proves Prudential Northwest Properties continues to exceed expectations and provide the greatest value and service in the industry.


Home buyers win more time to claim tax credit

Good news! President Obama signed into law a three-month extension on the deadline for home buyers to obtain a federal home buyer tax credit of up to $8,000.

Eligible taxpayers who contracted to buy a home, qualifying for the first-time home buyer tax credit before the end of April 2010, now have until September 30, 2010 to close the deal. To be eligible, buyers need to be in a binding contract that was in place by April 30.


Nationwide Open House weekend – April 10 & 11th

In recognition of April as National Fair Housing Month, the REALTOR® Nationwide Open House event this weekend will provide residents throughout the country a chance to walk through a large number of homes as the home buying season officially kicks off.

With interest rates remaining at historically low levels and average home prices as low as they have been in five years, home buyers still have time to take advantage of the $8,000 federal tax credit available for first-time buyers, as well as a $6,500 credit for current home owners who are under contract on a new home by April 30.

Visit www.prunw.com to search Open Houses and plan your tour this weekend!


Fed to keep interest rates low

Federal ReserveBoard Chairman Ben Bernanke reassured Congress Wednesday that the Fed has no plans to raise interest rates any time soon.

“The federal funds rate is likely to remain exceptionally low for an extended period,” Bernanke told the House Financial Services Committee. Last week’s decision to raise the discount rate charged to banks who tap the Fed for short-term credit was a result of improvements in private-sector sources for such financing, Bernanke said. It should not “lead to tighter financial conditions for households and businesses and should not be interpreted as signaling any change in the outlook for monetary policy,” he said.

That reassurance came as a relief to Wall Street, where stocks advanced on the news, and to most members of Congress.


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