Date Archives: December 2013

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December
30

Exercise. Lose the weight. Answer every incoming email. Those are the hard kinds of New Year's resolutions, because you have to think about them every day for the rest of the year. Many are forgotten long before Valentine's Day. But here's one important resolution, one you can fulfill today and easily keep all year: protect your identity. Identity theft is a fast-growing crime, but there are ways to reduce your chances of being a victim. The identity theft protection experts at LifeLock recommend doing these five quick things today to help keep your identity safer all year long: Use safe passwords Are you among the people who use simple passwords like "123456" or "qwerty" or "abc123" to protect your personal information? Or even the word "password" itself? Many people do, so identity thieves can often break in just by trying the most popular passwords. To create a safer password, avoid using words that are in the dictionary. And stay away from your own personal information, like a nickname, pet's name or birthdate. One option is to come up with a memorable phrase that includes numbers and symbols, and use the first letter of each word. "My Tigers are Number One in Football!" might become "MTaN1iF!" - a good example because it uses capital letters, lower-case letters, a number and a symbol. Use multiple passwords Stop using the same password for every account. Several big companies and websites have recently had their users' personal information stolen by hackers. If your password for one site is compromised, and you use the same password for your bank and credit accounts, it's much easier for a thief to get into all of them. At least have a different password for each account that has personal or financial information. And consider using a password-management program, which lets you set more cryptic passwords for each site you visit and control them with one master password. Stash that Social Security cardThe One-Day Identity Checkup Do you carry your Social Security card in your purse or wallet? Don't. You may, on a rare occasion, need to show a Social Security card to an employer or a government agency. Aside from those days, keep it locked up in a safe place. Your Social Security number is a thief's ticket to everything from opening new accounts in your name to stealing your tax refund. Don't run the risk of losing it. Protect your mail Do your bank statements, credit card bills and utility invoices arrive by mail? If your mailbox is outside your house, thieves can take those bills and collect personal information that helps them steal your identity. And once those documents are in your house and no longer needed, they can be stolen from a trash can or recycling bin. First, if your mail is delivered outside your home, install a locked mailbox. And use a shredder, or the shredding services offered by local shipping stores and some credit unions, to destroy documents once they're no longer needed. But you can also take steps to keep that paperwork from ever arriving at your home in the first place. Have bills sent to you electronically; you'll get them by email, save paper, reduce clutter and never have to worry about stolen mail or shredding. Opt out of credit card and insurance offers by visiting www.optoutprescreen.com. And dramatically reduce the amount of unsolicited mail you receive by opting out of junk mail at www.dmachoice.org. Be prepared for a loss If your wallet or purse is stolen, you'll want to cancel all of your credit and debit cards before they can be misused. Keep a copy of each of your cards, or use a digital wallet program like LifeLock Wallet, which is available for your smartphone from the iOS and Android app stores. It gives you instant access to copies of your cards and also helps you track your balances, monitor transactions and cancel cards that are lost or stolen. Do these things today and you can proudly declare that you'll keep at least one New Year's resolution all year long: Protecting your identity.
December
29

Breathe new life into your bathroom with a small budget.
December
27

5 Ways to Slash Your Heating BillsTemperatures are plummeting and thermostats are rising. Some homeowners might not be able to avoid it, but there are many ways you can cut your energy bill this season. From GreenerChoices.org, here are five low- and no-cost moves to help you save money, while staying comfortable and warm at the same time.   1. Add insulation. Adding insulation and weather stripping can slash your annual energy costs up to 30 percent by keeping out the cold and minimizing the stack effect. Start by sealing large gaps around the chimney, furnace flue, plumbing pipes, ductwork, light fixtures and soffits in your attic. Then lay insulation between attic-floor joists and on the hatch or door, or add more if it's already there. Look for insulation that's become dirty, a sign of air movement that reveals other gaps you must fill. Also insulate ducts running through the attic.   2. Seal up the leaks. Caulking and weather-stripping cracks and gaps around your home are some of the most cost-effective steps you can take to conserve heat. Focus on the attic, basement, windows and doorways. Also check near pipes, vents or electrical conduits that go through the wall, ceiling or floor. When sealing leaks, use "no-VOC" or "low-VOC" caulking to minimize potentially harmful indoor gases.   3. Program thermostats for savings. Shave up to 20 percent off your heating costs by lowering the thermostat 5°F at night and 10°F during the day if no one is home. Most electronic setback thermostats let you set different schedules for weekdays and weekends. Some automatically switch from heating to cooling, and many tell you when it's time to change your furnace or air-conditioner filter.   4. Save money on hot water. Insulating hot-water pipes and lowering the temperature on your water heater from 130° to 120° can help you save up to 5 percent on your energy bills.   5. Shorten showers. Showers account for two-thirds of your water-heating costs, so even shaving off a few minutes can help. Replacing a showerhead that's more than 12 years old with a low-flow model can save up to half the hot water used for showering. By heeding the advice of these five tips, you can easily reduce your heating bills throughout the entire winter season.
December
26

star This year, New York State is requiring homeowners to re-register to continue to receive their STAR Property Tax Exemption. With the new database, the state will be better-equipped to eliminate the waste, fraud and abuse that currently exist in the system. The process can now be completed quickly through the online application.   The December 31st deadline is rapidly approaching!   We strongly encourage all eligible homeowners to reapply for the STAR Property Tax Exemption to ensure they continue to receive this valuable tax relief.   To complete the process, homeowners must visit www.tax.ny.gov or call (518) 457-2036 before the December 31 deadline.   The new guidelines do not affect homeowners age 65 or older who are already enrolled in Enhanced STAR.
December
25

  (BPT) - The close of every year seems to bring its own uncertainty from a tax-planning perspective. Last year featured the expiration of certain temporary tax provisions and the commencement of automatic federal government spending cuts. In October the President and Congress temporarily agreed on funding the government and increasing the national debt limit. But these issues may reappear in 2014 and could result in tax law changes that affect income-tax and financial planning. For now, the best approach is to focus on how to limit your exposure to the many new or increased taxes in 2013 and beyond. 1. Manage higher taxes Many taxpayers will be faced with higher tax bills in 2013 as a result of: * The temporary reduction in the Social Security tax from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent that expired at the end of 2012. This means an increase of $2,000 in taxes for $100,000 of wages. * The tax rate on wage income that increased from 35 percent in 2012 to 40.5 percent in 2013. The tax rate on interest income that increased from 35 percent to 43.4 percent and the tax rate on capital gains and dividends that rose from 15 percent to 23.8 percent for high-income taxpayers. * The Affordable Care Act, which was passed in 2010, that increased the Medicare tax from 1.45 percent to 2.35 percent for high-income taxpayers starting in 2013. Strategies that can help minimize these taxes: * Avoid a transaction, such as selling stock, which would push you into a higher tax bracket. * Accelerate any deductions that you control, for example, pay your January mortgage in December to get the interest deduction in 2013. Note that tax considerations are only one factor when determining whether to buy, hold or sell an investment. 2. Understand the new investment income tax. The new 3.8 percent tax on investment income was created under the Affordable Care Act and became effective in 2013. The income threshold for this tax is $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for joint filers. For those affected, there are short-term and long-term strategies that can help minimize this tax burden. A short-term strategy involves trying to manage your tax position to keep below the threshold for the 3.8 percent tax or to minimize investment income in any year where you will exceed the threshold. A long-term strategy is to consider investment options that avoid the tax or change the types of investments you hold to include more that are not subject to the tax. People who think they cannot be affected by high-income thresholds need to understand that the income amounts are not indexed for inflation. Over time, more and more taxpayers will be subject to the tax - even if their real or inflation-adjusted earnings are the same. Tips for Managing Your Year-End Taxes3. Consider converting retirement assets. Recent increasing tax rates created a unique opportunity to accelerate gain and pay taxes at lower rates. Individuals who converted assets from a traditional before-tax IRA to an after-tax Roth likely benefitted. After-tax Roth IRAs generate tax-free income, subject to you holding the account for five tax years and reaching age 59.5. If you have a traditional 401(k) or IRA, you can convert that asset to a Roth IRA by paying the tax on the gain or before-tax value of the asset. While any conversion tax liability in 2013 will need to be paid with your 2013 income tax return, it may make sense to convert some funds to a Roth IRA and diversify your retirement assets from a tax perspective. In addition to possibly paying tax on the gain at lower rates, a Roth IRA offers other benefits, such as not being subject to age 70.5- required minimum distributions, and limiting the impact of Medicare surcharges and the 3.8 percent investment tax. 4. Contribute to an IRA. Many individuals do not realize they can contribute to an IRA each year regardless of their income or whether they have a retirement plan at work. The only requirements for making a contribution to an IRA are that you have earned income of at least the amount contributed and you have not reached age 70.5. While you have until the due date of your income tax return in April of 2014 to make your 2013 IRA contribution, delaying the contribution until then results in you losing some of the opportunity for tax-favored growth. So consider making your 2013 contribution now and your 2014 contribution in January 2014. Depending on your income, you may be able to contribute directly to a Roth IRA and enjoy tax-free growth. Even if you earn too much to contribute directly to a Roth IRA, you can fund a traditional IRA and then convert some or all of the funds to a Roth IRA. Prudential Financial, its affiliates and their financial professionals do not render tax or legal advice. Please consult with your tax and legal advisors regarding your personal circumstances. Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2013. All rights reserved.
December
21

Thinking about a home makeover? There are three rooms that will give you the most bank for your buck.
December
20

EAST MEADOW, NY, Dec 20, 2013-Perhaps you're several years away from buying a home. However, whether you plan to make a move in one year, or five, there are steps you should be taking now to get ready for homeownership on the horizon. Gather good credit – "From gaining credit to keeping a close eye on it, credit is a huge deal when it comes to applying for a mortgage," notes Michael Litzner, Broker of Century 21 American Homes.Things like credit cards, car payments, student loans and even phone bills can establish credit, so you may already be well on your way. If you haven't built up credit yet, don't worry. Open a line of credit and use only what you can pay off each month.plus "Another way to establish credit and prove you're a responsible potential homeowner is to have your current home rental-if you have one-in your name," suggests Litzner. This works for utilities like electric and even cable, as well.   Save – From down payments to closing costs, purchasing a home is a pricey process, and that's before you factor in any needed repairs and that new dining room set. "Don't count on that check your parents promised you for your first home," says Litzner. "Lenders look at how long funds have been in your account when considering you for a mortgage, so be sure to start saving now." Set up an automatic transfer that saves a little of your monthly paycheck to bolster your savings account. Educate – No matter how financially prepared you may be for your first home, hunting for and buying a home is still a lengthy and often arduous process. Start researching the mortgage process now so that by the time you're ready to make a move, you have a wealth of knowledge, and resources. For more information on obtaining a mortgage, please contact Century 21 American Homes  1-800-270-6318. Century 21 American Homes is one of the fastest growing real estate brokerages serving Long Island, Queens and Brooklyn. To find out more about an exciting career in real estate contact us at careers@c21amhomes.com.
December
13

If you're selling your home, you're probably enjoying the fact that the market currently appears to be back on track. As more and more buyers come into the fold, you may have multiple offers on your property. Whether you're choosing a buyer, or currently in the throes of negotiating price, Michael Litzner, Broker of Century 21 American Homes offers the following tips for negotiating price and landing the best deal on your home. "If someone offers you a low ball price, one way to up the ante without quarreling over money is to offer an incentive for a higher offer," says Litzner. Incentives are especially effective with first time buyers. Some good incentives are providing the buyers with a home warranty or title insurance; paying for closing costs or homeowner's association fees; offering to repaint or re-carpet to specifications, or purchasing a year-long membership to a local pool or club.sold If you don't want to get into this type of situation to begin with, it's important to price appropriately, says Litzner. Many sellers focus too much on what they bought the home for, or the work they put into it. Unfortunately, a home value is based on the current market, so it's important to forget about the cost of that new deck and instead familiarize yourself with current conditions. "To get a good sense of what comparable homes are selling for, attend open houses and check out local listings," says Litzner. "Ask your agent for help with this-they have access to the MLS." For more information on selling your home, please contact Century 21 American Homes at 1-800-270-6318. Century 21 American Homes is one of the fastest growing real estate brokerages serving Long Island, Queens and Brooklyn. To find out more about an exciting career in real estate contact us at careers@c21amhomes.com.
December
8

It's flu season, but that doesn't mean you need to get sick. Below are several steps for battling the flu. 1. Know the signs: Can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headaches, chills and fatigue. Sometimes there can be vomiting and diarrhea. flu tips2. Always get your annual flu vaccine. It protects against three of the most common strains: H1N1 and Influenza A and B. It's strongly suggested for young children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with pregnancy, asthma, diabetes, heart and lung disease. 3. Take all possible preventive actions: Wash hands frequently. Avoid contact with sick people. If you have flu symptoms, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone. Keep sick kids home from school. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze - and throw the tissues away. Avoid spreading germs by not touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Drink plenty of fluids and get bed rest. 4. Faithfully take prescribed antiviral drugs: Within two days of getting sick is best, but taking them later is better than not taking them at all. They can make the flu milder and shorten the time you are sick.       Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control ©2014 San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) Distributed by MCT Information Services Published with permission from RISMedia.
December
6

frau schaut ärgerlich auf kleines hausFor many, buying a home is one of the most stressful endeavors you will ever take on. While you may never erase all of the stress associated with home-buying, with the right mindset, and the right toolset, you can certainly minimize the stress of finding and buying your dream home. 1. Get pre-approved. Making sure you are able to get a mortgage will reduce the stress of the home buying process, because you know you're eligible before you even begin hunting, automatically taking that stress factor off your plate. That's not the only way pre-approval will reduce stress – it also makes the home search easier. "Many sellers won't even work with a buyer who is not pre-approved, so you automatically open up your housing pool when you get pre-approved," says Michael LitznerBrokerof Century 21 American Homes. 2. Find the right budget and stick to it. Money is a huge source of stress when buying a house. "Figure out exactly how much house you can afford, and refuse to even consider a home outside of that budget," says Litzner. 3. Make a Needs vs. Wants list. Similar to sticking to a budget, understanding your needs (three bedrooms) in relation to your wants (a gourmet kitchen) can save you time and energy during the home hunt. 4. Hire an agent you trust. A real estate agent is the number one way to reduce the stress of buying-or selling-a home. "Find an agent who specializes in your market and similar clients-first-time buyers, move-up clients, vacation homes, etc," Litzner suggests. While many think hiring an agent will make the home-buying process costlier, agents can help save money in the negotiating process. Regardless of money saved, working with an agent-who knows the process inside and out-will save you a great deal of stress. For more information on buying a home, please contact Century 21 American Homes at 1-800-270-6318. Century 21 American Homes is one of the fastest growing real estate brokerages serving Long Island, Queens and Brooklyn. To find out more about an exciting career in real estate contact us at careers@c21amhomes.com.

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