RE/MAX 440
Mary Mastroeni
mmastroeni@remax.net
Mary Mastroeni
731 W Skippack Pike
Blue Bell  PA 19422
PH: 610-277-2900
O: 215-643-3200
C: 610-213-4878
F: 267-354-6212 
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Mary's Blog

Donating to Charity? Tax Provisions to Consider

December 3, 2015 2:52 pm

Giving season is upon us. Whether you plan to gift monetarily or through in-kind donations, there are several recently-effective tax law provisions to be aware of, according to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Among these are:

Guidelines for Monetary Donations

• A taxpayer must have a bank record or a written statement from the charity in order to deduct any donation of money, regardless of the amount. The record must show the name of the charity and the date and amount of the contribution.

• Bank records include canceled checks and bank, credit union and credit card statements. Bank or credit union statements should show the name of the charity, the date and the amount paid. Credit card statements should show the name of the charity, the date and the transaction posting date.
 
• Donations of money include those made in cash or by check, electronic funds transfer, credit card and payroll deduction. For payroll deductions, the taxpayer should retain a pay stub, a Form W-2 wage statement or other document furnished by the employer showing the total amount withheld for charity, along with the pledge card showing the name of the charity.
 
• These requirements for the deduction of monetary donations do not change the long-standing requirement that a taxpayer obtain an acknowledgment from a charity for each deductible donation (either money or property) of $250 or more. However, one statement containing all of the required information may meet both requirements.
 
Guidelines for Charitable Contributions of Clothing and Household Items
 
• Household items include furniture, furnishings, electronics, appliances and linens. Clothing and household items donated to charity generally must be in good used condition or better to be tax-deductible. A clothing or household item for which a taxpayer claims a deduction of over $500 does not have to meet this standard if the taxpayer includes a qualified appraisal of the item with the return.
 
• For all donations of property, including clothing and household items, get from the charity, if possible, a receipt that includes the name of the charity, date of the contribution, and a reasonably-detailed description of the donated property. If a donation is left at a charity’s unattended drop site, keep a written record of the donation that includes this information, as well as the fair market value of the property at the time of the donation and the method used to determine that value.
 
• Donors must get a written acknowledgement from the charity for all gifts worth $250 or more. It must include, among other things, a description of the items contributed.
 
• The deduction for a car, boat or airplane donated to charity is usually limited to the gross proceeds from its sale. This rule applies if the claimed value is more than $500. Form 1098-C or a similar statement must be provided to the donor by the organization and attached to the donor’s tax return.
 
Before making any monetary donation or charitable contribution, determine the eligibility of the organization. Only donations to eligible organizations are tax-deductible. Select Check, a searchable online tool available on IRS.gov, lists most organizations that are eligible to receive deductible contributions.
 
Churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and government agencies are eligible to receive deductible donations. That is true even if they are not listed in the tool’s database.
 
Keep in mind that contributions are deductible in the year made. Thus, donations charged to a credit card before the end of 2015 count for 2015, even if the credit card bill isn’t paid until 2016. Checks count for 2015 as long as they are mailed in 2015.
 
For individuals, only taxpayers who itemize their deductions on Form 1040 Schedule A can claim deductions for charitable contributions. This deduction is not available to individuals who choose the standard deduction. This includes anyone who files a short form (Form 1040A or 1040EZ). A taxpayer will have a tax savings only if the total itemized deductions (mortgage interest, charitable contributions, state and local taxes, etc.) exceed the standard deduction. Use the 2015 Form 1040 Schedule A to determine whether itemizing is better than claiming the standard deduction.
 
Remember, too, that if the amount of a taxpayer’s deduction for all noncash contributions is over $500, a properly-completed Form 8283 must be submitted with the tax return.
 
Source: IRS

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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6 Home Improvements for a Guest-Ready House

December 3, 2015 2:52 pm

Welcoming visitors this holiday season? A few strategic improvements can help whip your home into guest-ready shape, says Sergei Kaminskiy, owner of Kaminskiy Home Remodeling.

“There are great little improvements you can make to your home prior to the busy holiday season, without disrupting the house,” Kaminskiy says.  For instance, “lighting by far is one of the most overlooked features to improving the character of a room.”

In addition to cleaning oft-neglected lighting fixtures, Kaminskiy recommends adding dimmers to enhance a holiday dinner party or capture the overall spirit of the season.

After addressing the lighting, Kaminskiy suggests focusing on the guest bathroom, which will be one of the most heavily trafficked rooms during the holidays. He advises applying a fresh coat of paint, removing old caulking from showers, windows and other sealed areas, and introducing holiday cheer with a festive set of hand towels or a bath mat.

Kaminskiy also proposes an upgrade in the kitchen—an island, if you don’t already have one. Adding one will not only provide more seating for holiday guests, but also offer more counter and storage space you can use throughout the year.

“For under $500, you can find a very attractive kitchen island that is mobile and extremely functional,” says Kaminskiy.

Source: Kaminskiy Home Remodeling

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How to Winterize Your Way to an Energy-Efficient Home

December 3, 2015 2:52 pm

(BPT)—Cooler temperatures and shorter days can only mean one thing: winter is on its way. Winterizing your home can help you save money on heating costs throughout the season, and on utilities come springtime and beyond. Start by:

1. Looking for simple, affordable fixes – There are some simple, inexpensive measures that homeowners can do to ensure their homes remain energy efficient, warm and comfortable. For less than $100, weather-stripping for windows, a door sweep strip and some caulking can help fill any air leaks to limit energy loss. Replacing the furnace's air filter every three months can also help create a more comfortable environment; a clogged filter can reduce the unit's overall efficiency and lifespan.

2. Setting the temperature – Investing in a programmable thermostat allows homeowners to monitor the indoor temperature of their home remotely via a smart phone or online. By keeping the temperature low when no one is home and programming the thermostat to increase the temperature when everyone is home, annual heating costs can be reduced anywhere between 5 and 15 percent, according to the U.S Department of Energy (DOE). The same principle can be applied during summer months to help save on cooling costs.

3. Preventing ice damming – Major damage can result from ice damming, so it's never too early to start thinking about a long-term solution. Ice damming occurs when warm, indoor air escaping through the roof melts snow on the shingles. The water then refreezes as it runs off the roof, creating a barrier of ice at the edge. Spray foam insulation is a modern solution that both insulates and seals to help stop ice damming. Installed by licensed professionals, spray foam insulation works well in all climates and fills in gaps and cracks to help stop air leakage as well as ice dams formation.

Source: Icynene

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Gifting a Toy This Year? 6 Safety Tips

December 2, 2015 2:52 pm

Over 1.5 billion toys and games sold in the United States are purchased during the holidays—but many, unfortunately, present safety hazards to children. If you’re planning to gift a toy or game to a child this season, keep in mind the guidelines recommended by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

Magnets, for instance, can be dangerous to children, especially high-powered magnet sets with small magnets. Though magnetic toys are covered by a strong safety standard, building and play sets should be kept away from children.

Deflated balloons and balloon strings can also be hazardous. The CPSC advises keeping balloons away from children younger than eight years old, and discarding torn balloons immediately.

In addition, riding toys, skateboards and in-line skates can lead to accidents. Helmets and other safety gear should be worn properly at all times, and they should be sized to fit. Children should avoid riding scooters on streets or roadways.

For toys that require batteries, charging should always be supervised by adults. Chargers and adapters can pose thermal burn hazards to young children if left unattended. Heed instructions and warnings on battery chargers—some lack any mechanism to prevent overcharging. 

Keep in mind that toys designed for older children should never be given to those younger than the product’s recommended age.
 
Lastly, avoid gifting toy sets with small parts to children three years of age and younger—they present choking hazards and can lead to serious injury.

Source: CPSC

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5 Property Protection Steps to Weather El Niño

December 2, 2015 2:52 pm

Wet weather is on the way for several regions that stand to be impacted by El Niño. If your area expects to experience the effects of this phenomenon, now is the time to prepare your home and surrounding property.

Dave Hoffman, owner of slope repair firm Groundforce Crew, Inc., says homeowners should pay special attention to slopes, drainage areas and sea walls, if applicable. Hoffman also recommends:

• Having candles and flashlights in your home in the event of power outage, which happened often during the last major El Niño. If power is typically out for a few days in your area, consider installing a generator to preserve food.

• Removing trash from drainage areas around the yard and cleaning out all storm drains. Clear out gutters on your roof, too, so water doesn't collect. 

• Bracing for heavy winds. Have your trees trimmed to cut down on wind resistance and falling debris. In addition, bring in your summer umbrellas and other lawn furniture that can cause damage if they become airborne.

• Picking up sandbags at your local firehouse, filling them with sand from the beach and having them ready if your property is prone to flooding.

Source: Groundforce Crew

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And the 2016 Color of the Year Is

December 2, 2015 2:52 pm

Color, along with pattern and texture, are crucial elements in the design of a home’s interior. But in the coming year, the predominant color trend may not be a color at all.

According to the experts at Sherwin-Williams, alabaster—a flattering, natural white—will largely inform many interior design choices in 2016. At a time when homeowners are faced with excess and clutter, and may be overwhelmed by technology, alabaster will encourage time to relax and re-examine.

“Alabaster represents a straightforward and necessary shift to mindfulness, well-being and an atmosphere that is pure,” says Jackie Jordan, director of Color Marketing for Sherwin-Williams. “It provides an oasis of calmness, spirituality and ‘less is more’ visual relief. Alabaster is neither stark nor overly warm, but rather an understated and alluring hue of white.”

A recent Sherwin-Williams study found nearly three-quarters of homeowners prefer alabaster’s barely-there undertones to plain white when selecting neutral colors for their homes.

If you’d like to incorporate alabaster into your home’s décor, consider pairing it with Scandinavian influences, such as sleek lines, copper finishes, marble and wood grain materials; adding it to a bedroom or nursery for a sense of healing and rest; using it alone in an entryway or home office; or contrasting it with bronze or gray in a spa-like bathroom.

Source: Sherwin-Williams

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Debt a Concern for Holiday Gift-Givers

December 1, 2015 2:52 pm

Gift-givers this holiday season are concerned about accumulating debt—even though nearly half plan to use credit for purchases, according to a recent Experian survey. Shoppers plan to spend an average of $806 on gifts, survey responses indicate.

“The holidays can prove to be a challenging time for many consumers trying to manage their finances,” says Rod Griffin, director of Public Education at Experian. “Credit is a useful tool if it is used wisely, but it’s best to create a budget and determine how much one can afford using credit so there are not overwhelming bills to pay in the New Year.”

Some survey respondents have taken that insight to heart, based on these credit-related New Year’s resolutions:

• Pay off a credit card
• Pay the full credit card balance each month
• Pay credit card debt on time
• Check credit report and credit score more often

In addition, nearly half of shoppers relying on credit to purchase gifts will use a major credit card provider; just 18 percent will use a store credit card. The other half of survey respondents not using credit for gifts will pay cash.

Source: Experian

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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5 Safety Tips for Fireplaces, Wood Stoves and More

December 1, 2015 2:52 pm

In winter, many homeowners rely on alternative sources for warmth to offset high heating costs, including fireplaces and wood and pellet stoves. While these methods are acceptable under safety standards, a lack of maintenance can render them unsafe for use, according to the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA).

“We are raising the flag that if people have not yet had their chimney or vents inspected, now is the time to take this precautionary step,” says Mark McSweeney, executive director of the CSIA. “Most people who use their stoves or fireplaces on occasion don't realize that creosote buildup or blocked vents—due to leaves or animals nests—can cause dangerous problems, such as chimney fires and or carbon monoxide seeping back into a home. We want people to stay safe while they work hard to stay warm."

Aside from having your chimney and vents inspected annually, McSweeney and the experts at the CSIA also recommend:

• Making sure alternative heat sources are properly installed and operating correctly
• Using fuel specified for the alternative heat source (i.e., wood for wood stoves and pellet for pellet stoves)
• Installing a carbon monoxide detector
• Replacing smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector batteries 

Source: CSIA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Homeowners: Have You Regretted a DIY Project?

December 1, 2015 2:52 pm

Done correctly, do-it-yourself projects can improve the functionality and aesthetic of a home—even add value, in some cases. Unfortunately, according to a recent Zillow Digs® survey, nearly 40 percent of homeowners who have completed a DIY project wish they hadn’t.

"With seemingly endless DIY tips and how-to videos available today, home improvement projects appear easier and more accessible than ever before," says Kerrie Kelly, home design expert for Zillow Digs. "While some DIY projects can save you money, involving a professional for larger-scale projects, especially those that require specialized skills, can help eliminate headaches and costly mistakes."

The biggest regret? Attempting to add or expand a room in the home, such as a bedroom or bathroom, according to survey findings. Other DIY regrets cited in the survey include:

• Re-facing or refinishing kitchen or bathroom cabinetry
• Refinishing a basement or attic
• Replacing or reinstalling new carpeting
• Refinishing, or installing new, hardwood floors
• Installing new kitchen or bathroom cabinetry
• Retiling a floor or shower
• Adding or replacing a kitchen or bathroom backsplash
• Building or installing a deck
• Installing new kitchen or bathroom countertops

But DIYers shouldn’t throw in the towel altogether. The survey also ranked the least regretted projects, including:

• Replacing lighting fixtures
• Replacing kitchen or bathroom cabinet hardware
• Painting one or more rooms
• Installing new kitchen appliances
• Replacing plumbing fixtures for a bath, sink or toilet

Source: Zillow Digs®

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Bill Management a Financial Priority for Most

November 30, 2015 2:52 pm

With the exception of those earning $75,000 or more per year, catching up—or staying current—on bills remains the top financial priority for the majority of Americans, according to a recent Bankrate.com report. Paying down debt remains a distant second (though higher-income households cite it as their top priority), followed by saving.

“As Americans await the appearance of sustained income growth, the top priority of staying current or getting caught up on bills is testament to the tightness of household budgets,” says Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com.
 
These findings, however, underscore improved financial security overall, particularly when it comes to employment. Both men and women, and those under age 50, especially, report feeling more secure in their jobs than one year ago.

Source: Bankrate.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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