Mary Mastroeni
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Mary Mastroeni

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The Couples Conundrum: Equal Financial Responsibility

February 9, 2012 7:04 pm

Most couples share comfort, joy and faith, but how many share financial responsibility? One spouse usually takes the lead on financial matters and ignorance is not bliss for the financially inactive spouse. Life changing events, such as death, disability or divorce, can wreck havoc when the financially aware partner is gone.

"Having observed many couples through the years, it's inevitable that one spouse is more 'financially attuned' than the other," says Jim Waters, founder and president of PartnersInWealth in Houston. "But too often the one 'who does the finances' leaves the other in the dark."

Every February 14, candy, flowers and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine. Waters suggests that you take care of the ones you love by following these seven steps for financial fitness.

1) Honesty – Be honest as to why one is the more involved, more interested or more knowledgeable when it comes to financial matters. A division of labor based on knowledge, time or passion is reasonable.
2) Respect – Acknowledge questions you have. Ask if there's anything on the Statement of Net Worth that you don't understand.
3) Patience – Set aside time to discuss finances. Make sure the less involved spouse could handle the finances for six months or longer. Make it easy for that individual to get involved by opening the mail and paying the bills together. Set aside time to answer any questions.
4) Communication – Share any fears or concerns about this process. Discuss and reinforce your common vision and values. Acknowledge the more involved spouse for their efforts and encourage the less involved spouse to take a more active role in finances. Active participation is the first step to a deeper understanding.
5) Follow through – Mark your calendars and discuss finances regularly. Tie the discussion to something fun.
6) Discretion – Know each other's tipping points and thresholds. Get to know each other's financial comfort zones when it comes to investments, income and estate tax reduction, insurance, estate and philanthropic planning, and asset protection.
7) Flexibility – Be open to change and be willing to learn. Throw judgment out the door and help find solutions that make sense to both of you. "You go to dinner together. You go on vacations together. Why don't you manage your personal finances together?" Waters says. "This will build money compatibility for you and your spouse. You can have a better relationship and understanding with each other."

Finances are the main cause of disagreements between couples. It pays to learn to spend wisely, establish security and align money with values.

Source: www.partnersinwealth.com

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Word of the Day

February 9, 2012 7:04 pm

Yield. What an investment or property will return; the profit or income.

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Question of the Day

February 9, 2012 7:04 pm

Q: Are fees and assessments owed a homeowner’s association deductible?

A: Generally not because they are considered personal living expenses. But if an association has a special assessment to make capital improvements, condo owners may be able to add the expense to their cost basis when the property is sold. Another exception may apply if you rent your condo – the monthly condo fee is deductible every year as a rental expense.



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Consumers Connect with Appliances in 2012

February 8, 2012 6:58 pm

I already started digging into some of the connected appliance and home applications on display this January at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas. In reviewing many of the innovative new consumer trends, I took note of the first generation of "connected appliances" hitting the market this year.

Besides the Whirlpool and LG systems we already covered, Samsung Electronics Co. made a splash at CES with the launch of the industry’s largest capacity (4.5 cu. ft.2) front-loading washer which integrates Samsung's new Smart Control System. The company claims their WF457 "delivers the easiest and most efficient laundry experience ever."

Recognized by ENERGY STAR as a ‘Most Efficient 2011’ clothes washer, the WF457 uses just 96 kWh/year in electricity and up to 70 percent less water than top-loading washing machines, helping consumers save even more money on utility bills.

In addition, the WF457 is the first Samsung washer to be Smart Grid-ready. We previously covered this national initiative created in conjunction with utility providers to enhance efficiency in consumers’ electricity consumption and CO2 emissions, saving energy and reducing electricity bills.

The WF457 was also named a 2012 CES Innovations Award honoree in the eco-design category, because its WiFi-enabled Smart Control system allows consumers to stay connected to the washer cycle without having to remain close by the machine.

Consumers can, via a wireless router and a smart phone application, monitor cycle selections, remaining time and finishing alerts, as well as remotely start or pause the washer—a huge benefit to busy users who spend time running back and forth from the laundry room trying to estimate when the load is done.

In addition, Samsung’s Smart Care system makes user manuals obsolete by quickly diagnosing washer issues and sending alerts to consumers’ smart phones. And the washer features the industry’s largest 8-inch color LCD tablet-sized touch screen.

The WF457 washer is also the first from Samsung to feature SpeedSpray, which delivers a cleansing shot of water with dissolved detergent and then a rinsing shot for improved rinsing performance. Samsung says its SpeedSpray feature results in a cycle time that is up to 25 percent shorter compared with conventional washers.

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5 Tax Tips for Homeowners

February 8, 2012 6:58 pm

There is no denying it; tax season is in full swing. While some of us may be finished with our filing, others are still in the process. Whether you’re buying, staying or selling, in this tough housing market, the more you know the better.

Here are a few quick homeowner tax facts, provided by REALTOR.org:
o 38.5 million taxpayers claimed a deduction for mortgage interest, deducting a total of $470 billion, in 2008.
o 42 million taxpayers in the United States claimed a deduction for real estate taxes in 2008, deducting a total of $172 billion.
o The average taxpayer claiming the real estate tax deduction subtracted $4,090 from taxable income in 2008.
The following tips can help you save:

1. Understand your capital gains tax
When you sell your home, you're taxed on any profit over a set amount, which changes based on your marital status. However, calculation on your gains isn't as simple as price sold minus price paid. The IRS takes into account expenses invested in improving the property, so be sure to save receipts for any repairs, maintenance and upgrades.

2. Get a reliable estimate of your property tax bill

Don’t rely solely on the tax information in the property listing. Your tax bill can differ from the previous owner's bill, so do your research. This is a top tip for those looking to buy a new home.

3. Deduct the interest
Many don’t realize that you can deduct the interest you pay on your home loan, which reduces your tax liability. Since your mortgage payments for the first few years are almost entirely interest, this means they are almost entirely tax deductible.

4. Lower your interest rates—deduct property taxes and points paid

The IRS allows you to deduct your state and local property taxes from your income tax return, which can help to offset their expenses.

5. Market value declined? Request a property tax reassessment
You can get your taxes lowered if the value of your home has decreased. To do this, show proof of your home's current market value and recent comparable sales in your neighborhood.

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Annoyed at Credit Card Minimum Charges? Can’t Avoid Them

February 8, 2012 6:58 pm

In this digital world, many of us hate the hassle of carrying cash around. There are drawbacks to carrying a lot of bills. Maybe you don't want to get mugged. Or, maybe you're just busy and can't make pit stops at the ATM before going out for a meal or a snack.

You might wonder if it's legal for stores to impose a credit card minimum charge before they'll swipe your plastic. You're not alone.

It is in fact perfectly legal to impose a minimum charge. Well, most of the time at least.

Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in July 2010. The legislation paved the way for new rules that affect cardholders nationwide.

It specifically allows merchants to set minimum credit card charges. But the cap can only be set at $10 or less.

Before the Dodd-Frank Act, such minimum charges typically violated service agreements with Visa and MasterCard. Meaning, merchants weren't allowed to set those limits. But the Act made it so that payment card networks like Visa can no longer have these types of regulations.

This means that most of the time, if you see a store posting a credit card minimum of $10 or less, that's perfectly legal. But if you see a store advertising a minimum purchase of $20, they are violating the law.
It certainly can be annoying. Some people genuinely dislike walking around with a wad of cash in their back pocket. But at the same time, if you want to enjoy a meal or buy something a small store, chances are they might not accept your card if you're only purchasing a few small items.

For consumers, this now means you might need to trudge around with some green in your wallet.
That is, unless you only plan on frequenting establishments that have no credit card minimum charges. But keep in mind: these rules don't apply to debit cards.

Source: findlaw.com

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Online Communication Connects Generations

February 8, 2012 6:58 pm

Do you chat with your Grandma via Facebook and email your uncle across the country? AARP and Microsoft Corp. recently released "Connecting Generations," a new research report that examines how people of all ages are using online communication and social networking to enhance their family relationships. The report reveals three key pieces of evidence showing that online communication is bridging the generation gap:

• 83 percent of those surveyed (ranging in age from 13 to 75 years old) consider going online to be a "helpful" form of communication among family members.
• 30 percent of grandparents of teens/young adults agree that connecting online has helped them better understand their teen/young adult grandchildren, and 29 percent of teens/young adults say the same about their grandparents.
• Teens agree that the computer increases both the quantity (70 percent) and quality (67 percent) of their communication with family members living far away.

"For decades, baby boomers and other older Americans have valued computers and mobile devices as tools for work, but technology is now playing an increasingly vital role in helping the 50+ population communicate and stay connected to their children, aging parents and other family members," says Jody Holtzman, Senior Vice President, AARP Thought Leadership. "By enhancing communication across all generations, technology is improving the quality of life for people of all ages."

Released in conjunction with Safer Internet Day 2012, an annual event organized by InSafe to promote safer and more responsible use of online technology and mobile devices among people worldwide, this "Connecting Generations" report also confirms the need for educating all consumers, from teenagers to grandparents, about Internet safety and the steps they can take to help protect themselves online.
While most respondents—teens, parents and grandparents—wish they knew more about how to keep personal information private (58 percent), and how to safeguard their devices (50 percent), the younger generation wants more information than older respondents about using social networks more safely (38 percent compared to 27 percent).

There is also a disconnect between how teens deal with online content that makes them feel uncomfortable and their parents' perception of how they are dealing with such images and information. Nearly half of parents (49 percent) say their teens know to come to them when they see something online that makes them uncomfortable, yet less than a third of teens (29 percent) say they actually would know to go to their parents to talk about it. And while 49 percent of parents say the lines of communication between them and their teenage children remain open, only 37 percent of teens agree.

"Teenagers and young adults are very knowledgeable about technology, but their parents and grandparents often have better judgment and greater wisdom born of experience," says Jacqueline Beauchere, Director, Trustworthy Computing for Microsoft. "Together, AARP and Microsoft are helping generations of Americans stay connected, and are providing the tools and guidance they need to help each other have safer online experiences."

Tips to Help Families Stay Safer Online
AARP and Microsoft offer these tips to help families connect the generations when it comes to online safety:
1) Use social networks more safely
• Look for Settings or Options in services like Facebook and Twitter to manage who can see your profile or photos tagged with your name, how people can search for you and make comments, and how to block people.
• Don't post anything you wouldn't want to see on a billboard.
• Be selective about accepting friends; regularly reassess who has access to your pages, and review what they post about you.
2) Help protect sensitive personal information
• Before you enter sensitive data, look for signs that a webpage is secure — a web address with "https" and a closed padlock beside it.
• Never give sensitive info (like an account number or password) or call a number in response to a request in email or IM or on a social network.
• Think carefully before you respond to pleas for money from "family members," deals that sound too good to be true, or other scams.
3) Parents and grandparents should have regular conversations with kids, keeping communications open:
• Negotiate clear guidelines for web, mobile and online game use that fit your children's maturity level and your family values.
• Watch your kids for signs of online bullying, such as being upset when they are online or a reluctance to go to school.
• Be the administrator of your home computer; use age-appropriate family safety settings to help you keep track of what your kids are doing online. For example, in all editions of the Windows 7 operating system, you can create separate accounts for each family member. Using Parental Controls (found in Control Panel), you can:

o Specify the exact days and times when children can use the computer.
o Prevent kids from playing certain games, based on title, content, or age-rating.
o Block access to certain programs—for example, those that store sensitive financial data.
o To keep communications open, the Parental Controls icon is always visible so children know when the feature is in use.
o Pay attention to what kids do and whom they meet online. Revisit regularly.

For more information, visit www.aarp.org/technology/safer-internet.

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Word of the Day

February 8, 2012 6:58 pm

Write-off. Depreciation or amortization an owner takes on a commercial property.

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Question of the Day

February 8, 2012 6:58 pm

Q: What role might engineers play in my remodeling project?

A: Soil and structural engineers can be particularly instrumental to a home remodeling project. An engineer can tell whether you can tear down a kitchen safely or whether the walls can bear the load of a second or third story. You can use an engineer to size interior supports, stamp a drawing for building department approval, design an appropriate structural repair, test structures to withstand such natural forces as earthquakes, create concrete foundation specifications, size deck supports, and inspect repairs during and after your remodeling job. Engineers can also perform site preparation work such as an excavation and grading, fix foundation cracks or leaks, raise a settling foundation and test soil for structure support. You can get a guesstimate of what the job you plan is likely to cost so you can show it to contractors once you start to take bids.

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Communication Required in Health Care

February 7, 2012 6:56 pm

There’s a bright spot in the U.S. employment picture: the health-care industry.

Health-care employers added 17,000 jobs in November, and they’ve been adding an average 27,000 jobs a month since December 2010, according to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

That’s the good news. The bad news is nearly 10,000 health-care workers have lost jobs since August; there were 136 mass layoffs in that time period.

“Finding work in health-care is definitely getting easier, but the stiff competition means you’ll need more than credentials to land those jobs,” says Stephanie Roberson Barnard, a communications consultant who specializes in training medical professionals to speak and write clearly and effectively.

“Check any online job-hunting Web site for science, technical, pharmaceutical, biotech and medical jobs and you’ll find one common requirement: ‘excellent communication skills,’” she and co-author Deborah St. James write in their new book, Listen. Write. Present: The Elements for Communicating Science and Technology (Yale University Press; 2012), www.ListenWritePresent.com.

Unfortunately, the science-rich education required for health-care professionals leaves little room for learning how to craft a message for a particular audience, be it an email or a PowerPoint presentation. And that’s essential not only for getting jobs, but for keeping them and winning promotions, Barnard says.

She and St. James, deputy director of publications and communications for a North Carolina biotech company, offer these tips for getting your message across:

• Plan: Take time to get to know your clients, colleagues and co-workers. Establish rapport and cultivate a collaborative relationship by finding out about others’ interests (check out the pictures in their offices for clues) and inquiring about them. If you have never been to their offices, look them up on Google or their company’s Web site. Always keep your personal conversations light and professional.

• Listen: Smile, nod, and acknowledge the speaker – and mean it. Really focus on what the person is saying and not just on the words. Truly effective communication requires your full attention. It’s better to spend a few minutes concentrating on the other person’s message during a conversation than wasting time trying to remember what he or she said because you were trying to do something else. It’s okay to write or type notes as long as you ask permission first.

• Present: Practice. Practice. Practice. Need we say more? Of all the tips we offer, practicing is perhaps the most important one. People in our audiences often suggest that it’s possible to over practice. They claim that too much practicing makes a talk appear staged. We have found that the “stiff” presenters are the ones who haven’t practiced. They’re so busy trying to remember what they’re going to say, they can’t tune into the audience or deviate from their slides. In contrast, the speakers who have mastered their content seem to glide about the room, exuding just the right amount of enthusiasm.

• Meet: Respect people’s time by presenting materials simply.
The biggest complaint people have about meetings is that they last too long. For this reason, presenting your ideas in a simple, concise fashion will give you the advantage of appearing focused and prepared. Remember, never compromise content for simplicity.

• Serve: Be kind to others. It costs nothing and requires no skill. Your kind words, good deed, or thoughtful gift may even launch a cascade of positive gestures among others. A recent study by researchers from the University of California San Diego and Harvard University suggests that cooperative behavior spreads among people. This ripple effect can have a wonderful positive impact on the corporate culture of your organization.

“Good leaders must learn to communicate not only within their field of expertise but also to reach people outside their field of authority, influence and passion,” Barnard says. “With proper training and practice anyone can become a better communicator.”

Stephanie Roberson Barnard has trained thousands of pharmaceutical industry professionals on how to be more effective speakers, writers and communicators. She has also coached hundreds of health-care professionals on presentation skills for FDA hearings, CFO reports and scientific speaker programs, as well as national and international congresses.

Deborah St. James is Deputy Director of Publications and Scientific Communications at Grifols. She has worked in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry for more than 20 years.

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