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 
Welcome Home from RE/MAX 440!

Mary's Blog

Child-Related Tax Tips and Benefits

April 5, 2012 4:00 pm

Having a child is a significant milestone, and during tax season, Jackson Hewitt Tax Service® is reminding parents that there are many valuable tax benefits available to taxpayers with children.

"Parents know that having children can be expensive, but come tax time they can also be money savers," said Mark Steber, chief tax officer, Jackson Hewitt Tax Services Inc. "For many hard-working American families, child-related tax credits can bring back significant, and much needed, refund dollars. The first step is to make sure your children meet the qualifying criteria, which include age, relationship, support, dependent status, citizenship and residence. A qualified tax preparer with current knowledge of tax laws can work with you to determine eligibility."

For taxpayers with children getting ready to file their 2011 returns, here are some child-related tax tips and benefits for which you may be eligible:

The Child Tax Credit – The Child Tax Credit is a non-refundable credit that provides up to $1,000 for each qualifying child under age 17 at the end of the year. Generally, a child qualifies if he or she is a U.S. citizen or resident for some part of the year, lived with the taxpayer for more than half of the year, did not provide more than half of their own support and is claimed as a dependent.

The Additional Child Tax Credit – The Additional Child Tax Credit is any remaining Child Tax Credit for which the taxpayer is eligible after the Child Tax Credit is used. Taxpayers can receive this remaining credit as a refund, which is equal to the amount left of the remaining Child Tax Credit (after the taxpayer's taxes have been reduced to zero), or 15 percent of their earned income over $3,000.

Education Credits and Benefits
– Parents who are paying a child's qualified tuition and related higher education expenses may be able to take advantage of the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which requires the student to be enrolled at least half-time in one of the first four years of post-secondary education. The credit can be up to $2,500 per eligible student. If the student does not meet the requirements for the American Opportunity Tax Credit, they may be able to claim the Lifetime Learning Credit. Alternatively, parents may choose to claim the Tuition and Fees Deduction for a child, which covers up to $4,000 in expenses for enrollment or attendance at an eligible educational institution, and is available to those with a modified adjusted gross income of less than $80,000 ($160,000 if married filing jointly).

Adoption Credits – Those who adopt a child and pay adoption expenses may be eligible for a refundable credit of up to $13,360 in expenses per child. If the taxpayer's modified adjusted gross income is over $185,210, the credit begins to be phased out. The credit is not available to those with a modified adjusted gross income of $225,210, or more.

For more information, visit www.jacksonhewitt.com.

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Home Maintenance 101: Purchasing a Hot Water Heater

April 5, 2012 4:00 pm

The water heater is the second biggest energy drain in the home behind the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system—also known as the HVAC system. Yet when it comes to understanding the requirements and specifications for water heaters, most homeowners don't know the basics.

According to GE, almost 80 percent of consumers purchase a water heater only when their current unit breaks or leaks and they are forced to look for a quick replacement. But it's important to know the facts about water heaters and consider different options before making such an important purchase. The following tips will help you choose the best model for your home:

Look to energy guides and rebates
Pay attention to how much energy each water heating unit uses and pay special attention to those models that are Energy Star-qualified. By selecting an Energy Star-qualified appliance, you'll not only gain the best energy savings, but these water heaters may also qualify for utility rebates, which can lead to a savings between $100 and $1,000 depending on your region. This savings often means replacing your water heater can be relatively inexpensive, allowing you to invest in a more energy-efficient model that will help with continued savings down the road. Check the rebate finder at www.EnergyStar.gov for a list of rebates in your area.

Don't purchase based on price alone
If you're looking to save money, a moderately priced unit may seem appealing. But the truth of the matter is that water heating systems aren't all created with efficiency in mind, and a cheaper unit up front may end up costing you more over time.

Study fuel source and size
Before purchasing your replacement water heater, make sure to study the size and fuel source of your previous heater. You don't want to downgrade to a smaller system, and you want to make sure you have plenty of space for your new appliance. In addition, make sure to replace an electric water heater with an electric model, and a gas heater with a gas model. Also, look for models with a heat pump, which helps with efficiency.

When in doubt, call the plumber
While some models boast of do-it-yourself capabilities, others require a plumber's expertise. Plumbers can also provide recommendations for purchasing water heaters and can help ensure you choose a model with the proper connections.

For more information, visit www.familyfeatures.com.

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Word of the Day

April 4, 2012 10:00 pm

Contingency. A provision in a contract that keeps it from becoming binding until a certain event happens. A satisfactory inspection report might be a contingency.

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Question of the Day

April 4, 2012 10:00 pm

Q: Is a home equity line of credit similar to a second mortgage?
A:
A home equity loan, like a second mortgage, lets you tap up to about 80 percent of the appraised value of your home, minus your current mortgage balance. But because it is set up as a line of credit, you will not be charged interest until you actually make a withdrawal against the loan, although you will be responsible for paying closing costs. The withdrawals can be made gradually as you begin to pay contractors and suppliers for handling your remodeling project.

The interest rates on these loans are usually variable. Of particular importance: make sure you understand the terms of the loan. If, for example, your loan requires that you pay interest only for the life of the loan, you will have to pay back the full amount borrowed at the end of the loan period or risk losing your home.

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Last-Minute Filers: 5 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Filing Your Tax Return

April 4, 2012 10:00 pm

With just about two weeks left until the April 17 deadline, it is getting down to crunch time for taxpayers who have yet to file their 2011 tax returns. As Tax Day approaches, Jackson Hewitt Tax Service® is reminding last-minute filers of the most common mistakes to avoid when filing their tax returns, as well as what they need to know about filing a six-month extension.

"Each year, there are many who wait until the final days to file their taxes," said Mark Steber, chief tax officer, Jackson Hewitt Tax Service Inc. "With the last-minute rush, it is important to carefully check your tax return prior to filing because even the simplest of mistakes can cause delays in the issuance of a refund."

Steber discusses the top five most common mistakes made when filing a return:

Incorrect Filing Status – Choosing a filing status is usually one of the first steps when preparing a tax return, but it can also be a confusing decision that leads many to choose an incorrect status. The wrong filing status can significantly impact the amount of a tax refund or tax liability, so speaking with a knowledgeable local tax preparer about your situation can help guide you in selecting the correct status.

Providing Incorrect Information – Another common mistake is when taxpayers misspell a name or incorrectly record their Social Security numbers. It is vital to clearly record the correct name, Social Security number and address (including zip code) directly on the return. Names and Social Security numbers for a spouse, dependents and qualifying children should be documented exactly as they appear on their respective Social Security cards. For those who changed their name due to getting married or divorced, or for any other reason, make sure the name used on the return is your legal name.

Mathematical Errors – Another error on tax returns is bad math, which remains common on paper returns. Making mathematical miscalculations can greatly impact your tax return by reducing your expected refund or positioning you to owe more money than you actually do.

Claiming Ineligible Exemptions – With so many complex rules, taxpayers often claim exemptions for which they are not eligible. Some examples include claiming a grown child who no longer qualifies as a dependent or claiming an exemption for a live-in significant other. A local tax preparer can help you properly claim eligible exemptions.

Forgetting to Claim Items – In the rush to file, forgetting to claim certain items is a mistake that is made all too often. For example, certain charitable contributions, medical expenses and IRA contributions can all be claimed on a return, if you have the proper documentation.

"For those who need more time to file, filing a six-month extension may be an option," says Steber. "But keep in mind that while you can postpone filing your return until October 15, 2012, filing an extension does not provide additional time to pay. You must pay any taxes owed by April 17, 2012. Otherwise, you may be subject to penalty and interest charges."

For more information, visit www.jacksonhewitt.com.

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10 Basic Maintenance Procedures to Keep Your Vehicle Running Smoothly

April 4, 2012 10:00 pm

National Car Care Month in April is the perfect time of year to give your car some extra attention. Basic car care is the key to a long-lasting vehicle, improving its safety and dependability, says the Car Care Council.

"Neglected vehicle care almost always means much higher costs down the line in the form of more extensive repairs or lost resale value," said Rich White, executive director, Car Care Council. "Following a routine maintenance program makes financial sense, extending useful vehicle life and helping avoid costly repairs down the road."

The Car Care Council recommends 10 basic maintenance procedures to keep your car operating at its best for the long haul:

-Check all fluids, including engine oil, power steering, brake and transmission as well as windshield washer solvent and antifreeze/coolant.
-Check the hoses and belts to make sure they are not cracked, brittle, frayed, loose or showing signs of excessive wear.
-Check the battery and replace if necessary. Make sure the connection is clean, tight and corrosion-free.
-Check the brake system annually and have the brake linings, rotors and drums inspected at each oil change.
-Inspect the exhaust system for leaks, damage and broken supports or hangers if there is an unusual noise. Exhaust leaks can be dangerous and must be corrected without delay.
-Schedule a tune-up to help the engine deliver the best balance of power and fuel economy and produce the lowest level of emissions.
-Check the heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) system as proper heating and cooling performance is critical for interior comfort and for safety reasons such as defrosting.
-Inspect the steering and suspension system annually. This includes shock absorbers, struts and chassis parts such as ball joints, tie rod ends and other related components.
-Check the tires, including tire pressure and tread. Uneven wear indicates a need for wheel alignment. Tires should also be checked for bulges and bald spots.
-Check the wipers and lighting so that you can see and be seen. Check that all interior and exterior lighting is working properly and replace worn wiper blades so you can see clearly when driving during precipitation.

For more information, visit www.carcare.org.

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6 Steps to Making Better Decisions

April 4, 2012 10:00 pm

By Barbara Pronin, RISMedia Columnist

Big or small, every decision we make impacts our own lives and those of others, and one thing every adult has in common is making a decision they have come to later regret. But sound decision-making is a learned process, according to corporate leadership advisor Mike Myatt.

Whether it’s a business or personal decision, Myatt says you should always begin by looking back at important decisions you have made in the past. Have they mostly turned out all right? Next, examine your personal biases, and realize that you need to balance them against the facts.

In his book, “Leadership Matters,” Myatt offers six steps to making sure the decisions you make are more often sound than not:

Perform a situation analysis – What is motivating the need for a decision? What if no decision is made? Who will be impacted by your decision, and how?
Subject the decision to public scrutiny – No decision is totally private. How would you feel if the decision you made were printed on the front page of the newspaper?
Know the cost/benefit ratio – Will the benefits of your decision outweigh the costs, financially, emotionally or in any other way?
Ask yourself if it’s the right thing to do – Your values, your character and your integrity should never be compromised. When making a tough decision, stand behind what you believe is right.
Assess the risks and rewards  – What are all the possible rewards of your decision? When contrasted with the potential risks, are the odds in your favor or stacked against you?
Know when to make the decision – Will the opportunity evaporate if you don’t make an immediate decision? Try to take the time to go over the facts one more time and/or fill in any missing data before you decide to act.

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Simple Repair Projects to Get Your Home in Shape for Spring

April 4, 2012 10:00 pm

Now that spring has officially arrived, homeowners across the country are taking advantage of the warm weather and longer days by taking care of home repair projects that may have been placed on hold throughout the winter months. In fact, spring fix-ups are a necessity after houses have been bruised and battered throughout the long winter months.

Mr. Handyman, one of the largest employers of handymen nationwide, has released a list of the top five actions homeowners should take to get their houses in shape for spring:

Gutter Installation/Cleaning – Gutters, one of the most underrated aspects of any home, will extend the life of the roof, soffits and fascia of a house. For the integrity of the roof, having the gutters cleaned is highly recommended.

Window Frame Repair – It's time to let in the fresh air and cool breezes. This is especially tricky with a busted window, which happens frequently when the weather is cold.

Power Washing Services – Getting the house, deck, and patio furniture professionally power washed can really increase curb appeal. Not only does power washing reduce wear and tear, it makes everything look good as new.

Deck Repair – Perform a careful inspection of the deck to determine areas that will need attention. Are railings solidly fastened? Is the surface splintered or have nails exposed? Does any framing need to be replaced? Make a list of all the work to be done to stay safe this summer.

Wood Rot Repair – Wood rot usually means there is underlying damage caused by water leaking behind the siding or between seams. Oftentimes, the leaking and rotting began years before, hidden from sight. Underneath, however, soaked wood has begun to rot and may be infested with insects.

For more information, visit www.mrhandyman.com.

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Word of the Day

April 3, 2012 6:54 pm

Construction loan. Type of loan where money is doled out as construction takes place; borrower must obtain a permanent long-term mortgage from another source to repay the construction loan. Also called an interim loan.

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Question of the Day

April 3, 2012 6:54 pm

Q: Are condos good investments?
A: They are a good way to enter into homeownership. The high price of single-family homes and the influx into the housing market of more single homebuyers have made condos relatively hot national investments. They have held their value as an investment despite economic downturns and problems with some associations.

Condominium associations have also worked hard in recent years to clean up their image. Disputes and lawsuits were once rampant. But now associations have become savvier about property management and have taken steps to prevent legal problems and disputes.

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