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Mary Mastroeni

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Top Four End-of-Year Financial Planning Tasks

December 13, 2011 5:04 pm

Between turkey and holiday cookies, don't forget the most important type of planning you should do this year: financial planning. M&I, a part of BMO Financial Group, offers these four aspects of your finances everyone should review before 2012 arrives.

Budgets: Review your monthly budget and track your spending. Keeping track of where your money is being spent will highlight unnecessary expenses. Begin saving today. A savings account can help when life throws an unexpected curve ball. Ideally, build an emergency fund that could pay your necessary expenses for six months.

Creating budgets with your children is also a great way to teach kids about money and the difference between a need and a want.

Retirement: Examine how much you've been putting in your retirement account this year. If possible, plan to contribute the maximum allowable amount to your 401(K) and take advantage of your workplace retirement plan to gain matching contributions. If your workplace does not have a matching program consider a Roth IRA.

College: College planning is essential for every family whether you are just starting out or are planning to support a grandchild's education. If you have not started preparing for future college expenses, start now. College savings plans can offer considerable tax benefits. Each state offers residents a 529 college savings plan that provides tax benefits or other perks to help parents and students prepare for college bills.

Investments: Invest wisely. Investigate investment options to determine which is best to meet your financial needs. A few options include money market accounts, CDs and government bonds, and IRAs. Solid investments can reap dividends in the future.

We all know how important it is to save money and prepare for the future and reviewing your budget and investments will ensure you're meeting your financial goals.

For more information, visit http://www.mibank.com.

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Beyond the Brush: Five Ways to Help Promote Healthy Teeth and Gums

December 13, 2011 5:04 pm

Routine tooth brushing and flossing and regular check-ups by a dental professional remain the cornerstone of a healthy mouth. However, according to the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP), pairing a few well-known healthy-lifestyle habits with your daily oral health regimen may also help reduce your risk for periodontal disease.

According to the AAP, the following tips may help sustain healthy teeth and gums while also helping you live an overall healthy lifestyle: 

• Eat and drink up. It is well known that eating a balanced diet leads to proper nutrition and helps keep the body running effectively. Studies published in the Journal of Periodontology (JOP) have also shown that certain foods can promote teeth and gum health. Foods containing omega-3, calcium, vitamin D and even honey have all been shown to reduce the incidence or severity of periodontal disease. 

• Hit the gym. Frequent exercise is a recognized way to avoid being overweight, and it may ultimately reduce your risk of periodontal disease. In a study published in the Journal of Periodontology, researchers found that subjects who maintained a healthy weight and had high levels of physical fitness had a lower incidence of severe periodontitis than those that did not exercise. 

• Stress less. Stress can lead to a variety of health complications, including periodontal disease. Research published in the JOP showed a relationship between stress and periodontal disease. Increased levels of cortisol, which the body releases when experiencing stress, can intensify the destruction of the gums and bone due to periodontal disease. In addition, another JOP study indicated that people experiencing stress are more likely to neglect their oral hygiene. 

• Kick the habit. Smoking is not only a leading cause of respiratory and cardiovascular disease in the United States, it is also a major risk factor for periodontal disease. Several research studies have shown that smoking not only increases the chance of developing periodontal disease, but it can also affect the success of treatments for existing periodontal disease. 

• See the doctor. Regular check-ups by a physician can help with early diagnosis of several health issues, including periodontal disease. A large body of research associates gum disease with other chronic inflammatory diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. Therefore, by screening for systemic disease early and receiving any needed treatment, you may also benefit your periodontal health.

Source: www.perio.org.

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Word of the Day

December 13, 2011 5:04 pm

Restrictive covenants. Clauses placed in a deed to restrict the full use of the property by controlling how future landowners may or may not use the property; also used in leases.

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Question of the Day

December 13, 2011 5:04 pm

Q: Should an architect and contractor have a “vested” interest in one another?

A: During a home construction project, it does not hurt to have a situation where the architect and contractor already have an existing working relationship. In fact, such an association could benefit a project by ensuring the smooth integration between the design and implementation. In a residential project, there is sometimes a triangle of tension between the architect, the contractor and the homeowner in terms of finger pointing and assigning blame. There is greater coordination of efforts, and generally less stress, with a design/build firm where the architects and contractors are accustomed to working together and are knowledgeable about construction costs and can fit design plans and specifications to your budget.

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Word of the Day: GSE

December 12, 2011 2:04 pm

A GSE, or a Government Sponsored Enterprise, is a privately held corporation with public purposes created by the U.S. Congress to reduce the cost of capital for certain borrowing sectors of the economy. Members of these sectors include students, farmers and homeowners. GSEs carry the implicit backing of the U.S. Government, but they are not direct obligations of the U.S. Government. Examples of GSEs include: Federal Home Loan Bank, Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac), Federal Farm Credit Bank and the Resolution Funding Corporation.

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Question of the Day

December 12, 2011 2:04 pm

Q: What should I weigh before considering an addition to my home?

A: Thoroughly assess your space. You may find you have the room you need, particularly if there are unused or underutilized areas in your home. Perhaps a garage, attic, side porch, or basement can be converted to fit the use you have in mind. Or maybe a small area can be carved from a larger area like a kitchen or living room to create a powder room. These improvements are certainly cheaper than a major construction job.

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Make Your Year-End Tax Savings List Now

December 12, 2011 2:04 pm

It's the season for making a list and checking it twice, but a holiday to-do list isn't the only one you should be working on before the year ends. Be your own Santa and write up a list of money moves you can make now that will be a gift to yourself come tax time. Take a look at these year-end tax tips from the Illinois CPA Society to see what works best for your financial situation.
  • Make Charitable Donations – You can deduct donations on your 2011 return if you itemize your tax return. Monetary gifts, the value of materials or food donations, and even the out-of-pocket expenses you incur while volunteering, such as gas and travel costs, can all be deducted. You can also deduct the fair value of any clothing or household items in good condition that you donate. If you are donating inherited items or furniture, an appraisal may be helpful to determine value. With any donations, make sure to get receipts for documentation.
  • Consider Energy-Saving Home Improvements – If you were planning on replacing that old furnace anyway, you could save up to $150 with a qualified energy efficient unit if you do it by the end of the year. Insulation, new windows and doors, solar heaters and other items are also covered under The Nonbusiness Energy Property Credit and the Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit. Details can be found at www.IRS.gov.
  • Pay Bills Early – Paying certain bills in 2011 will allow you to write off a deduction earlier. For example, if you pay your January 2012 mortgage bill on or before December 31, you may deduct an extra month of interest in 2011.
  • Contribute to Your Retirement Plans – A contribution to your 401(k) plan is pre-tax money excluded from your income so it lowers your tax bill. It's a good idea to contribute as much as possible to reduce the taxes you pay and to stay ahead of any possible tax reforms that may limit future contributions. For 2011, you can contribute up to $16,500 to a 401(k) plan (or $22,000 if you’re 50 or older).
  • Look Into Expiring Tax Breaks – There are several tax breaks that expire at the end of 2011 and you want to be sure you've made the related expense within the calendar year. These include the classroom expense deduction which allows teachers to deduct up to $250 for books, supplies and other related expenses, and a tuition deduction where up to $4,000 in tuition can be deducted. Amounts paid in 2011 for classes starting in early 2012 can qualify for a deduction on your 2011 tax return. These breaks may be reinstated, but it's best to act now.
Working with a CPA throughout the year will keep you well-prepared to get the best return on your taxes.

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eBay, Gogo Offer Delta Passengers Free Wi-Fi for the Holidays

December 12, 2011 2:04 pm

eBay is giving passengers aboard all Gogo-equipped Delta Air Lines flights the gift of free Wi-Fi this holiday season. Starting December 12 through January 2, passengers can access 30 minutes of free Gogo during any of Delta's more than 2,500 daily Wi-Fi equipped flights courtesy of eBay. In addition to the free half-hour session, passengers will also be able to shop on eBay throughout the duration of the flight.

"As people head out to visit their relatives on Delta for the holidays, we are delighted to be able to partner with eBay to offer 30 minutes of free Wi-Fi so they can shop for last minute gifts, connect with friends and family, or send holiday greetings from 30,000 feet," said Ash ElDifrawi, Gogo's chief marketing officer. "This is always a hectic time of year and we're happy to be able to offer Delta passengers this holiday gift."

To access the free Wi-Fi, just connect to Gogo on your Delta flight using your own Wi-Fi enabled device, open your browser, enter your email address in the special eBay promotion on the home page and click the "Give Me Free Wi-Fi" button.

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8 Great Ways to Save for a Down Payment

December 12, 2011 2:04 pm

Like many consumers today, you may be thinking this is a great time to buy your first home—and you are right. Rock-bottom prices in many areas, historically low mortgage rates, and a great selection of properties in all price ranges make this an excellent time to buy.

“The problem for many,” notes consumer finance consultant Elizabeth Ray, “is the lack of a down payment. But favorable price and mortgage conditions will likely last for a while. The smart and hopeful first-time buyer will take advantage of the opportunity to save now for that needed down payment.”

For those willing to make a few sacrifices in the short-term, Ray suggests eight possible ways to help consumers watch their savings pile up more quickly:
  • Bank the extras – Anytime you get a refund, bonus, commission or birthday check, bank it in a separate savings account.
  • Live on one income – Working couples should try to live on one income and bank the other – or half of it.
  • Get a roommate – If you’re single and living on your own, think about halving your monthly costs by taking in a roommate.
  • Ditch the second car – If possible, use public transportation and bank the sale funds or payments.
  • Do without extras – Can you do without cable? Eating out every night? That Starbucks stop every morning?
  • Pay off debt – As you pay off high interest debt to better your credit rating, you will also be saving that high interest spend. Try to bank the payments you no longer need to make.
  • Ask about a piggyback mortgage – Consult with a mortgage broker. If you can’t quite get the required percentage together for your down payment, but have a high enough monthly income, you may be able to get a piggybank loan to cover what your first mortgage won’t.
  • Check out loan assistance programs – Government organizations like Veterans Affairs and FHA offer special programs designed to help people who don’t have large down payments obtain mortgage financing. Also check with state and local housing authorities to find out what assistance they may offer.

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Have a Home Office? Learn How to Maximize Your Space

December 8, 2011 7:58 pm

In today’s upwardly mobile real estate environment, the ability to move around and shift is crucial. Oftentimes, agents are burning the midnight oil at home, not at the office. For this, it’s important to have a place that is functional, organized and private (if possible).

Here are some top ideas from wikihow.com on how to find, keep and organize your home office:

Find the perfect spot. Part of keeping organized in a home office is ensuring that you have a suitable place set aside to serve solely as your home office. It's not going to be effective if you're borrowing space anywhere, such as the kitchen table, or your child's desk while they're at school. Instead of "nomading" about the house in search of the perfect space, select one spot that is out of the way of pedestrian traffic, unaffected by noise or other sources of interference, and can be a permanent home office base for you. Purchase a table or desk (depending on your needs) that can be used just for your work tasks.

Check that everything is ergonomically suitable for you. It's easy to become despondent and start making a mess when your working arrangements make you feel uncomfortable. A chair that makes your legs feel deadened or a table that just doesn't have the space needed will soon have you wandering off and trying out other parts of the house for working in to try and improve your comfort levels.

Remove the superfluous. Clutter will make it impossible for you to remain organized in a home office. Being at home, you're at greater risk of things "migrating" into your work zone that have nothing to do with your work. Deal with this by getting rid of every object that is not useful for work. Take a close look at what you're dealing with and define carefully what you need and what you don't.

After removing the superfluous, permit yourself three beautiful objects to grace your workspace and inspire you. Keep it at three or less always, no more. If you want to rotate the inspirational things, then feel free to do so.

Manage the cables. You’ve probably found out through experience that the tangled cords under your desk are great at achieving three things: they trap dust balls, they make you look disorganized and they snag your feet, occasionally pulling over something else in the process. Don’t live with that rat’s nest of cables lurking behind your workstation; even if you’ve never thought it was possible to straighten out your office cables, give it a try.

Go wireless. Now that you’ve got that mess under your desk cleared up, think about getting rid of the cord clutter on your work surface. Wireless keyboards and computer mice are terrific gadgets that will free up both your space and your movements. Just imagine not having to tug the cord of your computer mouse free ever again.

Keep your printer off your workspace desk or table. Purchase or find a suitable printer table for it instead. If this small table or cabinet has shelves for storing printer paper and cartridges, this is even better.

Ensure adequate lighting. A home office needs good lighting to help you see properly at all hours of the day. If you're stuck in a basement or somewhere that's darker than normal, consider using a daylight bulb to brighten up your working space and to help you feel that the light is more natural.

Label everything. Stop squinting at the handwritten chicken-scratch on your file tabs and invest in a label maker instead. Having a label printer around will not only keep the contents of your filing cabinet looking neat and professional, it’s also very handy for organizing discs, office supplies and storage cabinets.

Sort. Sort through papers and shred the ones you don’t need. We’ve all dealt with it: the mountain of paper that comes from repeatedly putting off sorting through junk mail and paperwork. You have it in your power to keep that paper from piling up in the first place.

Straighten up at each day's end. Before you call it a day, do a small tidy up. By taking just a few minutes to put everything back in order, you’re making a useful transition out of your workday, and ensuring that your office will be much more pleasant place to return to the next day.

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