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

A Taxing Matter: Understanding the Saver’s Credit

December 19, 2011 5:22 pm

The Internal Revenue Service notes that by planning ahead, low- and moderate-income workers can take steps now to save for retirement and earn a special tax credit in 2011 and the years to come.

The saver’s credit helps offset part of the first $2,000 workers voluntarily contribute to IRAs and to 401(k) plans and similar workplace retirement programs. Also known as the retirement savings contributions credit, the saver’s credit is available in addition to any other tax savings that apply.

Eligible workers still have time to make qualifying retirement contributions and get the saver’s credit on their 2011 tax return. People have until April 17, 2012, to set up a new individual retirement arrangement or add money to an existing IRA and still get credit for 2011. However, elective deferrals must be made by the end of the year to a 401(k) plan or similar workplace program, such as a 403(b) plan for employees of public schools and certain tax-exempt organizations, a governmental 457 plan for state or local government employees, and the Thrift Savings Plan for federal employees. Employees who are unable to set aside money for this year may want to schedule their 2012 contributions soon so their employer can begin withholding them in January.

The saver’s credit can be claimed by:

• Married couples filing jointly with incomes up to $56,500 in 2011 or $57,500 in 2012;
• Heads of Household with incomes up to $42,375 in 2011 or $43,125 in 2012; and
• Married individuals filing separately and singles with incomes up to $28,250 in 2011 or $28,750 in 2012.
• Like other tax credits, the saver’s credit can increase a taxpayer’s refund or reduce the tax owed. Though the maximum saver’s credit is $1,000, $2,000 for married couples, the IRS cautioned that it is often much less and, due in part to the impact of other deductions and credits, may, in fact, be zero for some taxpayers.

A taxpayer’s credit amount is based on his or her filing status, adjusted gross income, tax liability and amount contributed to qualifying retirement programs. Form 8880 is used to claim the saver’s credit, and its instructions have details on figuring the credit correctly.

In tax-year 2009, the most recent year for which complete figures are available, saver’s credits totaling just over $1 billion were claimed on just over 6.25 million individual income tax returns. Saver’s credits claimed on these returns averaged $202 for joint filers, $159 for heads of household and $121 for single filers.

The saver’s credit supplements other tax benefits available to people who set money aside for retirement. For example, most workers may deduct their contributions to a traditional IRA. Though Roth IRA contributions are not deductible, qualifying withdrawals, usually after retirement, are tax-free. Normally, contributions to 401(k) and similar workplace plans are not taxed until withdrawn.

Other special rules that apply to the saver’s credit include the following:

• Eligible taxpayers must be at least 18 years of age.
• Anyone claimed as a dependent on someone else’s return cannot take the credit.
• A student cannot take the credit. A person enrolled as a full-time student during any part of 5 calendar months during the year is considered a student.
• Certain retirement plan distributions reduce the contribution amount used to figure the credit. For 2011, this rule applies to distributions received after 2008 and before the due date, including extensions, of the 2011 return. Form 8880 and its instructions have details on making this computation.

Source: www.irs.gov

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Word of the Day

December 19, 2011 5:22 pm

Secondary mortgage market. Market for the purchase and sale of existing mortgages, designed to provide greater liquidity for mortgages; plays an important role in getting money from those who want to lend to those who want to borrow.

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Question of the Day

December 19, 2011 5:22 pm

Q: Are there ways to save money when adding new space to my home?

A: The direction in which you build can make all the difference. Experts say building up is normally less expensive than building out on the ground level. Adding an expensive wing or addition requires a new foundation. It is less costly to extend plumbing and other mechanical systems upward, as opposed to installing new ones. So using the “air rights” over your house may be your best bet.

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Know Your Vitamin ABC's

December 16, 2011 5:14 pm

A walk down the vitamin aisle at your local pharmacy or grocery store can be overwhelming. There are so many options that it can be hard to know where to begin. 

Pharmacist Lauren Fallieras says it's important to understand how and why your body uses certain nutrients in order to decide which supplements are right for your needs. "Vitamins play a key role in building a healthy body from the inside out," she says. "It is important to get these nutrients from a well-balanced diet, but it's not uncommon to fall short on select vitamins and minerals without even knowing it." 

Fallieras recommends understanding what nutrients your body may need more of to ensure you know the ABC's of what to look for on the vitamin bottle. 

Here's what you need to know about some of the "letter" vitamins—A, B, C, D and E—that will help you make the right choices to support personal health and wellness. 

Vitamin A - An important developmental building block, vitamin A plays a key role in vision, white blood cell production, tissue maintenance and more. Good food sources include yellow and green leafy vegetables, such as carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes and squash, as well as yellow fruits such as peaches and cantaloupe. 

The B Vitamins - There are actually quite a few B vitamins. Here are just some of them:
• Vitamin B-6: Involved in over 100 cellular reactions throughout the body, vitamin B-6 is instrumental in keeping various bodily functions operating at their best. B-6 is needed to metabolize amino acids and glycogen and is also necessary for normal nervous system, hormone and red blood cell function. Vitamin B6 is fairly abundant in the diet and can be found in foods such as meat, poultry, bananas, fish, fortified cereal grains and cooked spinach. 

• Vitamin B-12: Is needed for the synthesis of DNA, for red blood cell formation and for healthy nervous system function. It also helps maintain healthy red blood cells which deliver oxygen to the body and support normal energy levels. Vegetarians need to be sure they get enough B-12 because this vitamin is found mainly in animal products like chicken, beef, seafood, milk and eggs. 

• Riboflavin: Also known as vitamin B-2, riboflavin is a basic building block for normal growth and development. It is needed for normal/regular energy production and also supports antioxidant activity throughout the body. Commonly found in a variety of foods, such as fortified cereals, milk, eggs, cooked salmon, beef, spinach and broccoli. 

• Folic Acid: While it is true that folic acid is very important for women of child-bearing age, all people should ensure adequate folic acid intake through the diet. It is essential in the development of DNA and amino acid synthesis. Fortified foods such as breads and cereals are good dietary sources of folic acid. Other good sources are dark green leafy vegetables such as asparagus and spinach, as well as, liver, orange juice, beets, dates and avocados. 

Fallieras says, "If you are not able to get your daily dose of these important B vitamins through food consumption alone, I'd recommend a supplement, like Nature Made's Super B-Complex with Folic Acid and Vitamin C. As a pharmacist, I know that getting the nutrients you need means taking the highest quality vitamins available in the right dosage. I like Nature Made because they have been the leading choice of pharmacists in many of the key vitamin and supplement segments since 2006, according to a ranking by Pharmacy Times." 

Vitamin C: As the body's main water-soluble antioxidant, vitamin C has been found to fight against free radicals and guard the healthy cells of the body. It is active throughout the body, and is especially effective when taken in conjunction with vitamin E. Additionally, vitamin C is a building block for collagen (connective tissue), supports healthy immune function, and is essential for synthesizing compounds involved in the energy-producing pathways of the body. 

Vitamin D:  It plays a key role in the proper absorption of calcium for strong bones and teeth, and some research suggests vitamin D may support colon, breast, prostate, ovarian, heart and colorectal health. It's needed to help muscles move, help support healthy nerve function and supports a healthy immune system.
 
For most people, sunlight is the most common source of vitamin D because they eat few foods that naturally contain it, such as cod liver oil, oily fish (salmon, herring, and sardines in oil), egg yolks and fortified milk. However, where you live may affect the amount of sunshine you receive, especially in winter, and therefore, sun exposure alone is not adequate. 

The current recommendation for vitamin D is 600 IU a day. Some scientists and vitamin D researchers are now recommending having your blood level checked and possibly increasing daily consumption to 1,000 IU or more per day. In addition to fortified foods, such as yogurt, cereals, milk and orange juice, and exposure to sunlight, supplements are an effective way of improving levels of vitamin D.
Vitamin E - This is a fat-soluble nutrient that helps protect the heart and helps protect body tissues from free radical attack. Vitamin E and vitamin C work as a strong antioxidant team, and taking them together enhances their effectiveness. It's found naturally in nuts and vegetable oils. 

Choosing Supplements
When choosing a supplement, it's important that you keep these things in mind:
• Talk to your physician or pharmacist. Talk to a health care professional about supplements, including dosage values for your individual needs.
• Look for the USP Verified Dietary Supplement mark. Seek brands that participate in third-party verification programs with organizations such as the United States Pharmacopeia (USP).
• Think twice about chasing the latest headline. Sound health advice is generally based on research over time, not a single study. Consider vitamins and minerals for overall health, and be wary of results claiming a quick fix or one study suggesting a certain result.
• Do your research. There are a number of resources available. Visit FamilyDoctor.org for credible, physician-reviewed information on health and wellness topics, including the role vitamins and supplements can play in a healthy, active and balanced lifestyle.
• Read the label and follow dosage instructions carefully. Follow the dosage instructions on the label. Look for any warning statements such as combining certain supplements with prescriptions or over-the-counter medicines. Be wary of claims that seem too good to be true.

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Safety First: Pool Tips for a Happy Winter

December 16, 2011 5:14 pm

While winter isn’t what you think of when someone says “pool season,” there is no reason to let your regard for safety drop with the temperatures. The following tips, from the professionals at Hawaiian Pool Builders, will help you keep your pool and spa in top shape, and your family safe, all winter long.

1. Check all the straps around the perimeter of the pool. Straps should be tight and not tangled. If any straps are loose, tighten them up to ensure even tension. If these are not tightened, small children might be able to crawl under the cover. It would be next to impossible to see someone that was physically under the cover.
2. A pool or spa cover is an essential piece of safety equipment. Inspect the cover for rips or tears. With a few inches of snow on the cover a child OR adult could unexpectedly walk on the cover and exaggerate the tear, subsequently falling though.
3. Make sure all the breakers to your pool equipment are turned off from the main breaker panel. No need to worry about a child accidently turning on your pump with no water circulation.
4. Inspect fences surrounding the pool to ensure locks and latches are working properly. Though it’s winter, it’s important to be sure unsupervised children are not able to access the pool while playing in the back yard.

Source: www.Hawaiianpoolbuilders.com.

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Word of the Day

December 16, 2011 5:14 pm

Sales contract. Contract that contains the terms of the agreement between the buyer and seller for the sale of a particular parcel or parcels of real estate.

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Question of the Day

December 16, 2011 5:14 pm

Q: What should I consider once I decide to add on?

A: If you must construct new space, ask yourself the following questions:

- Can I finance the home improvement with my own cash or will I need a loan?
- How much equity is in the property? A fair amount will make it that much easier to get a loan for home improvements.
- Is it feasible to expand the current space for an addition?
- What is permissible under local zoning and building laws? Despite your deep yearning for a new sunroom or garage, you will need to know if your town or city will allow such improvements.
- Should I make the improvement myself or hire a contractor?

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Get Ready for Winter's Worst

December 16, 2011 5:14 pm

Enviro-Log®, Inc., an eco-friendly, consumer products and recycling company, wants to ensure you take safety precautions to prepare your family, home and car for the worst winter has to offer. In addition to chilly conditions outdoors, power outages during cold weather can cause the temperature inside your house to drop rapidly. According to the National Weather Service (NWS), there were 34 extreme-cold deaths in 2010. 

"The snowstorm that hit the East Coast in late October left millions of customers without power for days, which is why we encourage every household to have an emergency kit," says Ross McRoy, president of Enviro-Log. "The basic home emergency kit should include: one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food, a radio, flashlight, extra batteries, matches or lighter, first aid kit, moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation, cell phone with a portable or solar charger, and an alternate heat source such as firewood or firelogs."
The Farmers' Almanac is forecasting an unusually cold and stormy winter, predicting severe weather for the Northern Plains, parts of the Northern Rockies and the Western Great Lakes. The Farmers' Almanac also predicts that a very active storm track will bring much heavier-than-normal precipitation in the Northeast, along the Great Lakes, and from the Southern Plains through Tennessee into Ohio.
The following tips will help you prepare your family, home and car for cold weather: 

Make a family emergency plan. Everyone should know what to do during an emergency in case all family members are not together. Pick a place to meet and make sure everyone knows the address of the location. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends that you program a family member as "ICE" (In Case of Emergency) in your phone. If you are in an accident, emergency personnel will often check your ICE listings in order to get a hold of someone you know. 

Winterize your home. Insulate walls and attics, caulk and use weather-stripping on doors and windows, and cover windows with plastic. Use insulation for exposed pipes and allow faucets to drip a little during cold weather to avoid freezing. It is also important to learn how to shut off water valves (in case a pipe bursts). 

Carry a survival kit in your vehicle. According to the National Weather Service, about 70 percent of winter weather-related fatalities occur as a result of people stranded in automobiles. You should store an emergency kit in your trunk stocked with the following items: blankets/sleeping bags, cellular phone or two-way radio, windshield scraper, snow brush, flashlight with extra batteries, extra winter clothes, shovel, tow chain, matches, traction aids (bag of sand or cat litter), emergency flares, jumper cables, snacks, water, road maps and an alternative heat source such as firewood or firelogs. 

Source: www.enviro-log.net

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Home Trend Alert: Creating a Home Spa

December 16, 2011 5:14 pm

During this high-stress time of season, relaxing is crucial if you want to still have your sanity when the new year rolls around. For today's time-crunched homeowners, the need for relaxation and rejuvenation is even more prevalent. 

However, finding time for a spa treatment or relaxing retreat is often difficult amidst busy schedules and lengthy to-do lists.

One simple solution for relaxing is creating a luxurious home spa. While decadent Jacuzzi tubs and walk-in showers are a great way to unwind, one home spa device trending now is the steam bath.

Available for almost any sized space, steam baths are easily installed during new home construction and bathroom remodels. Some companies offer generators with a slim design that can be mounted out of sight in a cabinet, closet, basement or insulated attic up to 50 feet away from the shower. In addition to the generator, a basic steam system only requires a control and a steam-head to provide a relaxing retreat as well as a wealth of health benefits. From hydrating skin and soothing sore muscles to providing relief for allergies, asthma and arthritis, the power of steam is unrivaled.

Source: www.steamist.com.

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Handyman Connection: Save Money and the Environment with Green Home Improvement Projects

December 16, 2011 5:14 pm

In the dead of winter, when staying warm and cozy can mean making the heater work overtime, many homeowners look for home improvements that will keep energy bills from soaring. Handyman Connection, a network of home repair and remodeling contractors in North America, has released a list of green home improvement projects that help save energy use any time of year. 

"There are a lot of things you or a professional handyman can do around your home to help cut back on energy use," said Scott McKenzie of Handyman Connection. "That's something that will benefit both your budget and the environment." 

Small Do-It-Yourself Jobs
Not all green projects are major undertakings. There are simple ways for you or a professional handyman to make your home more energy efficient.
• Switch out light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs throughout the house.
• Install occupancy sensors so lighting will come on when people are in the room and automatically turn off when they leave the room.
• Clean or replace furnace filters once a month.
• Clean the air conditioner filter regularly.
• Add insulation to hot water pipes.
• Install a water filter and quit buying bottled water.
• Replace your showerhead and faucets with low-flow versions. This won't reduce water pressure but water consumption and energy costs can be reduced by up to 50%.
• Insulate the water heater and turn it down to 48 degrees and cut your water-heating bill in half.
• Install ceiling fans.
• Weatherize your windows and doors with caulk, weather-stripping and sealants. The average home can lose 30% of its heat or air-conditioning though the windows.
• Replace the thermostat with a programmable one with a timer. 

Bigger Home Improvement Projects
Home remodeling projects are the perfect opportunity to make your home greener. If you don't have the knowledge, tools and time, hire a reputable home improvement company.
• Replace standard toilets with high-efficiency toilets. These newer models use 20% less water, and dual-flush, water-saving toilets can save you about 20% on your monthly water bill.
• Install a new gas water heater with a timer if your current water heater is more than 10 years old.
• Insulate your roof, walls and attic with natural insulation.
• Put in a whole-house fan.
• If you have an attic, put in a solar attic fan to vent hot air out.
• Install solar panels.
• Replace windows with modern energy-efficient windows.
• Avoid formaldehyde-based particle board when putting in new cabinets.
• Take out wall-to-wall carpeting and put in wood flooring. Carpeting traps dust mites and allergens; carpet mould is one of the leading causes of respiratory problems. 

For more information, visit www.handymanconnection.com.

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