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

Childhood Identity Theft: Warning Signs and Prevention Tips

February 10, 2017 4:42 pm

You may just chuckle and toss those credit card offers that come in the mail for your fourth grader, but there may be something more nefarious at play: identity theft.

According to the Identity Theft Assistance Center and the Javelin Strategy & Research group, one in 40 families with children under 18 had at least one child whose personal information was compromised. It all starts with the child’s Social Security number, which is then paired with a different name, birthdate and address to apply for credit. This is called a synthetic identity, and is very hard to detect.

"Using the stolen Social Security number, identity thieves can open credit cards, rent apartments, buy cars, secure jobs and apply for welfare or other government programs," says Trevor Buxton, fraud awareness and communications manager at PNC Bank.

PNC offers these warning signs that your child may be a victim of identity theft:
  • Notification by the IRS of unpaid taxes in your child's name.
  • Notification that a child's Social Security number was used on another tax return.
  • Receiving collection calls for a minor child.
  • Receiving bills in a child's name for products or services not ordered or delivered.
  • Declined for government benefits because benefits are already being paid to another account using the child's Social Security number.
Fortunately, there are proactive steps a parent can take to protect their children from identity theft, such as:
  • Keep your child’s Social Security card in a safe, locked place at home; never carry it on your person.
  • Find out if you can opt out of providing your child’s Social Security number on school and medical forms. Many will allow the use of just the last four digits.
  • Shred all documents that show your child's personally identifiable information before throwing them away.
  • Most importantly, request an annual credit report for your child at annualcreditreport.com. Everyone is entitled to one free copy per year. Your child’s report should show no credit history at all. If there is a credit history, he or she has most likely become a victim of identity theft. Contact the credit agency and notify the authorities immediately. 
Source: PNC Bank

For more information about childhood identity theft, contact me today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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5 Ways to Make a Personal Statement at Home

February 10, 2017 4:42 pm

There’s so much advice out there about neutralizing your home design for maximum resale value that our personalities are in danger of getting lost in the shuffle. Unless you’re getting ready to put your home on the market soon, go ahead and let your individuality shine through with interior design that reflects your tastes and interests. Here are five easy ways to do so:
 
1. Make it a grand entrance. Maybe it’s an unusual door knocker or a doorbell that plays Beethoven’s 5th—or a whimsical piece of statuary or planter filled with something unexpected, like a well-stacked group of beach rocks. Try hanging a small sign with a favorite saying that welcomes guests. Whatever you choose, small touches like these make a personal statement before anyone even gets inside.

2. Put furniture in the ‘wrong’ room. Remember when Joey and Chandler opted for a foosball table over a kitchen table? Maybe something similar will work for you. Perhaps there’s a spot in your kitchen for a chaise lounge? Add a loveseat to a bedroom instead of the requisite side chair, or an antique, full-length mirror in your living room. When done tastefully, furniture in unexpected places can work wonders by making a very memorable impression.

3. Make your walls a self-expression. Don’t play it safe when it comes to wall décor. Go beyond the usual framed prints and accent mirrors and do something that reflects your personality. Music lover? Frame and hang beloved album covers or concert posters. Traveler? Turn a wall into a collection of photographs and framed objects that reflect your favorite destinations. Poet? Use stencils to inscribe your favorite quote right on the wall. Artist? Go a step further and add a mural. 

4. Put your passions on display. Whether it’s comic books or collectible snowmen, weave your collection into your interior design with creative and tasteful shelving or a display unit. The key here is to choose one area—don’t let your collection take over your entire home.

5. Show off your green thumb indoors. If you’re a plant lover, don’t refine your passion to the garden. Incorporate more indoor plants and flowers within your home and keep your hobby going year-round. Select a sunny spot and start cultivating an orchid or African violet collection. Or choose strategic locations for hanging plants, using attractive planters made from copper, ceramic or other finishes of your preference. 

Remember, one of the many benefits of owning versus renting is that there are no restrictions when it comes to design. So make a personal statement and make your home your own.

Learn more about making a personal statement through home décor by contacting me today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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10 Things to Inspect before You Rent

February 10, 2017 4:42 pm

Are you or a family member in the market for a rental? Make an informed choice by following this inspection checklist from the experts at RentHop:
 
1. Cellphone reception
In today’s world, we tend to assume we can get great coverage anywhere and everywhere. That’s not necessarily so. When you’re touring a potential apartment, make a call or two on your mobile device from a couple of different rooms. While you’re at it, ask the landlord about WiFi. Some include it in the utilities as a rental incentive.

2. Water pressure and temperature
While you can’t climb in and take a shower during a walk-through, be sure to turn the shower on and test the pressure and temperature with your hand. If it’s not up to par, find out why. Perhaps it’s a temporary situation due to work being done in the building, or something that the building management can repair.

3. Pests
No one wants company when they move in. The best way to check for pests is to open cabinets and drawers and look for droppings, and check walls, baseboards and around plumbing pipes for cracks and holes. You can also ask the landlord for confirmation of when the last pest-control treatments were completed. Be proactive and ask questions—you have every right to.

4. Power outlets and electrical work
When visiting an apartment, bring something small to test as many outlets as possible. Or, pick up an Electrical Receptacle Wall Plug AC Outlet Ground Tester from your local hardware store. It should cost about $5 - 10 and will check the circuit status for each individual outlet in the apartment. While you’re at it, check all the lights in the apartment to make sure they turn on and off properly.

5. Appliances
Just as you’re checking the outlets and the water pressure, test the appliances as well. Open and inspect the fridge, microwave, dishwasher, oven, garbage disposal and any other gadget that comes with the apartment. If something isn’t in working order, ask the landlord what the plan for repair or replacement is.
 
6. Night-time vibe
Neighborhoods can be very different once the sun goes down, so make sure you visit your potential new location at night. Is it lively or desolate? Well-lit or dark? Are businesses still open, or has everything shut down? Make sure you’re comfortable with how the area feels at night.

7. Parking
If you’ll be dependent upon a car for your daily commute, find out about the parking situation. Is there a lot with assigned spots? If not, visit the lot during the morning and evening rush hour and see how easy it is to get a spot. If you have to rely on street parking, find out if there are alternate side rules to contend with. Your best bet here is to ask other tenants, as they’ll give you the skinny on parking pros and cons.

8. Neighbors
One of the most important factors to check into is who your neighbors will be. Talk to as many other tenants as you can, not only to get a feel for the vibe of the building, but to ask questions about landlord and building maintenance. Ask them what they like best about living there and what they can’t stand. This will go a long way in helping you make the right decision.

9. The lease
The item you should inspect most carefully of all is the lease. Take your time and read it from top to bottom, asking questions whenever something is unclear. You don’t want to be unpleasantly surprised later on by something you unwittingly agreed to in the lease. Look for policies on subletting, renovations, security deposit, renewal and pest control.

10. Damage
Make sure you take photos and document anything that is wrong with the apartment before you move in—a hole in the wall, a tear in the carpet, a cracked window. You need evidence that such damage was not caused by you, otherwise, it could jeopardize your security deposit when it comes time to move out.

Contact me today for more tips on how to choose the perfect rental property.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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The Real Deal on Rising Rates: What It Means for Your Home-Buying Plans

February 10, 2017 4:42 pm

You’ve taken all the necessary steps to get ready to buy a home. You’ve saved for a down payment, improved your credit score, got all your financial documentation in line, and figured out what price range you can afford. And then the interest rates went up. Is your dream of homeownership now unachievable?

According to recent data from realtor.com®, the share of first-time buyers planning to buy a home this spring fell sharply when mortgage rates began to rise toward the end of 2016. According to realtor.com®’s January survey of active homebuyers, 44 percent of buyers planning to buy in spring 2017 are first-time buyers. This has dropped significantly since the survey was conducted in October, when 55 percent of buyers planning a spring purchase indicated they were looking for their first home.

However, with inventory shortages and rising home prices, the urgency to buy now has never been greater. So before you shelve your plans for buying a home this spring, know the facts about rising rates and home prices.

The average 30-year conforming rate rose to more than 4.2 percent by the end of December 2016 from 3.4 percent at the end of September 2016. With average rates today about half a percentage point higher than they were in 2016, a median-priced home financed with 20 percent down would cost an additional $720 per year in added interest. That equals more than 1 percent of the median household’s income.

With affordability being a top concern for first-time buyers, a rising interest rate can be enough to scare you off. Kiplinger's expects the 30-year mortgage rate to reach 4.6 percent by year’s end, with the 15-year rate at 3.8 percent. Add to that the continued increase in home prices due to low inventories in many parts of the country and you can see that holding off on a home purchase will probably only cost you more down the line.

Take a cue from repeat homebuyers who are actually being spurred into action by rising rates. Even with the current increases, interest rates remain historically low, and the movement in rates hasn’t yet tipped overall buyer demand down. Experienced buyers, in fact, are trying to close before rates increase further, as evidenced by increased realtor.com® listing views and decreased inventory. In the short term, the rate movement seems to have encouraged, rather than dampened, overall demand.

While concerns about affordability are valid, waiting may not help your long-term financial picture. Instead, consider looking for a home in a slightly lower price range, finding a way to increase your down payment, or looking in a neighborhood that may be more affordable. The good news? In today’s competitive market, your home will most likely increase in value and prove to be one of the smartest investments you could’ve made.

For more information about how rising interest rates will impact your home purchase, contact me today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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In this Edition: The Real Impact Rising Interest Rates Will Have on Your Home-Buying Plans

February 10, 2017 4:42 pm

Our lead story in this month’s Home Matters examines what rising interest rates mean for your future home-buying plans. Other topics covered this month include 10 things you can't afford to overlook when choosing a rental property and simple ways to help your personality shine through when decorating your home. We hope you enjoy this month’s edition of Home Matters and as always, we welcome your feedback. Email us anytime!

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How to Protect Your Customer’s Privacy

February 9, 2017 12:30 am

If you run a business, then you know the customer is king. But what about the customer’s privacy? Help your business be more thoughtful about what information is collected and how you can protect that data and foster trust, with these tips from the NCSA.

If you collect it, protect it: Follow reasonable security measures to protect individuals' personal information from inappropriate and unauthorized access.

Be open and honest about how you collect, use and share personal information: Clearly communicate your data use practices and any features or settings you offer to consumers to manage their privacy.

Don't count on your privacy policy as your only tool to educate consumers about your privacy practices: Communicate clearly and often what privacy means to your organization and the steps you take to achieve and maintain consumer privacy and security.

Create a culture of privacy in your organization: Educate employees about their role in privacy, security and respecting and protecting the personal information of colleagues and customers.

In addition to your privacy practices, do your due diligence and monitor partners and vendors: You are also responsible for how they use and collect personal information.

Source: SOURCE National Cyber Security Alliance

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Tax Time: Five Tips to Ensure an Accurate Form W-2

February 9, 2017 12:30 am

Tax season is a troubling time for many of us as we wade through forms and paperwork from the preceding year.  The American Payroll Association, has five W-2 tips to ensure your W-2 is accurate this tax season.

1. Get your hands on all of your W-2s. If you received compensation from more than one company during 2016, you will need to obtain a W-2 from each business. If you haven't received your W-2 by February 3, contact the company's payroll department to request a 'reissued statement.'

Did you earn $600 or more from a single company for freelance or contract work? You need the Form 1099-MISC, Miscellaneous Income, instead of a W-2. You may be responsible for all taxes on those earnings.

2. Ensure your Social Security Number (SSN) matches your social security card. Your name and SSN on the W-2 must match your social security card to receive the social security benefits to which you are entitled. If they do not match, ask your payroll department for a corrected W-2.

3. Compare your W-2 to your final paystub. 

Items to review on the W-2:

A.  Box 1 will differ from your final 2016 paystub year-to-date gross pay if you participated in a 401(k) or other employer-sponsored savings plan.

B.  The Box 3 total should not exceed $118,500 – the 2016 social security wage base.

C.  Boxes 1, 3, and 5 will be different from your final 2016 paystub year-to-date gross pay if you use pre-tax dollars to pay insurance premiums or for transit benefits, or to contribute to flexible spending accounts.

4. Check for tax credits. Depending on your eligibility, you may qualify for thousands of dollars from the Earned Income Tax Credit. Read the back of the W-2 copy B, C, and 2 to determine your eligibility.

5. Put some money in your pocket! If you receive more than $1,000 in refunds adjust your Form W-4 to more closely match your tax liability. By updating this information, you could give yourself an instant raise.

SOURCE: American Payroll Association
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How to Move During the Winter

February 9, 2017 12:30 am

Moving is rarely fun, but in the winter, it can be downright miserable. From frigid temps to icy roads, there are many challenges with moving in the colder months. Below are a handful of helpful tips from Ross Sapir, CEO and Founder of Roadway Moving.

Make sure your electric is turned on early. Before you move in, be sure that all utilities have been turned on so you can comfortably enjoy heat and light for your first couple nights.

Avoid any falls. Clear the driveways and walkways of snow and make sure you salt the icy areas so you and your movers are safe walking to and from the trucks

Have a back-up plan. If a winter storm is threatening your move, make sure you've already spoken to your moving company to see if they have a policy in place for any unexpected date changes.

Protect your home. Going in and out of your home during the move will drag salt and dirt all over your floors. Avoid this by laying down plastic or cardboard boxes for protection

Dress in layers. Moving boxes in and out will work up a sweat so make sure you have the proper clothing on that you can either add layers when you go outside or take off layers once you get inside.

Source: Roadway Moving.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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5 Smarter Ways to Keep Your Home Warm

February 8, 2017 12:30 am

(Family Features)--When cool winds are blowing and the temperatures outside take a dive, even a well-insulated house may feel the chill. Simply kicking up the thermostat can be expensive and depending on your home’s circulation, you may still have areas that need an extra blast of warmth. Cozy up with these tips for heating up your living space.

Check for gaps and cracks. Poorly sealed windows and doors are among the biggest sources of heat loss in a home. Not only do those imperfections let heat escape, they also let in the cold. If you can see daylight, there’s definitely a problem, but even less visible gaps and cracks can be problematic. Clear plastic sheeting is one temporary DIY solution for windows. It’s also easy to replace the weather stripping around doors.

Rely on supplemental heat. When it’s impractical to completely eliminate drafts, or other measures aren’t fully correcting the problem, you might consider a home upgrade to your cooling and heating system. One of the most efficient products on the market is a floor-mounted indoor heating system, designed to ensure the whole room warms up evenly and quickly.

Layer up. Especially when cooler weather first appears or makes a comeback, many homeowners forget to dress for the weather, even indoors. Trading in your t-shirt and shorts for long sleeves and pants can help push your comfort several degrees warmer, and even a couple of degrees can result in big savings on your heating bill. If extra clothes aren’t enough, invest in a few plush throw blankets and a cozy robe and slippers for more comfortable lounging.

Enjoy a crackling fire. If your home has a fireplace, use it. These features are often treated as ornamental, but they serve a true function. When paired with blowers, the heat from a fireplace can warm a significant portion of the house, well beyond the room where the fireplace is located. Before your first fire, take proper safety precautions, including checking that the flue is clean and open. Also be sure you have protective features such as glass or mesh covering to prevent popping embers, and be sure to create a barrier that keeps small children safely out of reach.

Decorate your way to warmth. Subtle changes to your decor can make a big impact on a room’s climate and comfort level. Two areas that can make a big impact: the floor and windows. An area rug is an addition that not only takes the physical chill out of a wood or tile floor, but adds visual warmth, as well. Although windows can be a major source of energy loss and drafts, they can also let in a natural heat source: sunlight. Use heavy draperies at night to block the chill and provide privacy, but during daylight hours, throw those curtains open and let the warm light shine.

Source: mitsubishicomfort.com.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Choose the Right Online University

February 8, 2017 12:30 am

For those with busy schedules, a family to take care of, or an already-demanding career, the option of earning a degree online is a game changer. However, not all online universities are the same, and it’s important to choose an accredited program that fits your needs.

WGU Texas offers these tips to help busy adults choose the right online university to stay on track with their goals.

Know your learning style. Learning in an online environment is similar to what you would expect in a more traditional brick and mortar environment. You will study, write papers, complete projects and take tests. Online, when and where you study and interactions with faculty and other students can be quite different. Earning your degree takes self-discipline with a strong commitment to earn a degree. You'll need to set aside sufficient time and effort to realize your goals. When choosing a school, one that offers a competency-based program allows you to study and learn at your own pace, apply what you already know and advance when you demonstrate mastery of the subject matter.

Understand the total cost of your education. Tuition at online universities varies widely. Before you make your decision, be sure to understand all of the costs. Compare tuition rates, books, fees and financial aid options of various schools. Speak to a financial advisor about financial aid, and only borrow what you need to graduate, as this will help keep costs under control without incurring unnecessary additional student debt. Another factor in your cost consideration should be the length of time you expect to take to complete your degree—the longer it takes, the more it is likely to cost.

Make sure the university is accredited and the degree is meaningful. Regional accreditation is the highest form of accreditation and ensures that employers and other academic institutions will respect and recognize your degree. The U.S. Department of Education publishes a list of regional accrediting agencies that are recognized as reliable authorities on educational quality and effectiveness of the institution. The degree program you choose should offer relevant and up-to-date curriculum to ensure that you'll earn the credentials you need for the job market. Ask for information about alumni placements, employer surveys and graduate rankings on national test scores.

Source: texas.wgu.edu 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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