Harrisonburg Housing Matters

IT’s Tax Time

2016-form-1040-page-0It’s tax time and Alaina Tweddale has some excellent suggestions as you get ready to prepare your taxes yourself, or have them prepared.

Ready or not, the tax man’s coming. Filing your taxes yourself may not be your idea of a fun night at home, but even so, it doesn’t really have to be that bad. Yes, even if you own a home. Even if you itemize your deductions. Even if you’re scared of making a mistake.

We turned to the tax pros and nailed down their top tips to make DIY tax filing as easy and painless as possible — as well as how to ensure you don’t miss any possible deductions. Here’s what they said:

Pick the Right Software

Unless you qualify for a free version (more about this below), software prices are all over the place. Still, you get what you pay for. TurboTax is pricey at almost $60 for the Deluxe version, but both our tax experts agree: If you’re going the DIY route, it’s their favorite option.

“It’s user-friendly,” says Cathy Derus, founder of Brightwater Accounting, who, despite being a CPA, admits she’s used the program herself in the past. “It offers an online questionnaire. Then, it walks you through exactly what you need to do.” That questionnaire does a good job of helping you identify possible deductions.

But it’s not fail-safe, she added. It’s only as good as the information you feed into it.

To really make sure you’re aware of all possible deductions, get a copy of Form 1040, Schedule A, (and Schedule C if you’re a sole proprietor for your own business), says Derus. Then, “scan the forms and take note of any items you think you might be eligible to take.”

If you’re a homeowner, here are some examples of deductions you can take:

  • Mortgage interest
  • Property taxes
  • Some costs of buying a new home
  • Some costs of selling a home

For a full list of your possible homeowner deductions, go here.

Free Software Can Be Ok, Too

If your adjusted gross income is below a certain threshold — typically $62,000 — you may qualify to use one of about a dozen free software options. TurboTax has a free option, but its income threshold is lower at $31,000. H&R Block, Jackson Hewitt, and TaxACT also have free versions.

Some companies also impose other restrictions, such as age and state of residence, to qualify for a free version. That’s because for some firms, the free offering is a way to find clients who might be willing to pay for other services.

Watch for extra costs:Some companies will file your federal return for free, but then charge you for the state return, to e-file, or ask questions of a live person.

Filing for an Extension Can Be a Smart Thing to Do

If you find yourself butting up against the tax filing deadline, you can always request an extension, “so you’re not stressed out,” says Derus.

Most people don’t fully understand how extensions work, and often make mistakes that cost a bundle. Here’s what you need to know:

How to file a tax extension:

  1. File an extension anytime before or on April 15. You’ll avoid the late filing penalty, which is a whopping 5% of your outstanding balance, due for every monthyou’ve failed to file.
  2. If you owe money, pay as much as you can by April 15 to avoid the late payment penalty of 0.05% interest. (A whole lot less than the late filing penalty, though!)
  3. Make arrangements to complete your tax filing by the October 15 deadline to avoid adding extra interest payments.

Get the Benefits of E-Filing

You’ve probably already been e-filing your taxes, but are you aware of the benefits?

Why it’s better to e-file:

  • 24 hours after you e-file, you can start checking on your return via the IRS’s “Where’s My Refund” online tool or IRS2Go app.
  • You’ll get any refund due to you faster.

You’re also more likely to know if you filed your forms correctly, avoiding a scary encounter with the tax man. Because if you e-file, you’ve got to use software. And these programs “run a check for questions that need to be answered, numbers that don’t add up, and missing Social Security numbers,” says Tai Stewart, accountant and owner of Saidia Financial Solutions in Houston. Those mistakes tend to flag your return for a close-up review.

You’ll also wait up to six weeks for your return if you use snail mail.

So, what are you waiting for? “Fill a pot of coffee, and get to work,” encourages Derus

Ready or not, the tax man’s coming. Filing your taxes yourself may not be your idea of a fun night at home, but even so, it doesn’t really have to be that bad. Yes, even if you own a home. Even if you itemize your deductions. Even if you’re scared of making a mistake.

We turned to the tax pros and nailed down their top tips to make DIY tax filing as easy and painless as possible — as well as how to ensure you don’t miss any possible deductions. Here’s what they said:

Pick the Right Software

Unless you qualify for a free version (more about this below), software prices are all over the place. Still, you get what you pay for. TurboTax is pricey at almost $60 for the Deluxe version, but both our tax experts agree: If you’re going the DIY route, it’s their favorite option.

“It’s user-friendly,” says Cathy Derus, founder of Brightwater Accounting, who, despite being a CPA, admits she’s used the program herself in the past. “It offers an online questionnaire. Then, it walks you through exactly what you need to do.” That questionnaire does a good job of helping you identify possible deductions.

But it’s not fail-safe, she added. It’s only as good as the information you feed into it.

To really make sure you’re aware of all possible deductions, get a copy of Form 1040, Schedule A, (and Schedule C if you’re a sole proprietor for your own business), says Derus. Then, “scan the forms and take note of any items you think you might be eligible to take.”

If you’re a homeowner, here are some examples of deductions you can take:

  • Mortgage interest
  • Property taxes
  • Some costs of buying a new home
  • Some costs of selling a home

For a full list of your possible homeowner deductions, go here.

Free Software Can Be Ok, Too

If your adjusted gross income is below a certain threshold — typically $62,000 — you may qualify to use one of about a dozen free software options. TurboTax has a free option, but its income threshold is lower at $31,000. H&R Block, Jackson Hewitt, and TaxACT also have free versions.

Some companies also impose other restrictions, such as age and state of residence, to qualify for a free version. That’s because for some firms, the free offering is a way to find clients who might be willing to pay for other services.

Watch for extra costs:Some companies will file your federal return for free, but then charge you for the state return, to e-file, or ask questions of a live person.

Filing for an Extension Can Be a Smart Thing to Do

If you find yourself butting up against the tax filing deadline, you can always request an extension, “so you’re not stressed out,” says Derus.

Most people don’t fully understand how extensions work, and often make mistakes that cost a bundle. Here’s what you need to know:

How to file a tax extension:

  1. File an extension anytime before or on April 15. You’ll avoid the late filing penalty, which is a whopping 5% of your outstanding balance, due for every monthyou’ve failed to file.
  2. If you owe money, pay as much as you can by April 15 to avoid the late payment penalty of 0.05% interest. (A whole lot less than the late filing penalty, though!)
  3. Make arrangements to complete your tax filing by the October 15 deadline to avoid adding extra interest payments.

Get the Benefits of E-Filing

You’ve probably already been e-filing your taxes, but are you aware of the benefits?

Why it’s better to e-file:

  • 24 hours after you e-file, you can start checking on your return via the IRS’s “Where’s My Refund” online tool or IRS2Go app.
  • You’ll get any refund due to you faster.

You’re also more likely to know if you filed your forms correctly, avoiding a scary encounter with the tax man. Because if you e-file, you’ve got to use software. And these programs “run a check for questions that need to be answered, numbers that don’t add up, and missing Social Security numbers,” says Tai Stewart, accountant and owner of Saidia Financial Solutions in Houston. Those mistakes tend to flag your return for a close-up review.

You’ll also wait up to six weeks for your return if you use snail mail.

So, what are you waiting for? “Fill a pot of coffee, and get to work,” encourages Derus

 

Ready or not, the tax man’s coming. Filing your taxes yourself may not be your idea of a fun night at home, but even so, it doesn’t really have to be that bad. Yes, even if you own a home. Even if you itemize your deductions. Even if you’re scared of making a mistake.

We turned to the tax pros and nailed down their top tips to make DIY tax filing as easy and painless as possible — as well as how to ensure you don’t miss any possible deductions. Here’s what they said:

Pick the Right Software

Unless you qualify for a free version (more about this below), software prices are all over the place. Still, you get what you pay for. TurboTax is pricey at almost $60 for the Deluxe version, but both our tax experts agree: If you’re going the DIY route, it’s their favorite option.

“It’s user-friendly,” says Cathy Derus, founder of Brightwater Accounting, who, despite being a CPA, admits she’s used the program herself in the past. “It offers an online questionnaire. Then, it walks you through exactly what you need to do.” That questionnaire does a good job of helping you identify possible deductions.

But it’s not fail-safe, she added. It’s only as good as the information you feed into it.

To really make sure you’re aware of all possible deductions, get a copy of Form 1040, Schedule A, (and Schedule C if you’re a sole proprietor for your own business), says Derus. Then, “scan the forms and take note of any items you think you might be eligible to take.”

If you’re a homeowner, here are some examples of deductions you can take:

  • Mortgage interest
  • Property taxes
  • Some costs of buying a new home
  • Some costs of selling a home

For a full list of your possible homeowner deductions, go here.

Free Software Can Be Ok, Too

If your adjusted gross income is below a certain threshold — typically $62,000 — you may qualify to use one of about a dozen free software options. TurboTax has a free option, but its income threshold is lower at $31,000. H&R Block, Jackson Hewitt, and TaxACT also have free versions.

Some companies also impose other restrictions, such as age and state of residence, to qualify for a free version. That’s because for some firms, the free offering is a way to find clients who might be willing to pay for other services.

Watch for extra costs:Some companies will file your federal return for free, but then charge you for the state return, to e-file, or ask questions of a live person.

Filing for an Extension Can Be a Smart Thing to Do

If you find yourself butting up against the tax filing deadline, you can always request an extension, “so you’re not stressed out,” says Derus.

Most people don’t fully understand how extensions work, and often make mistakes that cost a bundle. Here’s what you need to know:

How to file a tax extension:

  1. File an extension anytime before or on April 15. You’ll avoid the late filing penalty, which is a whopping 5% of your outstanding balance, due for every monthyou’ve failed to file.
  2. If you owe money, pay as much as you can by April 15 to avoid the late payment penalty of 0.05% interest. (A whole lot less than the late filing penalty, though!)
  3. Make arrangements to complete your tax filing by the October 15 deadline to avoid adding extra interest payments.

Get the Benefits of E-Filing

You’ve probably already been e-filing your taxes, but are you aware of the benefits?

Why it’s better to e-file:

  • 24 hours after you e-file, you can start checking on your return via the IRS’s “Where’s My Refund” online tool or IRS2Go app.
  • You’ll get any refund due to you faster.

You’re also more likely to know if you filed your forms correctly, avoiding a scary encounter with the tax man. Because if you e-file, you’ve got to use software. And these programs “run a check for questions that need to be answered, numbers that don’t add up, and missing Social Security numbers,” says Tai Stewart, accountant and owner of Saidia Financial Solutions in Houston. Those mistakes tend to flag your return for a close-up review.

You’ll also wait up to six weeks for your return if you use snail mail.

So, what are you waiting for? “Fill a pot of coffee, and get to work,” encourages Derus.

 

ALAINA TWEDDALE

is a freelance writer who writes about money, home, and investing. Her work has appeared on Forbes.com, the Huffington Post, and Time.com. When she’s not writing, she’s working with her husband to slowly renovate what seems like every square inch of their home.

 

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Easily Organize Your House In 30 Days

organizationHave you noticed most of your resolutions are action-oriented? Walk 10,000 steps a day. Fix that leaky faucet. Register for VolunteerMatch.

But “get organized”? It’s a goal so broad that just trying to figure out what action to take makes you wonder what you were thinking in the first place. It’s like you need an organizing plan for your organizing.

Day 1. Do That Project

“What about your space is making you feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed?” asks Amy Trager, a professional organizer in Chicago. Is it the paperwork disaster in your office? The pile of clothes teetering on your dresser? Or that mess that surrounds your doorway? Start with what’s annoying you, she says. One hour on that task will get your organizing engine revving.

Day 2. Create a “Go Away” Box

Put anything you’re planning to donate in it (or give to a friend, or take to recycle). And keep it by the door so you can easily grab it when you’re leaving.

Day 3. Deal With the Decorations

Hallelujah — the holidays are over! When you’re putting away your décor, donate anything you didn’t bring out last season, and separate decorations by holiday. No need to dig through your St. Patty’s clovers when you’re searching for a menorah.

Day 4. Create a System for Your Entryway

Set up a “command center” so your front door doesn’t become a lawless accessories arena, especially during winter months. Add hooks for coats, bins for shoes, and a mail sorter if you need it. (Remember to keep a place for your “go away” box).

Day 5. Wrangle Your Pet Supplies

Minimize the time spent scrambling when your pup is desperate for a walk or eager for a meal. Hang hooks and cubbies near the door and keep leashes, kibble, bowls, and toys in one convenient spot.

Day 6. Organize Your Spices

Arrange your herbs and spices alphabetically, by cuisine, or by brand — whatever makes them easier to find when you’re in the middle of your noodle stir fry.

Day 7. Pare Down Your Utensils

You’ve accumulated several dozen kitchen utensils in your culinary career: can openers, microplanes, four (what?!) wine openers. Pare down the collection and use drawer dividers to keep the remainders in order.

Day 8. Reconfigure Your Pots and Pans

Stop digging around in your shelves for the oversized, cast-iron skillet. Donate the pots and pans you hardly use, and install cupboard organizers to help manage the rest.

Day 9. Throw Away Expired Foods

You never use Worcestershire sauce — except that one time. Go through your refrigerator and pantry and ditch or donate anything past its prime.

10. Stack Your Pantry Staples

Make better use of your pantry by sorting through your staple dry goods — think flour, sugar, pasta, oatmeal, dry beans — and putting them in airtight, stackable containers. You’ll free up a ton of space, too.

11. Downsize Your Kitchen Gadgets

You had noble intentions when you purchased that spiralizer. (Zucchini noodles every night, right?) Give those space hogs to someone else with lofty dreams.

12. Say No to Coffee Mug Over-Saturation

Every time you lose a sock, a new coffee mug appears. Keep one or two mugs for every coffee or tea drinker, and donate the rest.

13. Sort Your Food Storage Containers

No singles allowed. Toss any tops or bottoms that have no mates.

14. Reassess Your Display Shelves

Shelves crammed with knickknacks, books you’ll never read, and stuff you somehow accumulated are just a waste of space. Donate books to the library, discard the junk, and arrange what’s left in a way that pleases you.

15. Deal With Your Cables

With a Roku, PlayStation, DVD player, and a cable box, it’s no surprise your entertainment center is a mess. Create ID tags for each plug from bread tags or cable ties, and bundle the clutter together with velcro strips.

16. Put Clothes on New Hangers

Switch your clothes over to the slimmer, grabbier hangers. They use less space and keep your clothes from sliding down to your closet floor. As you do this, discard the clothes you never wear.

17. Corral Your Accessories

Belts, scarves, purses, hats — all the accessories that don’t have a drawer or spot in the closet can end up everywhere. Buy an accessories hanger or install a simple series of hooks to give your wardrobe’s smallest members a home.

18. Purge Under the Bed

Under-bed storage is ideal for out-of-season clothing. But when out-of-season becomes out-of-sight and out-of-mind, clear out those clothes you’ll never wear again from this precious storage space.

19. Declutter Your Desk

When your workspace is swimming with collectibles, staplers, Post-its, and more, paring down can keep you focused when it’s time to hunker down.

20. Shred Old Paperwork

Not every form, statement, and tax record needs to stay in your filing cabinet forever. Check out this list to make sure you’re not wasting space. Shred the rest to ward off identity thieves.

21. Tidy Your Files

Now that you’ve shredded the paperwork you don’t need, tidy up your files by organizing them and labeling them clearly. Colorful folders can help organize by theme (home stuff, tax stuff, work stuff, etc.).

22. Get Rid of Mystery Electronics

Admit it. You’ve got a drawer where black mystery cords, chargers, and oddball electronic bits go to die. Free that drawer up for better uses, or at least get rid of the ones you know for sure are “dead.”

23. Pare Down Your Personal Care Stuff

Your intentions were honorable when you bought that curl-enhancing shampoo — but it expired two years ago, and you haven’t used it since. Throw away any expired potions, salves, hair products, and medicines.

24. Tackle Under-the-Sink Storage

Clean everything out. You’ll be amazed at what you find (like those Magic Erasers you could never find). Then put back everything you’re keeping in bins you can easily pull out so nothing gets lost again.

25. Hang a Shelf

Wall storage is so often overlooked. Find a spot in your home where a shelf would solve a problem, and hang it. Maybe it’s for some toiletries in the bathroom, or laundry supplies, or for your kid’s stuffed toys.

26. Reduce Your Towels and Linens

There are the towels you use — and the stack of towels you never use. Donate them to the animal shelter. Those torn pillowcases? Convert to rags or toss. Same for napkins, dishtowels, pot holders, etc.

27. Hang a Shoe Organizer

Hanging shoe organizers can solve a ton of storage problems beyond the obvious. They can store scarves, mittens, cleaning supplies, craft supplies. You can even cut them to custom-fit inside a cabinet door.

28. Organize Your Junk Drawer for Good

There’s no shame in a junk drawer — but why not organize it? Dump the whole thing on one surface and sort everything into piles. Use drawer dividers to keep each pile in its own space.

29. Store Your Tools the Right Way

Finding the right Phillips-head screwdriver to put together that cute IKEA bookshelf shouldn’t be so hard. Track down your hammers and screwdrivers, and arrange them in one easy-to-access spot, such as a pegboard.

30. Plan for the Future

See how much you’ve accomplished! Take a look around your newly organized home, making note of any spaces you missed. Then dream a bit about your next home project. Maybe paint that dining room, finally?

 JAMIE WIEBE

is a writer and editor with a focus on home improvement and design. Previously, she worked as a web editor for “House Beautiful,” “ELLE Decor,” and “Veranda.”

 

It’s Snow Shoveling Time, Almost

snow-shovelWe have had a cold snap, but it seems to be warming up again.  Don’t think we are getting by without any snow this year.  Here are a few tips to make your snow removal tasks a little easier.

1.  Spray your shovel with cooking oil.  A light coat of nonstick spray on your shovel will keep snow from sticking to it.  WD-40 will also work, but is a little more toxic.  If you use a snow blower, spray the chute to prevent clogs.

2.  Lay a tarp out before it snows.  This is probably one of the lazier ways to remove snow, but is definitely easy.  One word of caution, 1 cubic foot of snow can weigh between 7 and 20 pounds, so be careful how large your tarp is.

3.  Mix up a homemade deicer.

Commercial ice-melting substances — magnesium chloride, calcium chloride, potassium chloride, and sodium chloride (salt) — all cause damage to the environment, according to the University of Maryland’s Home and Garden Information Center. They can also damage concrete sidewalks and driveways, which mean hefty repair costs later.

Make your own de-icer using rubbing alcohol or vinegar. You’ll save money, too. Commercial melters typically cost $8 or more. Plus, you’ll avoid the hassle of trekking to the hardware store to stock up.

Use vinegar before a storm to make ice and snow removal easier:

  • Combine 3 parts vinegar to 1 part water.
  • Spray or pour gently (you still want to avoid runoff into your landscape) before a storm.

To keep the sidewalks and steps from icing after a storm:

  • Combine 2 parts rubbing alcohol with 1 part water.
  • Apply to minimize runoff.

Interest Rate Increase and What Does It Mean To You

If you own your home, the interest rate increase will not affect you.  Unless of course if you have an ARM or adjustable rate mortgage. If your mortgage is a fixed rate, you have nothing to worry about, and you can be thankful that you bought or refinanced at record low rates.  If you have an ARM that is close to its adjustment date, you may want to talk to a mortgage professional. If you are in the market for a new home or mortgage you may want to get off the sidelines and get into the game.

So what does a .25% increase mean to your potential mortgage payment?  A fixed rate mortgage as of December 12, 2016 would be around 4.185%.  On a typically priced home of $190,000, not including taxes and insurance, and assuming a 10% downpayment you could expect a payment around $834.  The same loan financing 100% would cost about $927 per month.  With an interest rate increase of .25% the first loan would increase to $853 and the second example to $948.  Both of these are negligible changes of about $20 per month.

With this example in mind, a minimal increase like this will not affect your buying power.  However a larger increase of one full percentage would certainly impact what you can afford.

Now would be a good time to get your prequalification updated, and make some decisions.

9 Stages of Emotion When Selling Your House

selling-house-infographic_36dd0bebeb13e19bd4e99c1fa49985c5

More Student Housing, Not Affordable Housing

Rockingham County Planning Commission has approved a rezoning request making way for a new student housing complex.  This on top of another approval in May.  Like many other complexes in Harrisonburg, this one will be corporately owned.

hunters ridgeUniversity Place, located on South Ave, was once a popular student housing complex, as was Hunter’s Ridge on Port Republic Rd.  With the addition of new complexes these units have turned to low income and Section 8 housing.  Students will always move to the “shiny new” housing.

So what does this mean for the condos that are individually owned?  The individual investors are not able to command the same rent as newer  complexes ($320-360/bedroom vs $425-450/bedroom).  While the initial investment is low, +/- $55000 the monthly maintenance fee of $275 is staggering.  This same thing makes it near impossible for a parent to purchase a unit while their son or daughter is a student and sell when they graduate.

Ultimately the question is do we really need more student housing or affordable housing.

Radon and What You Should Know

Radon is a naturally occurring gas that has been found to cause cancer.  The US Surgeon General has issued a health advisory regarding radon. “Indoor radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and breathing it over prolonged periods can present a significant health risk to families all over the country.  It’s important to know that this threat is completely preventable.  Radon can be detected with a simple test and fixed through well-established venting techniques.”

Virginia Radon MapThe Virginia Department of Health has established this map of radon risk by counties. Remember that radon does not respect county borders and may overlap into neighboring  counties.

The average outdoor concentration of radon is .4 pCi/L while indoor the average is 1.3 pCi/L.  Through mitigation it is possible to lower the indoor levels to .5-2.0 pCi/L.  It’s impossible to get to 0 pCi/L.

Radon levels will fluctuate with the season and weather.  Typically radon will be highest in the winter and lowest in the summer.  Radon is also higher is wet stormy weather.

As the seller there are some things that can be done to help before a test. The easiest is to seal any cracks in the concrete floor or block foundation using polyurethane caulk.  Another big one is to seal any sump pumps or other intrusions through the concrete slab or block wall.

As a buyer it is important to know the effects of radon prior to the real estate transaction, and to understand what causes elevated radon levels.  The VDH has published a booklet Home Buyers and Sellers Guide to Radon.  It is a great resource, full of valuable information regarding radon.

 

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