Housing Risks During the Winter Months

As the weather changes and the temperature in the northeastern coastal areas turn cold, more people move indoors to stay warm. This means your heating system will be run more often and many people turn their heat way up to keep warm. This is a natural reaction to the blustery outside air, but there are a few precautions you should take no matter what type of heat system your home has. Below are five tips to staying safe when the weather turns cold this winter, and remember this rule: stay warm but stay safe!

Heating System Safety

When running your heating system, it’s not a good idea to run it on high for too long. Always select the “auto” option rather than the “fan” to get the evenest heating and turn it to around 68 degrees when you leave the house. Check pilot lights to make sure they are all working. If your heat does not start up for the first time this winter, you may want to check the pilot light. Sometimes the pilot light can go out over the summer or early fall months when it is not in use, or strong wind can blow it out. There is a specific technique you should follow for lighting your pilot light with most electric furnace systems. There are various videos on this procedure, but the basic process is the same. It’s also a good idea to vacuum out your furnace once in a while to keep dust and debris from collecting around it.

Fireplace Safety

Many people enjoy starting up their fireplaces during the winter months, especially in the eastern locations where it is typically colder. Fireplaces are a wonderful asset to a home, and they create a warm and inviting atmosphere. But you should take care to make sure the flue is clean as this is the cause of many house fires, so on the east coast ensure you have adequate home insurance coverage in Ontario and other parts of Canada, where the winter wind blows colder than in other locations.

Radiators and Standalone Heaters

One of the greatest dangers when heating your home inside is the use of standalone electric heaters and radiator units. These units can overheat quickly and, when left alone, they can catch fire. The key to avoiding this disaster is to make sure there are no blankets, clothing items, or flammable materials within at least 10 feet or more of the unit. Also, never keep these standalone units burning by themselves or run off and leave them running when you leave the house.

Watch Christmas Trees

Christmas is near and it is a time many people enjoy with the introduction of a real tree. The disadvantage to real trees is that they can catch fire from the Christmas lights. This is especially true if you use the bare larger light bulbs that increase in heat as they are used. They can overheat if they are next to a tree branch and catch your tree and house on fire. Don’t risk this. Use smaller more contained lights and keep your real tree moist by watering it daily. This may reduce your chance of fire from a Christmas tree.

Burning Leaves: A Hazard Waiting to Happen

In addition to the potential for fires in your home due to heating units or Christmas trees, you should be careful when burning leaves near your home as well. Never burn your leaves on a windy day and watch for “no burn warnings” in your area.

Get Ready For Tax Season!

What to Do This Year to Lower Your Taxes

tax season tips, preparing for tax season, how to prepare for tax season

Fall is here. It’s time for thinking about cooler weather, Thanksgiving, falling leaves – and taxes? With a new tax code in place, a few hours spent on your taxes now can produce benefits in April with the savings of both time and money. The following tips may be able to help you achieve those goals.

Organize Your Files – Which documents do you need to file your taxes? Start with last year’s tax filing and see how many forms still apply. List all the additions that you may require and gather all the supporting documents that you need to back up itemized deductions.

Don’t forget to include W-2 and 1099 forms for all sources of income, especially if any part of your income comes through freelance work. Other forms that may apply are a 1095 form to verify health care coverage purchased through the marketplace, 1098 forms for various forms of interest and tuition payments, and Schedule K-1s from any ownership interests that you have.

Account for Changes – Make sure that any life changes that can affect your tax return are properly accounted for. For example, if you changed your name via marriage or divorce, you must notify the Social Security Administration and your employer of the change. Otherwise, your tax return may not match up with Social Security records, causing problems in processing your return.

If you are using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), check the expiration date so that you have time to reapply if necessary. In addition, unless you have a self-selected PIN from a prior year, you will need last year’s adjusted gross income (AGI) for ID purposes when filing electronically. If you don’t have last year’s form handy, retrieve it now from the IRS or your tax preparer to avoid last-minute panic.

Review Deductions and Credits Now – Take a few minutes to review the available tax credits and deductions to see how many apply – and then make sure that you have the necessary paperwork (forms, receipts, etc.) to claim them. The Schedule A instructions for the past year make a good starting guide for deductions. The IRS made this early release draft of instructions available as a courtesy on October 9, 2018, and believe they have incorporated all the latest changes, but caution that there may be more changes due to unforeseen issues.

Pay special attention to tax credits because they provide a dollar-for-dollar decrease in your tax bill (as opposed to tax deductions that only reduce your taxable income) and you do not have to itemize to claim them.

Make Financial Adjustments – Now is a perfect time to check your withholding amount. Did your income change significantly throughout the year? A big bonus or a one-time income boost could leave you with a larger tax bill unless you adjust your W-4 to withhold more during the rest of the year.

This is also the time of year to make other tax-saving moves, such as maxing out your contributions to all retirement accounts, making charitable contributions, and selling off losing investments to offset any investment gains.

Choose a Preparer – If you don’t plan to do your own taxes, make sure to research preparers now. You may even want to reserve an appointment time before year’s end, so they can help you with some of the topics listed above. Otherwise, you may be stuck scrambling to find a tax preparer at the last minute – and who trusts a tax preparer that isn’t busy in early April? “The number one thing is finding someone who is honest and has integrity,” agrees Betterment Head of Tax Eric Bronnenkant. “It’s someone whom you’re trusting with all of your personal financial information, so that provision shouldn’t be taken lightly.”

What else should you look for in a tax preparer? Advises Bronnenkant, “You want to find someone who has experience with someone in your situations. Let’s say you work at a company, and you have stock options and other types of equity compensation, you want to work with someone who has experience with those types of investment vehicles. Not everyone does. Or let’s say you travel a lot, so you are working in multiple states. So, having someone who understands how to allocate your income between all the states you work in is important, too.”

We know it’s hard to get motivated to think about taxes at this time of year. Just remind yourself how grateful you will be in April that you took these steps in advance, enjoying a smoother filing and a lower tax bill – or maybe even a larger refund.

Don’t give identity thieves the chance to file a fraudulent tax return in your name.

This article was provided by our partners at MoneyTips.com.

 

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Scary Financial Facts

Because There’s Just Not Enough to Frighten Us This Halloween

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Are you ready for some Halloween horror stories? Forget Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, or Michael Myers – we’ve got something really scary for you. Those three famous horror movie characters can’t compete with these three real-life financial horrors.

The Debt’s Coming from Inside the House! Get Out Now! – America’s national debt has topped a staggering $21.6 trillion – but your main concern is your own household debt. Unfortunately, America’s household finances aren’t in much better shape.

According to the New York Federal Reserve’s Q2 2018 Household Debt and Credit Report, aggregate household debt is $13.29 trillion – the highest collective debt ever. Household debt has been rising for the last sixteen quarters. Outstanding student loans alone have topped $1.5 trillion. Revolving debt – mostly credit card debt – hit $1.03 trillion.

Out-of-control spending can crush your finances. To prevent spending binges, make a realistic budget and stick to it. If you’re attempting to reduce existing debt, budgeting is even more important – you must have a surplus at the end of the month to pay down debt.

Sinking In Interest Charges – Beware the interest rates that eat your income. They sneak up on you, waiting until you’re ready to buy a home or put extra charges on your credit card – and then they attack. Your income is slowly consumed by interest charges, leaving you nothing to live on. If only you had kept your credit score high…

The fiends at the Federal Reserve have been slowly piling on 0.25% rate hikes – three in 2017 and three in 2018 to reach 2%-2.25% with one more hike expected before the year is out. They plan to raise rates three more times in 2019. Each rate hike eventually gets passed on to you. Can you keep your head above water, or will higher rates push you under?

Fight off increasing interest rates by paying off all bills on time and controlling your spending. Never charge more than you can afford to pay off each month. You won’t have to worry about credit card interest if you don’t carry a balance – and your higher credit will qualify for better loan/mortgage rates.

The Incredible Shrinking Credit Score – Who could be at the door this Halloween? Surprise, it’s you – or an identity thief pretending to be you, buying a hundred smartphones with a fraudulent account or twenty laptop computers on your MasterCard. If you don’t check your credit report regularly, you may not see the danger until it shows up as overdue bills and a ruined credit score.

A 2018 Harris Poll survey found that nearly sixty million Americans have been affected by some form of identity theft – around 18% of the U.S. population. According to Javelin Strategy & Research, approximately 16.7 million individuals were identity theft victims in 2017 alone, with an average loss of just over $1,000.

Whether they’re fraud alerts, credit freezes, or credit monitoring services, find a protection strategy that works for you – and use common sense protections like strong passwords, anti-virus software, and shredding of documents before disposal.

You may not see any trick-or-treaters dressed as identity thieves or high-interest rates (if you do, please give them extra treats for imagination). However, those financial monsters are scary because they’re real – and they cause real financial damage.

Take preventative action and you can avoid these horrors, or at least minimize them. Don’t be the financial equivalent of horror movie teens that wander out into the woods alone at night looking for their missing friends. You know how that works out for them.

This article was provided by our partners at MoneyTips.com.

 

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