I posted this question on facebook the other day and received some interesting responses in my box, so I wanted to post it on my web to see what your thoughts are on the subject. Your thoughts about the topic? Continue reading ...
House Hunting Made Clear
7 Steps to Simplify House Hunting
House hunting is a complicated process. From finding the right
home, to locking down a mortgage rate you can afford, it is a process that requires an attention to detail and a well-thought-out plan. Below are seven steps to take as you begin house hunting to ensure you stay focused and on budget.
1. Establish your goal. Searching for your dream
house? Upgrading your current digs or looking to downsize? Whatever the goal is behind your impending home purchase, be sure you understand it clearly before beginning your house hunt. This will eliminate wasted time spent viewing homes that don’t meet your top priority.
2. Create a wish list.
Once your primary objective is in place, it’s time to list all of the
additional features and amenities you expect from the property you eventually buy. Do you want a swimming pool in the backyard, a balcony off of your master bedroom or crown molding throughout? Brainstorming must-haves and also-nice-to-haves helps to further narrow down your search field.
3. Hire a real estate agent. No one understands the intricacies of a local housing market like a real estate agent with years of experience helping others buy and sell property within it. Save yourself time and headache and hire a highly rated agent to see you through the process.
4. Get pre-approved. Knowing exactly how much you can afford to spend ahead of time helps the house hunting process goes much smoother, not to mention, eliminates the disappointment of learning you don’t have enough saved for the home you’ve had your eye on all this time. Getting pre-approved for a mortgage will set your budget straight off.
5. Ask questions and take
notes. This is probably the biggest purchase you’ll ever make, so don’t hold back if you have questions or concerns. Ensure you have no lingering questions about the property, mortgage financing terms or anything else that could lead to regret down the line. And don’t forget to write down important notes as you view house after house — things that seem important in the moment are easily forgotten after five open houses.
6. Do some recon work. Spend time hanging around the house you have your eye on, and during different times of the day. Does it get noisy? Is the traffic a nightmare? What are the neighbors up to? The worst thing would be to lock into your mortgage, only to find that while you love your house, you hate the neighborhood around it.
7. Look out for hidden expenses.
Finally, it’s important to investigate more than just the house itself to find out if there are potential money traps within. For example, find out when the home’s appliances, water heater, roof, etc. were last replaced so that you aren’t surprised with a big expense shortly after moving in.
Tips for Choosing a Tax Preparer
Top 5 Tips for Choosing a Tax Preparer
Approximately 60 percent of Americans enlist the help of a paid tax professional to file their income tax returns, as stated by the Internal Revenue Service. According to Jackson Hewitt Tax Service®, the nation's largest privately held tax preparation firm, even more consumers may turn to a tax preparer this year to determine how the passage of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 impacts their individual situations. But what are the advantages of working with a paid preparer, and what credentials should consumers look for when selecting a tax professional?
"With the sweeping last-minute tax law changes, even taxpayers who have filed their own returns in past years with do-it-yourself software should think twice this time around," says Mark Steber , chief tax officer, Jackson Hewitt Tax Service Inc. "Many taxpayers may benefit from engaging a paid professional to ensure their returns are accurate, but need to know what questions to ask and what to look for in a tax preparer. A skilled preparer who understands your tax situation, including all the tax deductions and credits available to you, can provide you with the best possible outcome, because if you miss claiming certain tax benefits on a return, they are off the table -the IRS doesn't claim them for you."
When choosing a paid tax preparer, Steber encourages consumers to consider these five tips:
Engage now — The IRS will start to accept 2012 tax returns on January 30. You may need some time to find a tax preparer who best meets your needs, so you'll want to start your search as soon as possible. It is important to ensure that your tax preparer is well-versed in all of the recent tax law changes and tax codes. The sooner you find the right preparer, the sooner you can start the filing process and ultimately get your refund, if you are owed one. Jackson Hewitt 's preparers are meeting with clients now to review documents and fill out returns in advance of the January 30 date.
Check the preparer's background — Make sure to go with someone who is qualified and credible, so check your tax preparer's history. You can conduct your own research through various sources such as the Better Business Bureau and state boards of accountancy for certified public accountants. You can also ask friends, family or co-workers for references to get a first-hand account of their experiences.
Make sure the preparer is knowledgeable — Make sure your preparer understands how tax law changes may affect you. Jackson Hewitt offers a comprehensive tax preparer training curriculum, including basic, intermediate and advanced courses, as well as ethics and ongoing update training.
Avoid preparers who ask you to sign a blank return — It is important to review your tax return completely and ask questions before signing it. Remember, you are ultimately responsible for what is reported on your tax return. Make sure you understand and are comfortable with the accuracy of the return. Check for errors such as incorrect social security numbers and addresses; these common mistakes can delay IRS processing of your return.
Use tax preparers who e-file — The majority of taxpayers today
electronically file (e-file) their tax returns. E-filing is safer than filing a paper return, offers faster processing time, greater accuracy and confirmation the IRS has received your return. Jackson Hewitt offers free e-filing.
"Taxpayers who have purchased off-the-shelf tax software and plan to prepare their own returns should confirm that these products are up-to-date, as many late-breaking changes have occurred that may not have been integrated by the time of purchase. Similarly, if you are using a trained tax professional, confirm that their software is current and up-to-date as well," adds Steber.
Six Identity Theft Risks During Tax Season
The Six Most Common Identity Theft Risks at Tax Time
(BPT) - Tax time is always tough. Whether you will owe or
anticipate a refund, plan to do your own taxes or pay a professional to do them for you, preparing and filing your taxes can be a tedious task. It can also be a risky one: the information needed to prepare your taxes is a treasure trove for enterprising identity thieves.
The nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center notes that for identity thieves, "tax time is a prime time of opportunity." Forms such as W-2s and IRS tax forms usually include your Social Security number, name and address, and often, financial account information, the
ITRC notes. Using that information, identity thieves can access your existing financial accounts, open new lines of credit and commit other acts of fraud.
It's important to keep identity protection front-of-mind during
tax preparation season. Take steps to protect yourself against these six common identity theft risks during tax time:
Stolen tax documents - Your tax forms contain a wealth of personal information. Important documents such as W-2s and interest statements begin to arrive in the mail in January. Theft of these forms could be disastrous. If you don't already have one, consider investing in a locking mailbox or renting a secure post office box. Avoid leaving incoming mail sitting in your mailbox for any length
of time, and always take outgoing mail directly to your local post office branch.
Unsecured documents - Once you've retrieved
these documents from the mailbox, don't let security lag. Never leave sensitive documents lying around in plain sight in your vehicle, home or workplace. Keep documents in a locked safe or file cabinet.
scams - Identity thieves often prey on tax-time anxiety by sending
emails or making phone calls that purport to be from the IRS or other federal agency. These tactics are designed to bilk you out of sensitive information. It's simple to avoid these scams: ignore all such communications. The IRS uses good old-fashioned snail mail - never email, text messages or phone calls - to communicate with tax payers. If you suspect you're being scammed by someone posing as an IRS representative, report the incident to the IRS by forwarding
suspicious emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sloppy CPA - You
hire a tax preparer to help ensure you get the maximum return or minimum payment - and that you don't run afoul of complex tax laws. Yet your tax preparer can cause you problems if he or she fails to properly safeguard your documents. Be cautious when hiring a tax preparer - only work with someone you know or whose reputation you've investigated. Ask who will have access to your documents and
how your preparer will keep your forms and information secure.
Slipshod storage - Everyone knows you have to hold on to tax documents. In most cases, you should keep tax returns and
supporting documents for at least three years from the date of filing. Keep forms in a secure, locked location - or store them digitally in password protected files. When it's time to dispose of documents, shred them with a cross-cut shredder before getting rid of them.
Failing to monitor your identity - Keeping an eye on your credit and financial accounts is the single most proactive step you can take to protect your identity at tax time - and throughout the year. Check your credit report before and after tax season, and several times throughout the year. Consider enrolling in a comprehensive
identity theft detection, protection and resolution product like ProtectMyID.
The product is designed to help consumers identify early signs of identity theft and minimize or prevent the damages caused by identity theft. Log on to http://www.protectmyid.com/ to learn
Tax season is stressful enough without having to worry about the
risk of identity theft. It's important to take steps to minimize your risk
leading up to tax day, and through the remainder of the year.