Diane Minguez
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RE/MAX 440   Diane Minguez
1110 North Broad Street  Lansdale, PA  19446
Office Phone: 215-362-2260    Phone: 267-575-6818  Fax: 267-354-6882  Cell: 267-575-6818
dminguez@remax.net

My Blog

Don't Let Tax Records Take a Hit from Hurricanes

June 4, 2015 2:37 am

When hurricanes and other seasonal storms are set to strike, it is important to protect personal documents, including tax records. To ensure your tax records are safe from whatever nature has in store, take the following steps, courtesy of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

1. Create an Electronic Set of Records
Taxpayers should keep a duplicate set of records including bank statements, tax returns, identifications and insurance policies in a safe place such as a waterproof container, and away from the original set.

Keeping an additional set of records is easier now that many financial institutions provide statements and documents electronically, and much financial information is available on the Internet. Even if the original records are only provided on paper, these can be scanned into an electronic format. This way, taxpayers can save them to the cloud, download them to a storage device such as an external hard drive or USB flash drive, or burn them to a CD or DVD.

2. Document Valuables
Another step a taxpayer can take to prepare for a disaster is to photograph or videotape the contents of his or her home, especially items of higher value. The IRS has a disaster loss workbook (Publication 584) which can help taxpayers compile a room-by-room list of belongings.

A photographic record can help an individual prove the fair market value of items for insurance and casualty loss claims. Ideally, photos should be stored with a friend or family member who lives outside the area.

3. Update Emergency Plans
Emergency plans should be reviewed annually. Personal and business situations change over time, as do preparedness needs. When employers hire new employees or when a company or organization changes functions, plans should be updated accordingly and employees should be informed of the changes. Make your plans ahead of time and practice them.

4. Check on Fiduciary Bonds
Employers who use payroll service providers should ask the provider if it has a fiduciary bond in place. The bond could protect the employer in the event of default by the payroll service provider.

If disaster strikes, an affected taxpayer can call 1-866-562-52271-866-562-5227 FREE (FREE) to speak with an IRS specialist trained to handle disaster-related issues.

Source: IRS.gov

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6 Garage Safeguards for New Homeowners

June 4, 2015 2:37 am

Most new homeowners are not only new to homeownership, but new to owning a garage, as well. It’s important for all homeowners, especially those with children, to stay safe while entering and exiting the garage. Here’s how, according to the experts at OverheadDoor.com.

1. Make sure the garage door opener control button is out of the reach of children and their small fingers and do not let them play with garage door remote controls.

2. Never place fingers between door sections. Consider pinch-resistant door panels to help prevent accidents.

3. Visually inspect the garage door for wear and tear. Pay particular attention to springs, cables, rollers and pulleys. Do not attempt to remove, adjust or repair these parts or anything attached to them. These parts are under high tension and should only be fixed by a trained garage door professional.

4. Test the reversing mechanism by placing a 2-inch by 4-inch board in the door's path. If the door does not reverse after contacting the object, call a qualified garage door professional for repair. If the opener has not been replaced since 1993, replace the garage door opener with a new one that has safety beams and auto-reverse as a standard feature.

5. While on vacation, unplug the garage door opener unit or use the vacation lock security switch on the wall console, which renders remotes unusable and is an optional accessory to most openers.

6. Do not leave the garage door partially open. When activated again, it may travel downward and come in contact with an object in its path. This also compromises a home's security.

Source: OverheadDoor.com

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Step One in the Mortgage Process: Review Credit

June 4, 2015 2:37 am

If you are considering buying a home, understanding your credit report and score is the first step toward obtaining financing for your purchase. According to a recent TransUnion report, a majority of would-be homebuyers remain misinformed about the mortgage process, including the factors dependent on credit scores and steps to improve credit before buying.

“Leading up to a home purchase is a particularly important time to check and understand your credit score, as it affects lending rates and mortgage terms,” explains Ken Chaplin, SVP at TransUnion. “We recommend prospective home buyers begin regularly checking their score at least three months before securing a mortgage in order to maximize their potential for the best financing options.”

Per the report, half of potential homebuyers correctly identified what factors can be impacted by a credit score, including interest rates, the amount they can borrow and their mortgage lending terms.

Less than half of potential homebuyers, however, understand their credit score measures the amount of debt they hold, the risk of not repaying back a loan, or the financial resources they have to pay back loans. About a third of prospective homebuyers incorrectly believe increasing their income or closing old accounts before applying for a mortgage would help improve their scores.

A nearly equal amount of potential homebuyers believe one month prior to purchasing is a suitable timeframe to check credit scores. One month gives homebuyers little time to take action if they discover fraudulent activity like identity theft or old, unpaid credit card debt that could negatively affect their score.

After reviewing your credit report and score, take time to research loans, rates and brokers before signing a contract. Doing this work ahead of time will pay off later with a better rate and terms. Be realistic with what you can afford. The larger your down payment, the wider your options. Putting more money down, up front, will help ensure you pay less each month.

Source: TransUnion

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5 Tips for a Tidier Home

June 3, 2015 2:36 am

(Family Features) No one wants to spend their weekend doing chores, especially when pleasant weather arrives. Get a handle on household dirt with these efficient, effective cleaning tips from the experts at home product provider Eureka.

1. Repel sweaty hands and scratches. Use furniture polish with a citrus base when cleaning appliances. These products create a low-friction surface that reduce scratches and leave an oily layer which keeps sweaty palms and fingerprints at bay.

2. Organize the entryway. Make outdoor fun more accessible with a tidy entryway, mud room or coat closet. Create bins to organize all accessories for outdoor activities: balls and gloves in one bin, swimming toys and goggles in another, and so on.

3. Recruit a cleaning crew. Give the kids something to do in summer with a few daily chores. This will lighten your load and teach lessons of accountability and responsibility. Even little mess-makers can help with age-appropriate jobs, such as picking up toys or sorting laundry by color. Create a chore chart to help keep everyone on task and ensure chores are completed in a timely fashion.

4. Create a clutter-free zone. Give yourself a little breathing room and assign a special area where no personal belongings can be placed. The kitchen is a great spot to keep clutter-free so meal prep is easier and there's a comfortable place for the family to gather.

5. Dust daily. Set aside just 10 to 15 minutes a day to properly dust one room in the home. A microfiber cloth attached to the end of a long pole with a rubber band is an easy way to reach tough spots such as light fixtures, ceilings and corners, as well as baseboards and behind heavy furniture.

Source: Walmart.com/Eureka

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Electrical Alphabet Soup: AFCIs, TRRs and More

June 3, 2015 2:36 am

There are a myriad of components involved in a home’s electrical system, and any one of them can malfunction, increasing the possibility of fire and shock, according to Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI). To minimize risk, consider protecting your home with arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs), ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) and tamper resistant receptacles (TRRs).

AFCIs – One of the major causes of electrical fire is an arc fault, which is caused by damaged, overheated or stressed wiring or devices. The most common AFCI is a branch/feeder, which replaces standard circuit breakers in the home’s electrical service panel and detects hazardous arcing conditions, shutting down electricity before a fire can start.

Other options include outlet AFCIs, which provide protection to power cords plugged into the receptacle, and combination AFCIs, which provide parallel protection for branch circuit wiring, cord sets and power supply cords downstream of the device.

GFCIs – A GFCI is a device designed to protect people from electric shock by constantly monitoring electricity flow in a circuit and quickly switching off power if it senses any loss of current. Typically, they are installed in areas where water and electricity are in close proximity, such as the bathroom, garage, kitchen and basement.

GFCIs can be installed at the main service panel, in place of standard electrical outlets, or can be used as a portable device. While GFCIs should be installed by a licensed electrician, portable GFCIs require no tools to install.

TRRs
– TRRs look just like ordinary outlets, but are designed with spring-loaded receptacle cover plates that close off the openings or slots. When equal pressure is simultaneously applied to both sides, the receptacle cover plates open to allow the standard plug to make contact with the receptacle contact points.

Without simultaneous pressure, the cover plates remain closed, preventing insertion of foreign objects and protecting children from electrical injuries. TRR technology can be combined with AFCI and GFCI receptacles.

All of these devices have proven so effective that the National Electrical Code® (NEC) requires them to be installed in all new homes. Existing homes with aging electrical systems can also benefit from these advanced technologies, which should be installed by a qualified electrician.

Source: ESFI

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Why Now May Be a Good Time to Buy

June 3, 2015 2:36 am

According to a recent National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) report, lower interest rates and home prices are significantly boosting housing affordability.

“Now is a great time for consumers to buy homes,” says NAHB Chairman Tom Woods, a home builder from Blue Springs, Mo. “Both first-time and move-up buyers can take advantage of these favorable market conditions and start building their American Dream.”

First-time homebuyers can find help qualifying for a mortgage with low down payment programs offered by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that are geared primarily toward the first-time homebuyer market. These lenders now offer mortgages with 3 percent down payments, allowing more creditworthy borrowers who lack the funds for a large down payment to obtain a home mortgage.

As housing affordability continues to improve, more consumers will discover the benefits of homeownership, including the fact that it is a primary source of net worth for many Americans, and is an important step in accumulating personal financial assets over the long term.

The financial benefits of homeownership begin in the first year for most homeowners, through the ability to deduct mortgage interest and property taxes paid off their taxable income. This can result in savings of thousands of dollars every year, especially in the early years of the mortgage when interest makes up the largest portion of the monthly payment.

In addition to the financial benefits to families, homeownership also strengthens communities. Home building increases the property tax base that supports local schools and communities.

“Homeownership builds stronger communities, provides a solid foundation for family and personal achievement and improves the quality of life for millions of people,” adds Woods.

Source: NAHB.org

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The Secret to a Healthy Home Garden

June 2, 2015 2:36 am

What's the key to a garden full of healthy plants? The secret is in the soil, says Melinda Myers, author and host of Melinda’s Garden Moment.

"Most homeowners don't have great garden soil in their yards," says Myers. ”The soil in most suburban yards has been damaged during the construction process. Typically it was scraped away and sold, or it was compacted during building."

Healthy plants require the right growing conditions and healthy, fertile soil. One way to improve the condition of your soil is through peat moss, which naturally absorbs water and slowly releases it to plants. In addition to helping to balance the soil's water retention and drainage, peat moss also improves soil aeration that improves plant health.

"The best way to improve soil is to add amendments such as compost and peat moss," says Myers. "Peat moss improves water drainage in clay soil, and peat moss helps lean, sandy soil retain water.”

Myers recommends adding 2-3 inches of organic matter to the top 12 inches of soil, which is the “basic zone” for most plantings.

Source: PeatMoss.com

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Save on Utilities with DIY Filter Swap

June 2, 2015 2:36 am

\One of the easiest ways to boost indoor air quality at home is to change the filter on your HVAC unit. Replacing the filter becomes even more important when your cooling unit is running consistently, according to the experts at FiltersUSA. An inefficient filter can produce greater stress on the blower motor and restrict airflow, increasing energy expenses and the possibility of a breakdown.



How can you tell when the filter must be replaced? A general rule of thumb is to replace the filter at times proportional to the frequency of use. Doing so will prevent the cooling coil from becoming clogged or freezing.



To change the filter, turn the air conditioner off, open the cabinet and pull out the old filter, noting the direction of the airflow arrow. Insert a new filter in the same direction of the arrow.



The type of filter you use will have different results. A denser filter media with a higher MERV rain will capture smaller particles; electronic air cleaners remove the smallest particles.

If you live in an apartment building with limited access to the HVAC unit, consider using an inexpensive portable room air cleaner, many of which are small enough to move from room to room and offer true HEPA filtration.



Source: FiltersUSA.com


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9 Tips for Cyber Space Safety

June 2, 2015 2:36 am

Though social networking has become a mainstay of society, many of us don’t think twice about digital safety when surfing, chatting and sharing. According to the National Cyber Security Alliance, some thought must be given to ensuring that Internet-based activities remain safe and secure.

Whether posting pictures on Snapchat, posing questions on Ask.fm or using any of the thousands of other social apps and sites, we all love to share. Remember to:


Share with care. Sharing private photos or details online, even in emails, can cause problems later on. Even folks you consider friends can use the information you share online against you.

Be nice online.
Or at least treat people the way you want to be treated. If someone upsets you, try not to react; instead, use privacy tools to block them.

Be smart about pictures.
It is fun to share pictures, but you never know who might see them or how they might affect you in the future.

Avoid in-person meetings with people you don't know. It is not necessarily bad to interact with strangers online, but be careful with what information you share and very careful (by letting someone else know or having someone accompany you) before agreeing to meet someone you do not know.

Chat carefully.
If a game allows you to chat with other players, be careful about the information you disclose.

Know the apps. Make sure apps are only downloaded from reputable app stores and check their privacy disclosures and settings.

Be location savvy. Apps that share your location with friends and family can be great, but be sure only the right people can find out where you are.

Lock your phone. Make sure that you have a secret PIN (personal identification number), a password, fingerprint setting or other security measures in place so that only you can access your phone.

Know how to locate and wipe your phone. There are free tools (like Apple’s iCloud Find my Phone and Google’s Android Device Manager) that will help you find your device if it is turned on or wipe it clean if it becomes lost.



Source: National Cyber Security Alliance

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5 Financial Planning Tips for College

June 1, 2015 2:33 am

Did you know the average American college student is now graduating with $33,000 in debt? And with more than half of parents placing higher value on college savings over retirement, learning to save smart is more important than ever, says nonprofit American Consumer Credit Counseling (ACCC).

One way to do so is with a 529 plan–an investment plan operated by a state or educational institution, with tax advantages and other incentives to make it easier to save for college for a designated beneficiary, such as a child or grandchild. Operating similar to IRA and 401(k) plans, 529 college savings plans allow parents to save for a child's education tax-free through an array of investment options.

There are two types of 529 plans: prepaid tuition plans and savings plans. The plans are named after Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code and are administered by state agencies and organizations.

In addition to enrolling in a 529 savings plan, students and families can save for college and manage expenses during school by:

Learning to Budget Now
– Developing a realistic and manageable budget is a valuable lifelong skill that is essential for anyone in college, preparing to go to college, or just graduating. Start by using a budgeting worksheet for students to get an accurate picture of your income and expenses. By comparing and contrasting your total income and expenses, you will be able to create a feasible budget plan. By sticking to your budget, you will avoid going into any unnecessary credit card debt.

Being Wary of Credit Card Debt
– Credit card companies target college students because they have little experience managing their money. If you sign up for a credit card, don’t get carried away. Get your payment in by the due date or you'll be slapped with late fees and create additional debt for yourself.

Working – Consider a part-time job, tutoring, paid internships or work-study programs to earn and save money while in school. If you’re looking to get an apartment after graduation, make your student loan payments, or relocate for a job, saving for your future will help you in the long run.

Using Your Student ID for Discounts
– Not only will you need it to enter your dorm, the dining hall, and the library, but your student ID can also earn you discounts at hundreds of retailers nationwide. If you are not sure if a company offers a student discount, just ask. You can also find a list of discounts at ConsumerCredit.com.

Taking Stock of Your Financial Situation – Too many students graduate from college without any idea of how much they’ll have in student loans, or how much to expect to make at their first job. Make sure you know how much school costs per year, what your parents are covering, what you’ll be expected to cover, and budget for rent and living expenses accordingly.

Source: ACCC

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