Winter Cleaning!

House cleaning product on wood table

Pro Tip: If you clean and organize your home during Winter, when Spring gets here you won’t have to do it! Plus, who wants to be stuck inside cleaning when the birds start chirping and the sun starts shining past 4 o’clock?! Not I. So! Without further ado, here are the best (100% FREE!) tips for cleaning and de-cluttering your home today.

 

  1. Get rid of things you don’t use! Your local shelter will take all that stuff off your hands and give it to people who need it, assuming it’s in usable condition. An easy way to decide whether or not you need something is if you’ve used it in the last year. With your clothes, you can turn all the hangers around backwards and whenever you wear something, turn the hanger back and after a year, you’ll see just how much you don’t really wear!
  2. No Junk Drawers. Drawers are so easy to stuff things in. Out of sight out of mind, right? Try using a drawer organizer, or put a non-slip liner in and use small decorative bowls and plates!
  3. Always work from Top to Bottom.  Clean ceiling fans and ceilings first, it will prevent you from having to dust or clean things twice. Vacuum last, and always use a HEPA filter.
  4. Wipe Everything Down. Walls, windows, kitchen cabinets, shower tile, appliances, TV’s, try one of these household cleaners.
  5. Wash (or Dry) everything.  Wash the bedding, the extra blankets, the curtains if labels allow, throw the pillows in the dryer for 15 minutes. Sprinkle some baking soda on your bare mattress and vacuum it up after 15 minutes. I promise you’ll sleep better tonight.
  6. Set Limits! Nobody needs forty-two different size screws and throw that magazine away, you’re not going to read it. Let your space allow for limits, if you can’t find a place for it that’s practical, get rid of it.

Driving in a Winter Wonderland

car accident

 

Every year I am more and more flabbergasted by my ancestors’ choice to settle in such horrid and cold conditions. Did they not know Texas was there? *Sigh*  Maybe someday I’ll write blogs about the best sunscreen to use year-round or how to plant a garden in mid-December. But until I can move south (As South as I possibly can, perhaps the Yucatan Peninsula, I bet it’s never snowed there) I’ll share with you a few tips for Driving in this icy, messy, blizzard-y weather.

  • First and foremost, Defensive Driving. Be aware of your surroundings, use your peripherals, mirrors and other eyes in the vehicle. Watch out for other vehicles that have maybe lost control or seem to be sliding.
  • Keep your distance. The only accident I’ve ever been in (knock on wood) was a rear-end collision because someone behind me was following too close and the street was icy. Experts say (what constitutes an expert in winter driving? I would like to put my name in the bowl!) you should leave at least FOUR car lengths between you and the car in front of you if possible. This should give you plenty of room to stop short, if need be.
  • Correct yourself correct. If tragedy strike and you DO start to slide, RELEASE THE GAS OR BRAKE PEDAL! I know your first instinct will be to brake; RESIST!!! Another instinctual movement would be to turn left if you’re sliding right. WRONG. Turn about a half a crank of the wheel in the same direction you’re sliding. This may not be necessary, though, as letting off the brake will usually work.
  • Don’t stop if you don’t have to. If you’re driving slow enough you can probably avoid most stops, short of red lights or trains….do trains run in the snow?! I don’t know!
  • AWD. All Wheel Drive. That means all 4 of your tires are working simultaneously toward the same goal, thus obviously making it much easier for your vehicle to get around, especially in snow and ice. Most Crossovers and SUVs come with 4 Wheel Drive built-in, but if you’re in the market for something less “macho”,  AWD is standard in almost every Subaru ever built. Bonus: Subaru makes pretty stylin’ station wagons, and who doesn’t love those??
  • Stay Home. This becomes increasingly hard the older I get. I just want to go to the grocery store without risking frostbite on my fingers! But honestly, if you’re scared to drive, just don’t. You’re not only putting yourself at risk, but other drivers and passengers, too. Plus, you can pretty much get ANYTHING delivered nowadays. Even Wal-Mart delivers. And like everyone’s grandma used to say, Better Safe Than Sorry!

 

Can You Write That Off?

 

money people

First of all, I would like to remind you the difference between a tax deduction and a tax credit. A tax deduction cuts the amount of income you’re taxed on, and a credit cuts your tax bill directly.  Now that we’ve got that figured out, let’s look at the top tax deductions most people can use:

 

  • Business Expenses – If you’re running a business, there are certain expenses you can write off, just click that link!

 

  • Student Loan Interest – Who doesn’t have these nowadays?! If you paid off a certain amount and have an AGI (Adjusted Gross Income) under a certain amount, you may be able to deduct up to $2,500 of that interest! Check this link to see if your payments qualify.

 

  • Mortgage Interest – How. Exciting! Note that you will have to itemize your deductions if you want to write this interest off. You can’t claim the standard deduction. You can actually write off the interest you pay on the first $750,000 of your mortgage ($375,000 if married and filing separately) if you purchased your home between December 16, 2017 and January 1, 2026. If you bought your home previous to that date, you can deduct the interest you paid on up to $1 million ($500,000 if married filing separately) of your mortgage.

 

  • Medical and Dental Expenses – You will also have to itemize your deductions in order to write off these expenses, but if they exceed 10% of your AGI, they are deductible! And almost ALL medical and dental expenses fall under this category. Check right here to see what you can and can’t write off.

 

  • Charitable Contributions – It literally pays to give back! Again, you’re going to have to itemize your deductions for this one.  Almost every penny you have donated can be deducted. You will need proof of these from whomever you donated to, so make sure you get receipts! You can find more information on this deduction right here.

 

  • Traditional IRA Contributions – You don’t have to itemize your deductions for this one, which makes everything so much easier. If you’ve saved money in a traditional IRA you may be able to deduct up to $6,000 ($7,000 if you’re over 50 years of age) and also have an AGI under a certain amount. Click here to see your limits.

 

  • HSA Contributions – If you had a Health Savings Account in 2019, you may be able to deduct what you put in. Here is a great article about HSA’s and the write offs.

 

Friendly Reminder that the deadline to file your taxes is April 15, 2020! Hopefully these deductions will make it a little easier to do!

 

 

What to get the Kid who has Everything

FryeKidsScreenTime_0224

“Back in my day, kids played outside!”

“We didn’t have any screens to stare at when we were kids.”

We all have our feelings about “kids these days” and their technology, but it’s not going anywhere. Computers are only advancing and every generation will rely on it more and more. So, most kids already have a PlayStation, an XBox, an iPad, an iPhone, a smart watch, something to keep them connected. For those who think “What could I possibly get the kid who has everything?”, here are a few ideas that don’t require anything but your time (and a little bit of money)!

  • Concert Tickets  – Because live music is always awesome. Sharing a concert with kids is such an awesome experience, especially their first one. Click here to find concerts in your area!
  • A Vacation – Kids need a break, too! (The Grand Canyon, Black Hills, Disney World, )
  • Music Lessons – Music has been scientifically proven to enhance pretty much every part of brain development in children. If you’re not sure which instrument, piano is a pretty safe choice!
  • Gardening Gear – Kids love to be independent and what better way to teach that than growing a live plant, bonus if you plant food! Depending on where you live, you may have to save this for spring, but self-sustainability is the gift that keeps on giving! Try this Indoor Herb Garden Starter Kit.
  • Memberships – Your local children’s museum, zoo or activity center usually has yearly memberships available.
  • A Subscription Box – Get a new box every month! There are so many different kinds, here are a few ideas:

                Kiwi Crate (for crafty kids)

                KidStir (for Chefs of all ages)

                Tinker Crate (for STEM)

                Green Kid Crafts (for hands-on Science experiments!)

Whatever you decide to get the awesome child in our life, remember that the time you spend with them is priceless. Happy Holidays.

Common Holiday Hazards and Safety Tips

A fire is always a tragedy, and a fire during the holidays is even worse. The holidays bring about a lot of hazards including plugging a bunch of lights into one surge protector (think Ellen Griswold checking the PLETHORA of plugs in the garage trying to figure out why Clark’s lights aren’t working). Real Christmas trees also raise concerns since watering them is a MUST if you don’t want your tree going up in flames. Here is a quick list to stay safe this Holiday Season!

watering tree

  • Keep trees away from candles, fireplaces, radiators and other heat sources (Fake and Real trees are both flammable!)
  • If you have a real tree, water it DAILY!
  • Check holiday lights for fraying, bare spots, gaps in the insulation or excessive kinking in the wire
  • Turn off all lights and decorations when not in use
  • No more than 2 sets of lights should be plugged in to the same outlet
  • Keep your lights from dangling where your pets could chew on them
  • Keep potential poisonous plants away from pets and kids (Holly, Mistletoe, Amaryllis, Jerusalem Cherry)
  • When preparing meals, wash your hands, utensils, sink and anything else that touches raw meat
  • Heat all leftovers to at least 165 degrees
  • Refrigerate hot and cold leftovers within 2 hours of being served
  • Designate a Sober Driver
  • Don’t put your travel plans on social media (burglars exist in the cold, too!)
  • Clean your Chimney (because how else is Santa supposed to get in??)

happy puppy

The Holidays are stressful, hopefully these tips will save you any unnecessary headaches this Season.

How Easy Is It To Buy A Home?

 

House on stack of cash

Does the thought of buying a home scare you? Are you thinking there’s no way you would qualify? And where would you even start? Is it really that hard? I’ve outlined the major steps here, and I’m willing to bet it’s much easier than you think.

Step One: Get a Realtor

Step Two: Figure out your budget

  • Here is a really easy mortgage calculator for you to figure out what exactly you can afford.

Step Three: Get Pre-Approved

  • Going to your local Bank or Credit Union will usually take you less than an hour and will give you a starting point for your budget.
  • Make sure you have all your documents with you: Bank statements, Check stubs and Tax Returns for the past 2 years.
  • Shop around! Talk to more than one bank, find the best deal for you.

Step Four: Start Shopping

  • You can look for houses from your couch (or bed!) anytime you like. Here are a few websites: NextHome TriStateRealtor.com or download our App (NextHome Mobile Connect on iOS/Andriod)
  • Drive around potential neighborhoods, some For Sale By Owner listings may not be on the internet.
  • Ask your friends! Some homes for sale may be private listings, or not quite on the market yet.
  • Be realistic about your needs. Cosmetic changes (paint colors, carpet, etc) are easy fixes!

Step Five: Make an Offer

  • If you’re asking for the Seller(s) to cover some or all of your closing costs, keep that in mind if your offer is lower than asking price.
  • Consider other potential offers, if you’ve found the house of your dreams, don’t go too low! Other people probably like it, too.
  • Be patient. Sellers love to make you wait.

Step Six: Get A Home Inspection!!!!

  • Self-explanatory and will save you a headache or twelve, trust us.

Step Seven: Down Payment

  • Definitely the scariest part! How will you ever come up with that much money?!? Good news, a lot of states have First-Time Home Buyer Down Payment Assistance programs, which you can find here.
  • More and more states are also offering Tax-Free Savings Accounts for Down Payments! Find out if yours does here!
  • If you still don’t have enough, consider picking up a seasonal part-time job or de-cluttering your home and selling all the stuff you don’t need.

Step Eight: Closing Time

  • Be sure not to make any other large purchases while searching for a home. Your credit needs to be as close to what it was at pre approval as possible.

Step Nine: Move In!

  • Congratulations! You did it. Relax, open some bubbly and take it all in.

If you have any questions about anything, someone from NextHome would be more than happy to help you!

 

Happy Hunting

 

 

About the Boomerang Generation

Boomerang generation is a term used to describe the millions of young adults who, after graduating from high schoolresize or college and living on their own, return to the family home to live with their parents.

This ongoing trend occurs for a variety of reasons. Some young adults make the move simply because they want to, but most often it’s due to financial difficulties caused by things like job loss, a lack of financial skills, a relationship breakup, an inability to secure a high-paying job, increased debt, a lack of affordable housing, and costly student loan debt.

Recent studies suggest that young adults who have not completed college specifically are at an increased risk to boomerang back into the family home. So while college completion can lower their boomerang risk, high cost tuition and student loan debt can raise it again.

Sharing household expenses with parents provides adult children an opportunity to save money for their future while allowing parents an alternative to providing supplemental income to their children.

Reentering the home requires communication though and a great deal of thoughtful planning. It also requires young adults (and their parents) to change and adapt to new roles in the household as adults- no longer as children.

With the ultimate goal of financial independence, a predetermined plan should take into consideration the following:

By how much will household expenses increase with another occupant?
Where will the adult child be employed?
How much rent will the adult child be expected to pay?
How much will he put away into savings?
What rules might be implemented regarding risky social behaviors?
Who in the home will be responsible for which household tasks?
Will the adult child require a financial adviser, a credit counselor, a psychiatrist, or any other professional services?
How will the individuals within the home maintain their privacy?
Is this arrangement short or long term- what is the move out goal date?

Although these conversations may seem awkward or uncomfortable, communication is critical for the arrangement to be successful. Effective communication and planning will establish the boundaries and expectations for everyone involved so futures can be planned accordingly. Communication and planning can preserve the relationship between parent and child and pave the way for an adult child’s future financial success.

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Building Home Equity

Because of depreciation, many assets lose value Home equitywhen you pay them off. Homes, however increase in value over time so building equity in your home is a great strategy for building wealth and financial security.

 

What is home equity?
Home equity is often considered a homeowner’s largest asset. It can be calculated by subtracting the total home loan(s) balance from the home’s market value. For example: if your current debt on your home is $200,000 and your home’s current market value is $250,000, you have approximately $50,000 in equity.

Why is home equity important?
Home equity is an asset so it’s part of your net worth. Having home equity can be extremely valuable as it can be used for:
– Making home improvements
– Purchasing another home
– As an emergency fund
– To pay down other high rate loans such as credit cards
– To invest

How is home equity built?
In order to build equity, a home’s loan balance must go down and the home’s value must go up.
To reduce loan balance:
– Make a large down payment
– Make extra loan payments
– Consider a 15 year mortgage vs 30 year
– Consider a refinance at a lower rate or for a shorter term

To increase the home’s value:
– Maintain the home properly
– Make high return on investment home improvements (indoors and outdoors)

Getting the Most from a Home Warranty

Unlike homeowner’s insurance that offers protection against perils such as weather and other natural disasters, Warranty househome warranties offer protection against major home system failures.

The protection of home warranties can offer homeowners peace of mind against major repairs and unforeseen expense by assigning the repair risk over to the warranty provider.

Resale homes, in particular are great candidates for home warranties as the used systems and appliances they contain already have wear and tear and often times limited life remaining.

Here are three important tips in getting the most out of a home warranty:

Know your coverage
Know what is covered and what isn’t. Home warranty coverages differ and the providers that offer them differ too. Most home warranties cover all major systems within a home including central heating and cooling systems, electrical components, plumbing systems, clothes washers/dryers, and kitchen appliances.
Home warranty providers offer coverage at an annual premium, but they also include deductibles and service call fees. Knowing what those costs are can help you to weigh the benefits of one plan over another.

Perform routine maintenance
Home systems must be “properly maintained” so knowing what a provider deems as proper maintenance is crucial in identifying any potential policy exclusions. Your maintenance performance as well as that of the previous homeowner before you will be evaluated by service technicians and relevant to your policy.

Choose a reputable warranty provider
Some warranty providers are prompt and professional and some are not. Researching a provider’s reviews as well as its service history is important to identify a reliable company. Home warranty providers typically have data available to reflect its performance and claim history. Use that data to compare and choose the provider that will offer you the peace of mind you deserve.

Is Mold Making You Sick

Mold is a type of fungus that grows in moist areas, both indoors and outdoors. For someone with a mold allergy, Moldyexposure to mold can cause the immune system to overreact resulting in uncomfortable symptoms.

The good news is that even if you have a mold allergy, mold is not likely to kill you. The bad news, however, is that it can make you extremely uncomfortable and potentially cause long term health problems such as asthma.

So… how do you know if mold is making you sick?

What are your symptoms-
Allergic reactions to mold are similar to those of other allergies and include symptoms like headache, sneezing, runny nose, throat irritation, itchy watery eyes, cough/congestion, skin rashes, and hives.

What are the conditions-
While mold is available year round, it’s more prominent during warm, humid conditions and is often found in wet or damp areas. If you have experienced any type of recent flooding, the conditions are ideal for mold growth which can happen very quickly. Any damp area within a home or commercial building should be properly cleaned and dried immediately.

Have you been tested-
Doctors can perform blood tests to look for antibodies in your immune system after exposure to mold. Skin tests are also available which include pricking or scratching the surface of the skin to identify mold allergies.

Many people can be exposed to mold with no effect, while many others can suffer significantly from its exposure. If you believe you or a family member may have a mold sensitivity or allergy, take precautions within your home by preventing the growth of mold.

– dry all wet areas immediately
– monitor indoor humidity levels and maintain sufficient air flow
– ensure proper slope and gutter drainage
– consider investing in mold resistant home products