Category: Advice

Documents to Bring to Your Tax Preparer

In many parts of the country, April marks a return to warm temperatures, landscapes marked by blooming foliage and perhaps even a colorful flower or two. April also signals tax season, a notion that may elicit different reactions than warmer weather and budding plants, particularly among those who do not anticipate receiving a tax refund.

According to the Internal Revenue Service, the deadline to file a 2023 tax return is Monday, April 15, 2024. Individuals who file more complicated returns or those who simply don’t have the time to file on their own typically look to tax preparation professionals to ensure their returns are filed correctly and on time. As the tax deadline draws closer, taxpayers who work with tax preparation professionals can make that partnership go more smoothly by ensuring they bring along these necessary documents and details to their appointments.

Social Security Numbers

Individuals who are filing as single or jointly with a spouse will need to list the Social Security numbers of each person on the return. Taxpayers with dependents will need to provide the full names and Social Security numbers of each dependent as well as their own Social Security numbers.

Identification

A copy of a form of identification, such as a driver’s license or passport, also must be included in a tax return. The identification confirms a person’s identity and the name on the ID provided must match the name associated with the Social Security number provided.

Income statements

Tax preparers need a copy of each taxpayer’s W-2 form, which employers must provide by the end of January. Taxpayers with more than one job must provide a W-2 from each employer. Additional income statements, such as forms indicating gambling winnings or retirement account distributions, also must be provided to the tax prep pro. Taxpayers who have such income should contact their tax preparation pro prior to their appointment to determine which additional income form they need to file.

Tax Deduction Documents

Tax deductions save taxpayers money, and taxpayers may be eligible for a range of deductions. For example, homeowners who finance their home purchases with mortgages will receive a 1098 form from their mortgage provider each January. That form is a mortgage interest statement that can help homeowners reduce their tax obligations. Donations, student loan interest payments and college tuition costs are some additional potential deductions. Charities, student loan servicing firms and colleges or universities should provide tax deduction documents by the end of January, and taxpayers can turn these forms over to their tax preparation professional so they earn all eligible deductions.

Receipts

Some expenses are eligible for tax deductions. Taxpayers can contact their tax preparation professional to determine if any medical bills, business expenses, charitable contributions, or additional expenses are deductible. Receipts may be required, and individuals are urged to hold on to any receipts they might be able to use to earn a tax deduction.

Tax season has arrived, and taxpayers are urged to provide all relevant documents to their tax preparers to ensure their returns are filed correctly and on time.

Turn Your Bedroom Into A Relaxing Retreat

Bedrooms are more than places to lay our heads at the end of the day. Bedrooms serve different functions, and not all are conducive to relaxation.

People who use their bedrooms as a work space may find they’re compromising their well-being by introducing activities into the bedroom. The Sleep Foundation says having an office in the bedroom blurs the lines between work and personal life, which can have serious effects on sleep. Rather, people should be looking to turn their bedrooms into relaxing retreats that offer a respite from the outside world.

Remove Blue-Light Emitting Devices

Computers, tablets, smartphones, and other electronic devices emit blue light, which can compromise natural melatonin production in the body that contributes to sleep. Such devices should not be used at night in the bedroom.

Use A Neutral Color Palette

Neutral color palettes evoke a spa feeling. Walls can be painted white, beige or a light shade of gray. This can help the room feel calming and welcoming.

Declutter The Room

A sense of calm can be achieved simply by removing excess clutter. There is some evidence that the brain is more calm near an empty dresser, desk or clothes hamper. Therefore, removing excessive items from the room is a first step to making a nice retreat.

Add Soft Lighting

Adjust the intensity and the color of the lighting in the bedroom. It should be subtle and warming. Dimmers enable homeowners to adjust lighting as needed.

Install An Electric Fireplace

There is something to be said for the relaxing effects of gazing into the flames of a fire. A crackling (faux-wood) fire is an added layer of indulgence in a bedroom.

Add An Area Rug

Even in rooms with carpeting, an area rug under the bed can further define the perimeter of the bed and add extra plushness underfoot.

Invest In Aromatherapy Diffusers

Certain smells can create a relaxing mood. These may be sandalwood, lavender or jasmine. Utilizing their preferred scents, homeowners can employ reed diffusers in their bedrooms to enjoy the aromas of natural oils.

Used Closed Storage

Open shelves and visible closet interiors may not hide a mess. Exposure to clutter can contribute to feelings of anxiety. Store items that shouldn’t be on display behind closed doors or drawers.

Bring In Luxury Linens

Homeowners should not skimp on comforters, sheets, duvet covers, and pillows for their beds. A cozy bed to dive right into can serve as the centerpiece of a bedroom retreat.

Turning a bedroom into a relaxing space can help individuals sleep better and reduce anxiety.

How To Find The Right Real Estate Agent

Working with a real estate agent can give both buyers and sellers an edge in what continues to be a challenging real estate market. Agents, brokers and Realtors® are professionals who have distinct expertise and knowledge of the process of buying and selling homes. That expertise is evidenced by how many people rely on real estate professionals each year. A 2022 Zillow Group Consumer Housing Trends report found 88 percent of homeowners choose to list their homes with a real estate agent when it comes time to sell.

Individuals understand that it can be in their best interests to work with real estate professionals, but they may not know where to look as they seek to work with one. Here are some tips for finding the right match in a real estate professional.

Know The Difference In Real Estate Professionals

Real estate agents are required by the state in which they operate to pass a real estate license exam. Real estate brokers take it a step further and undergo additional training, which could bring additional experience to the table. Realtors® are members of the National Association of Realtors® and beholden to its strict code of ethics. These individuals also may have undergone additional training that qualifies them to work with certain types of clients, such as seniors.

Seek Referrals

Friends or family members, or even others in the community, can put people in touch with real estate professionals. When asking for referrals, individuals can inquire about certain professionals and how they handled buying and/or selling a home.

Work With The Right Type Of Agent

Generally speaking, real estate agents either work with buyers or sellers in the transaction. Many will do both, but some specialize in buying or selling. Find a professional who either does both or specializes in your position.

Research An Agent’s Online Presence

Use the internet to see if the agent has a website, a particular philosophy or a specialty. This also may be a place to check online reviews. Don’t be dissuaded by one or two poor reviews. However, if there are many, it may be best to look elsewhere.

Meet and Interview Potential Agents

Individuals should speak with a couple of real estate professionals to see what they offer. This is a good way to determine if there is a connection there, and whether the agent will get the results needed. A well-prepared agent will come with data, including “comps” of properties in the area. Professionals typically have information about the current market trends and a portfolio of the homes they have brokered recently.

Go With Gut Instincts

If it’s between two people of equal qualification, select the person with whom you have a stronger rapport. This person will be guiding you through a sizable financial transaction, so comfort level is important.

Finding the right real estate professional can take some time. But the right professional will guide clients through the often complex and occasionally frustrating process of buying or selling property.

Steps To Secure Your Financial Privacy

Safeguarding personal financial data has never been more important, as an increasingly digital world has made online banking that much more prevalent. Cyber crimes are a significant concern. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, no less than 422 million individuals were impacted by cyber crime in 2022, and nearly 33 billion accounts are anticipated to be breached by the end of 2023. Cyber crimes are happening every day, even if the public only hears about the largest data breaches.

Financial institutions as well as retailers and other businesses that require the use of personal financial information are obligated to safeguard customer data. According to the Federal Trade Commission, financial institutions protect the privacy of consumers’ finances under a federal law called the Financial Modernization Act of 1999, also known as the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. That law governs banks, securities firms, insurance companies, and companies providing many other types of products and services. The law dictates how financial institutions can collect and disclose customer’s personal financial information.

Individuals also have key roles to play in protecting themselves. Though even the best precautions cannot completely secure your financial privacy, every little effort is worth it to reduce your risk of being victimized by data theft. These tips from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority can help individuals safeguard their privacy.

· You have the right to opt out of the sharing of some of your personal information with affiliates and non-affiliates of a financial institution. For example, you can opt out of receiving prescreened credit offers by way of credit bureaus selling information about you to lenders or insurance.

· Increase awareness of phishing scams. These often are emails that appear to come from legitimate firms or financial regulators asking for personal information. These entities would never ask for account numbers, passwords, credit card information, or Social Security numbers through email. Verify all communication with the financial institution by contacting that institution directly at the number listed on your account statement or bill.

· Be aware of where you click online. Never click on a questionable link or download a suspicious email attachment.

· Strong passwords can keep accounts more secure. Resist the urge to use the same password across many accounts. Once that password is compromised, the cyber criminal may be able to try it on your other accounts. Consider using a password manager to suggest and save strong and unique passwords for each account.

· Utilize multifactor authentication whenever it is available. MFA adds an extra layer of protection by using a password as well as a unique code or biometric to unlock the account.

· Conduct all financial business on a personal device on a secure network. Delete the cache and history frequently to avoid leaving a digital trace.

These steps can help protect financial security. Individuals need to be diligent in safeguarding their information from cyber criminals.

Why Regular Car Washes Are Important

Taking care of a vehicle involves more than just maintaining the equipment under the hood. There are a number of steps involved in keeping a car or truck in top form, and that includes regular car washes.

Car washes keep a vehicle shiny and clean, which can help it look good while sitting in the driveway or cruising the highway. However, regular car washes are more than cosmetic.

Protection From The Sun

A car that is routinely and properly washed and waxed is less vulnerable to damage from the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

Extend The Life Of Paint

Dirt and debris can build up on the paint surface and eventually lead to scratches and other damage. Bird droppings and sap can be corrosive. Washing will help remove grime and protect the paint in the process.

Preserve The Vehicle’s Value

Drivers who plan to sell or trade in their vehicles in the future should realize that a well-maintained car can bring in as much as 20 percent more for above-average condition, according to Kelley Blue Book. Maintaining a clean and shiny vehicle can protect its long-term value.

Remove Salt

Drivers who live near the ocean or in areas where roads are salted in the winter to melt snow may have cars with high salt corrosion rates. Unless it’s washed off frequently, salt can take its toll, leading to damage.

Improve Fuel Efficiency

Drivers have felt pain in their wallets at the fuel pump in recent years. Dirty cars may be less aerodynamic and less fuel-efficient as a result. Keeping a car clean may improve its fuel efficiency.

Maintain The Interior

Car washes are not only about the exterior. Keeping a clean and tidy interior can help improve the air quality inside of the vehicle and prolong the life of upholstery, mats and interior components.

Car washes should be a routine part of vehicle maintenance. Professional car washes tend to be more eco-friendly than washing a car at home, so drivers are urged investigate their service plans and features.

Symptoms Of Plumbing Problems

The drip of a faucet, the bang of pipes and the visible signs of a leak under the sink are some notable indicators of plumbing problems. Other, potentially serious issues may not be so evident. How can homeowners tell if they have potential plumbing problems? The following are some sights and sounds that indicate it is time to call in a plumber.

Banging or Clanking

Plumbers refer to these noises as water hammer. This is when a rush of water forces through the pipe and bumps into a closed valve, producing a metallic noise. Something is in the pipe that is restricting water flow. Over time, the flow of water meeting an obstacle could loosen pipe joints as the water tries to find an easier workaround.

Pipe Discoloration

If there is any sign of discoloration on pipes, particularly rust, it could be a symptom of a dripping sink or drain line that is slowly leaking. A slow leak can eventually turn into a big mess if left unattended.

Sewer Smells

Pipes need traps and vents. Traps are designed to prevent sewer gas from entering the home, while vents channel sewer odor up to the roof. If there are sewer smells, it could mean a trap has dried out or a vent line is cracked, says Family Handyman.

Low Water Pressure

If you turn on the faucet and the water pressure is poor, it could be the result of a clog or a leak somewhere in the system. Pipes that are improperly sized for a home also can affect pressure.

Sluggish Drains

Clearing drains is perhaps the only plumbing problem that homeowners should address themselves. More often than not, drains that fail to drain quickly have a blockage such as hair or other debris. If attempts to clear the drain do not work, it is best to bring in a professional plumber.

Shaking Sounds

Water can cause occasional noises, but if the sounds are frequent, the pipes are not secured firmly enough. A plumber will need to tighten the mounting straps or even completely replace them.

Plumbing issues are nothing to take lightly, as small problems can quickly escalate and cause thousands of dollars in damage.

Tips To Prepare For Flu Season

Influenza is more common than people may realize. Data from the World Health Organization indicates there are around one billion cases of seasonal influenza each year. Though only a small fraction of those cases result in severe illness, even a mild case of the flu can be unpleasant and disruptive.

The phrase “flu prevention” may be somewhat misleading, as the best people can do is reduce their risk for seasonal influenza. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the best way to do that is to get vaccinated against the flu each year. Each year’s flu shot is different, as researchers design the vaccination based on which strand of influenza they anticipate will be most prevalent in a given year. In addition to getting vaccinated, individuals can consider these tips, courtesy of the CDC, to protect themselves and others from the flu and stop the spread of germs.

  • Steer clear of close contact. Individuals who are sick can steer clear of close contact with other people in order to safeguard them from the flu. On the flip side, people who live or work with individuals who have the flu can avoid close contact as well.
  • Don’t be a hero. The CDC urges anyone who is sick with the flu to stay home until their illness subsides. Avoid going to school, work and running errands so you can help to prevent the virus from spreading.
  • Cover up. The CDC notes that the flu virus spreads primarily through droplets produced when people with influenza cough, sneeze or talk. When around others, cover your mouth and nose, particularly when sneezing or coughing. When you have to sneeze or cough, do so into the cradle of your elbow. Coughing into your hands could help to spread the virus, as germs can transfer from your hand onto surfaces others may touch, like doorknobs and handles.
  • Routinely wash your hands. Make it a habit to wash your hands regularly. When returning home, wash your hands before you do anything else. This is especially important when returning home from places where lots of people tend to congregate, such as grocery stores and restaurants. Lathering hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds can help get rid of germs. If soap and water is not available, the CDC recommends using an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. The CDC notes that germs spread when people touch contaminated surfaces or objects and then touch their eyes, nose or mouth. It’s easy to touch your eyes, nose or mouth without even thinking about it, but make a concerted effort to avoid touching these areas to safeguard yourself and others from the flu.

Seasonal influenza can be a disruptive and potentially deadly force. Various practices can help people protect themselves and others from contracting the flu.

Snow Blower Safety Tips

Meteorologists are predicting an El Niño weather pattern this winter. What that spells out for particular regions of the country remains to be seen, but when snow hits certain areas hard, cleanup will be necessary.

It is essential for homeowners and business owners to get outdoors promptly to remove snow from walkways for the safety of pedestrians. Shoveling snow can be back-breaking work, particularly when the snow is very wet or compacted. That’s why many people have invested (or plan to invest) in snow blowers to make faster work of snow removal. While these tools are quite effective, they require caution and proper technique to help avoid injuries. The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates there are 5,740 hospital emergency room-related injuries associated with snow blowers each year. The organization Safety Now says most injuries associated with snow blowers involve injuries to the hands or fingers, including amputation.

Individuals can prevent common injuries and even death by following these snow blower safety guidelines.

  • Read the owner’s manual to understand all of the controls and features before use.
  • Dress accordingly for the weather, including using sturdy footwear with good traction. Boot or shoe grippers can reduce the risk of slips and falls. Also, avoid loose clothing, as scarves or jackets can become tangled in moving parts of the machine.
  • Start the snow blower outside and not in a garage or shed. Gas-powered devices give off carbon monoxide.
  • Stay focused on the task at hand, which means using the snow blower only when sober and not under the influence of medications that can cause drowsiness.

Working at a brisk pace can help prevent the snow blower blades from getting clogged from the snow sticking. Wet, heavy snow is more likely to clog the machine, so it may require more passes to get the job done.

  • Clogs can occur, and require extreme caution to dislodge. Always turn off the snow blower and disengage the clutch, says the American Society for Surgery of the Hand. Wait for the impeller blades to stop spinning. Always use a broom handle or a stick to clear compacted snow. Never stick your hand down the chute or around the blades, even if the power switch is off.
  • Keep all safety shields and mechanisms in place on the machine.
  • Do not leave a snow blower unattended. If the snow blower is an electrical version, use an extension cord designed for outdoor use and plug it into an outlet equipped with a ground fault circuit interrupter. Keep the extension cord away from the auger.

Even though snow blowing can be less physically taxing than manually shoveling snow, it still exerts the body. Take frequent breaks to rest. Exercise caution where you toss the snow, and make sure other people, particularly children, are not in the path of snow removal.

Jump Into Adventurous Resolution Ideas

Individuals looking for a little more excitement and adventure in their lives can think about making New Year’s resolutions that align with their adventurous goals. These adventurous ideas can serve as inspiration for anyone who wants to be a little more daring with this year’s resolutions.

Try A New Outdoor Activity

The great outdoors consistently beckons. Answer the call by engaging in a new outdoor activity. Any activity can be adventurous if it’s new to you. Start off small and get more into it as your skills improve. Consider kayaking, surfing, mountain biking, rock climbing, or anything else that presents a thrill.

Get Creative In The Kitchen

Being adventurous can extend to any aspect of life, including dining. Expand your culinary horizons by trying new flavor profiles and recipes inspired by global cuisine. This may include ingredients you deem to be “exotic” but are customary in other parts of the world.

Sleep Outdoors

Adventures do not have to be large and time-consuming. In fact, the term “microadventure” was dubbed by Alastair Humphreys, an adventurer and speaker, as a way to squeeze more gutsy activity into anyone’s schedule. One way to do so is to resolve to sleep outdoors in a new place once a month. Shaking off the creature comforts of home enables you to adapt and embrace new experiences.

Aim To Be More Sustainable

Active lifestyles often involve exploring natural landscapes. These areas can be affected by trash, which also can impact wildlife in negative ways. Resolve to keep parks, trails, rivers, lakes, forests, and other outdoor areas clean and beautiful. Various organizations spearhead these types of efforts, but you can work independently as well. Always practice a “carry in, carry out” policy when hiking or enjoying nature.

Individuals can ponder the many ways to embrace more adventurous resolutions in the year ahead.

Fun Ways To Enjoy The Start Of Winter

Winter begins on December 21, 2023, and ends on March 19, 2024. Many people lament the arrival of winter, perhaps thinking the colder temperatures and shorter hours of sunlight will compromise their chances to have fun. Even though particularly chilly thermostat readings or stormy conditions can hamper some plans, when people dig deeper they may find that even the coldest days present opportunities for enjoyment.

When winter begins, the following activities can make for an entertaining way to celebrate the arrival of the season.

Build A Snow Creation

Use the first significant snowfall of the season to organize a snowman, snow-woman, or snow-animal-making event or contest. Waterproof gloves are a necessary piece of equipment, as are buckets for moving snow, shovels, carving and shaping tools (which can be plastic cutlery), and accessories to dress up the final product.

Go Sledding On The Best Hills

Sledding is a popular wintertime activity that doesn’t require too much equipment. Sleds can be purchased at sporting goods stores or toy stores. Sledders of all ages should consider wearing helmets to protect against injury if they will be traversing especially steep hills.

Host A Winter Block Party

Many cities and towns across North America participate in WinterFest events, which run the gamut from food and craft festivals to sporting events. Individuals can take cues from these type of activities and plan neighborhood festivals right on their streets. Neighbors can wheel out their fire pits or utilize outdoor propane heaters to keep spots cozy. Hot cocoa and cider stations and warm treats can keep everyone from feeling too cold. Electric slow cookers can keep everything from soups to chilis to stews warm and participants can enjoy a buffet of hearty foods.

Visit An Ice Rink

Whether a rink is indoors or outside, ice skating is a quintessential wintertime activity. Skaters of all skill levels can take to the ice and enjoy some exercise and laughs. Check local rink schedules to take advantage of open skate times when hockey games or practices are not dominating the ice.

Mark The Winter Solstice

The winter solstice, also known as the start of astronomical winter, is the shortest day of sunlight on the calendar. It occurs when either of the Earth’s poles reaches maximum tilt away from the sun. In the Northern Hemisphere, this occurs on December 21, 2023. Because there will be only roughly seven hours of daylight, take steps to make the fact that the sun will set at its earliest a little easier to swallow. Kids can run around outdoors with glow sticks, while adults can deck their homes in twinkle lights if they are not decorated for Christmas. Lanterns, campfires and candles can be lit, and everyone can gather outdoors to chat and socialize.

Winter begins on December 21, 2023, and there are plenty of ways to celebrate this fun, if sometimes frigid, season.