William Neilson
Phone:  267-872-1326Office:  215-679-9797
Email:  wneilson@remax440.comCell:  267-872-1326Fax:  267-354-6937
William Neilson
William Neilson

Bill's Blog

Tax Time: 10 Tips for Hiring a CPA

February 8, 2016 1:27 am

Tax season’s here, and like many taxpayers, you may be considering hiring a tax preparer, or a certified public accountant (CPA), for filing services. As with many professions, it pays to do your homework before hiring.

“It’s important to thoroughly vet the person you select to prepare your taxes,” says Edward Karl, American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). “Your tax preparer will be handling critical financial and personal information for you. Be wary about who you hire.”

Karl recommends the following tips when choosing a preparer:

1. Get referrals. Ask relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers or others you trust in your community for referrals. Referrals are one of the best ways to locate a CPA.

2. Verify credentials. Many CPAs specialize in taxes, but not all tax preparers are CPAs.  Stringent state licensing rules—including education, examination and experience requirements—distinguish CPAs from other tax preparers. Confirm that the CPA is currently licensed. Most state boards of accountancy have websites that allow consumers to check the status of an individual’s license. 

3. Check for consumer complaints. Have complaints been filed against the tax preparer?  Have they been resolved to the consumer’s satisfaction? Have any lawsuits been filed?

4. Interview potential tax preparers. Meet with the tax preparer. What’s their area of expertise? Find out whether the preparer has other clients with your type of tax situation, how long they’ve been in business and whether they will be there year-round to serve not only your tax filing requirements, but also to help with future tax, college, retirement and business planning needs.

5. Ask how they bill. They may not be able to tell you exactly how much it will cost to prepare your tax return, but they should be willing to explain the basis of their fee structure. Is it hourly or a flat rate? Can they provide you with an estimate?

6. Question them about how they work. Will the tax practitioner prepare your return or will others prepare it? If others prepare it, will the practitioner review it and sign it? Do they use only internal staff or do they outsource work? Will they be available to respond to questions about the return from IRS or state officials?

7. Inquire about information security processes. How do they protect their clients’ personal and financial information? How many people will see your information? Is data encrypted? How do they protect against computer network breaches?  

8. Do your styles match? Ask about weekend or evening hours, how soon telephone calls are returned, how they use technology and what the timetable is for completing the return.

9. Confirm they have an IRS PTIN. All paid tax return preparers are required by law to have an IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) and to include it and their signature on the returns they prepare for clients. The PTIN number is renewed each year.  Confirm that they have a PTIN by visiting the IRS website.

10. Watch for red flags. If the preparer says they will prepare an original tax return (not an amended return) for a percentage of the refund, commonly referred to as a contingent fee, walk away. Walk away, too, if the tax preparer won’t provide information about their fee or how they charge. Don’t hire a preparer who promises something without seeing your prior year’s return, who suggests taking a deduction or credit that makes you uncomfortable, who asks you to sign an incomplete or blank return, or who wants your refund to be deposited into their bank account instead of yours.

Source: AICPA

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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How to File a Storm Damage Insurance Claim

February 8, 2016 1:27 am

Standard homeowners and renters insurance policies generally offer some coverage for damages incurred as a result of a storm. The key to receiving those benefits in a timely manner is to contact your insurance professional as soon as possible following the incident, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

When filing an insurance claim, the insurance company will ask you to complete a “proof of claim” form. In general, the claim should be filed within 60 days—this includes estimates, engineering reports and other documents to support your claim. In most cases, the insurance company will then send an adjuster to your home to assess the damage.

To file your claim, prepare a list of damaged items. Consider photographing or videotaping the extent of the damage, if it is safe to do so. Save receipts for what you spend on temporary repairs; the insurance company will provide reimbursement for these expenditures. Document everything.

If the damage to your home is so severe you need to relocate, notify your insurance company—standard homeowners and renters insurance policies pay for additional living expenses (ALE) if your home or apartment is uninhabitable.

Keep in mind that if you have a mortgage, your homeowners insurance may name both you and your mortgage lender on the settlement check. Even though your name is on the check, your lender likely will hold some or all of the insurance proceeds in an escrow account, to be released when it is time to pay the contractor.

Remember, also, that flood damage is not covered under standard homeowner and renters policies, and must be purchased separately through the National Flood Insurance Program or a private insurer. To file a flood insurance claim, start by filling out a Notice of Loss form (Form 086-0-11). These can be picked up at your local FEMA assistance center, if needed. You must also complete, sign and submit a Proof of Loss form (Form 086-0-9) within 60 days of the flood.

As with the standard claims filing process, take photographs of any damaged or destroyed items before removing them from your home, beginning a dry-out or making repairs. Separate damaged from undamaged property and compile a written inventory. This list should include both damaged and destroyed property, as well as the approximate monetary value of each. Be sure to keep accurate records, including receipts and bills, to help the adjuster prepare a loss estimate.

Source: I.I.I.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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How Long Will It Take to Break Even on a Home?

February 8, 2016 1:27 am

For those torn between buying and renting, the breakeven point—the time at which an investment becomes financially advantageous—can help determine which route to take. The breakeven horizon, according to Zillow, stands at 1.9 years, meaning that in the majority of markets (70 percent), homebuyers will break even on a home purchase in less than two years. Contributing to that horizon is the pace of rent, low interest rates and a healthy home value forecast.

The breakeven horizon for some of the nation’s most popular job markets, however, is between 2-3 years. Because many under age 35 tend to stay employed at the same place an average of three years, it may be more prudent for them to rent, even if a mortgage would be more affordable. Condominiums—a common choice for young homebuyers in urban neighborhoods—have a longer breakeven horizon due to association fees.

"Even with record-high rents in job centers like San Jose, Boston and Washington, D.C., putting off a home purchase might be the best financial decision for a young person who has saved enough for a down payment, depending on how long they intend to stay in their jobs and homes," says Zillow Chief Economist Svenja Gudell. "Young workers face a lot of hurdles on the way to homeownership, including saving for a down payment in the first place and deciding where and when to settle down. The latest Breakeven Horizon gives young people another data point to consider when they're making this important financial decision."

Source: Zillow

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Who Will Win the Super Bowl? Follow the Chicken

February 5, 2016 1:27 am

Super Bowl Sunday isn’t just about the game—it’s about the food! And this year, one party favorite will stand above the rest. Can you guess what it is?

According to the National Chicken Council’s 2016 Wing report, football fans will nosh on upwards of one billion chicken wings over Super Bowl weekend—1.3 billion, to be exact. That’s four wings for every person in America, and enough to place more than 600 wings on every seat in all 32 NFL stadiums!

Put another way: If you laid 1.3 billion wings end-to-end, they would cover the distance between the Panthers stadium in Charlotte, N.C., and the Broncos stadium in Denver, Colo.—53 times!

Put yet another way: Weighing in at about 162.5 million pounds, 1.3 billion wings weigh 6,325 times more than the combined weights of the Panthers and Broncos entire 52-man rosters.

“Any way you measure it, that's a lot of freaking wings,” says Tom Super, senior vice president of communications at the National Chicken Council. 

Still, wings are much more than a Super Bowl snack. In fact, chicken wing sales have determined four of the last five Super Bowl outcomes. If the same holds true for Super Bowl 50, the Panthers will roll over the Broncos—wings are sold in Charlotte at a nearly 3 to 1 pace over Denver.

“It would be nice to see Peyton Manning go out with a victory lap like Elway, but the numbers don't lie," Super says.  "If history holds true, hopefully wing sales will prove to be a better 'scientific method' of predicting the winner. Follow the chicken." 

Source: National Chicken Council

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Guide Book: 25 Tips for Financial Stability

February 5, 2016 1:27 am

Here’s a statistic: more than 90 percent of Americans prefer to have financial stability over upward mobility in income.

To achieve that stability, a realistic financial plan is in order, says Steve Trumble, president and CEO of non-profit American Consumer Credit Counseling (ACCC).

“For the past 25 years we have helped tens of thousands of individuals by providing credit counseling and other financial education resources, “says Trumble. “We hear from so many consumers who are facing a variety of financial challenges, and who are looking for ways to improve their lives financially. We have created a list of our top financial suggestions as a guide to help consumers get on the right track.”

Trumble’s guide lays out 25 money-smart tips:

1. Create a budget. Know your budget, make it non-negotiable, and then save enough to afford that budget. 

2. Set financial goals early. Start each New Year by setting your financial goals and give those goals a purpose. Write these goals down and review them throughout the year to track your progress. 

3. Reduce energy costs. Assess your home’s insulation and seal any holes to reduce your heating and cooling costs through the winter and summer months. 

4. Plan for the future. Review your budget and make sure your money will last as you plan for retirement. If you have access to a 401(k) through work, then set it up to automatically deduct a percentage from each pay check. 

5. Pay off debt. Review your outstanding debts and try to get any and all credit cards and loans paid off as quickly as possible. 

6. Practice smart spending. Cut back on unnecessary spending and find better alternatives to get the most value out of your money. 

7. Avoid online scams. Ticketing websites are easy ways to buy and sell, but be aware of possible fraud. Never wire money in advance and try to meet in person to exchange purchase for cash. 

8. Improve financial literacy. Make sure you understand the basic concepts of saving and investing in order to build wealth over time. 

9. Cook more meals at home. Plan out your meals for the week to minimize waste. Cooking at home and cooking freezer-friendly meals are some of the best ways to trim back on food cost. 

10. Create a rainy day fund. Set aside a small rainy day fund to prepare for unexpected car repairs or broken appliances. This fund can also be used for last-minute traveling should you need to visit a sick relative or attend an event out of town. 

11. Compare credit cards for best perks. Make sure you have the best credit card that fulfills all of your needs. Compare the pros and cons of each card before making your decision, paying attention to extra perks. 

12. Start using coupons. Coupons are great money savers that can cut your bill by a significant amount. 

13. Utilize workplace benefits. Make sure you know about all retirement accounts, flexible spending accounts and wellness support that may be available to you through your workplace.

14. Prioritize expenses. Determine what your essential expenses are, such as rent, food, car payments, gas and utilities. Add up these expenses and then subtract from your budget to see what your discretionary spending can be on a monthly basis.

15. Activate password protection on mobile devices. Mobile devices contain a lot of important information, such as access to bank accounts and email, which is why it is imperative to add a password. 

16. Prepare for potential disasters. Starting an emergency fund is imperative. You never know when a financial disaster could strike and it is important to be as prepared as possible. Take a look at your budget and come up with a plan to save for at least 6-9 months of expenses. 

17. Shop for deals. Do your research before heading to the stores. Study advertisements and compare prices at several different stores to ensure you are getting the best deal.

18. Consider paying in cash. Consumers tend to spend less money when it involves using cash over swiping a credit card. Watching the cash leave your hand can reduce your chances of overspending.

19. Protect against identity theft. Be sure to look over your monthly statement for unfamiliar charges on your credit card to make sure identity theft has not taken place.

20. Check your credit score. It is easy to check your credit score for free once a year through a variety of commercial websites. 

21. Improve your credit score. Earn a better interest rate by improving your credit score. Start by paying off debt and making all payments on time. 

22. Cut unnecessary spending. Take a look at your discretionary expenses and decipher between personal wants and needs. Cut back by reducing the number of personal services you pay for such as manicures or takeout. 

23. Use money-saving apps. Apps can help you track your spending to ensure you are sticking to your budget. 

24. Consider alternative modes of transportation. Save on gas and parking by utilizing public transportation or carpooling. 

25. Treat yourself every so often! Keep yourself on track by occasionally spending money on something that may not be a necessity. 

Source: ACCC

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Homeowners to Spend More on Maintenance, Improvements

February 5, 2016 1:27 am

Bolstered by a renewed confidence in the economy, homeowners are planning to invest in their homes more so this year than those past, spending on everything from home maintenance services to home repairs and improvements. In fact, a recent survey conducted by Angie’s List (www.angieslist.com) reveals 80 percent of homeowners expect to spend as much or more this year compared to last year.

"A majority of our members are gearing up to invest in their homes at the same or greater level than last year," says Angie's List Founder Angie Hicks. "We found even greater optimism among service companies, with many of them saying they're already booking more jobs than at this time last year and expect to have a great 2016.”

According to the survey, over 90 percent of service companies expect homeowners to spend as much or more this year compared to last year.

Notably, millennials are behaving against type when it comes to caring for their homes. This year, they plan to spend as much or more than older generations.

“Our data show that this age group is just as responsible as any other homeowner,” Hicks says.

The most common expenditures for homeowners this year? Virtually every generation cited in the survey plans to spend on chore services (i.e., house cleaning and yard work) and for clutter-cutting, organizational solutions around the home.

Source: Angie’s List

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Who's Got Spirit? Football Fans!

February 4, 2016 1:27 am

Don’t expect anything less from football fans come Super Bowl 50. Recent controversy surrounding the health of football players hasn’t dampened fan ardor for the sport, recently named “America’s Favorite Sport” by The Harris Poll®. In fact, more than a third of Americans in the poll picked professional football as their favorite sport, well beyond the 15 percent who favored baseball.

Yet, as with all things competitive, there are some who are obsessed and some who couldn’t care less. Poll findings show.

• Adults with household incomes of $75,000 to less than $100,000 are especially likely to favor pro football, but those in $100,000-plus range don’t share a similar love of the game.

• Pro baseball gets the most love among Easterners and post-grads, and the least love among millennials, households with children, and households with less than $35,000 in income.

• Gen Xers and post-grads are the biggest fans of college football. The college football craze resonates less with Easterners and those with household incomes between $35,000 and less than $50,000.

The poll, which was conducted in December 2015, surveyed 2,252 adults across the United States, 1,510 of which were fans of at least one sport.

Source: The Harris Poll®

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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10 Dos and Don’ts for Disaster Preparedness at Home

February 4, 2016 1:27 am

Disaster preparedness is just one of many tasks on the homeowner docket, but it’s also one of the most important. No matter how frequently (or infrequently) storms occur in your area, preparation is vital, say the experts at ServiceMaster Restore. What can you do to ensure your property is protected before and after a storm?

Dos for Now:

• Review your insurance policy closely and pay attention to specifics on what is and is not covered under the agreement.

• Clear rain gutters, repair roof leaks and cut away tree branches that could fall on the house or other structures on the property.

• Keep gutters and downspouts free of debris and make sure water is flowing several feet away from the foundation.

• Check for cracks or small holes in the foundation where water can seep in. Even a few inches of water from melted snow or excessive rain can cause interior water damage to carpet, drywall, wood floors and even your home’s structure.

• Cover exposed outdoor water faucets. Use a cover available at any hardware store to insulate and protect them.

• Make sure you know how to shut off all water valves in the event a frozen pipe bursts. Leave cabinet doors under sinks open to help circulate air and prevent frozen pipes during extreme temperatures.

• Set your thermostat to a consistent temperature day and night.

Don’ts for Later:

• Don't use a household vacuum to remove water, and don't use electrical appliances while on wet carpet or wet floors.

• Don't go into rooms with standing water if the electricity is still on. Turn the main switches in the circuit breaker box to the off position.

• Don't lift tacked-down carpet, as lifting carpet incorrectly can promote shrinkage and result in more costly expenses.

Source: ServiceMaster Restore

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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3 Staging Tricks for the Room Buyers Secretly Love

February 4, 2016 1:27 am

Did you know the living room is the room that most positively impacts buyers when staged? Staging this room is key to a speedy sale because it detracts buyers from perceived flaws of the home. Living room design is much less complex than that of a kitchen or bathroom, so you don’t have to spend big on staging to see results.

One inexpensive way to stage is to switch up the color scheme of the room. To better suit buyer preferences, use neutral-toned items you already own to create a cohesive palette throughout the room—décor magazines employ this visual effect to please reader eyes. Shelve books with similarly-colored spines in a bookcase, place decorative pillows in coordinating (not matching) shades on sofas and side chairs, and tuck children’s toys into ornamental boxes that reflect the overall color theme.

Another cost-effective way to stage the living room is to update the window treatments. Steer clear of high-end materials, which are not only expensive, but also may not suit your tastes once you move into your new home. One budget-friendly trick is to hang shower curtains (that’s right!) in place of standard drapery, which are durable and come in an array of patterns and colors. Ones with large, pre-cut holes in upscale finishes (think wood) can be threaded through your existing curtain rods, saving you even more money.

Glass accents are another more-for-your-dollar feature that buyers often respond to. Instead of shelling out for glass furniture, pepper smaller glass accents sparingly throughout the space, on coffee or end tables, bookcases or mantels. These touches of sparkle will draw the eye and add a hint of luxury, which could boost perceived value on the part of the buyer.

Bear in mind these staging tricks can be applied in other rooms of your home, as well.

Remember: Whenever you plan to list, focus some attention on the living room—it could be the ticket to sealing the deal!

Source: RISMedia’s Housecall

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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The Standard Retirement Age Is…Retiring?

February 3, 2016 1:27 am

Many on the road to retirement expect a flexible transition. A recently released report by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies® (TCRS) explored that vision, finding that “flexibility” has more meanings than one for retirees.

Over 60 percent of Americans cited in the report—and more than half of all workers globally—expect to retire at age 65 or later, or not at all. Why the delay? Common reasons in the report include enjoyment of work, keeping active and financial-related concerns.

“The concept of retirement is changing rapidly,” says Catherine Collinson, president of TCRS. “As people live longer and in good health, retirement is becoming a more active life stage, with more people looking for the opportunity to combine work and leisure. Many workers have retired the notion of fully retiring at age 60 or 65.

“Population aging is a global phenomenon,” Collinson continues. “The shift toward a proportionally smaller working-age population and larger older population is disrupting traditional employment models and the fundamental economics of government-sponsored social security systems around the world. A flexible retirement, which offers workers the ability to pursue their own personalized transition, can create opportunities to work longer, continue earning income, and stay active and involved in society.”

Source: TCRS

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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