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Here are four things you can do to get more from your money.

1. Create a budget. Making a budget and sticking to it will save you a ton of money over time. There are also free budget spreadsheets and budgeting apps you can download from the Internet. Focus on the necessities – mortgage/rent, food, utilities. Set an amount to save each month, and then gradually increase it. Use any money left over for extras, like fun purchases and entertainment.
2. Review your debts. Credit cards, loans, and anything you pay for in installments can start small but wind up as big problems in the future. Check all of your interest rates. Pay off the debts carrying high interest rates as fast as you can.
3. Trim your bills. There are lots of ways to reduce almost every monthly bill you get. Turn off lights, take shorter showers, only run the dishwasher full. When leaving the house, lower the thermostat in winter to save heat, and raise it in summer to cut air conditioning costs. Have the phone company check your bill to see if you could be on a cheaper plan.
4. Track what you spend. Each month look at your credit card statements to discover areas where you could be spending less. Can you cut down the number of times you eat out? Can you skip going to the movies one night a month and watch at home instead? Record the cash you spend each day in a notebook and check it once a month to see what you could save.

These moves can eventually save you a surprising amount of money – so get started now!


Fifteen things you can do to reduce energy and maintenance costs:                              

1. Turn down the hot water heater to 120°F. It's a waste of energy to heat water hotter than most people can stand.
2. Get a water heater blanket. Many older water heaters and even fairly new ones aren't well insulated. A water heater blanket saves money by keeping the heat in.
3. Wrap insulation around exposed hot water pipes. Good quality pipe insulation makes the water 2° to 4° warmer and delivers it quicker. The first three feet leaving the heater and the last few feet coming back are key.
4. Check for running toilets, leaky faucets and under sink plumbing. They cost you money and lead to mold.
5. Check attic insulation. If you have an unfinished attic, have at least 6" of insulation, (more in the northern U.S.).
6. Put in a programmable thermostat. This automatically adjusts temperature, so you only pay for heating or cooling the house when you're actively using it.
7. Install ceiling fans. Their air circulation effect lets you put your thermostat 1° or 2° higher in summer and 1° or 2° lower in winter. Set to blow air down in summer and up in winter.
8. Replace the air handling filter. This is behind a slotted panel in the air handler. Note the size and stock up. A dirty filter makes the system work harder. Check every two months.
9. Clear all air vents. Make sure vents aren't blocked and look in to see they're dust bunny free.
10. Air-dry some laundry. Put up a rack in the laundry room or a clothesline outside. Air-dry a third of your laundry and you're running the dryer a third less of the time.
11. Choose reliable, energy efficient appliances. Paying a little extra for quality and reliability will save you lots over the long haul.
12. Seal out air. Air leaks are money leaks. Look for them around windows and doors, and then seal them up.
13. Monitor foundation cracks. If you have cracks in basement walls, cover the ends with masking tape with the date. If the cracks grow, call in a specialist. Foundation problems are way cheaper to fix sooner than later.
14. Plant shade trees near your home. They cool the house in summer, saving money on air conditioning, and add value to the property.
15. Write down a home maintenance checklist. Include tasks you should do monthly, quarterly, and annually. Review each month. You'll save tons of money over time. 


If you're a first-time home buyer, the big challenge is saving up enough money for the down payment. Financial experts tell us you need to take aggressive steps to cut spending, add income, or do both. Here's how to proceed.

1. Set a goal and timeline.Find out the price range of the type of home you want in the area you like. Then talk to mortgage professionals like us to get an idea of the down payment you'll need, which could be up to 20% of the purchase price. Then set a timeline and figure your monthly savings goal. For example, if you need to save $20,000 in two years, you'll have to put away $833 each month.

2. Open a separate down payment savings account. This keeps the money separate and makes it easy to track progress. The experts say that when you're saving for a short-term goal, put the money in a low-risk investment such as a savings account or a CD. Shop around for the best interest rate, and make sure the money will be available when you need it.

3. Small steps to big savings. Put together a budget based on what you're spending, and then look at the following to make cuts:

  • New clothes and impulse purchases; daily costs like a specialty coffee; monthly subscriptions; car costs you can reduce by carpooling. Always ask before spending, "Do I really need this, or do I just want it?"
  • Shop in physical stores, not online, and use cash, not credit cards.
  • Make cuts in gym memberships, vacations, and entertainment.

4. Big steps to bigger savings.If you can handle some lifestyle changes, consider these options:

  • Move in with family for a specified period of time.
  • If you have the space, take in a roommate.
  • Move to a smaller apartment: the rent can be substantially lower.
  • Add income by working overtime if possible, or take on another job (a part-time job at a home improvement store can even help you learn more about maintaining the home you'll buy).
  • Sell your car and trade down to a lower-cost vehicle.

5. Look at retirement accounts.If you have a 401(k) and contribute more than your employer will match, think about putting that extra money into your down payment savings account. If you have an IRA, you may be able withdraw funds without penalty to buy a first home, although you might have to pay income taxes.As with all tax matters, check first with a tax professional.

Whether you're buying your first home, moving up, or downsizing, we can help with the financing. We're happy to answer any questions, whenever you're ready to take advantage of today's attractive housing market. We can also help with refinancing your existing home or funding home improvements. Please call or email us any time. We're always here for you.... Have a great day!

P.S.: Mortgage rates have edged up a little, but remain at historically attractive levels. When buying or refinancing, it's smart to start the process early. Please call or email us to explore the appealing options available now.



 

The IRS is nice to homeowners, no kidding. Here are the some of the tax breaks available.

  • Purchase Costs Deduction. In most cases, any loan discount points and origination fees are tax deductible for the buyer, no matter who pays for them. Any "daily interest" paid on the mortgage at closing is also deductible. Keep your HUD settlement statement, which contains all this information, to use in preparing your return.
  • Mortgage Interest Deduction. Each year the interest paid on your mortgage is tax deductible up to $1 million in mortgage debt on a first or second home, if you're married filing jointly. In certain cases, if the lender requires you to buy PMI (private mortgage insurance), that may be tax deductible for mortgages written from 2007 through 2010, with certain income limits.
  • Property Tax Deduction. All real estate taxes are fully deductible.
  • Home Office Expense Deduction. If your business requires you to use a portion of your home exclusively for those purposes, you may be able to deduct the percentage of your home costs related to that portion. Go to www.irs.gov and consult with a tax professional on this one.
  • Home Equity Loan Interest Deduction. The interest you pay on a home equity loan or line of credit may be deductible, up to certain limits specified by the IRS.
  • Home Improvement Loan Interest Deduction. If you take out a loan for a big home improvement, you can deduct the interest with no dollar limit. But the work must be a "capital improvement," not just ordinary repairs. Check with www.irs.gov and a tax professional for the improvements that qualify.
  • Capital Gains Exclusion. Married taxpayers who file jointly can keep, tax free, up to $500,000 in profit on the sale of a home used as a principal residence two out of the prior five years. Single and married filing separately can keep up to $250,000 each tax free.
  • Mortgage Insurance Deduction. The premiums you pay for mortgage insurance may be deductible up to certain income limit specified by the IRS.
  • Selling Costs Deduction. If you do wind up with a capital gain above the exclusion (lucky you!), you can reduce it by the amount of your selling costs, including broker's commissions, title insurance, and legal fees, among others. You can also deduct decorating and repairs you do to make the home more saleable.

All tax matters should of course be reviewed with a tax professional. But if we can help with any questions about home financing or re-financing, please call or reply to this email...and best wishes in this and all your endeavors!


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