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How to save money on Disney

Published: Monday, February 23, 2015 @ 3:14 PM
Updated: Monday, February 23, 2015 @ 3:14 PM

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With the news that Disney has raised admission prices to all of its parks, I want to tell you the best ways I know to save money when you want to visit the Mouse!

Saving money on Disney is tough, but possible

Well, now it's official. The cost of a trip to the Magic Kingdom is going up to $105 a day for Magic Kingdom. The other Orlando parks that are less popular are $97 a day. (Disneyland is $99.)

Unfortunately, the cost is the cost with the price of Disney parks. There's not a lot you can do to save, unless you're military. What you've got to do is try to save on where you stay and where you eat.

I recommend that you buy The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World as a starting point. They'll tell you all kinds of money and time-saving tips that the parks don't want you to know. That's the key to getting the best value out of a trip.

For example, it's so important to know how to navigate the parks: What order to go to things, where to go first when you arrive, what time of day to arrive. Knowing that makes a trip so much more enjoyable.

For my money, I say make sure you take ponchos from the dollar store with you for afternoon and evening thundershowers instead of buying overpriced ones for $10 at the park. Sure, they won't have cute characters on them, but they'll help you keep more of those other kinds of "characters" in your wallet.

Two other websites you need to know about too: MouseSavers.com also features a lot of info on how to save on the experience. And if you want to stay on the property, try renting a timeshare. MouseOwners.com has resources for both owners and potential renters.

When should you plan your Disney trip?

Fall is the best time for Florida vacations each year. That's the time of year that Walt Disney World offers discounts to Florida residents that fill the parks with daytrippers. That creates some traffic, but not as much as you would have encountered over the summer.

The real time to book, though, is during the first two weeks of December. Almost nobody goes on vacation at that time.

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6 common first-time homebuyer mistakes that could cost you big time

Published: Friday, December 29, 2017 @ 9:42 AM

Be sure to avoid these 6 common mistakes that first-time home buyers often make Not getting a professional inspection Not putting a pause button on purchases Not keeping up with correspondence Not understanding the hidden costs of buying a home Not working with a buyer's agent Not looking into loan assistance programs

Buying a home can be a daunting task − whether it is your first or fifth time heading to the closing table. 

For most of us, it will be the largest investment of our lives. However, there are factors predicted for the upcoming year that will make purchasing a home even more stressful. 

»RELATED: House hunters, here are 5 secrets to getting the best home loan

According to Redfin's 2018 projections, inventory will remain low, especially for smaller starter-homes. Additionally, thirty-year mortgage rates are expected to rise between 4.3 and 4.5 percent. Changes to the capital gains tax may also persuade many current homeowners not to sell, putting even more strain on the inventory list. However, there are still deals to be found and your dream home may very well still be out there waiting on you. 

When you find it, be sure to avoid these 6 common mistakes that first-time homebuyers often make:

Not getting a professional inspection

The idea of paying for a home inspection for a property that you might not even buy seems like a silly concept to some, but it can save you tens of thousands of dollars in the long run. The median cost of a home inspection is $350-$600 for an average or larger sized house, according to HomeInspector.org. Compared to potential issues with the foundation, electrical system or plumbing, however, it's a small price to pay.

Not putting a pause button on purchases

Buying your first house can be an exciting process and many new buyers get the urge to buy furniture and other home essentials before their closing date. While it's understandable to want to get a head start, it is very important that you not do this. According to Kayla Sweeny, a mortgage loan originator with Southeast Mortgage, a very common mistake is "buying things on credit during the mortgage process. The credit report has to be updated to add the new debt. Debt-to-Income ratios have to be recalculated and the file has to be reviewed again. This could potentially kill a deal."

Not keeping up with correspondence

Sweeny also noted that many first time buyers fail to check their mail, e-mail or messages regularly. "There could be critical loan documentation that a mortgage loan originator or processor has sent the borrower. The entire process is time sensitive. A sense of urgency is a must." This also applies to correspondence from your real estate agent, appraiser and inspector.

(For the AJC)

Not understanding the hidden costs of buying a home

Everyone knows that you'll likely require a mortgage to purchase a home. Unfortunately, many people fail to factor in the other costs associated with purchase - appraisals, earnest money, inspection costs, taxes, HOA dues, utilities and so on. Rafael Castellanos, president of Expert Title Insurance, told Bankrate.com, "They have an idea of what their mortgage payment is going to be, but they don't realize there's much more to it."

Not working with a buyer's agent

Some first-time buyers believe that they don't need or can't afford a buyer's agent. Nothing could be further from the truth. Home purchasing contracts can be long and confusing, filled with legalese that often baffle the layman. Eddie Hudson, owner of The Smyrna Team at Keller Williams, explains that "this means you have no representation, and working with a buyer's agent is free of charge as the seller is paying the commission."

Not looking into loan assistance programs

There are lots of loan programs out there for first-time buyers, from federal down to local levels. Many people don't know to look for them, though. Veterans should absolutely look at the VA program, while everyone else should look at the HUD website to see if any loan or grant programs apply to them. Some municipalities have programs to develop certain areas. The assistance offered can range from help with down payments and closing costs to discounted properties in certain areas.

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Put that pen down: Why baby boomers should not co-sign college loans 

Published: Tuesday, February 20, 2018 @ 3:19 PM

The amount of student loan debt you take on could affect when you're able to retire. Here are ways to reduce the amount you’ll pay for college.

We all know that young people should show respect for their elders. In return, those elders should extend all their resources to the up-and-coming generation. Right?

Not so fast, says the Motley Fool. When it comes to co-signing for college loans, parents and grandparents in the Baby Boom generation (born 1946 to 1964) should just say no.

»RELATED: 20 financial aid terms every college student and parent should understand

A risky move

"Tempting as it may be to co-sign a loan for your grandchildren, doing so exposes seniors to significant risk," Todd Campbell, owner of EBCapitalMarkets, warned on Motley Fool. "Co-signing a student loan means that seniors are equally responsible for making payments when those loans come due, and those payments are going to put a significant dent in retirement income if the kids are unable, or unwilling, to pay."

With Reuters describing millennials as facing the greatest risk among all U.S. age groups for defaulting on their loans in 2017, that danger is real. So is the possibility of a reduced income for baby boomers who've co-signed those loans, Campbell noted. "The average Social Security payment to retirees stands at $1,294 per month, but the average student loan payment on $25,000 worth of borrowing works out to about $242 per month, or almost 20% of the typical retiree's Social Security income," he wrote.

And if older co-signers assume they'll never need to take over payments on the loan, they could get hit hard, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "As a co-signer, you're not merely vouching for someone's ability to repay a loan; you're taking full responsibility to pay back the loan. If the primary student loan borrower stops paying the loan, you're responsible for making the monthly payments."

According to CFPB, in the past decade the number of older student loan borrowers quadrupled and the amount of debt per older borrower approximately doubled. In 2015, nearly 40 percent of federal student loan borrowers age 65 and older were in default.

"It is alarming that older Americans are the fastest growing segment of student loan borrowers," former CFPB Director Richard Cordray stated. "Many of these older Americans are helping to finance their children's or grandchildren's education while living on a fixed income. We are concerned that student loans are contributing to financial insecurity for many older Americans and that student loan servicing problems can add to their distress."

From 2005 to 2015, the number of Americans age 60 or older with one or more student loans quadrupled from about 700,000 to 2.8 million, according to CFPB analysis. And the average debt owed by an older borrower roughly doubled from $12,000 to $23,500. Juggling debts and later-life expenses on fixed incomes can prove difficult and an increased number of physical and cognitive impairments can limit an aging borrower's ability to stay in the work force.

Industry practices for reclaiming student loan payments are another headache, according to CFPB, from harassing phone calls to the co-signer when the loan originator fails to pay to delaying or denying co-signers' ability to enroll in reduced payment plans if their income plummets.

The bottom line: co-signing a college loan when you're in your 50s or 60s is not a good idea. "It's okay for you not to co-sign for the kids," Santa Barbara financial planner Andrew Anable told the 30secondsMom blog. "It sounds harsh, but the kids need to know this can impact your retirement as well as your credit." If you do opt to sign for some part of a college loan for a child or grandchild, keep the total loan amount below half of one year's income, Anable advised.

What to do if you're already stuck paying back loans

If you're an older borrower who has already incurred student loans on a millennial relative's behalf and you find yourself on the hook for repaying them, the CFPB offered these four tips for helping baby boomers navigate common problems with student loans:

  • Exercise your right to apply for a repayment plan based on your income. CFPB noted that it received numerous complaints indicating certain student loan services don't tell borrowers about the option to request lower payments if they've had a drop in income. "The Department of Education offers numerous plans to borrowers with federal student loans, including most Parent PLUS borrowers, that help make payments more affordable, including 'income-driven repayment' (IDR) options that can set your monthly payment based on your income." To start an IDR plan, enroll at StudentLoans.gov or contact your loan servicer about enrolling. 
  • Check into co-signer release options. When you first co-signed the loan, if your lender promised an opportunity for you to be released after reaching a set number of timely payments, see where you stand. For more information, check out the CFPB's consumer advisory on release options.
  • Request access to account information. If you're in the dark as to what's going on with the loan repayment plan, you are allowed to request access to account information even though you're not the primary borrower. Keep in mind that missed payments can have a negative effect on your own credit rating, even if it's a surprise to you
  • Register a complaint if your protected benefits are at risk. "Social Security benefits are protected from offset for delinquent or defaulted private student loans." Don't cave to the harassing collection tactics and threats some loan servicers may try when the primary loan recipient fails to pay. "Your Social Security benefit usually may only be offset to pay back an outstanding debt to the U.S. government, like a federal student loan. Debt collectors may not offset your Social Security benefit in order to repay a private student loan."
In any of the above cases, the CFPB can assist consumers with submitting a complaint and receiving a timely response. 

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6 tax breaks for pet owners you can actually get

Published: Monday, January 29, 2018 @ 3:47 PM

Pets Affected By Puerto Rico Hurricane Looking For New Homes

You love your pet. He’s like your child after all. But the IRS doesn’t quite see it that way. The IRS takes the position that the money you spend on Fido or Fluffy is generally a personal expense. Your pet gives you pleasure like that latte you bought on your way to work this morning. But just like your cup of coffee isn’t tax deductible, neither is your pet.

There are a few loopholes, however. You might be able to deduct costs related to your pet if he serves another purpose in addition to accepting your undying devotion — and if you can prove it.

1. Guard Dogs

Generally, it’s difficult to claim your pet as a business expense. But if your pet guards your business location, you might be able to deduct the costs of keeping him fed and healthy.

“The IRS has taken a fairly hard-nosed stance when it comes to deducting the cost of animals as business expenses — and the courts have agreed with them,” said Micah Fraim, a CPA in Roanoke, Va., and author of “The Little Big Small Business Book.” “But one area that has been consistently upheld is when you own a guard dog. In fact, in Raleigh Cox and Brenda J. Cox v. Commissioner, the IRS didn’t even attempt to disallow deductions for a guard dog. The business was in a bad part of town, and the IRS felt that it was a legitimate expense.”

>> New petition aims to expand food stamps to include pet food

How to Get the Deduction

You might have a hard time convincing the IRS that your Yorkie or teacup Chihuahua serves in this capacity. “Size and breed do matter here,” said Fraim. “A mastiff, pit bull or other large breed would be believable. A Maltese or Chihuahua would not.”

Kristina Grasso, master tax advisor with H&R Block, said you might be able to deduct guard dog-related expenses — dog food, training and veterinary bills — on Schedule C if he guards your work premise. So, make sure you “keep records about the dog’s hours and work-related purpose,” she said.

2. Cats Used for Pest Control

You might also be able to deduct costs associated with your kitty who keeps your business property free of mice, rats and other vermin. “Cats or other animals that are kept primarily for pest control are also deductible,” said Fraim.

Fraim noted that in Samuel T. Seawright, et ux. v. Commissioner, the petitioners were entitled to a $300 business expense deduction for cat food. “The couple owned a junkyard and put the food out to attract feral cats,” he said. “The court upheld the deduction as cats were there ‘to deter snakes and rats.’”

Chose wisely when picking which type of cat prowls your business — these are the most and least expensive cat breeds in the world.

How to Get the Deduction

Remember that if you’re trying to claim your working pets to deduct business expenses, you’ll likely have to convince the IRS that keeping the animal is “ordinary and necessary.” In other words, “hiring” a cat or dog must be “common and accepted in your trade or business.” And, it must be “helpful and appropriate.”

3. Offsetting Hobby Income

If you make money showing your pet — which the IRS might consider hobby income — you might be able to claim a tax break for related expenses.

“Pets used in hobbies, such as show dogs, might be deductible,” said Grasso. “If the dog wins prize money in the endeavor, then the expenses incurred to train, show, etc., are deductible up to the winnings.”

You can expect to receive a 1099 at the end of the year if you earn hobby income.

“You can also deduct related expenses up to the amount of income earned on Schedule A of the 1040,” said Fraim.

>> Southwest fills plane with pets, flies abandoned animals from hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico

How to Get the Deduction

But the process to deduct these expenses can get tricky. “You must itemize to take the deduction at all, which many taxpayers do not,” said Fraim. And, some restrictions apply that might not result in substantial tax savings.

“These deductions are subject to a threshold of 2 percent of your adjusted gross income or AGI,” said Fraim. “For easy math, let’s say you made $1,000 from pet shows, had $3,000 in expenses and your AGI is $100,000 … You can deduct $1,000 of expenses — not the full $3,000 — because you’re only allowed to take a deduction up to the amount of income earned. But even then, you don’t actually get any tax break.”

That $1,000 is less than 2 percent of your AGI, so you actually lose $2,000 from the pet shows — and you still have to pay taxes on the $1,000 in income you earned.

“Two percent of a lower AGI is an easier threshold to execute,” said Grasso. So, the lower your AGI, the more likely it becomes that this tax deduction for hobby-related expenses will result in more tax savings.

4. Foster Pet Parent Deductions

If you foster animals, you might be able to take advantage of tax benefits for charitable contributions.

“Any expenses you incur caring for foster animals from a qualified nonprofit are deductible on Schedule A as charitable donations,” said Fraim. These must be unreimbursed expenses if you want to get the deduction, though, Grasso added.

And, the expenses should go toward caring for these animals, such as pet food, supplies and veterinary bills. “Thankfully, most of these organizations provide the medical care and food for these animals,” said Fraim. “But any expenses paid out of pocket that are necessary for their care that are not provided for or reimbursed are deductible.”

What about if you volunteer at a shelter or rescue organization? “Keep track of mileage for trips made to further the organization’s work because this is deductible at 14 cents per mile,” said Grasso.

How to Get the Deduction

When it comes to fostering animals from municipal shelters, both Fraim and Grasso said to be careful. According to Fraim, most are not 501(c)(3)s and do not qualify for these types of tax deductions — unless they’re somehow tied to a charity.

“Some private agencies take on responsibility for animal control (law enforcement) functions or handle sheltering for a municipal animal control department by contracting with one or more municipalities,” said Grasso. “Thus, if the private agency is set up as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, the volunteers should qualify for any applicable deductions.”

Still, “people should foster animals because it increases the animal’s chances of being placed in permanent, forever homes and the animals get needed socialization — not because it potentially gets them a tax deduction,” she added.

>> Veterinarians warn pet owners of dog flu

5. Guide Dogs and Service Animals

Medical expenses are tax deductible if you itemize. Let’s say your pet helps you in a health-related capacity — if so, you’ll likely get a tax break.

You can also include the costs of purchasing and training guide dogs for the blind or hearing impaired. This also includes veterinary, food and grooming expenses. Pets are also used in therapy, such as in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. These animals are covered as well, said Fraim and Grasso.

How to Get the Deduction

“Make sure to get a prescription from your doctor — or some other documentation that shows your medical necessity — prior to obtaining any pet that you claim,” said Grasso. Otherwise, “the IRS may conclude that your pet does not meet the requirements to deduct these pet expenses. Keep any documentation that shows how the animal was specially trained to help you with your medical condition, too.”

Also, the IRS doesn’t consider Fido to be a therapy dog unless he’s been trained and certified. “The animal must be trained or certified as treatment for a diagnosed illness or condition for the IRS to approve the deduction,” said Grasso.

You don’t actually have to use the dog yourself to get a deduction, though. If you raise dogs for a charitable organization such as Guide Dogs for the Blind, costs associated with providing for them qualify as a charitable deduction as well.

Taking advantage of these types of medical and charitable deductions related to animals can help you save a lot of money on your taxes this year.

6. Moving Expenses

The IRS won’t let you claim your pet as a dependent — but it’s not so heartless as to make you leave him behind if you’re forced to move due to work.

You can deduct costs associated with transferring your pet to your new home. But there are some requirements you have to follow, according to the IRS.

How to Get the Deduction

– Your move must be closely related to the start of your work

– You have to pass the distance test

– You have to pass the time test

For example, your new workplace must be at least 50 miles farther from your old home than your old workplace was. So, if your old workplace was only 10 miles away from your old home, your new workplace must be at least 60 miles from your old home. And if you’re an employee, you must work full time for 39 weeks or more during the first year after you relocate.

Once you satisfy the IRS requirements, you can deduct the cost of shipping your household pets to your new home, along with other move-related expenses.

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Moldy comforter among latest product recalls

Published: Friday, January 19, 2018 @ 12:32 PM

Moldy comforter among latest product recalls

The latest product recalls include a potentially moldy comforter, an unstable bassinette, and snow globes that could potentially cause a fire, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. 

 

The Hudson comforters by UGG under recall were sold at Bed Bath & Beyond and may contain mold which could pose a risk of infection or respiratory issues in people with a mold allergy or compromised immune system. 

The comforters come in four colors: garnet, navy, grey and oatmeal. They were sold between August 2017 and October 2017. 

No injuries have been reported. 

If you have one don't use it and return it to the store for a full refund. Call Bed Bath & Beyond at 800-462-3966 for more information. 

 

The latest product recalls include a potentially moldy comforter, an unstable bassinette, and snow globes that could potentially cause a fire, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The Multipro Baby Cradle N Swing bassinet sold on Amazon.com poses a fall and entrapment hazard for babies. 

The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports the bassinets fail to meet mandatory federal safety standards. 

It is recommended that you take the bassinet apart and throw it away. No injuries have been reported. 

Amazon has contacted purchasers and issued full refund gift cards. 

If you have one of these products and did not yet receive a refund contact Amazon at 888-280-4331. 

 

The latest product recalls include a potentially moldy comforter, an unstable bassinette, and snow globes that could potentially cause a fire, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Two Coldwater Creek snow globe models pose a fire hazard. 

The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports light refraction through the globes may melt or singe things placed near them. 

Once incident of damage has been reported. 

The Reindeer snow globe has the model number XC7484. 

The Vintage charm snow globe contains a silver snowman and has the model number 3WGL120. 

They were sold in Coldwater Creek stores and online. 

Stop using the snow globes and contact Coldwater Creek at 888-678 5576 to return the product for a full refund. 

 

The latest product recalls include a potentially moldy comforter, an unstable bassinette, and snow globes that could potentially cause a fire, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Fujifilm is recalling some digital camera power adapters because they could shock you. 

The adapter plug can break or crack exposing live electrical contacts, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. 

The AC-5VF power adaptors were sold with six Fujifilm digital camera models in stores and online. 

Don't use the adapter and contact Fujifilm at 833-613-1200 for a free replacement. 

No injuries have been reported. 

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