RE/MAX 440
Carol L Hirst
731 W Skippack Pike
Blue Bell  PA 19422
 Phone: 610-405-3069
Office Phone: 215-643-3200
Fax: 267-354-6238 
CLHirst@comcast.net
Carol L Hirst

My Blog

The 7 Most Common Tax Scams – and How to Avoid Them

February 23, 2015 1:03 am

Filing season means three things: taxes, refunds and scams. Taxpayers should know that they are legally responsible for what is on their tax returns, even if it is prepared by someone else. Illegal scams can lead to significant penalties and interest for taxpayers, as well as possible criminal prosecution.

To avoid jeopardizing your standing with the IRS, steer clear of these seven schemes.
  • Phone Scams: Aggressive and threatening phone calls by criminals impersonating IRS agents remain an ongoing threat to taxpayers. The IRS has seen a surge of these phone scams in recent months as scam artists threaten police arrest, deportation, license revocation and other things.
  • Phishing: Taxpayers need to be on guard against fake emails or websites looking to steal personal information. The IRS will not send you an email about a bill or refund out of the blue. Don’t click on one claiming to be from the IRS that takes you by surprise. Taxpayers should be wary of clicking on strange emails and websites. They may be scams to steal your personal information.
  • Identity Theft: Taxpayers need to watch out for identity theft, especially around tax time. The IRS is making progress on this front, but taxpayers still need to be extremely careful and do everything they can to avoid becoming a victim.
  • Return Preparer Fraud: Taxpayers need to be on the lookout for unscrupulous return preparers. The vast majority of tax professionals provide honest, high-quality service. But there are some dishonest preparers who set up shop each filing season to perpetrate refund fraud, identity theft and other scams that hurt taxpayers.
  • Inflated Refund Claims: Taxpayers need to be on the lookout for anyone promising inflated refunds. Taxpayers should be wary of anyone who asks them to sign a blank return, promise a big refund before looking at their records, or charge fees based on a percentage of the refund. Scam artists use flyers, advertisements, phony store fronts and word of mouth via community groups and churches in seeking victims.
  • Fake Charities: Taxpayers should be on guard against groups masquerading as charitable organizations to attract donations from unsuspecting contributors. Contributors should take a few extra minutes to ensure their hard-earned money goes to legitimate and currently eligible charities. Note charities with names that are similar to familiar or nationally-known organizations.
  • Abusive Tax Shelters: Taxpayers should avoid using abusive tax structures to avoid paying taxes. The vast majority of taxpayers pay their fair share, and everyone should be on the lookout for people peddling tax shelters that sound too good to be true. When in doubt, taxpayers should seek an independent opinion regarding complex products they are offered.
Source: IRS.gov

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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4 Steps to a More Organized Home

February 23, 2015 1:03 am

One mistake many would-be organizers make is trying to organize their entire household in one fell swoop. Even if your home is relatively neat, a project of that magnitude can be daunting – and lead to a serious case of burnout.

To avoid throwing in the towel early, be realistic about your goals by focusing on the areas in your home that accumulate the most clutter each week. Get started with these steps.

1. Set up a paper storage system
– Designate an area for all papers close to an entrance or centrally located room, like the kitchen. When you notice documents accumulating, take time to go through your pile, shredding any that could compromise your identity, and recycle non-sensitive information.

2. Pare down crowded closets – Your closet may store everything and anything, but that doesn’t mean it has to be filled to capacity. Many seasonal items can be reduced significantly in size by vacuum sealing, and bed linens can be stored inside pillowcases. If you’ve got a hang-up about too many hangers, note which garments haven’t been worn as you take down and hang up frequently used pieces. If they haven’t been worn in a few weeks, donate, toss or sell.

3. Donate multiples
– Many homeowners actually own multiples of common household items, such as hand towels, umbrellas and pot holders. Pay it forward by donating the multiples you can do without. A good rule of thumb: if you haven’t had a need for it in a year or more, donate it.

4. Simplify your desktop – Disorganization can happen digitally, too. If your computer’s overloaded with files, consider purging your desktop. Give priority to programs you use daily and delete other shortcuts that aren’t accessed on a regular basis. Streamline your photo collection, saving only the ones you’d keep in an album. And to really free up space, consider uninstalling programs that haven’t been opened in six months or more.

Source: RISMedia’s Housecall

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Winter Home Safety Tips

February 23, 2015 1:03 am

(BPT) – Because freezing temperatures and snowfall continue to impact much of the country this winter, homeowners must ensure their property stays safe throughout the season and beyond. Note these safety measures to protect against:

Power Outages
Install back-up generators to power all of your home's critical systems including sump pumps, security and fire alarm systems and heating systems.

Fire Damage
While fire presents a year-round risk, certain causes of fire occur more frequently during the winter. Approximately 25,000 residential fires begin in a fireplace or chimney every year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Boilers and furnaces pose particularly high risks as well.

These fires are caused by a layer of unburned carbon-based residues (sometimes referred to as fireplace creosote) that builds up along the inside walls of your chimney and can eventually catch fire. The solution is to have a trusted, certified professional chimney sweep inspect your chimney annually and have it cleaned as necessary.

While home fires make headlines, water damage is also common and often just as severe. The most frequent cause is faulty or broken pipes. Be sure to insulate exposed pipes to prevent freezing or bursting.

Frozen Pipes

Whether you leave your home for warmer climates or spend a weekend on the ski slopes, always leave the heat on in your home with the thermostat set to at least 55 degrees. Don't let high fuel prices tempt you into going lower.

The pipes that come in through your foundation or run through external walls can reach temperatures much lower than the setting on your thermostat, so have someone check on your home periodically while you are away.

A foolproof way to protect your home from broken or leaking pipes at any time of year is to install an automatic water shutoff system. Attached to your home's main water supply line, these devices detect leaks as they happen and automatically shut-off the water to the home, thereby preventing further ongoing damage. Additionally, these devices can be integrated into a home's security or smart-house system to provide real-time notification when the shut-off valve has activated.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Creating the Ultimate Time-Saving Kitchen

February 20, 2015 12:54 am

Five to 10 minutes may not seem like much, but it can add up quickly when cooking a weeknight meal. According to a recent survey by Consumer Reports, the average difference between actual time spent in the kitchen and what respondents desired is eight minutes.

With that goal in mind, create the ultimate time-saving kitchen with these expert tips from chefs, designers, organizers and more.
1. Design for efficiency. The work triangle – connecting the sink, fridge, and cooktop – is still the baseline for maximum efficiency. But in two-cook kitchens, it often makes sense to have a second triangle, possibly designated around an island counter with a prep sink.

2. Think ahead. One of the top cooking gripes in Consumer Reports’ survey was that it takes too much time to plan. A slow cooker is handy for make-ahead meals. Most have nonstick interiors that help with cleanup, saving you even more time after the meal.

3. Minimize maintenance. Some materials and finishes are harder to care for than others. Stainless-steel appliances remain popular, but if fingerprints are a concern, consider installing a model with a smudge-resistant finish. As for flooring, vinyl held up best in Consumer Reports tests against scratches and dents.

4. Contain the clutter. In the kitchen, try to store things close at hand. For example, dishes and flatware should be kept in a cabinet next to the dishwasher; cutting boards and sharp knives belong near the food prep counter. Creating a separate landing spot, ideally just off the kitchen or along its perimeter, for mail, school papers and the like will help keep counters clear.

5. Make it a family affair. Look for ways to enlist other members of the household. If kids are present, designate a lower cabinet for everyday dishes or flatware, allowing young ones to help set the table.
Source: Consumer Reports

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Organizing Finances to Buy a Home

February 20, 2015 12:54 am

Buying a home is a major life decision. You’ll want to do everything in your power to make sure you’re financially secure enough to tackle the investment. If you’re planning to buy a home in the near future, organization is key.

“Buying your first home can be a complicated and intimidating process, both emotionally and financially,” said Steve Trumble, ACCC. “Buying a home is one of the largest investments consumers will ever make, and it’s critical that they prepare financially before they take the leap.”

The ACCC suggests the following:

Pay your bills on time – Your credit history plays an important role in the homebuying process. This includes rent and bills. If you have a history of paying credit cards, utilities, student loans and other bills late, it can damage your ability to secure a mortgage. Create a schedule and budget so that you can pay bills on time as they are due.

Pull your credit report – It’s critical that you know what your credit score is since it is one of the first and most important items a bank looks at when determining whether to grant a mortgage. When examining the report, make sure to look for inaccuracies or mistakes. If there are any, you’ll have to address that with the credit bureaus. If your score is lower than it should be, spend the time necessary to improve your score long before you are going to buy.

Trade lines – Most lenders prefer if you have three or more trade lines (credit cards, student loans, car loan, etc.) that have been open for at least a year. It’s also important to avoid closing these trade lines because it will negatively affect your credit score.

Save as much money as possible – A larger down payment (20 percent) or more can save you hundreds in additional insurances and give you more buying power.

Do your research – There are many other factors you have to consider when buying a home in addition to the purchase price of the house. Property taxes, homeowners insurance, utilities, maintenance, condo fees and repair can add up very quickly. Make sure to research interest rates to determine the best time to buy.

Source: ACCC

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Moving? Choose a Safe Self-Storage Facility

February 20, 2015 12:54 am

The Self Storage Association (SSA) notes that 1 out of every 10 households in the United States currently rents some kind of storage unit, including portable on-demand storage (PODS). That represents a significant increase from 1 in 17 U.S. households in 1995.

If you’re considering renting storage space when moving, look for a safe facility that meets these guidelines:

The facility is clean and well-maintained. If a storage facility is not routinely and thoroughly cleaned, there is a good possibility no one is monitoring for pest infestations. Verify that the facility has a permanent, reliable extermination contract in place before you trust them with your belongings.

The facility is secure. Ensure the facility has minimum security measures, like fencing that secures the entire property and access control. Ideally, the storage building should also have onsite features like 24-hour video surveillance cameras and coded security pads. Find out about the facility’s procedures in cases of fire or flooding.

The units are climate-controlled.
Very high or low temperatures, as well as dampness, can quickly cause damage to appliances and furniture. Make sure that rising groundwater from snow or rain is unable to penetrate the unit.

The facility offers insurance. If your renters or homeowners insurance does not provide off-premises coverage, you may want to opt for one of the company’s coverage options. Keep in mind that any facility should have its own insurance to cover damages to the property or injuries that occur on the premises.

Source: I.I.I.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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E-Cycle Your Household Gadgets

February 19, 2015 12:51 am

With advancing technology, sleeker, shinier and faster cell phones, computers, tablets, mp3 players and televisions are finding their way into the hands of American consumers. But what about the old ones that are still perfectly functional? Think e-Cycle, says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Rather than making products from scratch, recycling electronics keeps harmful toxins out of landfills, recovers valuable materials that can be reused, conserves virgin resources and results in lower emissions, including greenhouse gases which contributes to climate change.

Smartphones make up a large portion of the waste stream. For every one million smart phones recycled, 35,274 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold and 33 pounds of palladium can be recovered and reused.

The good news is many retailers and manufacturers now take back old electronics for recycling by certified electronics recyclers. By using certified recyclers, you can rest assured that your old electronics will be recycled responsibly. To find such locations near you, go to http://search.earth911.com/ and enter your zip code.

In addition, many states, cities and counties sponsor collection events for electronics during the year, or they may offer a permanent drop-off location with certain hours of operation.

Source: EPA.gov

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Hiring a Tree Care Professional

February 19, 2015 12:51 am

To care for trees on your property, doing your homework is imperative to ensuring quality, safe work, avoiding scams and saving money, according to the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA).

“With hundreds and possibly thousands of dollars at stake, not to mention the integrity and appearance of your property and your personal safety, make sure that you take the time in deciding which company you should hire,” cautions Peter Gerstenberger, TCIA. “Disreputable companies are renowned for ripping gutters off, breaking fences and bird baths and even dropping trees on houses. Then they typically fold up and leave, never to be seen again.”

Before beginning your search for a tree care professional, understand that the credentials for someone who uses the title “arborist” can vary widely. An arborist is a professional who cares for trees and other woody plants by pruning, fertilizing, monitoring for insects and diseases, consulting on tree-related issues and occasionally planting, transplanting and removing trees.

Homeowners searching for qualified tree care companies should look for:
  • Proof of Insurance – Ask for current certificates of liability and workers’ compensation insurance, if applicable. If the tree company you hire doesn’t have insurance or is not a legal company, you, the homeowner, could be held responsible as a contractor.
  • Good References – Ask for local references, and check the quality of their work and level of service. Don’t feel rushed by a bargain and never pay in advance.
  • Solid Reputation – Verify professional affiliations the company might have, such as memberships in business organizations.
  • Comparisons – Get a second opinion and quote. Always get estimates in writing.
  • Up-to-Date Knowledge – Ask if they follow ANSI standards. A professional arborist will be aware of the current safety, pruning, fertilizing and cabling standards.
  • Contract – Insist on a signed contract as to cost, dates, when work is to be performed and exactly what is to be done.
There are also inherent dangers for one attempting tree care or removal – pruning limbs, felling trees and especially climbing into trees are hazardous activities even for trained professionals. For safe and efficient work, hire a tree care professional with experience, expertise and equipment to safely take down or prune damaged trees.

Source: TCIA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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First-Time Homeowner, Meet Your HVAC System

February 19, 2015 12:51 am

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of buying your first home, but being a first-time homebuyer comes some unfamiliar territory. As a new homeowner, it’s important to understand the functionalities of your HVAC system to help you better determine when something is not working as it should be.

“The HVAC system is the largest source of energy within a home, so it’s important to keep the units properly cleaned and maintained in order to avoid increased costs and energy usage,” says Bill Benito, NADCA. “A dirty air conveyance system will restrict air flow at the coil and the blower, and also within the duct system. In many cases, a good cleaning of the cooling coil and the system components will increase air flow and make for a more efficient HVAC system. As a result, you’ll likely see significant savings on your energy bill.”

Did you know?

On average, 40 pounds of dust is generated each year in 1,500 square foot homes.
The amount of dust that gathers in a home depends on several different components, including the HVAC system design, the location of the system (attic, basement, or crawlspace), along with the family habits. Are pets living in the home? Are smokers? Children? All of these factors can contribute to the amount of dust and dirt that is generated within a home.

Approximately 4,200 dust mites can live within just one ounce of dust.
Indoor air is actually not always cleaner than outdoor air. Contaminants inside of the home (like dirt, dust and animal dander) can be circulated during cleaning when ineffective or substandard cleaning devices are used. If the dust is not contained during routine vacuuming, it can be distributed around the living space, where it will eventually just resettle.

Having your HVAC system professionally cleaned in springtime typically costs less than at any other time of year.

Although spring months are spent preparing for cooling season, many homeowners wait until the summer to have their systems cleaned. As a result, there are very long waiting lists for scheduling appointments. In addition, many companies will provide discounts during the spring to encourage homeowners to schedule their maintenance and cleaning before the units are needed for air conditioning during the summer.

NADCA defines a complete and proper cleaning to include the inside of the air ducts from where the air enters the return duct, through the air handler (blowers, coil and heat exchange), to the exit, where the air is released to condition the home.

Source: NADCA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Two-Thirds of Sports Fans Showcase Memorabilia at Home

February 18, 2015 12:51 am

It’s no surprise that sports enthusiasts have a desire to show off their team pride, but a recent Gladiator® GarageWorks survey reveals that two-thirds of sports fans use their homes to display memorabilia. That’s a lot of team spirit!

The survey found that male sports fans spend more on fandom than women, spending on average $768 per year on tickets, apparel or memorabilia. Women spend $486 on average.

Other interesting stats from the survey include:
  • Sixty-nine percent of sports fans surveyed say they have at least one game day tradition.
  • Fifty-three percent of those surveyed said they were “big fans” of professional football, followed by 32 percent for college football and 23 percent for baseball.
  • Twenty-six percent of sports fans surveyed display sports memorabilia in the living room; 10 percent display it in the garage; and eight percent display it in the yard.
Source: Gladiator® GarageWorks

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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