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Michael Gillis

Michael Gillis
701 W. Market Street  Perkasie  PA 18944
Phone:  215-469-0213
Office:  215-453-7653
Fax:  267-354-6911

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New Increase in FICA Tax Hitting Americans' Paychecks, Perfect Time for a Refinance?

January 18, 2013 2:44 am

As wage earners in the United States begin to receive their first paychecks in 2013, they'll likely notice their net pay has gone down. That's because a two-year payroll tax holiday expired on December 31, 2012, and was not renewed as part of the fiscal cliff deal, explains Barry Habib, chief market strategist of a nationwide mortgage lender. How can the average American offset the loss in take-home pay?

Refinancing a home mortgage is one strategy definitely worth thinking about, Habib says.

Every worker will see a two percent FICA tax increase now that the rate has reverted from 4.2 percent to 6.2 percent. The increase in the FICA tax, which is deducted from workers' paychecks, will cause take-home pay to decrease by $600 per year for workers with an annual income of $30,000. Workers with an annual income of $50,000 will bring home $1,000 less per year, while workers with an annual income of $100,000 will bring home $2,000 less per year.

"While two percent may sound like a modest increase, the toll it takes on discretionary spending is much greater," Habib adds. Consider a couple in which each partner earns $45,000 per year, earning $90,000 combined. They will likely pay $26,000 in taxes, and their living expenses may be in the range of $46,000 a year, he explains. "That leaves a couple earning $90,000 in combined income with $18,000 in discretionary spending. A two percent tax hike resulting in $1800 less per year will feel more like a 10 percent reduction, as they're losing 10 percent of their discretionary income," Habib says.

One practical solution to offset the decrease in income is to refinance a home mortgage, Habib notes. With rates at historical lows, many Americans could benefit by refinancing to a lower interest rate, he says. "Of course, not everyone is qualified to refinance, or is in a position where it makes sense. However, for many homeowners, refinancing their mortgage could more than offset the loss homeowners will feel from the increase in the FICA tax," Habib says.

Habib offers the following tips to consumers considering a refinance:

Know the Current Value of Your Home
A drop in your home's value may prevent you from being able to refinance if the equity in the property isn't enough to meet lenders' criteria. Speak to a couple of real estate agents on what similar homes in your neighborhood have been selling for to get an accurate valuation. Doing so allows you to make a well-informed decision about whether refinancing is feasible and makes sense, before you spend money on an appraisal or pay any of the other additional fees associated with refinancing.

An Assumable FHA Mortgage Will Make Your Property More Valuable and Easier to Sell
Homeowners may want to consider refinancing to an assumable Federal Housing Authority (FHA) mortgage, Habib says. With an assumable mortgage, the home buyer has the ability to take over the existing mortgage of the seller. An assumable mortgage typically raises the value of your home, and will certainly make it more sellable should you decide to sell, he notes.

Instead of Giving the Bank Money in Points, Pay Yourself
Think twice about paying points on a refinance, Habib advises. "It's tempting to see how low a rate you can get by paying more points, but you need to consider the cost of the money you're spending today," he says. Instead, Habib suggests homeowners think about using the money to reduce the principal on their mortgage. For example, on a $200,000 mortgage, rather than paying three points or $6000, the homeowner could pay their mortgage down to $194,000. "While your rate will be higher, your payment is based on a smaller principal amount, so you'll spend less on your mortgage in the long run," Habib says.

Refinance to a 15- or 20-Year Loan
Strongly consider refinancing to a 15- or 20-year mortgage. "With today's low interest rates, you may find that your mortgage payments are pretty darn close to what you're paying now," Habib says. "With a shorter loan term, so much more of your payment is going toward principal, that even after a couple of months, you're realizing a benefit. "Homeowners who are able to refinance to a mortgage with a shorter term build a much greater amount of equity in their homes as time goes on, he adds.

Source: Residential Finance Corp.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Tips for Making Roof Color Choices with Confidence

January 17, 2013 2:42 am

Standard slate gray or bold terracotta? Solid brown or a blend of three warm brown tones? For some homeowners, the question of what color to cap off their homes is more challenging than the decision of what roofing product to use.

According to color expert Kate Smith, CMG, people are often paralyzed at the idea of making a roofing color decision. "Selecting exterior building product colors can be daunting for some people specifically because of the long lifespan of those products," says Smith. With some roofs having as much as a 50-year warranty, it's a long-term color commitment to make. "While it's fairly easy and inexpensive to repaint the interior of a room, you want to maximize your roofing investment by selecting a color you can live with for many years. Many people need some support and guidance when making those larger color decisions."

Smith, a national color expert, offers these tips for homeowners trying to determine what roofing colors to select.

Tip #1 – Take time and do your homework. Don't rush a decision. Try to envision a home exterior that you will like next year, five years from now, and then 20 years from now.
Tip #2 – Consider your options. While a solid color roof may work for some home styles, a blend of several colors may offer a "softer" look with more accent options. Pre-bundled roofing color blends can be made with two, three, four or five different color blends that complement each other.
Tip #3 - Investigate the different roofing color options available to you. Use a Color Design tool to create your own custom color blends.
Tip #4 - Request life-sized samples of your favorite color roofing tiles to hold up against your current roof to see the change that a new color will make for your home.
Tip #5 – Look at the other homes in your neighborhood. Your home should blend in or stand out from other homes, but never clash with the rest of the homes in your community. A roofing color can help achieve a harmonious look.
Tip #6 – Get assistance from a professional. Just as selecting the roofing product is a big decision requiring the assistance of a professional, so is the choice of the roof color. Consult a color expert and use the color tools offered by experts and product manufacturers to gain a strong comfort level for your color choice.

Source: www.davinciroofscapes.com.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Window Film Is Eligible For Energy Tax Credit Approved By Congress

January 17, 2013 2:42 am

Congress has just given American homeowners a chance to keep more of their hard-earned money with tax credits for energy efficient upgrades planned for 2013, or made in 2012. Window film is eligible for the tax credits approved by Congress and the tax incentive can cover up to 10 percent of the cost of the installation of window film to a maximum of $500, states the International Window Film Association (IWFA).

"We are delighted that Congress recently enacted a bill, titled the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, that includes tax incentives for energy efficient home improvements, such as installing window film," said Darrell Smith, executive director of the nonprofit IWFA. "To make people more aware of this great opportunity, we are sharing this news through our Facebook and Twitter pages and we are also offering a free consumer booklet so consumers can learn more about window film," he added.

"While the 'greening' of our homes is a high priority, most of the new energy-efficient technologies require significant investment to reap long-term benefits, but window film has been shown to be a most cost-effective means of improving energy performance," said Smith.

As a long-term and cost-effective solution for saving energy, window film qualifies in the legislation as part of a building's "insulation envelope." It can reduce energy consumption from solar heat gain in summer or reflect interior heat back inside in winter, while allowing in natural light without the negative impact of UV exposure. Consumers should check with their window film installer or manufacturer to make sure their product qualifies under the law.

For more information on window film's many benefits the IWFA offers a free consumer booklet available that can be found at: http://www.iwfa.com/ConsumerInfo/IWFAWindowFilmBooklet.aspx.

Source: International Window Film Association

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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7 Ways to Get Rid of Financial Stress

January 17, 2013 2:42 am

Finances are a major cause of stress and worry, which can lead to an unbalanced and unhappy life. Here are seven ways to get rid of financial stress to ensure that you are starting 2013 off right:

1. Money doesn't equal happiness - If we keep the mindset that we will only be happy when we have more money, then we are waiting for the impossible. Money only makes us a little happier. In the scheme of things, once we make enough money to have our basic needs met, we are fine. So, thinking more money will bring happiness is a myth.

2. Can't control - If we stay focused on our lack of money or debt, we will stay stressed out. Work on what you can control, which might be getting another part-time job, saving money, budgeting, cutting coupons, etc. Work on what you can control to move forward or you will get stuck in the "can't" mode and that will make you frustrated, angry and stressed out.

3. Take care of you - When you are stressed you need to make sure you take care of yourself. When we are stressed out about finances - or anything for that matter - we tend to forget about our health and then we get sick, fatigued and exhausted. This causes more stress. So make sure to eat right, drink plenty of water, exercise, etc.

4. Ask for help - If your finances are bad and it's a situation that is out of your reach, then go to a financial planner/advisor. Ask for help.

5. Live in the moment - Financial stress can come from our worries about tomorrow. How will I pay off this student loan, will I get the raise, will I get the job, etc. We don't have control over tomorrow so to worry about it is a waste of time. Focus on what you have today.

6. Add some fun - Preoccupy yourself, take a stress break, have fun with your kids, go for a walk, have lunch with a friend, do something that will make you feel better.

7. Take action - It's great to set goals, but without an action plan, they will just remain goals. So, set up on paper (so it's visual and concrete) your goals and action plan to get there. The goals don't have to be huge, they can start small. For example: Starting a budget, making lunch and coffee at home to save money, cutting coupons, etc.

Source: Diane Lang

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Hold the Diet Soda? Sweetened Drinks Linked to Depression, Coffee Tied to Lower Risk

January 16, 2013 2:40 am

New research suggests that drinking sweetened beverages, especially diet drinks, is associated with an increased risk of depression in adults while drinking coffee was tied to a slightly lower risk.
"Sweetened beverages, coffee and tea are commonly consumed worldwide and have important physical—and may have important mental—health consequences," said study author Honglei Chen, MD, PhD, with the National Institutes of Health in Research Triangle Park in North Carolina and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.

The study involved 263,925 people between the ages of 50 and 71 at enrollment. From 1995 to 1996, consumption of drinks such as soda, tea, fruit punch and coffee was evaluated. About 10 years later, researchers asked the participants whether they had been diagnosed with depression since the year 2000. A total of 11,311 depression diagnoses were made.

People who drank more than four cans or cups per day of soda were 30 percent more likely to develop depression than those who drank no soda. Those who drank four cans of fruit punch per day were about 38 percent more likely to develop depression than those who did not drink sweetened drinks. People who drank four cups of coffee per day were about 10 percent less likely to develop depression than those who drank no coffee. The risk appeared to be greater for people who drank diet rather than regular soda, diet rather than regular fruit punches and diet rather than regular iced tea.

"Our research suggests that cutting out or down on sweetened diet drinks or replacing them with unsweetened coffee may naturally help lower your depression risk," said Chen. "More research is needed to confirm these findings, and people with depression should continue to take depression medications prescribed by their doctors."

The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Cancer Institute.

Source: American Academy of Neurology

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Five Great Workout Apps

January 16, 2013 2:40 am

Creative and innovative fitness classes are popping up everywhere, but some days, there just isn't time to get to the gym. The March 2013 issue of ShopSmart magazine, from Consumer Reports, features exercise apps that allow users to get in all types of workouts anytime, anywhere.

"Sticking to fitness goals can be a challenge," said Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart. "Having access to workout guides on a smartphone can help you stay on track no matter where you are."
Here are five apps that can help amp-up a workout:

1. CrossFit Travel is designed to help users stay on course while on the road. All workouts, aside from running, are designed for small spaces, such as a hotel room or bedroom. The app includes more than 120 Workouts of the Day that can be tailored to users' preferences. Works on Android, $2.

2. Daily Arm Workout can help users tone up. Like the Daily Butt, Cardio, and Leg Workout apps, Daily Arm Workout is loaded with video instructions for easy-to-follow moves to tone a particular body part that needs attention. Users can get fit anywhere as each app has short routines that require little or no equipment. Works on Apple and Android, free (pay $1 for more exercises and no ads).

3. C25K stands for couch to 5 kilometers, and its aim is to help novices get ready for a race in eight weeks. The easy-to-follow training plan has voice alerts that tell users when to warm up, walk, run, and cool down, and tells when to give it the final push. Works on Apple and Android, free (pay $2 for more exercises and no ads).

4. Kettlebell Training: The Basics is an inexpensive alternative to a certified personal trainer who specializes in kettlebells. This app will show users how to work those heavy little balls instead of lifting traditional barbell-type weights. First-timers can start out with the Kettlebell Safety video. Works on Apple, $2.

5. Pocket Yoga offers 27 yoga sessions for busy people who want to stretch and de-stress. Voice and video instructions guide users through every pose as if in a class. This app also contains 145 illustrated poses so users can check form and track progress. Works on Apple and Android, $3.

Source: ShopSmart

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Setting up a Home Office that Fuels Productivity

January 16, 2013 2:40 am

One of the biggest mistakes businesspeople make is assuming that working from home will automatically result in a higher level of productivity. Unless you carefully construct your home office environment, you may find that working from home is less productive than you anticipated.

Staples offers the following tips for setting up your home office to help maximize your productivity.

The ideal working environment

Home office setup is an exercise in knowing yourself. Before you make any decisions, make a list of the things you need to spur productivity. Some people can work at a desk in a common area of the house with the television running in the background. Others want a closed-door environment where distractions are minimized. For some people, a home office is a place to finish up work from a regular day job. For others, a home office is a primary workspace where they spend eight or more hours of the day. Before you start rearranging the furniture, decide what you need as an absolute minimum to encourage you to use the space as intended.

The right office furniture, equipment and supplies
Once you have decided whether you're going to segregate an area of the living room, convert a spare bedroom or set yourself up in the basement or garage, you should start thinking about home office furniture. The type of office furniture you pick and the way you organize your space will significantly impact your productivity.

Whatever your preferences are, investing money up front in the style of office furniture that makes you comfortable will naturally lead to greater productivity. At the very least, this ensures that you won't be tempted to relocate to the bedroom instead of working at your desk. Likewise, an upfront investment in office supplies and equipment will help you get your work done faster and avoid distractions.

The cost of outfitting a home office

A basic home office setup can cost you under $500 if you already have a computer that you can relocate to your new space. There are a number of functional office furniture options that look expensive but are actually quite affordable, especially if you are willing to put the furniture together yourself. A printer and a phone with voicemail can round out a basic home office setup.

A more advanced home office setup would include a fax machine and a photocopier. Fortunately, there are 3-in-1 office machines that combine a printer, fax and copier all in one piece of equipment for under $300, saving you money and space. Keep in mind, however, that a machine that does many things often offers fewer features for each specific function. For example, if your work at home requires more than the occasional photocopy, it can be more efficient to buy a dedicated copy machine that has special functionality to handle a heavier workload.

Don't forget to set aside money in your home office budget for office supplies. From paper to paper clips, you will have to buy all of the little things that you took for granted when you worked for an employer.

A home office is sometimes considered the holy grail for working people. Who wouldn't want a comfortable home oasis where commuting is a foreign concept and the work just gets done? To achieve home office nirvana, make a plan that is specifically designed to meet your individual needs and choose the right home office furniture, equipment and supplies to make your plan a reality.

Source: Staples

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Cut Crime and Save Money with a Home Security System

January 15, 2013 2:38 am

Some of the nation's insurance companies are encouraging homeowners to install monitored security systems by offering them substantial discounts on homeowner's insurance.

"A survey of the 10 largest insurance companies offering homeowners coverage found premium discounts up to 20 percent if a home is equipped with a monitored alarm system," said Dom D'Ascoli, president of the Electronic Security Association. "The discounts can be substantial enough to pay a portion of the monitoring costs or installation of the system."

The majority of insurance companies offer some sort of discount for alarm systems. Homeowners should check with their individual carrier to determine the amount and availability of the discounts.
According to a study by Dr. Simon Hakim of Temple University, "An alarmed single family home is more than 60 percent less likely to be burgled than a similar home without an alarm."

A comprehensive two year study in Newark, New Jersey by Rutgers University School of Criminal Justice, demonstrates why insurance companies are offering the discounts. The team of Rutgers researchers used sophisticated in-depth research techniques to eliminate the variables that impact crime rates and to focus solely on the impact alarm systems have on residential burglaries.

"Thanks to modern technology alarm systems are more affordable, versatile and dependable than ever before," said D'Ascoli. "The Rutgers study showed that these technical innovations have increased the availability of home security systems to middle class homeowners and helped reduce crime."

In addition to discouraging burglars, modern alarm systems also reduce the damage caused by fires. Fire and lightning claims are almost 10 times higher than claims for burglaries and thefts according to statistics from the Insurance Information Institute. "The alarm's ability to notify the fire department whether or not anyone is at home or able to call for help is vital in reducing the cost of these claims and protecting building occupants," said D'Ascoli.

Source: www.ESAweb.org

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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National Poll Shows Americans Are Against Credit Card/Debit Card Online Lottery

January 15, 2013 2:38 am

Americans are overwhelmingly against allowing the use of credit cards, direct electronic transfers from bank accounts or debit/ATM cards to buy online lottery tickets according to a national poll sponsored by the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

Seventy-eight percent of respondents said they were opposed to Internet lottery in a national survey of registered, proven voters in the 43 states and the District of Columbia that have a lottery. The survey indicates American voters believe that Internet lottery will make it easier for underage children to gamble, drain their family's bank account and rack up credit card debt on their parents' cards, which made them less likely to support lawmakers who advocate for Internet lottery.

"American voters believe that allowing people to use their credit cards, direct electronic transfers from their bank account or debit/ATM cards to buy online lottery tickets is a bad idea. The research shows that while most people think the lottery is a good thing, allowing the purchase of tickets in this manner will make it too easy for people to gamble away money they need for necessities like food and medicine, and too easy for underage children to play the lottery," says Brian Dodge, senior vice president for communications and state affairs for RILA.

Poll results show:

-82 percent of respondents think there is enough access to lottery without expanding it to the Internet.
Voters worry that Internet lottery will make it easier for underage children to play the lottery; in fact 84 percent of respondents said they would be less likely to support Internet lottery and the lawmakers who advocate for it because of that fact.

-Voters also fear that Internet lottery will increase the number of compulsive gamblers, and 79 percent said they would be less likely to support Internet lottery and the lawmakers who advocate for it because of that fact.

-80 percent of respondents oppose allowing people to use their credit cards to play the lottery online.
70 percent doubt that requiring lottery players to provide their Social Security number and birth date when registering to play Internet lottery will successfully prevent underage children from accessing the lottery online.

The issue of Internet lottery is a relatively new topic for many Americans as selling tickets online to local residents was only made legally possible in December 2011. Illinois and Georgia started selling lottery tickets online last year and Delaware has recently authorized its state lottery to offer online gaming. Several state lottery commissions including those in New York, Massachusetts and New Jersey are considering expanding their lottery systems to allow people to use credit cards, direct electronic transfers from bank accounts or debit/ATM cards to buy Internet lottery tickets as they look for a solution to balance their budgets. But according to the survey, many believe that the social costs of using Internet lottery to balance the budget would far outweigh the benefits.

Source: Retail Industry Leaders Association

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Kitchen Cleaning - Organize Your Approach

January 15, 2013 2:38 am

(Family Features) Maintaining a clean kitchen is important. However, there are often cleaning tasks that get put on hold because they require a great deal of time and effort. According to the Scrubbing Bubbles Dirty Work Index survey, men and women agree the kitchen is the most difficult room to clean after the bathroom. Luckily, following a few simple steps and using all-purpose kitchen cleaners make tackling tough kitchen messes easier — ensuring that your home is not only clean but also healthy.

Oven
If your oven boasts a self-cleaning mode, go ahead and turn it on. For the stovetop and exterior of the oven, spray a grease-cutting cleaner to cover the surfaces, exterior walls and oven door. Allow the cleaner to go to work penetrating and lifting grime while you move on to the microwave. Use damp sponges or paper towels to remove the cleaner when the grease and grime have dissolved.

Microwave
To loosen grease and food spatters, boil a cup of water with a few lemon slices in the microwave for one minute, which will help to soften dried food particles to make cleanup easier. Then, use a foaming all-purpose cleaner and a damp sponge to easily wipe away residue and grease and leave a fresh scent behind.

Dishwasher
Use a toothbrush and warm, soapy water to clean around the rubber seal on the door of your dishwasher. Use a scrubbing brush or sponge to wipe away dirt and grime on the inside of the door, as well as the walls. Wipe away debris around the drain that could cause later clogging. Run your empty dishwasher on the hottest cycle to help further remove buildup.

Fridge
Because the refrigerator houses perishable foods, it’s crucial to your family’s health to keep it well-maintained and sanitary. Cleaning the refrigerator requires more work than just pitching old food. To ensure your fridge is thoroughly cleaned, turn the dial control to “0” and remove and discard old food items before removing shelves and drawers, then wipe them down using mild soap and water. Next, use a toothpick and toothbrush to clean corners, hinges and the rubber gasket. Finally, sanitize the drop pan with an antibacterial all-purpose cleaner. Cleaning the drop pan weekly will help reduce spilled food odors. After these steps are complete, return the dial control to the original temperature setting.

Source: Scrubbing Bubbles

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