5 Tips For Staying Cool

There are plenty of ways to cool off this summer besides blasting your air conditioner.

  1. Before you turn ceiling fans on high, make sure they’re set to rotate counterclockwise. This helps generate a cooler breeze in your home.
  2. Take advantage of an outdoor grill or utilize small appliance, such as air fryers and slow cookers, to avoid heating up your entire kitchen. If you need to use the oven, do so first thing in the morning.
  3. Reduce the amount of sun exposure a room gets by using blackout curtains.
  4. Instead of running the dryer, keep your space cool by opting to hang-dry clothes inside on a clothing rack or line-dry them outside on sunny days.
  5. Provide relief from the syn by adding a pergola, pavilion, gazebo, or large umbrella to your outdoor entertaining space. You can also plan ahead for upcoming summers by planting a shade tree in your yard this fall.

7 Tax Benefits of Owning a Home: A Complete Guide for Filing in 2020

What are the tax benefits of owning a home? Plenty of homeowners are asking themselves this right around now as they prepare to file their taxes. You may recall the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act—the most substantial overhaul to the U.S. tax code in more than 30 years—went into effect on Jan. 1, 2018. And as a result, last year likely brought big changes to your taxes, especially the tax perks of homeownership.

While not much has changed taxwise since then, an entire year has passed—so you might need a refresher as you sit down with your receipts.

Well, look no further than this complete guide to all the tax benefits of owning a home, where we break down all the tax breaks homeowners should be aware of when they file their 2019 taxes in 2020. Read on to make sure you aren’t missing anything that could save you money!

Tax break 1: Mortgage interest

Homeowners with a mortgage that went into effect before Dec. 15, 2017, can deduct interest on loans up to $1 million.

“However, for acquisition debt incurred after Dec. 15, 2017, homeowners can only deduct the interest on the first $750,000,” says Lee Reams Sr., chief content officer of TaxBuzz.

Why it’s important: The ability to deduct the interest on a mortgage continues to be a big benefit of owning a home. And the more recent your mortgage, the greater your tax savings.

“The way mortgage payments are amortized, the first payments are almost all interest,” says Wendy Connick, owner of Connick Financial Solutions. (See how your loan amortizes and how much you’re paying in interest with this online mortgage calculator.)

Note that the mortgage interest deduction is an itemized deduction. This means that for it to work in your favor, all of your itemized deductions (there are more below) need to be greater than the new standard deduction, which the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act nearly doubled to $24,400 for a married couple. For individuals the deduction is $12,200, and it’s $18,350 for heads of household.

As a result, only about 5% of taxpayers will itemize deductions this filing season, says Connick.

For some homeowners, itemizing simply may not be worth it. So when would itemizing work in your favor? As one example, if you’re a married couple who paid $20,000 in mortgage interest and $6,000 in state and local taxes, you would exceed the standard deduction and be able to reduce your taxable income by an additional $2,000 by itemizing.

 

Tax break 2: Property taxes

This deduction is capped at $10,000 for those married filing jointly no matter how high the taxes are. (Here’s more info on how to calculate property taxes.)

Why it’s important: Taxpayers can take one $10,000 deduction, says Brian Ashcraft, director of compliance at Liberty Tax Service.

Just note that this year, property taxes are on that itemized list of all of your deductions that must add up to more than the standard deduction ($24,000 for a married couple) to be worth your while.

And remember that if you have a mortgage, your property taxes are built into your monthly payment.

Tax break 3: Private mortgage insurance

If you put less than 20% down on your home, odds are you’re paying private mortgage insurance, or PMI, which costs from 0.3% to 1.15% of your home loan. But here’s some good news for PMI users: You can deduct the interest on this insurance thanks to the Mortgage Insurance Tax Deduction Act of 2019. Also known as the Secure Act, it retroactively reinstated for 2018 and 2019 certain deductions and credits for homeowners.

“These include the deduction for PMI,” says Laura Fogel, certified public accountant at Gonzalez and Associates in Massachusetts. (This credit is retroactive for 2018, so talk to your accountant to see if it makes sense to amend your 2018 tax return.)

Why it’s important: The PMI interest deduction is also an itemized deduction. But if you can take it, it might help push you over the $24,000 standard deduction. And here’s how much you’ll save: If you make $100,000 and put down 5% on a $200,000 house, you’ll pay about $1,500 in annual PMI premiums and thus cut your taxable income by $1,500. Nice!

Tax break 4: Energy efficiency upgrades

The Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit was a tax incentive for installing alternative energy upgrades in a home. Most of these tax credits expired after December 2016; however, two credits are still around. The credits for solar electric and solar water heating equipment are available through Dec. 31, 2021, says Josh Zimmelman, owner of Westwood Tax & Consulting, a New York–based accounting firm.

The Secure Act also retroactively reinstated a $500 deduction for certain qualified energy-efficient upgrades “such as exterior windows, doors, and insulation,” says Fogel.

Why it’s important: You can still save a tidy sum on your solar energy. And—bonus!—this is a credit, so no worrying about itemizing here. However, the percentage of the credit varies based on the date of installation. For equipment installed between Jan. 1, 2017, and Dec. 31, 2019, 30% of the expenditures is eligible for the credit. That goes down to 26% for installation between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2020, and then to 22% for installation between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2021.

Tax break 5: A home office

Good news for all self-employed people whose home office is the main place they work: You can deduct $5 per square foot, up to 300 square feet, of office space, which amounts to a maximum deduction of $1,500.

Understand, however, that there are strict rules on what constitutes a dedicated, fully deductible home office space. Here’s more on the much-misunderstood home office tax deduction.

The fine print: If you work from home occasionally but have an office to go to, you can’t take this deduction.

Tax break 6: Home improvements to age in place

To get this break, these home improvements will need to exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. So if you make $60,000, this deduction kicks in only on money spent over $4,500.

The cost of these improvements can result in a nice tax break for many older homeowners who plan to age in place and add renovations such as wheelchair ramps or grab bars in slippery bathrooms. Deductible improvements might also include widening doorways, lowering cabinets or electrical fixtures, and adding stair lifts.

The fine print: You’ll need a letter from your doctor to prove these changes were medically necessary.

Tax break 7: Interest on a home equity line of credit

If you have a home equity line of credit, or HELOC, the interest you pay on that loan is deductible only if that loan is used specifically to “buy, build, or improve a property,” according to the IRS. So you’ll save cash if your home’s crying out for a kitchen overhaul or half-bath. But you can’t use your home as a piggy bank to pay for college or throw a wedding.

The fine print: You can deduct only up to the $750,000 cap, and this is for the amount you pay in interest on your HELOC and mortgage combined. (And if you took out a HELOC before the new 2018 tax plan for anything besides improvements to your home, you cannot legally deduct the interest.)

(Margaret Heidenry is a writer living in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, and Boston Magazine.)

That’s Who We R®

Winter Lawn Care Tips

Guest post by Henry Walsh

Caring for your lawn during the winter can look different from other homeowners depending on your location. Unless you live in the extreme Southern areas of the country, most grass types will go dormant during the cold winter months. However, just because winter isn’t the primary growing season doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty to still do. Check out these winter lawn care tips to keep your lawn healthy.

Apply Fertilizer

Choosing to add fertilizer to your lawn before the snow falls is a great way to give your grass a boost of energy to stay alive during the winter months. Use a slow-release fertilizer when you want to give your lawn root systems a slow and steady stream of energy over a more extended period. Make sure to follow directions and refrain from applying too much fertilizer in one area of the lawn which could cause burning due to too much nitrogen.

Let It Breathe

Aerating your lawn once every couple of years is a great way to make sure that your lawn is receiving essential nutrients at a deeper level. Aerating will allow sunshine, water, and energy to penetrate deep into the soil which will make the lawn healthier and stronger come spring. Renting an aerator is an excellent choice for many homeowners or consider your local winter lawn care professional that can do the job for you. Aerate your lawn before any winter weather, like snow or ice, fall on the grass this winter.

Consider Overseeding

For those homeowners in the South looking for a way to keep their warm-season grass lawns green all year, consider overseeding with the opposing season grass type as part of your winter lawn care, once the lawn goes dormant. The cool-season grass will love the colder temperatures that winter brings while the warm-season grasses take a much-deserved nap. Unfortunately, homeowners in the northern parts of the country will have to accept dormant lawns in frigid temperatures or snow-covered lawns in other winter areas.

Mulch Fallen Leaves

Many parts of the country will see the addition of fallen leaves onto lawns in the early parts of winter. Instead of raking up the leaves and bagging them up for removal, consider using this free source of energy to create a stronger lawn. Mulch the leaves with a leaf mulcher, or by merely using your lawn mower, to cut the leaves into smaller more manageable parts. Dead leaves provide a natural source of nitrogen to the lawn making it a welcome addition for future growth.

Apply Compost

Compost is one of those items that every homeowner needs to keep a healthy lawn. Compost can be created at home in a compost pile or is available for purchase from a local garden center. Compost is helpful to add to a lawn before winter arrives to provide a natural energy source for underlying roots. The compost will be gradually worked into the soil by microorganisms making it a great option to cure many lawn issues.

There are plenty of ways to care for your lawn even if winter temperatures have already arrived in your area. Race against Mother Nature before the arrival of snow and ice to provide your yard with essential added nutrients like compost, fertilizer, and fallen leaves. Aerating and overseeding your lawn are other ways to make sure that your lawn looks great year round. Consider all of these winter lawn care tips this year for a beautiful lawn.

 

Henry Walsh is a gardening writer and eco-conscious living advocate. He recently began his homesteading journey after many years of incorporating the principles into his urban lifestyle.

Top Tips for Keeping Your Garage Neat and Organized

The following is a guest post by the Closet Works Inc.

The garage ranks high along with the basement for spaces where families tend to dump things they don’t know what to do with.

It’s easy to store a box you never unpacked, some outdoor equipment or some unused paint in your garage and simply ignore the fact that it’s there when you pull in your car each night.

But the clutter becomes more difficult to ignore when, for example, you’re stuck clearing snow off your car or running out to your driveway during a downpour because you’ve filled your garage with too much stuff.

You can’t ignore your messy garage forever; and in fact, spring is an excellent time to clean and organize it. It’s not too hot, and you’ll probably need to get to items in your garage like lawn and garden equipment and your kids’ outdoor toys.

Here are our top tips for organizing your garage so it stays neat and tidy.

Clean and Sort Everything

Keeping your garage neat and organized

If you actually do park your car in your garage, pull it out into the driveway or, better yet, park it on the street so you’ve got plenty of room to clean out your garage.

Unload everything first, even the boxes that haven’t been emptied since you moved in eight years ago. It might be helpful to lay a few tarps on the ground to protect your goods while you do this. Arranging specific piles of your stuff on tarps is also a helpful way to force yourself to keep a smaller number of items—keep only what you can fit in a given area.

Sort your goods into a few piles—what you want to keep, what you’d like to sell or donate, and what should be thrown out. Importantly, if you’re getting rid of paint, paint thinner, used motor oil or household chemicals, be sure to dispose of them properly.

After the space is organized, you’ll have plenty of room for a garage or yard sale to get rid of those unwanted items at a later date.

Figure Out How You’ll Organize Your Stuff

Keeping your garage neat and organized

Garages typically house a unique mix of car-related items, tools, gardening equipment, bikes, kayaks, fishing gear, snow removal tools, beach items and more. It can be a challenge to figure out how exactly to store everything.

To give things their own place, you might want to consider a custom garage storage solution with options to store a wide range of items.

A design professional can create a plan that affords you enough space to add a workbench with drawers and cabinets for tool or hobby storage. For the gardener in your family, you could also add a potting area with a work surface.

During the cleaning phase, you should inventory any dangerous chemicals to see if they’re still usable. Then you can add locked cabinets to keep those dangerous chemicals and sharp tools safely away from curious kids.

The garage is a prime area for storing sports equipment like bikes and skis and gardening tools like a hose or rake, which can all be stored off the floor with wall racks. You can also add baskets for bulky things like balls, gloves, masks or pads.

Cabinets, both with swing-out and sliding doors (if space is tight when cars are parked), can house many other items you need to store like bottled water, things you buy in bulk or even outdoor furniture accessories.

Find a New Home for These Items

Consider a new home for some items which are best stored in areas other than your garage.

  • Paint should be stored inside where the temperature remains somewhat consistent. Store it out of reach of children and pets in your basement or a closet.
  • Propane tanks shouldn’t be stored in your garage; a spark could ignite the tank. Instead, store the tank upright and outside in a well-ventilated area away from any ignition source.
  • Paper towels, plates, napkins, cardboard and other paper goods are better kept in your pantry if the packages are open. Storing them in your garage could attract bugs. They could also get damaged by moisture.
  • Pet food also belongs inside; storing it in your garage could attract mice, rats, possums and other creatures you probably don’t want hanging out there.

While your initial garage organization effort may not be the most fun chore, you’ll be glad you tackled the clutter and created a better storage system later in the year. Rather than spending precious time searching for your kids’ bikes and skateboards, you’ll be able to easily find them and enjoy yourselves.