8 Tips For Holiday Shopping

8 Tips for Holiday Shopping

 [1](MCT)—First it was the door-busters dangled by America’s retailers on Thanksgiving night.

Then Black Friday, which tumbled right into Small Business Saturday. And then? It was Cyber Monday.

And it’s only November.

With that in mind, here are 10 tips to keep your holiday shopping season a little more jolly and a lot less jarring on the wallet.

1. Makin’ a list: One of the best ways to avoid overspending is to write down a list of everyone you want to give to, from your kids to your haircutter. Decide what you can comfortably spend for each person.

“(A list) helps you prioritize how much you can realistically spend for the season,” says Casey Bond, managing editor for GoBankingRates.com, a personal finance site based in El Segundo, Calif. “Sit down, make that plan: This is how much I really want to spend.”

2. Embrace technology: A number of new tech tools make it easier than ever to snag holiday bargains, says Jake Gibson, chief operating officer of consumer finance site NerdWallet.com in San Francisco.

One of his favorites: Passbook, an iPhone application through which you gather all your gift cards, boarding passes, digital tickets, rewards cards and coupons on your smartphone.

“It’s a pop-up notification on your phone… If you walk into Sears or Old Navy, it’ll alert you that coupons are available,” said Gibson. “I use it every day to buy my coffee because my Starbucks’ gift card is loaded onto Passbook.”

Another bit of shopper tech, he noted: Target’s mobile shopping tool for top-selling kids’ toys. In a Target store, you scan the toy’s QR code and it can be purchased and shipped via your mobile phone.

3. Credit, cash or debit? We all know that credit card spending can spiral out of control, which is why many experts recommend using cash or a debit card.

But the holidays can be different, says John Ulzheimer, consumer education president with SmartCredit.com. With identity thieves “working overtime” during the holidays, he said credit cards offer more ID theft protection, especially if you dispute fraudulent charges.

“If you have the self-control to not spend more than planned, credit cards are a safer option.”

4. Be card wise: “If you can’t afford to pay off your credit card in November, then you can’t afford to add a lot more to it in December,” says Bill Hardekopf, CEO of LowCards.com, a credit card comparison site. “If you must use a credit card to pay for Christmas, make sure you can pay it off by Easter.”

If you have more than one card, use the one with the highest limit, so holiday purchases don’t push you into debt ratios that can hurt your credit score.

5. Skip the store cards: Avoid those tempting store credit cards offered when you’re standing at the cash register. Their discounts — 10 percent to 20 percent off everything you’re buying — are enticing. But the cards often carry some of the worst terms out there, says Ulzheimer, with interest rates as high as 24.99 percent and low credit limits of $1,000 or less.

6. Shop thrifty: Be creative and check out local thrift shops that sell “gently used” goods to benefit various charities. It’s a very “green” way to pick up bargain gifts, many of which are new and unused, from sports equipment to fine china to appliances.

At Second Season, a shop that benefits the Assistance League of Sacramento, the like-new holiday decorations, linens and clothes have “just flown off the shelves and racks” this year, says Katie Kunz, a longtime volunteer.

7. Gift card trading: Want to buy or sell your gift cards? Sites like Cardpool.com, GiftCardRescue.com or PlasticJungle.com let you sell unwanted gift cards for cash or buy other people’s cards at a discount. The gift cards are from hundreds of well-known brands: from Sears to Victoria’s Secret, from Macy’s to Home Depot.

Say you want to unload a $100 gift card from American Eagle Outfitters. Cardpool, a San Francisco-based site, will pay you $79 — by check — if you mail in the card; for a $100 Babies R Us card, they’ll pay $82.

If you want to buy gift cards, they’re sold at discounts of up to 30 percent off. At GiftCardRescue, for example, you’ll pay $22.50 for a $25 Sunglass Hut card or $45 for a Pottery Barn $50 card.

8. Play it safe: One of the worst ways to lose money during the holidays is theft. When out shopping, follow these common-sense reminders:

Don’t carry more than one credit card, in case your wallet or purse is lost or stolen. Don’t leave packages, laptops or cellphones visible in your back or front seat; if you don’t have a trunk, bring a blanket to throw over valuables. Keep your purse tucked under an arm and strapped across your torso; stick your wallet in a front pocket. Don’t pull out a wad of cash at the register. Always be aware of your surroundings and park in well-lit areas.

And a final note: Go easy on yourself during the seasonal spending spree.

“It’s so easy to get caught up in the consumer side of the holidays,” says Bond. “The best thing is to stick to your budget and not set yourself up for a debt hangover in January. Just because it’s a great deal doesn’t mean you need it.”

©2012 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)
Distributed by MCT Information Services [2]


Top Shopping Destintions Worldwide

Top Shopping Destinations Worldwide

[1](MCT)—Our holiday season is in full swing. We are working on gift guides, toy tests, holiday cookie issues and more.

So it’s not so hard for us to believe that the holiday season is right around the corner. In fact, we feel it’s time we start shopping now! Cheapflights.com just announced a fun list of the top shopping experiences worldwide. Continue reading

Housing Recovery on Solid Ground

Sustained home price gains show strength of recovery

Case-Shiller indices post 6th consecutive month-to-month gain

BY INMAN NEWS, TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 27, 2012.

Inman News®

Consistent home price gains demonstrate that the housing recovery is on solid ground, the publishers of a leading home price index and other industry experts say.

The S&P/Case-Shiller national home price index — which tracks single-family home prices in all nine U.S. Census divisions on a quarterly basis — was up 3.6 percent from a year ago during the third quarter, and 2.2 percent from the second quarter.

The 10- and 20-city S&P/Case-Shiller home price indices posted month-to-month gains for the sixth month in a row, both rising 0.3 percent in September. The composites also posted annual gains for the fourth month in a row, rising 2.1 percent and 3.0 percent in September, respectively.

“We are entering the seasonally weak part of the year,” said David Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at the S&P Dow Jones Indices, in a statement. “Despite the seasons, housing continues to improve.”

“With six months of consistently rising home prices, it is safe to say that we are now in the midst of a recovery in the housing market,” Biltzer said.

Don’t Forget The Homestead Tax Credit Deadline!!

Homeowners who have not filed a Homestead Eligibility Application have until have until December 31, 2012 to submit an application to continue being eligible for this credit. You can find out if you have already filed the Homestead application by looking up your property on the SDAT Real Property databaseinformation on filing status is located at the bottom of the page.

MARYLAND HOMESTEAD TAX CREDIT

What is the Homestead Credit?
To help homeowners deal with large assessment increases on their principal residence, state law has established the Homestead Property Tax Credit. The Homestead Credit limits the increase in taxable assessments each year to a fixed percentage. Every county and municipality in Maryland is required to limit taxable assessment increases to 10% or less each year. View a listing of homestead caps for each local government.
Technically, the Homestead Credit does not limit the market value of the property as determined by the Department of Assessments and Taxation. Instead, it is actually a credit calculated on any assessment increase exceeding 10% (or the lower cap enacted by the local governments) from one year to the next. The credit is calculated based on the 10% limit for purposes of the State property tax, and 10% or less (as determined by local governments) for purposes of local taxation. In other words, the homeowner pays no property tax on the market value increase which is above the limit.

Example
Assume that your old assessment was $100,000 and that your new phased-in assessment for the 1st year is $120,000.  An increase of 10% would result in an assessment of $110,000.  The difference between $120,000 and $110,000 is $10,000.  The tax credit would apply to the taxes due on the $10,000.  If the tax rate was $1.04 per $100 of assessed value, the tax credit would be $104 ($10,000 ÷ 100 x $1.04).

Application Requirement
To prevent improper granting of this credit on rented or multiple properties of a single owner, a law was enacted in 2007 that requires all homeowners tosubmit a one-time application to establish eligibility for the credit. View a list of commonly asked questions on the Homestead Application. 

If you would like a Homestead application with an access number to file electronically mailed to you, send an e-mail request toHcredit@dat.state.md.us. This request must be received by November 30th. Mailed applications must be postmarked no later than December 31, 2012.

You can find out if you have already filed an application by looking up your property in our Real Property database

Conditions
The tax credit will be granted if the following conditions are met during the previous tax year:

  • The property was not transferred to new ownership.
  • There was no change in the zoning classification requested by the homeowner resulting in an increase value of the property.
  • A substantial change did not occur in the use of the property.
  • The previous assessment was not clearly erroneous.

A further condition is that the dwelling must be the owner’s principal residence and the owner must have lived in it for at least six months of the year, including July 1 of the year for which the credit is applicable, unless the owner was temporarily unable to do so by reason of illness or need of special care.  An owner can receive a credit only on one property—the principal residence.

Razed Dwelling and Vacated Dwelling for Making Substantial Improvements
Property owners who choose to vacate their principal residence to raze the dwelling in order to replace it with a new home on the subject property or to make substantial improvements to the property can continue to receive Homestead Tax Credit eligibility provided two conditions are met.  First, the homeowner(s) must have owned and occupied the property as a principal residence for at least 3 full tax years immediately preceding the razing or the commencement of the substantial improvements.  Second, the building of the replacement home or making the substantial improvements must be completed within the next succeeding tax year after the tax year in which the razing or the substantial improvements were commenced.

Appeal Rights
If you have been denied a Homestead Tax Credit and you believe that you are eligible, contact the Central Office for the Homestead Tax Credit Program at the telephone numbers listed below.  A final denial of a Homestead Tax Credit by the Central Office may be appealed within 30 days to the Property Tax Assessment Appeal Board in the jurisdiction where the property is located.

Further Information
For questions about the Homestead Tax Credit, you may telephone 410-767-2165 in the Baltimore metropolitan area or at 1-866-650-8783 toll free elsewhere in Maryland or email the Homestead unit at homestead@dat.state.md.us.

Winter to Spring – 5 Home Decorating Ideas

Spring is just around the corner! Get ready for the world to bloom. Even though this season has been historically mild, it’s still time to say goodbye to the snow and sleet and get ready for springtime. With that in mind here are 5 decorating ideas from the designers at Lamps Plus, to help you say goodbye to those cold and drafty winter blues.

Think Color
Break out of winter by adding the new colors of spring to your home. Advises Lamps Plus design expert and Corporate Interior Design Manager Lynda Gould, “Look to nature for organic color tones to bring to indoor rooms. I love adding tones of green through pillows and glass accents. For brighter pops of color, I really like using yellows and hot oranges.”

Redecorate Your Porch
“I love relaxing on the porch during those first days of spring,” says Lynda. “The front porch is such an underutilized part of most people’s homes. With just a little accessorizing it can become a real focal point with great curb appeal.” To maximize the use of the porch, Lynda suggests adding a new outdoor rug to help define the space and add comfort under-foot. “I like to arrange outdoor furniture around the rug to create a cozy conversation area. You can add planters to the area for a bit of color and greenery that will look good all season long.”

Make a Bright Impression with Lighting
New lighting can totally remake and revitalize an outdoor space or a room, notes Lynda. ”You can instantly restyle a porch area with new outdoor lighting which will also help you enjoy the area longer into the night. If you have a larger covered porch, consider installing an outdoor ceiling fan. These add a real sense of luxury and comfort to a seating area.”

Take the Indoors Outside
Make the transition from the front porch to your inside rooms smooth and flowing with coordinating colors and décor accents, advises Michael Murphy, designer and Style Illuminated design blog writer. “If the colors and textures of the porch and indoor furniture share similar elements, you’ll be able to tie the two living spaces together. This helps bring the outside world of spring inside, refreshing your indoor living areas, and it helps take your indoor style to the great outdoors.” Michael likes to use pillows, indoor rugs, wall art and accessories to blend the looks of the two areas. “This is a great tip no matter what the season, but it is especially wonderful to do in the spring.”

Re-Style the Backyard Patio
For many of us the more private space of the backyard patio is a natural place to relax and entertain. Not only do most patios extend from kitchen and dining room areas, but they also are a gateway to garden areas and lawns. You can make your patio spring-ready by adding just a few key accessories, says Marcia Prentice, Lamps Plus designer and blogger. “The same ideas that apply to porches will also work with backyard patios, but the scale is a little different. On the patio you want comfortable outdoor seating ideas for eating and entertaining larger groups. I like having lots of umbrellas on hand because even in the spring sitting in the sun can be uncomfortable, and I also love adding table accents for serving drinks, lighting for BBQ cookouts and other accessories for entertaining.”

February Reveals a Slow, Steady Path to Recovery

Yesterday, Freddie Mac released its U.S. Economic and Housing Market Outlook for February, showing cautious signs of the economy and housing market moving in a positive direction. The report attributes this good news to the current environment of low interest rates and more favorable job prospects.

Freddie Mac compiles data on major economic and housing and mortgage market indicators and offers forecasts based on those indicators. Highlights from the report include:

  • Job gains exceeded expectations for the past two months, but those leaving their jobs voluntarily were 2 million in December compared to the pre-recession average of 3 million, reflecting worker uneasiness.
  • The unemployment rate fell to 8.3 percent; and weekly unemployment benefits applications decreased for the third consecutive week to 348,000, the fewest since the first week in March 2008.
  • More warmth is expected in the housing market sometime in 2013 as the economy continues on its slow path to a stronger recovery in a low-interest-rate environment.
  • Low mortgage rates will continue to keep homebuyer affordability high and help drive more HARP refinances.
  • Consumer sentiment weakened in January although home builder confidence continued to show signs of growth.

According to Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac, vice president and chief economist, “The U.S. economy continues to build on the momentum from the end of last year. Our outlook anticipates gradual but steady improvement in the economy and the housing market, supported by low interest rates and brightening job market prospects.”