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Filed Your 2012 Taxes? These Tips Will Help You Prepare Now For a Better Return in 2013

by Rebecca Chandler

Filed your 2012 taxes?  The April 15 deadline is looming, so now’s the time.  However, now is also the time to plan for 2013 while 2012 is fresh in mind.  Some tips below from TurboTax such as home office deductions and avoiding penalties by making estimated payments are especially meaningful to real estate agents.
Here’s a overview of the strategies TurboTax recommends to help  lower your taxes,  save time and money when preparing, avoid costly penalties and interest, and potentially,  and keep  more money in your pocket.
  1. Contribute to retirement accounts. If you haven’t already funded your retirement account for 2012, do so by April 15, 2013. That’s the deadline for contributions to a traditional IRA, deductible or not, and to a Roth IRA. However, if you have a Keogh or SEP and you get a filing extension to October 15, 2013, you can wait until then to put 2012 contributions into those accounts. To start tax-free compounding ASAP,  your should make those contributions now.
  2. Make a last-minute estimated tax payment. If you didn’t pay enough to the IRS during the year, you may have a big tax bill staring you in the face. Plus, you might owe significant interest and penalties, too. Why? Your withholding on your paycheck may be the culprit or maybe you  received a big gain from selling stock. According to the IRS, you must pay 100 percent of last year’s tax liability or 90 percent of this year’s tax to prevent owing an underpayment penalty. If your adjusted gross income for 2011 was over $150,000, you must pay more than 110 percent of your 2011 tax liability to avoid a 2012 underpayment penalty. In other words, if  your tax payments were  light, you may owe. However, if you had made an estimated payment by January 15,  you would have erased any penalty for the fourth quarter, but you would still owe a penalty for earlier quarters if you estimated payments were not made then.  If your income windfall came after August 31, 2012,  you can file Form 2210: Underpayment of Estimated Tax to annualize your estimated tax liability, and possibly reduce any extra charges. A note of : Try not to pay too much. It’s better to owe the government a little rather than to expect a refund. Remember, the IRS doesn’t give you a dime of interest when it borrows your money.
  3. Organize your records. For many, getting all of the documentation together is a pain. TurboTax recommends using a personal finance software application throughout the year to have easy access at the end.  Other tips include creating a checklist of the documents you used this year to have on hand for next year.  Keep up with details such as the price you paid for stocks or funds you sold and income from rental properties.  Also, when in doubt, hang on to any tax-related document, just in case.
  4. Find the right forms. View and download a large catalog of forms and publications at the Internal Revenue Service Web site or have them sent to you by mail. You can search for documents as far back as 1980 by number or by date.  The IRS may also refer you to a site which lists state government sites for  state forms and publications.
  5. Itemize. You may save a bundle if you itemize, especially self-employed real estate professionals.  It will be worth it if  your qualified expenses are more than 2012 standard $5,950 deduction of  for singles and $11,900 for married couples filing jointly. Deductions such as mortgage interest and charitable donations may seem obvious, but don’t overlook expenses such as tax-preparation fees, business car expenses and professional dues which are deductible if the combined amount adds up to more than two percent of your adjusted gross income. You can also deduct the portion of medical expenses that exceed 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income.
  6. Don’t shy away from a home office deduction. Loosened eligibility rules for claiming a home office make this a deduction deserve a close look.  If you have no fixed business location, you can claim a home office space used for administrative or management activities, even if you don’t meet clients there.  As always, you must use the space exclusively for business.You are also entitled to write off expenses associated with the portion of your home where you exclusively conduct business (such as rent, utilities, insurance and housekeeping). The percentage that is deductible is based on the ratio of  square footage of the office to the total area of the house. HOT TIP for home sellers –  In the past, if you used 10 percent of your home for a home office, for example, 10 percent of the profit when you sold did not qualify as tax-free under the rules that let homeowners treat up to $250,000 of profit as tax-free income ($500,000 for married couples filing joint returns). Since 10 percent of the house was an office instead of a home, the IRS said, 10 percent of the profit wasn’t tax-free. But the government has had a change of heart. No longer does a home office put the kibosh on tax-free profit. You do, however, have to pay tax on any profit that results from depreciation claimed for the office after May 6, 1997. It’s taxed at a maximum rate of 25 percent. (Depreciation produces taxable profit because it reduces your tax basis in the home; the lower your basis, the higher your profit.)
  7. Provide dependent taxpayer IDs on your return. Be sure to plug in Taxpayer Identification Numbers (usually Social Security Numbers) for your children and other dependents on your return. Otherwise, the IRS will deny the personal exemption of $3,700 for each dependent and the $1,000 child tax credit for each child under age 17. Be especially careful if you are divorced. Only one of you can claim your children as dependents, and the IRS has been checking closely lately to make sure spouses aren’t both using their children as a deduction. If you forget to include a Social Security number for a child, or if you and your ex-spouse both claim the same child, it’s highly likely that the processing of your return (and any refund you’re expecting) will come to a screeching halt while the IRS contacts you to straighten things out. The $1,000 child tax credit begins to phase out at $110,000 for married couples filing jointly and at $75,000 for heads of households. After you have a baby in 2013, be sure to file for your child’s Social Security card right away so you have the number ready at tax time. Many hospitals will do this automatically for you. If you don’t have the number you need by the tax filing deadline, the IRS says you should file for an extension rather than sending in a return without a required Social Security number.
  8. File and pay on time. If you can’t finish your return on time, make sure you file Form 4868 by April 15, 2013 for a  six-month extension of the  deadline to  October 15, 2013. On the form,  make a reasonable estimate of your  liability for 2012 and pay any balance due. Requesting an extension is especially important if you owe  the IRS. If you file and pay late, the IRS can assess a late-filing penalty of 4.5 percent per month of the tax owed and a late-payment penalty of 0.5 percent a month of the tax due. The maximum late filing penalty is 22.5 percent and the late-payment penalty tops out at 25 percent. By filing Form 4868, you stop the clock running on the costly late-filing penalty.
  9. File electronically. Because the IRS processes electronic returns faster than paper ones, you can expect  your refund three to six weeks earlier. If  your refund is deposited directly into your bank account or IRA, the waiting time is even less. The IRS also checks your electronic return to see that it is complete,  increasing your chances of filing an accurate return. Less than one percent of electronic returns have errors, compared with 20 percent of paper returns. The IRS also acknowledges that it received your return, which you don’t  get even if you send your paper return by certified mail. That helps you protect yourself from the interest and penalties that accrue if your paper return gets lost. If you owe money, you can file electronically and then wait until the federal tax filing deadline to send in a check along with Form 1040-V. You may be able to pay with a credit card or through a direct debit. With a credit card, expect to pay a service charge of as much as 2.5 percent. With direct debit, you may delay the debiting of your bank account until the actual filing deadline. Federal e-filing is included at no additional charge with all TurboTax federal products.
  10. Decide if you need help. Products like TurboTax Online  handle even complex returns and allow you to file taxes electronically for a faster refund. The questions are simple, such as whether you’ve had a baby, bought a home or had some other life-changing event in the past year. TurboTax will then fill out all the right forms for you. They also offer additional services such as the ability to ask a tax expert a question or review your return. They also offer  ”Audit Defense” coverage so you are professionally represented in an audit.

The above article is intended to provide generalized financial information designed to educate a broad segment of the public; it does not give personalized tax, investment, legal or other business and professional advice. Before taking any action, you should always seek the assistance of a professional who knows your particular situation for advice on your taxes, your investments, the law or any other business and professional matters that affect you and/or your business.

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Great Spaces: Britney Spears, Leo, ‘Kimye’ and More

By Nick Caruso & Zoe Eisenberg

Britney Buys on Lake Sherwood

We love when one celeb snags the living space of another. At the end of 2012, ’90s pop darling Britney Spears purchased the home of former professional hockey player Russ Courtnall and his actress of a wife, Paris Vaughan.

The new home—built in 2010—sits on just under 1.5 acres in the Lake Sherwood area, a sweet spot in Ventura County, that overlooks the brilliant Lake Sherwood reservoir. Spears’ new Mediterranean style home features gorgeous limestone and oak floors, beamed ceilings, a temperature-controlled wine cellar and a home theater.

Five bedrooms and seven bathrooms make this an ideal space for Spears and her brood. Sons Sean Preston and Jayden James will love stomping around 8,456 square feet of living space, splashing about in the infinity pool and grilling out at the outdoor fireplace and barbecue center.

The Mississippi-born music icon reached major stardom in 1998, at only 16, with the cult hit “Baby One More Time.” She recently served as a judge on the competition-style reality TV show, “The X Factor.”

Leo Lists Triple-Home Compound in Malibu

The end of 2012 was a busy time for actor Leonardo DiCaprio. Not only did his blockbuster “Django Unchained” hit theatres on Christmas, he also listed one of his investment properties for a whopping $23 million.

Why so pricey? The ocean-front Malibu pad is actually a compound consisting of three homes sitting on a half-acre. All three homes have recently been remodeled, and tally up to seven bedrooms and 6.5 bathrooms between them.

A beachfront deck, cozy outdoor seating areas and a fire pit make the property perfect for one of the wild 20s-style soirees featured in DiCaprio’s next film, a remake of the “The Great Gatsby,” which will be out in the summer of 2013.

During the summer of 2012, the compound was leased for the price of $150,000 a month. Hopefully 2013 will bring the award-winning actor a buyer.

Merv Griffin Estate: Sold!

Actor Albert Brooks has parted with his upper Bel-Air estate, formerly owned by the late Merv Griffin, for $6.275 million.

Down from its original $6.995 million asking price, the property sits on more than two acres and is a 5,100-square-foot single-story home. Somewhat modest by LA standards, Brooks’ pad was chock-full of luxurious goodies like a tennis court (Griffin was an avid player), infinity pool with a spa, and mature landscaping.

Inside the home, wood-paneled ceilings make up the terrain for its four bedrooms and five-and-a-half bathrooms, bolstered by hefty lodge post poles that give way to 20-foot ceilings. Walls made of glass provide the home with plenty of natural light.

Brooks had a successful romp in 2011’s “Drive” and was recently a part of the latest Judd Apatow film “This is 40.” He originally purchased the estate directly from Griffin in 1993.

‘Kimye’ Lands in Bel-Air

The world of celebrity gossip has been abuzz with the recent purchase of a Los Angeles home by the famous-for-being-famous Kim Kardashian and her boyfriend, artist and fashion designer Kanye West.
The couple, who have a baby on the way, dropped $11 million on a stunner in the posh Bel-Air neighborhood. The 9,000-square-foot home is located inside a gated community for much needed paparazzi-proofing.

With five bedrooms and seven bathrooms, “Kimye” will have plenty of room for the new babe, and the rest of the Kardashian clan, who will undoubtedly be visiting. The Mediterranean home sits on a three-quarter-acre lot with a rolling grass lawn and views of the surrounding Hollywood hills.

A three car garage will house the couple’s car collection, and an elevator to the second floor will provide stroller access. Construction is currently underway, but rumor has it that the home will also include a fitness center, movie theater, basketball court and an indoor and outdoor swimming pool.

‘Soak up the Sun’ in Sheryl Crowe’s Hollywood Hills Compound

On the market for a cool $15.95 million, Sheryl Crowe’s 1914 Spanish Revival home is definitely a sight. The estate sits on 11 acres, complete with a two-story foyer, wrought-iron railings, original Spanish tiles, beam ceilings, a library, a wine cellar, a music room…what else would a new owner need?

Connected to the main house are a Craftsman built in 1909 and a cottage circa 1885. Not to mention an infinity swimming pool, bridge, trails, playground, and a pergola with a fireplace.

There are four bedrooms and three-and-a-half baths in the main building alone, with an additional five bedrooms and bathrooms collectively in the Craftsman and cottage, perfect for out-of-town guests or straggling party-goers.

Crowe also owns in Nashville, Tenn., where she is currently residing.

Jodie Foster Ditches Beverly Hills Home

Actress-producer-director Jodie Foster unloaded her gated Beverly Hills home for $8.3 million last year, according to public record. Its original listing described the home as “Cape Cod” and “Connecticut,” with red brick and climbing rose vines exuding an East Coast vibe not commonly found in the LA area.

The home sits on nearly an acre of land and contains the main house, built in 1949 as a ranch, seven bedrooms, eight bathrooms, lush landscape, a two-bedroom guesthouse, tennis court and pool…sans panic room, sadly.

It was originally listed for $10.5 million.

Foster was last seen in 2011’s “Carnage” and can be seen later this year in Neill Blomkamp’s upcoming “Elysium.”

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2013. All rights reserved.

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The 5 Questions to Ask Every Agent Before Listing Your Home

Finally, the news about the housing market in terms of both the number of homes sold and selling prices has been encouraging. As a result, many homeowners who have delayed putting their home on the market over the last four years are now considering doing so. For most of us, our home is our single largest financial asset and the commission we pay a real estate professional to sell it is substantial. As a result, we have a right to have high expectations of the plan they execute to sell our home.

A seller’s objective is typically pretty straight forward – sell my home for the maximum price in the shortest amount of time. Top real estate professionals do not sit around and wait for a buyer to stumble upon your home. They actively seek out and market your home to all possible qualified buyers.

To make sure your home is sold quickly and for the best price, here are questions you should ask before you select an agent to sell your home.

1. What is your plan to market my home to local buyers?

Real estate remains hyper local. The National Association of REALTORS ® reports in 2011 that home buyers moved around 12 miles from their previous home to their new home. That means there is a very good chance the buyer of your home lives in your town or one nearby.

Buying a home is not an impulse purchase and it takes about three months from the time a buyer starts their search to signing a contract. During that time, they continue to work, shop, eat, and play in areas immediately adjacent to your home and community. Ask your agent what their plan is to reach out to that local buyer.

2. What is your plan to market my home to out of market buyers?

Depending on your home’s price and community, it may also be attractive to a relocating buyer. Listing your home on one of the many free Internet listing services like Realtor.com, Trulia.com or Zillow.com is a smart thing to do, but it’s only a starting point, like a listing in a phone book. It requires that the buyer seek out the site, and sift through search results to find your home and it’s not an aggressive marketing program. To get the best results, successful agents use outbound marketing and other forms of media to reach out to buyers in other areas.

3. What is your plan to market my home to other local top agents?

Holding open houses for both agents and local home shoppers continues to make sense. Some real estate professionals believe in it and others view it as a waste of their time. But all agents in the market can bring you a buyer, not just the one with whom you list your home. Having them actually see your home’s unique character versus just online photos makes solid sense. Having professionally-created, good quality printed materials like flyers and postcards keep your home in front of them long after they’ve walked out the door.

4. What types of media will you use to advertise my home?

We now live in a multi-media world where we encounter advertising everywhere and the way consumers find information is constantly changing.

Be cautious of agents who use only the web to market your home. Ask them how they are going to take advantage of multiple media outlets such as social media, mobile apps, text codes, local real estate magazines, direct mail and other printed materials to reach buyers everywhere – as well as on the web. It is their responsibility to advertise your home to as many of the right potential buyers as possible, not the buyers’ responsibility to happen upon your home on the agents preferred platform.

5. How are you going to realistically price my home?

Pricing a home requires an intimate knowledge of the market to get it right. You want to get the best price, but there can be a disconnection between your expectations as a seller and the price for which your home will realistically sell. The best marketing in the world will not sell a grossly overpriced home.

Ask your agent to share their track record of list price to sold price and days on market on their ten most recent transactions. Homes that sit on the market too long and go through multiple price reductions may have been overpriced – and ultimately may sell for less than they would have if priced correctly from the beginning.

Homes priced right sell more quickly and with less hassle. Additionally, you are less likely to run into bank appraisal problems when the buyer is securing a mortgage.

Calculate the commission you pay to get your home sold and we think you will agree that you have the right to expect a very aggressive campaign. The best agents in your town will meet or exceed the expectations that we’ve laid out here and you deserve to work with only the best.

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