Quick Tips for Staging Your Home to Sell

by Sara Seeger 10. March 2015

Staging Your Home

There are a number of attributes that can help a house sell, such as location, updates, size, and proximity to renowned schools, just to name a few. However, you have little to no control over many of these things when you go to sell your home. What you can control is how your house looks when it's on the market. Once you place your house on the market, you are ultimately selling a product, so it is important that your product looks and feels as appealing and comfortable as possible. Here are five quick staging tips when selling your house.

1. Make It Comfortable

Forget about sterile white walls and bare rooms, an empty house can make it hard for someone to visualize themselves living there. It also doesn’t help for pictures on an online listing when trying to draw buyers to your property. Empty rooms can appear “cold” and smaller than their actual size. Paint your walls a warm, neutral color and add furniture that makes the home feel comfortable.

2. Enhance Unique Attributes

Remember the saying, “less is more.” Try not to crowd furniture in corners of the rooms or in places that don’t make sense. Instead, accentuate your home's characteristics by decorating around them. You can even arrange furniture to downplay negative characteristics of the home.

3. Let the Sun Shine

Natural light can greatly improve the look and feel of your home. When staging your home, open your blinds and pull back your curtains.

4. Remove Personal Items

The easiest thing to do when staging a home is to remove all personal items. This includes family photos, personal items in the bathroom or bedroom, papers, etc. These can be distracting to a buyer and may not allow them to connect with the house. If you are still living in the house, consider placing your personal items in a decorative basket or cabinet while showings are happening.

5. Clean Up

No one wants to walk through a dirty or cluttered house. Remove any clutter (ahem, garages anyone?) by consolidating and putting storage bins in cabinets or on shelves. If you have a lot of storage items, consider renting a storage unit. They are fairly inexpensive and if they will allow your home to be less cluttered and potentially sell faster, it may be worth it. Also, make an effort to clean the house before staging photos are taken and always tidy up before a showing.

These are just a few quick and inexpensive ways to stage your home to sell. There are many other things a seller can do to make their home shine. Have you ever staged a house to sell? How did you prepare to get your home ready to sell?

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When You Should Consider a Certificate of Deposit

by Roberta Pescow 4. March 2015

Grow Your Money

Looking for safe investments that grow faster than traditional savings accounts? Take a look at certificates of deposit, or CDs, and find out when these accounts make sense and how to make the most of them.

What’s a CD?

CDs are deposits that offer guaranteed interest in return for keeping an amount of money in the certificate for a fixed time period. A CD is among the safest investments available at a bank insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., because that agency backs them just like other deposits, up to $250,000 per depositor. Financial institutions such as 1st Mariner Bank generally offer higher returns on CDs than on regular savings accounts. And typically, the longer the term of the CD, the higher the annual percentage yield, or APY. Be aware though, that most CDs have heavy penalties for withdrawing funds early.

Great uses for CDs

Although CD investors are typically higher-income earners, certificates can help people in almost any income bracket achieve their financial goals because you don’t need much cash to get started. Certificates of deposit function particularly well to prepare for:

  • Vacations: Invest six months to a year ahead.
  • Weddings: Purchase CDs a year or two in advance.
  • Home purchase: Begin buying CDs three to five years before you need the down payment.
  • College education: Parents and grandparents might want to start investing in CDs 10 to 15 years before a child’s high school graduation, or even right after birth.
  • Retirement: CDs can be used to invest retirement funds for added tax advantages.

Make your CDs work harder

A little planning and strategy on your part squeezes even more from an already sound investment. When rates are low but expected to rise, choose short-term CDs so your cash will be available again sooner to purchase new certificates at better rates. On the other hand, when rates peak, it makes sense to buy long-term certificates to lock in high interest for as long as possible.

A classic CD strategy that works well in all market conditions is called laddering. It involves buying multiple CDs with staggered maturity dates rather than a single certificate. Here’s how it works:

  • An initial investment of $5,000 could be divided into five CDs of $1,000 each that mature in one, two, three, four and five years.
  • When the first certificate matures at the end of the first year, reinvest the money in a new five-year CD.
  • Each time a certificate matures, reinvest in a new five-year CD. This creates an annual stream of available cash.

CD investing is easy. No matter what your goal, CDs can help you achieve it. With the odds so clearly in your favor, almost any time can be the right time to open a CD.

Roberta Pescow writes about personal finance, insurance and banking for NerdWallet. She previously was a home and garden writer for IdealHomeGarden.com and has articles syndicated on over 200 websites nationwide.

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Health Savings Account: Is It Right for You?

Health Savings Account: Is It Right for You?

by Lorraine Ash 2. March 2015

HSA

When you’re choosing a health plan, there are many factors that may affect your decision. If you want an option with flexibility, a high level of choice, and tax-advantaged savings, a high deductible health plan with a Health Savings Account (HSA) might be the right choice for you.

What Are HSAs?

HSAs are tax-advantaged savings accounts that accompany high deductible health plans (HDHPs).

HSAs were created in 2003 to provide individuals who have HDHPs with a tax-preferred method of saving money for medical expenses. There are certain advantages to putting money into these accounts, including investment earnings and favorable tax treatment. The rationale behind the HSA/HDHP combination is that people will have a clearer idea of their medical costs and more control over their spending, enabling them to reduce their medical costs.

HSA money can be used tax-free when paying for qualified medical expenses, helping you pay your HDHP’s larger deductible. At the end of the year, you keep any unspent money in your HSA. This rolled over money can grow with tax-deferred investment earnings, and if it’s used to pay for qualified medical expenses, then the money will continue to be tax-free. Your HSA and the money in it belongs to you—not your employer or insurance company.

An HSA can be a tremendous asset as you save for and pay medical bills because it gives you tax advantages, more control over your own spending and the ability to save for future expenses.

Is an HSA Right for You?

HSAs are a growing trend in health care and offer many advantages, but whether it’s the right choice for you depends on several factors.

Comparing HSA/HDHPs to traditional health plans can be difficult, as each has pros and cons. For example, traditional health plans typically have higher monthly premiums, a smaller deductible and fixed co-pays. You pay fewer out-of-pocket costs due to the lower deductible, but you will pay more each month in premiums.

HDHPs with HSAs generally have lower monthly premiums and a higher deductible. You may pay more out-of-pocket medical expenses, but you can use your HSA to cover those costs, and you pay less each month for your premium.

The decision is different for each individual. If you are generally healthy and/or have a reasonable idea of your annual health care expenses, then you could save a lot of money from the lower premiums and valuable tax-advantaged account with an HSA/HDHP plan. For example, even someone with a chronic condition could take advantage of an HSA/HDHP plan if he or she has a good idea of his/her annual expenses and then budgets enough money to cover cost of care.

However, if you are older, more prone to illness or unexpected medical conditions, or prefer certainty in medical costs over the possible risk of unexpected out-of-pocket expenses, you may want to stick with a traditional plan. You’ll pay more in monthly premiums, but you will have a lower deductible and fixed co-pay.

How Do HSAs Work?

To have an HSA and make contributions to the account, you must meet several basic qualifications. Here’s what you need to know to start saving with an HSA.

HSA Eligibility

In order to qualify for an HSA, you must be an adult who meets the following qualifications:

  • Have coverage under an HSA-qualified, high deductible health plan (HDHP).
  • Have no other health insurance plan (this exclusion does not apply to certain other types of insurance, such as dental, vision, disability or long-term care coverage).
  • Are not enrolled in Medicare.
  • Cannot be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return.

HSAs must be used with an HDHP. To qualify as an HDHP, a health plan must satisfy requirements for the minimum annual deductible and the maximum out-of-pocket expenses.

In 2014, the minimum annual deductible for a qualifying HDHP was $1,250 for an individual and $2,500 for a family. For 2015, the HDHP minimum deductible is $1,300 for an individual and $2,600 for a family.

In addition, annual out-of-pocket expenses under the plan (including deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance) cannot exceed $6,350 in 2014 and $6,450 in 2015 for single coverage, and $12,700 in 2014 and $12,900 in 2015 for family coverage.

Who Can Contribute?

Contributions to your HSA can be made by anyone, including you, your employer or a family member; the combined contributions of you and your employer (and anyone else making contributions to your HSA) cannot exceed the HSA maximum contribution limit.

Contributions to the account must stop once you are enrolled in Medicare. However, you can still use your HSA funds to pay for medical expenses tax-free.

Using Your HSA

An HSA is managed by the account holder, giving you the choice of when to use your HSA dollars. You can begin using your HSA money as soon as your account is activated and contributions have been made. You can use your HSA account for any purpose, including paying expenses that are not qualified medical expenses. However, you only get the tax benefits of an HSA when you use the account for qualified medical expenses. If you use it for another purpose, you will be required to pay income tax on the withdrawal, and you may also be required to pay another 20 percent tax unless you make the withdrawal after you reach age 65, become disabled or after your death.

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