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Mortgage interest deduction and the new tax plan

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A new tax plan passed by Congress in December 2017 allows taxpayers to deduct mortgage interest up to $750,000.

This is lower than the previous limit of $1 million. The limit only affects new mortgages, not existing mortgages.
Since the median list price of a home is $270,000, most homeowners won’t be affected by the limit decrease.

The new limit is expected to affect about 1.3 percent of new mortgages on very expensive homes, usually in expensive housing markets such as coastal areas.

The new limits on deductions aren’t expected to affect many people nationally, according to realtor.com. That’s because homeowners can only take the deduction if they itemize and only about one-third of taxpayers do that. Of those that itemize, just over 21 percent use the deduction. However, it will affect high-cost markets in local areas.

Experts are divided as to the impact of the new tax plan on housing. Some see the tax changes as encouraging renting in high-cost areas, causing housing prices to fall. On the other hand, with a higher standard deduction, taxpayers in lower brackets could find themselves able to buy a home. That could push prices up, according to realtor.com.

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Operation clean air: five ways to get rid of indoor air pollution

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Spring cleaning may make you think of washing windows and laundering curtains, but what about the air inside your home? In some residences, the air indoors can be more polluted than the air outside. And unfortunately, dust and dirt can make respiratory issues like asthma worse. Here are five strategies to help you breathe easier.

1. Keep your floors clean: make sure people take their shoes off at the door and to vacuum with a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. This way you’ll reduce allergens and harmful chemicals that can get into your home.

2. Don’t let it get too humid: excess humidity attracts mold, dust mites and other allergens. Use a dehumidifier or an air conditioner to keep humidity levels low.

3. Get some houseplants: not only do plants help filter the air in your home, they can also boost your mood. Peace lilies and rubber plants make great air purifiers and are easy to take care of.

4. Have your ducts cleaned: think of air ducts as the lungs of your home; all the air from your heating and cooling systems flow through them. If you can’t remember the last time you had them professionally cleaned, now’s the time.

5. Change your filters: your air conditioner, furnace, dryer and range hood all have filters that should be changed regularly to keep them working efficiently and the air in your home clean.

This spring, breath easier by adding the above five items to your spring cleaning to-do list.

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Tips for greening up cleaning

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Have you ever thought about making an all-purpose cleaner, laundry detergent, or drain unclogger that didn’t have so many harsh chemicals in it? There are plenty of options to do so that are easy, inexpensive, and — perhaps best of all — that actually work!

Here are some tips for household cleaners:

Vinegar, baking soda, water, and your favorite essential oil can clean almost anything around the house. And some of us never tire of the way the baking soda and the vinegar fizz up when they meet.

Lemons make a great disinfectant and smell great, too. Toss one into the garbage disposal to freshen things up, and you can use a half of a lemon and salt to scrub your wooden cutting board.

Tea Tree oil is considered among many to be an effective antibacterial and antifungal ingredient, and you’ll find it in a host of natural cleaning products.

Try making a homemade laundry detergent with some combination of baking soda, washing soda, castile soap, and your favorite essential oil (like lavender). There are tons of variations online.

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Make sure you’re prepared for a financial emergency

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Even if you have a well-paying job, affordable living costs and few debts, it’s important not to take a good financial situation for granted. Here are some steps you can take to prepare yourself for a financial emergency:

1. Have an emergency fund. Financial experts recommend creating a savings account with enough money to cover six months’ worth of expenses. That way if disaster strikes, you’re prepared.

2. Have adequate insurance. It’s essential to have renter’s or homeowner’s insurance in case of disaster. It’s also a good idea to get disability insurance, which covers your expenses if you become ill or disabled and can’t work.

3. Make sure to have credit available. In a financial emergency, you may need to bill expenses to your credit cards until you’re able to pay them off. Before financial disaster occurs, however, it’s important to do your best to avoid credit card debt and pay off your outstanding balances as quickly as possible.

4. Plan how to cut expenses quickly. Examine your expenses and identify where you can cut back. In an emergency, gym memberships and TV packages can be cancelled, and money spent on eating out can be reduced or eliminated entirely.

If you prepare for an emergency now, your financial plan won’t be totally derailed if you’re faced with a debilitating illness or injury, unexpected job loss or costly damage to your home.

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Four tips that will motivate you to stay on budget

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Budget troubles? Here are four ways to motivate yourself to meet your financial objectives.

1. Remember the reason you’re saving. Focusing on your goal (that trip to Hawaii or paying off your student loan) will motivate you to stick to your spending plan.

2. Tell people about your goals. Telling friends and family members about your budgeting goals will keep you accountable. Surround yourself with people who will support you and help you make good decisions.

3. Track successes. Keep up your morale by setting short-term goals and recognizing small successes. Celebrate when you reach these milestones.

4. Allow for occasional indulgences. It’s important to allow some room in your budget for fun activities. It’ll help you stay motivated, and you’ll be more likely to follow your budget over a longer period of time.

The point of a budget is not to deny yourself every little indulgence but to curb your expenses over time so that you can achieve your long-term goals. Spending moderately while keeping your eye on the prize is the way to do it.

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Cleaning for life: Don’t put off the project

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The gentle lady with a smidge of dementia still lived in her big home, complete with a lavish bookcase holding thousands of volumes. And a kitchen with all those serving platters and china. And four bedrooms stuffed with memories.

She was feeling weak and confused. “I would like to downsize,” she said. “But what do I do with all of this?”

The Swedish have a solution for this and it starts long before a person starts feeling too weak to start such a project. They call it, somewhat unpleasantly, ‘death cleaning.’ But the project is really about preparing to live simply.

The idea is to live in a house, cleared of clutter, where everything has a place.

Author Margareta Magnusson, in her book How to Free Yourself and your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter, points out that this makes it easier for those left behind, but it also makes daily living easier.

Magnusson divides the cleaning into categories of rooms and things, like clothing and books.

She advises to start with a category with many things in it, but very little sentimental attachment. If you no longer give large family dinners, start in the kitchen where there are likely to be tons of serving dishes and tableware, fancy and not. Ask a newly married grandchild or niece, if they would like some of these items. In fact, invite your young relatives to take things you sort out.

Make a special effort to sort out photos, scrapbooks or memorabilia that other relatives will want and offer it to them.

Sort out things you don’t wish to leave to family, too.

One unique idea: Create a Throw Away box. Fill this box with things no one but you appreciates — a letter from a late friend about her summer vacation. Your family doesn’t know this person anyway. When you are gone, they can look through it or throw it away without the slightest bit of guilt. In the meantime, you can still enjoy it and leave no doubt to your relatives whether you think the items should be kept.

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Four ways to teach young kids about personal finance

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The earlier children develop good spending habits, the better. Here are four ways you can teach your kids about saving money and living frugally.

1. Pay in cash. Using cash instead of cards when shopping with kids will help them better understand how money works. Consider giving them the cash to count out when it’s time to pay — they’ll get to practice their math skills.

2. Show the benefits of comparing prices. Encourage kids to look for the lowest prices at the store and figure out if you’ll get a better deal by spending more to buy larger quantities. Make it into a game to see who can spot the best deal first.

3. Set tangible goals. Let kids know that you’re saving as a household for something they want (such as a trip to Disney World or a pool for the backyard). This will help teach them about cutting out unnecessary expenses to save for something bigger down the road.

4. Let them do the grocery shopping. If your kids are older, have them choose their meals for the week, then make an ingredients list, find the items needed at the store and pay for everything in cash.

Taking the time to teach kids how to spend money responsibly will help prepare them for a lifetime of good financial habits.

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Join us at Art in the Valley on Saturday, March 23rd from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. for a FREE lecture and painting demonstration by Virginia artist Armand Cabrera. Space is limited for this event.[...]