Make the Most (Think $$$) of Your Spring Cleaning This Year

by Sindy Berkowitz

Have the winter months left your home feeling cluttered? What’s worse, is your living space fuller than your bank account? If both conditions apply, take a hard look at what is collecting dust around the house—perhaps it could help you financially. With Spring (and being able to open the windows again) right around the corner, there has never been a better time to get your home—and finances—in proper order.

According to a year-end 2015 Money magazine article, more than half of all Americans have set a money-related New Year’s resolution. Whether your goal is to pay down debt, put more money aside for the future or eliminate wasteful spending habits, The Milford Bank is here to enable your success. Here are some helpful suggestions to turn big household items just taking up space back into assets.

Sell Your Used Items Online. To rid yourself of unwanted property online, you may want to consider eBay or CraigsList. eBay offers both buyer and seller protection while taking a cut of your profits as a seller (and charging a store fee). CraigsList has no direct fees, but sellers must assume price negotiations and the risk of being approached by unqualified buyers. While Craigslist may be wonderful for that one-of-a-kind upholstered armchair you never sit in, your Pez® or baseball card collection likely would not sell for as much as it would on eBay. While other online marketplaces exist for used goods, you won’t reach the same number of prospective buyers on niche sites unless you have a very specific item or collectible to sell.

Have a garage sale. While garage sales have long been the traditional venue for unloading unwanted household items, making them a down-home favorite, they are not usually terribly profitable. They are also work-intensive: Preparation (e.g., sorting, pricing and advertising), being present at the sale and any associated clean-up of leftover goods all represent large time commitments. Another drawback? To make any money at all, be prepared to haggle with patrons over the price of every item. Before considering for this option, be forewarned that the average haul from a garage sale is only $300.

Donate for a tax write-off. Before dropping any unwanted belongings off at your local charity, document every item with clear, well-lit photos as a testament to their quality. The higher the value you can attach to donated items, the more you will be able to write off when tax season rolls around. Make sure you identify items explicitly to guarantee that their value isn’t called into question. For example, Goodwill’s Valuation Guide for donors lists the value of a donated coffee maker at $4-$15, meaning this is the amount the government will allow you to write off as a deduction for a “coffee maker.”

All of these options can produce cash in hand. So don’t let your valuable unused household items pile up like cobwebs in the corner. Act today! Your bank account will thank you.

In Four Baby Steps, Help Your Children Establish Their Own Credit Histories

by Celeste Lohrenz

A sound credit history can help you obtain the best rates and terms when making purchases that lead to a more satisfying life (aka the American dream). Whether you’re trying to finance an automobile or a house, or even just rent an apartment, your credit score can be very important. And this situation is unlikely to change before your children reach adulthood. So, how can you help your kids establish credit histories that will support their future endeavors?

The path to a good credit standing starts with fiscal responsibility, and a great way to develop this in children is through exposure. That is, start building your child’s credit standing as early as possible. (Of course, all children mature at their own rate. Be sure they are able to handle responsible money management before helping them to establish credit.)

Here are some tips to establish credit histories for your children before the time comes when they step out into the world on their own:

1. Begin with a savings account: Because most banks will not allow you to open a checking account for your children until they are older, start with a savings account. You can open one for your child the day he or she is born or wait until the child matures to the point when such an event will have the most beneficial impact. Consider, for instance, whether or not he or she is earning money. Being an earner can be a good foundation for helping your child to understand the value of money. Putting aside some of their earnings could become a valued practice among children when you teach them what accumulated savings can buy.

2. Open a joint checking account: Once your child is older and a little more responsible, you can open a joint checking account. If you choose, both you and your child will be able to get a debit card for the account, and you will have the ability to monitor transactions. This gives your child a little more responsibility while still giving you oversight.

3. Obtain a credit card: The earliest age that your child can obtain a credit card is 18. If he or she has shown responsibility with their joint checking account prior to turning 18, then the child may be ready to move ahead. Many banks offer “secured” cards with a small line of credit while holding back a corresponding amount of cash in a linked savings account. This way, banks limit their liability and still enable individuals to start building credit by paying off the card according to set guidelines. You also may want to consider cards from retail stores like Target or Home Depot, as these are generally flexible and can help curb excessive spending because they are only good for purchases made in their stores.

4. Pay off a credit card: A good way to build credit is to show creditors that you don’t spend excessively, and that you consistently pay your bill on time. For this reason, impart to your child the importance of limiting spending to about 30 percent of the available credit limit and paying the balance off regularly each month. This is better than not using the card at all or maxing it out—even if it is paid in full regularly.

More doors will open later in life for your children when you help them build a sound credit history. To learn more about ways you can encourage your children to learn more about financial responsibility, click here to read our Cent$ible Kid$ newsletters.

Are you ready for tax season?

by Lynn Viesti Berube

Filing your tax forms can bring financial relief in the form of a refund or financial devastation in the form of an audit. Planning ahead is a great way to make sure you maximize your refund and ensure your financial health. Make the best of tax season and lower your chances of getting audited with these tips:

File as early as possible. You’ll beat the rush as April 15 nears, and you’ll have time to catch and fix mistakes before the tax deadline. If you are due a refund, you’ll get it sooner. If you owe, preparing your taxes early will give you time to plan for making your payment. Also, you may be less at risk for identity fraud if you file early because it makes it less likely someone can file in your name over the coming months. One caveat: Be careful about using tax preparation companies that advertise giving you your refund immediately, before your return is filed. This may actually be a loan, and you may be required to pay it back with high interest. Read the fine print.

Keep receipts to take advantage of deductions. Most taxpayers take the standard deduction, but if you have deductible expenses above and beyond the standard amount, it may benefit you to itemize. Be sure you have receipts from throughout the year for the expenses you plan to deduct, and that they match the amounts you are claiming on your return. Be careful, however. Itemized deductions could trigger an audit. Be sure to do your research concerning deductions for business use of your vehicle, meals, home office, charitable donations, and home buying.

Keep track of possible tax credits for life changes. Life changes such as becoming a parent, purchasing a home for the first time, or pursuing higher education can qualify you for tax credits. Credits are different from deductions as they directly reduce tax liability, so they reduce taxes dollar for dollar. If you had a major life change in 2015, it may qualify you for a credit.

Avoid audit triggers. First, don’t rush your return. Take your time with it, and get professional help from a qualified tax preparer, if needed. Mistakes—even simple ones like misreporting your filing status or your income—can trigger an IRS audit. If you do itemize deductions, stay within the rules and don’t try to inflate them or claim them twice. For example, deducting mileage for the vehicle you use to deliver products for your home-based sales business is fine, but claiming a vehicle you only use for business purposes once in a while isn’t. Likewise, if you own a business and claim a loss year after year, the IRS may want to investigate.

Do you have questions about specific deductions? The IRS has help available by telephone or you can speak to someone in person at select locations. Find more information here.