Tips for Filing Taxes

It’s tax season, and we all can use some tips to make filing easier and that result in more money in our pockets. 

IRS Offers Free Tax Filing

New in 2024, eligible taxpayers can take advantage of a free online federal tax filing program provided by the IRS that uses guided tax preparation software. Taxpayers who have an annual gross income of $79,000 or less qualify for a free tax return.

Taxpayers whose annual gross income is greater than $79,000 can still use the Free File Fillable Forms program but also should know how to prepare their tax returns. This option is a public-private partnership between the IRS and many tax preparation companies providing free online tax preparation and filing. These are electronic federal tax forms, equivalent to a paper 1040 form. Both program options are safe and secure.

These tax providers are participating in IRS Free File in 2024:

  • 1040Now
  • Drake (1040.com)
  • ezTaxReturn.com
  • FileYourTaxes.com
  • Online Taxes
  • TaxAct
  • TaxHawk (FreeTaxUSA)
  • TaxSlayer

Deductions and Credits

Deductions are vital in reducing taxable income. While most taxpayers claim the standard deductions, which change yearly with inflation, some choose to itemize for a more significant reduction. Thorough documentation is essential when itemizing, and your tax consultant can advise which suits your circumstances. 

Consider strategies other than the straightforward methods when making the most of your deductions. Now is the time to rethink your filing status. Have you maximized your IRA and HSA contributions? 

For families with qualified dependents under 17, you may be eligible for a partial refund when filing in 2024 with the child tax credit. Use this reference list when determining your eligibility for other tax credits:

  • Out-of-pocket charitable donations
  • Last year’s state tax you paid
  • Self-employment social security tax
  • Child and dependent care credit
  • State sales tax deduction
  • Earned income tax deduction
  • Refinancing mortgage points deduction
  • American Opportunity credit
  • Student loan interest paid deduction
  • Moving expenses for your first job deductions

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Home Design Trends 2024

Need inspiration for home design ideas in 2024? Consider these popular trends as you make your redecorating plans.

Pretty As A Peach

The colors peach and apricot are in. Pantone Color Institute, globally recognized as a leading source of color expertise, declared “Peach Fuzz” the color of the year. Another trend forecasting agency, WGSN, selected “Apricot Crush” as its favorite. These softer versions of orange promote recharging and wellness, as colors “radiant with warmth and modern elegance.”

Paneled Walls

Paneled walls with a modern twist are back in style. And that doesn’t mean the 1970s versions covering every wall are back. The trend focuses on thin, natural wood slats and millwork used for accent walls in the bedroom, living room or kitchen to create a warm aesthetic.

Not Hip To Be Square

Homeowners are embracing furniture and décor with curvy lines that promote a welcoming space similar to the organic shapes in natural landscapes. Envision curved desks, sofas, tables and rounded barstools. Have fun with squiggly, wave-like accents in mirrors and art that infuse energy and charm into any space. 

Jewel Tones Are Back

Rediscover color with jewel tones, colors derived from gemstones like ruby, emerald, and sapphire. Incorporate richness into your décor with these tones as they tend to have a high level of color saturation and are, therefore, eye-catching and lively. Choose them as an accent or as the focal point for any room.

Romantic Ribbons

Romantic design is more than just Valentine’s Day hearts and flowers. Embrace ribbons, florals and lace to create a nostalgic feel in your favorite spaces at home. These delicate textures celebrate love and savoring life’s simple pleasures.

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Home Buying and Financing

First-time homebuyers often feel at a financial disadvantage when considering buying a home. Homeownership can seem daunting, whether it’s not having the money for a down payment, student loans and other monetary limitations or securing a reasonable interest rate on a mortgage. The good news is historical data regarding interest rates provides a favorable outlook for borrowers, and first-time buyers can take advantage of several benefits when buying a first home.

Interest Rates Over Time

Interest rates go up and down over time. Data collected over time indicates that interest rates today are about the same as 20 years ago. And rates are less than half what they were 40 years ago. How does knowing this help? Buyers shouldn’t feel stuck with today’s interest rate for the life of a mortgage. Rates will change, and buyers can make changes then, too. 

Refinancing Options

Since interest rates fluctuate regularly, buyers can consider refinancing when the time is right. Buyers can swap the higher mortgage rate for something more favorable if interest rates go down. This may mean a monthly payment stays the same, but the years left on the mortgage could be dramatically reduced. 

First-Time Buyer Benefits

There are a variety of government and state-funded programs that can help pave the way for first-time buyers. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the following qualify as first-time home buyers:

  • A person who has not owned their principal residence for at least three years
  • A single parent who previously co-owned a home while married
  • A homemaker who once owned with a spouse but no longer receives financial support from that spouse
  • A person who has only owned a residence not affixed to a permanent foundation, such as a mobile or trailer home

Several programs make homeownership more affordable for eligible buyers by including lower interest mortgage rates or lower down payment requirements.

  • First-time homebuyer programs for students – Available if you recently graduated from college.
  • Energy-efficient mortgages (EEM) – This type of mortgage allows you to tack the cost of energy-efficient upgrades (think new insulation, a more efficient HVAC system or double-pane windows) onto your primary loan without requiring a larger down payment.
  • First-time homebuyer programs by state – Each state operates a housing finance authority (HFA) that encourages homeownership, among other responsibilities. 
  • Habitat For Humanity – If your annual income is 60 percent or less of the median income in your area, you might qualify for Habitat for Humanity’s homeownership program. Along with not exceeding the income threshold, you’ll need to contribute sweat equity​​ to help build the home or a home for another applicant to qualify.

Find more tips for buyers.

First-Time Home Buyers

As interest rates are starting to come down, it’s a great time to be looking to purchase your first home. Consider these top ten reasons why being a first-time home buyer is great.

Build Equity

Building equity means investing in something you own rather than paying money each month on rent without owning the property. When you make monthly mortgage payments on the property you own, you own more and more each month. In the future when you sell your first home, you’ll have money left over after paying off the mortgage that can be used as a down payment for your next home. Your money works for you when you pay a mortgage rather than rent.

More Privacy

A home is more private than renting an apartment and sharing a bedroom wall with a neighbor you don’t know

Find A Smaller Starter Home

Begin small. A home with less square footage usually means a smaller mortgage and smaller utility bills. When it’s time to sell that first home, you can use the money you get from the sale to buy a larger or higher-priced home,

Establish Credit

Getting a mortgage loan at a young age can help you establish a solid credit history, which means a good credit score and ample financial opportunities down the road.

A First Home Is Not A Forever Home

According to the United States Census Bureau, the average person will move as many as 11.7 times. So don’t stress to find the perfect home the first time around. Look for a home that is best for now.

Remodel As You Go

Make your house a home. Freshen the landscape to add curb appeal. Swap out the windows for more energy-efficient versions. Add a deck to expand your outdoor living space. Projects like these will increase property value while personalizing your home.

The Yard

Imagine the possibilities. Space for the dog to run. Your own vegetable or flower garden. Naps outside in the hammock. Room for a firepit. A spot for the family snowman.

Tax Incentives

Homeownership has several potential tax benefits that might lower your tax burden and increase your annual refund.

Feeling Of Achievement

Homeownership is an accomplishment that is worth the time and energy required to plan and succeed.

You Can Refinance Later

Interest rates are constantly changing. If interest rates go down in the future, you can swap your higher rate for something more favorable. Sometimes, you can keep your monthly payment the same but dramatically reduce the years left on your mortgage. Don’t feel stuck with today’s interest rate for the next 30 years.

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Mel Foster Co. Agent Receives REALTOR® Honor

Lynsey Engels, President, Real Estate Brokerage at Mel Foster Co. Inc. is pleased to announce that Leanna Trees of their Bettendorf office was recognized by the Quad City Area REALTORS® during their Annual Holiday Party and Installation of Officers held on December 1st.  Congratulations to Leanna for receiving the Rookie of the Year Award, which is designed to bring credit and recognition to an individual during their first two years as a REALTOR® member and who takes an active role in the Quad City Area REALTORS®.

Leanna serves on the QCAR Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee and the Professionalism Committee.  She will also join the Board of Directors serving as a 2-year Director starting next month.  In addition to being a member of the Quad City Area REALTORS®, she is also a member of the Iowa Association of REALTOR® and the National Association of REALTORS®. 

Engels expresses, “Leanna’s dedication over the last 18 months has been commendable, making her truly worthy of this recognition.  We are delighted to have her as a valuable member of the Mel Foster Co. team and cannot wait to see her real estate career explode.  This award demonstrates that Mel Foster Co. is not only an excellent starting point in real estate but also an ideal place for long-term career growth.”

Selling Your Home

It’s always a good idea to have a thorough list of what you can do to get your home ready to sell. Get prepared so you’re organized and can make the most of your free time now.

Find An Agent Right For You

Meet with a few different Mel Foster Co. agents to start. Grab a cup of coffee and do short interviews until you find an agent you click with. The agent will help ensure your home is priced right for sale and can promote your home through a variety of online marketing tools. They will guide you through the necessary paperwork and represent you during the negotiations for finalizing an accepted offer.

Navigate through the variety of Fake Patek watches to find the one that matches your taste and financial comfort.

Plan To Do The Work

Before you list your house, make sure it’s in the condition buyers expect. Investing some time and money before listing is a wise investment. Spend your energy on completing tasks like these to get the home ready:

  • Consider a pre-listing inspection to focus your to-do list
  • Have professional photos taken to use online
  • Do a deep clean, especially in the garage and main living areas
  • Hire someone to fix the leaky sink or uneven door if you can’t do it yourself
  • Apply a fresh coat of paint on walls in high-traffic areas

It’s All In The Presentation

First impressions matter when selling a home. The first few seconds of viewing a home set the tone for buyers. And since you get only one chance to make a first impression, make the most of your time boosting curb appeal. Tidy up your landscaping by trimming shrubbery and adding another layer of fresh mulch. Ensure your front walkway is clear of debris and peppered with seasonal accents or flowers so it’s welcoming. Take the time to clean the windows and replace the lightbulbs on your outdoor lighting so things sparkle and look fresh.

Find more tips for sellers.

Home Insurance Tips

Updating your homeowner’s insurance doesn’t have to be complicated. Consider a few helpful tips that will make you feel knowledgeable and protected.

Start With A Local Agent

Let a local, independent Mel Foster Insurance agent gather and compare insurance quotes from multiple carriers for you. The agent will assess your home coverage needs to help you avoid potential gaps in your protection.

Know The 80% Rule

The 80% rule means that an insurer will only cover damage costs to a house if the owner has coverage equal to at least 80% of the house’s total replacement value. If the coverage is less than 80%, the insurance company will only reimburse a proportionate amount of the required minimum coverage that should have been purchased. Because improvements to a home and inflation affect home values, homeowners should review their insurance policies periodically to ensure their coverage meets the 80% rule.

Bundle Up

Talk with your Mel Foster Insurance agent about bundling, or determining what discounts apply if you also purchase additional policies such as auto or life insurance. Bundling can help you save money on your premiums.

Maintain Home Inventory

An easy way to maintain a home inventory is to take pictures of each room of your house every year. That may mean making it a habit on New Year’s Day. Photos of your belongings will make a significant difference if you suffer an accidental loss.

You Get What You Pay For

The cheapest coverage isn’t always the best. When comparing insurance quotes, look carefully for different coverage dollar amounts and always read the fine print. The lowest priced option may not give you the coverage you need. The goal is to put coverage in place that safeguards your valuables while providing peace of mind.

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Packing And Moving Tips

You’re moving and want to make the best use of your time and money. Consider the following suggestions that will simplify the moving process and aid in getting you settled in your new home.

Before You Move

  • Set up mail forwarding at the post office
  • Transfer and set up utilities about two weeks before the move
  • Pick medium-sized boxes (18x18x15 or 22x16x15) for household items
  • Compare pricing on a round trip or a one-way moving truck rental, and reserve the truck at least a week in advance
  • Pack a moving day bag with a phone charger, change of clothes and body care products
  • Don’t forget water and snacks for packing day

Get Packing

  • Save money on packing materials by using your clothing to protect breakables
  • Start early so you don’t feel so rushed
  • Use labels on the outside of the box to note where items will go in your new space
  • Pack room by room
  • Pack the kitchen last

Moving And Unpacking

  • Place heavy items on the bottom of the truck, with large furniture items in the back
  • Distribute heavy items evenly inside so the truck stays balanced
  • Position small stuff on top of furniture and nearest the door for easy removal
  • You don’t have to unpack everything at once. Put things away correctly in your new space the first time
  • Make a music playlist that will motivate you to unpack

Wrapping Up

  • Donate non-perishable food you’re not using
  • Transfer and set up utilities right away
  • Save money by filling the rental truck gas tank yourself instead of having them do it upon return

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What Buyers Want In A Home

Most buyers looking for a home seek specific features. The following summary is what buyers want, and this may help prioritize your home improvements to attract those buyers.

Structural Features

  • Separate laundry room on the first floor
  • Open floor plan between the kitchen and dining room 
  • Patio space for outdoor entertaining
  • Walk in kitchen pantry
  • A front porch or covered outdoor space

Accent Preferences

  • Exterior lighting
  • Ceiling fans
  • Hardwood or tile in main living areas
  • Stainless steel appliances
  • Smart home technology

Energy Elements

  • Energy-efficient windows
  • Programmable thermostats
  • Proper insulation

Contact a Mel Foster Co. agent if you’re ready to sell.

How To Prepare A Home To Sell

Get organized to make the most of your time preparing your home for sale. Prioritize tasks that establish a straightforward method to the madness and will get buyers’ attention.

Contact a Mel Foster Co. Agent

Rely on a Mel Foster Co. agent to help identify projects that will ready your home to impress and get it on the market. Take advantage of your agent’s market experience to help ensure the asking price is right from the start. Then let Mel Foster Co.’s network promote your property and find you prospective buyers.

Identify Repairs

Nearly every home requires some repairs before going on the market. Tackle repair projects that impact daily life, like replacing the sump pump, or present a danger to the house, like correcting the issue with the electrical box. Fix the wobbly front door handle and replace the sliding door to the patio that no longer closes smoothly. 

Declutter And Clean

Purge your excess items by donating to your local charity so your home is clutter-free during showings. Make your home feel spacious, even if it means renting a storage unit until you move. And deep clean the house both inside and out. First impressions of your yard and the path leading to the front door should offer a welcoming vibe. 

Take An Inventory For Insurance

As you sift through your belongings, inventory the valuable items. Now is the time to revisit your insurance coverage and consider updating your home insurance policy to keep your property value current. Mel Foster Insurance can provide you with a no obligations quote so you know you’re covered.

Set The Stage

Make your house feel like a home and think about keeping it staged for showings. Staged homes see a 5-15% return on investment when professionally staged as opposed to homes not staged, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

Find more selling tips for homeowners.


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