Thursday, January 26, 2012

Maintenance Tips for New Homeowners

Regular home maintenance is a major responsibility of a homeowner. While at times it can seem like quite a chore, staying on top of regular maintenance is important for many reasons. It is necessary in order to protect the investment in your home and to prevent major repairs in the future that could be very costly. It can also make your home operate more efficiently, saving money on utility bills.

It is likely that first time homeowners could run into some home maintenance issues that are unexpected. Fortunately, the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency provides some home maintenance tips that are very helpful to new homeowners, which  you can view here.

For example, you should inspect the exterior of your home annually. During your inspection, you should check the foundation for cracking, check paint for peeling, and check weather stripping and caulking around doors. You should also drain and shut off your outside faucets before winter and clean your gutters and downspouts in the fall and spring.

To extend the life expectancy of your hot water heater, you should drain a couple of gallons of water from it once or twice a year. You should also have your chimney cleaned each year before using your fireplace, and you should change the batteries in your smoke alarm twice a year. Additionally, you should check the filters on your heating and cooling unit monthly, and you should have the unit serviced annually.

These are just a few of the home maintenance tips that you should be aware of! For a more comprehensive checklist for home maintenance and repairs, click here for this list provided by

New Century IDA is fortunate to partner with the Center for Homeownership, who offers classes to all IDA participants on home maintenance. By learning home maintenance, participants learn how to preserve their investment which enables them to enjoy it even more. To utilize services provided by the Center for Homeownership, you can contact them at 336-773-0286.

Have you encountered any unexpected home maintenance issues? What home maintenance tips do you have for new homeowners?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Some Stats About the Growing Income Gap

We often hear talk of the growing income gap, but do you really understand what it means? Stanford University recently released a study that presents some startling statistics about the growing gap.

Following World War II, the income gap between the wealthy and the middle class shrunk considerably and remained relatively stable. The growing economy provided opportunities for the middle class to live comfortably, and the country’s wealthy saw their incomes grow at a similar rate to those of the middle class. However, by the 1980’s, the income growth rate began to diverge.

Over the past 30 years, there has been a trend of middle class areas shrinking while wealthy and poor areas are growing. In 2007, 44% of American families lived in middle- income neighborhoods. Compare that to the 65% of American families that lived in middle- income neighborhoods in 1970.

There have also been changes in wages over the past 30 years. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the income of the top 1% of earning households grew 275% from 1979 to 2007. The income of other American households grew just 62%.  Census Bureau data found that since 1980, 5% of income has migrated from the middle class to the affluent. This means that the 5,934 richest households in America saw an increase of $650 billion in income, or about $109 million per home.

Census data also found that the number of Americans living in poverty is growing and at its highest level in the 36 years since the statistic has been tracked. 6.3% of Americans live below the poverty line. For a family of four, that would mean living off an income of only $11,000!

This research really presents the growing income gap in real terms. For more information on these statistics, click here. Do any of these numbers surprise you? Have you felt the strains of the growing income gap? 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA)

As you know, filing a tax return can be very confusing and intimidating. For this very reason, many people use the services of a commercial tax preparer, which may cost $55 to $130. Since many tax filers would like to get their money as quickly as possible, tax preparers often persuade the filer to go for a “refund anticipation loan” (RALs) or instant refund, which can cost another $100. That means that the tax filer could already have lost up to $230 from their tax refund!

Low income workers need every penny of their tax refund and cannot afford to be losing part of it to tax preparers. However, they may not know what options are available to them.

A cost free alternative to commercial tax preparers is VITA- Volunteer Income Tax Assistance- a program run by the IRS and community based organizations. VITA volunteers are trained to fill out basic tax forms, including ones needed to claim the EITC. And the best part is that there is no charge! Many VITA sites can file tax forms electronically, which results in a faster refund.

For additional information on the VITA program in Forsyth County, watch this interview with Kindra Speech, EITC Program Manager at Experiment in Self Reliance.

Click here for a list of VITA sites in Forsyth County and their schedules, as well as a list of what you should bring to the VITA site. 

The VITA program is a real asset to low income working families, and it can help them save money by not using a paid preparer. We hope you will take advantage of this great resource in our community!

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)

With tax time quickly approaching, it is important for families to be aware of the benefits that are available to them, particularly the Earned Income Tax Credit. The EITC is a tax benefit for low to moderate income working people. It helps to offset taxes, to supplement very low wages, and to provide a work incentive.

Besides offsetting taxes, workers can also get cash back through the EITC refund. Workers who qualify for the EITC and claim it on their federal tax return can receive a refund check from the IRS even if their earnings were too small to owe income tax.

Workers with one child in their home and an income of less than $36,052 (or $41,132 for married workers) in 2011 could receive a credit of up to $3,094. The amount of the credit increases with the number of children living in the home. Workers between the ages of 25 and 64 who were not raising children in the home, and had an income below $13,660 (or $18,740 for married workers) could receive a credit up to $464. This credit can be a huge help to working families!

To get the EITC, workers with a “qualifying child” must file either Form 1040 or 1040A as well as Schedule EIC. Married workers must file a joint return. Workers who were not raising a “qualifying child” can file any tax form, even the 1040EZ.

Our partner Experiment in Self Reliance, hosts the EITC program in our community. You can also participate in National EITC Day which will be held January 27, 2012 at Career Connections and Prosperity Center on Waughtown St. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Improving Housing Market in 2012?

As we kick off a new year, there is optimism that 2012 may mark the beginning of a turn for the better in the housing market. Tom Lawler, an independent consultant, sees potential in the continued dearth of newly built homes, a slowly rebounding job market, and a population in need of housing. Lawler is not alone. Goldman Sachs has stated that the housing-price bottom is in sight and they expect a 30 percent gain in home prices over the next decade.

The real estate market is anticipating an increase in housing demand for 2012. More specifically, Lawler is predicting an increase in headship rates, which is defined as the number of people who qualify as the head of household. Since 2005, the number of new households formed each year has dropped to less than one million. This is partly due to the fact that young adults have especially been hit by the poor job market, making them more hesitant to become heads of household. Young people have been staying in school longer, moving back in with their parents, or living with roommates. Since these are not permanent housing situations, it suggests an emerging, pent up demand for housing, Ultimately these people will be forming their own households.

The Joint Center for Housing Studies is also optimistic. It projects total household growth at about 12.5 million to 14.8 million over the next decade.

When Americans begin to look for housing, the market will be further impacted by the fact that there are relatively fewer new homes under construction. As a result, people will turn to the stock of existing homes, which will help to clear the market by purchasing homes that are now sitting empty.

Another factor in housing demand is the job market. The number of job layoffs has been steadily declining. As more people find work, they will be more able to qualify for a mortgage and more likely to purchase a home.

Glimmers of hope like this are creating optimism among those involved in the housing industry. For more information, read Loren Berlin’s article “Will Housing Market Finally Rebound in 2012?” published in The Huffington Post