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How Moving Can Affect Your Taxes

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April 15th is tax day and if you’re like a lot of Americans, maximizing your deductions is at the top of your mind? If moved during 2012, your tax bill might be a bit smaller.

If you moved for a job (or if you are moving for a job) you might qualify for “above the line” tax deductions for the move. In other words, moving expenses are deducted before the adjusted gross income is calculated, so they lower your overall tax burden. Best yet, the form for filing for the deduction is very short and straightforward.

The IRS has strict qualifications for deducting moving expenses. If you move for family reasons or simply because you like an area better, you won’t qualify. However, if you move for a job, there’s a good chance you could save some money, but only if your employer didn’t cover the move (there may be exceptions if the employer adds moving costs to your salary).

The first test is the 50-mile radius test. The distance between your new home and your new job must be 50 miles greater than the distance between your old home and your new job. It’s doubtful many people in the Bay Area would qualify. If your old home is 60 miles from work, your new home would need to be no more than 10 miles from your work.

The second test you must pass is proving that you really did move for a job – by working there. You must be employed for at least 39 weeks during the 12 months after you make the move to qualify. You can work for several employers in the area during the 12 month period, but you must be employed for 39 weeks in that area. The IRS will make an exception if you are laid off or transferred.

If you are self-employed, the first two tests apply, but so does a third. You must work full time in the area for 78 weeks during a 24 month period.

If you are unemployed, as long as you find work at your new location and are able to pass the first two tests, you will most likely qualify.

If you are filing jointly, only one spouse needs to qualify.

What is covered?

If you qualify for the moving tax deductions, it’s mostly only the direct costs associated with the move that are covered. The IRS will allow deductions for packing, shipping, insurance for your move and up to 30 days storage. They will also include lodging and mileage. You can deduct one trip to your new home before the move. They will not cover costs associated with breaking leases or other contracts at your old location.

If you are planning a move for 2013, you might want to keep the tests in mind when searching for your new home.

The Packing Advice You Won’t Hear Anywhere Else

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The most time-consuming part of any move is the packing. It’s generally recommended that you begin packing one to two months before the moving day. Personally, I like to set a goal of about two to three boxes per person per evening. At that rate, it’s not very daunting, but the results add up quickly. You’d be surprised at how often you’ll get momentum going and pack more.

In the beginning, packing starts with the best of intentions. It’s an opportunity to purge, you think. Then, as time starts to get crunched, the packing gets a bit more sloppy as everything in sight lands in a box. Now for the packing advice you won’t hear anywhere else – don’t throw things away.

For most people in the process of moving, purging is a very unproductive use of their time. Unless you belong on the show “Hoarders,” it’s unlikely a purge will save you more than a handful of boxes. You will, however, spend hours deliberating over whether items should stay or go.

You’d be amazed at how your new home will give you a different perspective. An item that looked out of place at your old home might have a perfect place in your new. On the other hand, something that seemed worth keeping might seem ridiculous in a new surrounding. More importantly, you won’t be under time restraints as you unpack.

In the same vein, don’t even open photo albums while you’re packing. Have packing paper in hand before you pick up a keepsake, so you’re less likely to mull over it. Wait till the unpack. If a box is already packed and stored in your garage, keep it sealed. One of the reasons that professional packers are so fast (other than years of practice) is that they have no sentimental attachment to your belongings. If it’s not furniture, it gets packed.

Of course, there are exceptions. If you do belong on “Hoarders,” purge away. Even if you’re moving locally, it might be a good idea to stock your new refrigerator with new food. Get rid of old paint cans and chemicals (check with your local municipality for disposal instructions). If you have papers that need shredding, rather than hand feed them through a home shredder, take the papers to a shredding company. For a small fee, they’ll shred your paper into a finer state than most home shredders and they generally recycle. If something is obvious trash, of course, get rid of it.

One thing that does make a difference in the cost of your move is furniture. If there is furniture you won’t be using in your new home, give it away or if it’s in horrible condition, throw it away (again, check with your local municipality).

Of course, you can always hire your mover to pack for you.

How To Make Your New Neighborhood Friendlier

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3302749708_e3248c1185_oBefore a move, a person has typically seen their new home (sight unseen does happen – I’ve done it – I don’t recommend it). They’ve most likely explored their new neighborhood, the schools and even the grocery stores. But how many people meet their neighbors before deciding on a new home?

In these days when we call the hundreds if not thousands of Facebook acquaintances we’ve never met “friends,” how do you define the people with whom you might share a mail carrier or a coffee shop? In a time when your average American spends more waking time at work than they do at home, how do you get to know your neighbors?

1. Smile – That might sound like advice you’d give to your third grader before sending her off to a new school, but as elementary as it sounds, a smile is the best thing you should show to your new neighbor. It’s non-commital. If you live next door to someone who seems a little off, a smile sends them the message that you’re non-threatening. It’s not needy. If you get a good vibe from them, wave. At that point, let them come to you. Remember, you are the newby.

2. After you’ve settled in, invite the nicer neighbors over – Even if you like to keep to yourself, it’s good to establish some friendships in the neighborhood. They can be great helps if your dog escapes the yard or if someone suspicious is lurking around your house.

3. Attend neighborhood functions – Block parties often sound more like a chore than a party, but they are a great way to get to know all of your neighbors. Ask if there’s a community garden. Even if you have room at home, a community garden is a good way to spread the zucchini.

4. Exchange phone numbers – Ensure that your neighbors have a way to get ahold of you if they suspect a problem around your home.

5. If your neighbors are noisy – Talk to them. There’s no reason you should have to suffer through their barking dog or their teenagers’ loud music. Be nice, but be direct. Hopefully, you’ve already established a rapport with them. Be sure that your noise level is down, especially after 10:00 PM.

6. If your neighbors aren’t so nice – Unfortunately, this happens quite often. The best advice is to be as friendly as possible and try to recruit some other friends in the neighborhood. You might find that your unfriendly neighbors are simply insecure about new people moving in or you might find that the other neighbors have problems as well. If the problems get too extreme, call law enforcement.

7. To Facebook or not to Facebook – That depends entirely on your social networking style. If you are the type who tends to share every detail of your life, it’s probably not a good idea to let your neighbor know about your latest fight with your spouse or the issues you are having with your children. Some people use Facebook as an outlet. Complaining about a neighbor who happens to be a Facebook friend is at best, passive-aggressive. At worst, it’s downright hostile. If you share a lot of political content, you probably don’t want to friend your neighbors unless you are absolutely sure they sit on the same side of that fence. Politics (or religion) can cause some tension. Of course, if you put signs on your lawn during election season, share away.

If your Facebook posts are generally upbeat and not too personal, go ahead. It’s a great way to establish an even better relationship.

8 Most importantly, the best way to make good neighbors is to be a good neighbor – Give cards or cookies during the holidays. Keep your yard groomed. Make sure your pets don’t make too much noise. If you live in an apartment, keep offensive cooking smells and cigarette smoke to a minimum. Offer your help, even if it’s just helping to unload the groceries.

How To Choose A Mover – Part Two

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Image from Wikipedia

Image from Wikipedia

Once you’ve chosen the three companies to give you estimates, schedule times for them to come to your home. The estimate process should always be free. The estimator should take a thorough inventory. He or she may take measurements. They should also ask you about anything you might have had trouble moving into your home. You’ll also be asked questions about your new home, but it’s understandable if you have not yet chosen that home. If you haven’t, the estimator should ask you to call once you have to new home in case there is anything that needs to be known.

If you are moving locally, you should always either be charged by the hour or you should be charged a flat rate based on a specific inventory and specific moving conditions (like stairs and distance from the house to the truck.) Movers will also charge you for moving supplies like boxes and tape. They should never charge you for blankets unless your blanketed furniture is moving into storage.

If you are moving across country, most reputable movers will charge you by weight. Some movers will charge you by volume. Since the truck will be weighed at a federally regulated scale, weight can be verified, whereas volume cannot. With most moves, you should also have an option of a flat price or a “not to exceed” estimate, which will mean that your price will only go down, not up.

After you receive the three estimates, pay careful attention to details such as pick-up and delivery windows. You might find that one company might save you a few hundred bucks, but are those savings really worth it if you end up having to stay in a hotel for an extended length of time because you have no furniture? Look and see how much packing the mover is including. If they are packing everything, make sure that all three estimates include similar amounts of packing.

If they included no packing whatsoever, on the presumption that you will be packing everything, you might see packing charges racking up even on top of a flat moving price. Most movers know that there are certain things that are almost never packed by the customer. Those items include things like mattresses, pictures on the walls and large electronics. All movers should ask you if you plan on packing those. If the mover doesn’t address these items and doesn’t include them in the estimate, it’s a red flag. Unless you have every single item packed, except for furniture, the mover will charge you on moving day. If it was already part of the estimate, great! If not, you’ll see the cost rise and there will be little you can do about it. Technically, the mover is performing services not in the original contract. That being said, there are plenty of times where honest movers arrive at people’s homes to find that a lot of packing still has to be done. They will also charge you for that.

Often, the difference between a good move and a bad moves comes down to planning. Clearly, there are things over which no one has control, like the weather, but there are many things that you can control. Make sure that both you and the mover understand exactly what is involved in the move. Don’t try to make the move seem smaller or less complicated than it is. Guaranteed prices only apply when the inventory list is thorough and when the circumstances – such as packing, distance to the truck, stairs and whether a semi-truck can access – are specifically spelled out. Make sure that you explore their Yelp and Angie’s List reviews. Ask for more references, and ask very specific questions of that reference. Does the estimator listen to and answer your questions? Is he or she available when you call?

Remember that even with the best of movers, not all moves will be perfect. The true test of a mover is how they handle claims. Any reputable mover would much rather they be given the opportunity to rectify things than leave you with a bad taste in your mouth.

How To Choose A Mover – Part One

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Image from SF Gate

Image from SF Gate

If you mention you are moving to a group of friends, you’ll probably hear a variety of stories – mostly bad. Of course, people tend to tell their bad stories before the good (a.k.a. non-eventful) ones, but despite that little quirk of human nature, moving nightmares could probably fill a library. A little preparation and knowledge is all you really need to ensure that while your friends are regaling you with their own tales of moves-gone-wrong, you can comfortably sit back, knowing that you really had a pretty good, albeit boring, experience.

It’s suggested that you get three estimates for your move but it’s likely that once you request moving estimates online rather than through an individual company, you’ll be barraged with enthusiastic movers. Personally, I would recommend doing a little homework and targeting three companies specifically rather than plugging information into a ‘lead source’ that broadcasts your information to random movers. So how do you find a good mover?

When you ask your friends about positive moving experiences, you might be surprised at how many will raise their hands to suggest a mover. That’s a good start, but you’ll want to investigate a little deeper. Try Yelp.com or AngiesList.com for more referrals or to research a reputation a little deeper.

Remember that different movers have different specialties. If you are moving across the country, you might be drawn to one of what are called, ‘major van lines.’ Major van lines are the big guys and their names have been around for decades. Despite the fact that you see a lot of trucks with their names doing local moves, the van lines themselves only do interstate moves. I’ll get to more on that in a bit. The advantages to major van lines is that they tend to be fairly well-organized and they are usually on the up and up. The disadvantages are that because they only do interstate moves, they often give you big windows of timing on both pick-up and delivery and they often charge large fees for any sort of storage or for a specific pick-up date. If you have any issues after your move, you might find you have to jump through some red tape.

You might see some companies who include “van lines” in their name but they are not considered one of the major van lines. Some of them might operate similarly to the major van lines, but some of them might not. If you are looking for a major van line, see how long a company has been in business. You can find this information through the Department of Transportation – ask for the van line’s DOT number or MC number (as opposed to the local agent’s DOT or MC number). If it’s less than 30 years, it is not a major van line. I’m not saying they are a bad company, but they are misleading you if they claim to be one of the majors.

If you decide to investigate some of the smaller names, you might find a lot of advantages, such as flexibility and the fact that you’ll probably be able to reach the same person on the phone throughout the moving process. Personally, I think the best moving experiences happen because of the personal connections you establish when you go with a smaller company.

If you are moving locally, all companies are small guys to one extent or another. As I mentioned, the major van lines only do interstate moves, so even if a truck has their name on it, if you are moving locally (and sometimes if you are moving to the next state over) you are being moved by their local affiliate (or agent). For local moves, the van line and agent have no connection other than the fact that if the agent racks up too many complaints, the van line might drop the affiliation. If you are moving across country, it will probably be the local agent who will be giving you your moving estimate, so it’s always a good idea to check out their reputation in both cases.
Watch for part two next week!

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