Lenders are ready to work with qualified buyers.

In the past 12 months the mortgage industry has traveled back in time. All of the mortgage products born during the early part of the decade are gone and we are back to the 30-year-fixed-rate mortgage. Many   home buyers are under the misconception that the mortgage industry has hung up an “Out of Business” sign. In reality there is an abundance of mortgage money available at some of the best rates we have seen in 40 years.

A bank’s goal should be to help borrowers become homeowners for the long term. This means borrowers should have a minimum of a 10 percent down payment, spend no more than 45 percent of their monthly income on their monthly obligations and have a demonstrated record of excellent credit management.

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Strategies for maximizing your deductions in 2008.

Taxing MattersAs we reach the close of a very troubling year for markets and the economy, astute investors need to use all the tools at their disposal to make the best of a bad situation and maximize their tax advantage. Here are some important end-of-year tax items we think are worth reviewing.

First, estimate adjusted gross income, for both 2008 and 2009
The time-honored strategies of accelerating deductions and deferring income need to be evaluated carefully; these are tied to adjusted gross income, and thus impact your ability to maximize itemized deductions related to gross income.

If you anticipate being in a higher tax bracket in 2009, you may benefit from accelerating income into 2008. If you expect your adjusted gross income to be higher in 2008 than in 2009, or you anticipate being in a higher tax bracket in 2008, you may benefit by deferring income into 2009. Be sure to consider the effects on Social Security; additional income may increase the rate of tax paid or the percentage of benefits taxed.

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Visions of donkeys and elephants dance in our heads.

In a few days we’ll know our next president. Pundits are hard at work examining the twists and turns of the final days of this election season, ferreting out the clues that will help craft successful investment strategies for the years ahead.

Who will be better for the stock market and the economic recovery, McCain or Obama?

There are a lot of statistics out there on election results and market returns — some meaningful, some less so — most of dubious value to long-term investors. Each administration inherits a unique set of domestic economic and global circumstances; where you start from determines to a great extent how the markets and economy will perform.

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An alternative asset class.

Has the economic crunch affected the international art market? Not according to Christie’s and Sotheby’s auction houses in New York, who rang up sales of $583.5 million in contemporary, modern and impressionist paintings and sculpture over two evenings in May of this year. The fine art market doesn’t always correlate with traditional financial investment markets but can offer an intriguing alternative asset class, particularly for investors concerned with accumulating capital gains rather than current income. There are certainly risks and considerations unique to art and there are very few art investors who buy for investment consideration alone. Considering the uncertainty of traditional financial markets, though, many investors with liquid capital look to fine art as a safe haven.

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Money smarts you can share with your children.

Money smarts you can share with your children.You may have at one point in your adulthood said to yourself, “If only I knew more about money then.” Well it may be too late for you, but you can fix it for your children. Here are some easy to teach tips that will make a difference in their financial lives.

When they’re young show them the basics, the difference between something needed and something wanted. Discuss spending priorities; is something really needed for survival, work or school? Will it make life appreciably better, or is it just for fun and entertainment? Teach them to pay the most important bills and make the most important purchases first.

Determine your policy for an allowance and stick to it. Yo u need to consider whether household chores are expected in return, and what expenses the allowance is meant to cover. A fixed amount of cash will encourage thought before spending.

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New legislation could impact your investments.

New legislation could impact your investments. Is that a misprint? No. It’s not well known, but beginning in 2008 and through 2010, taxpayers in the lowest two federal tax brackets may use a zero percent rate on qualified dividends and long-term capital gains. Yo u are eligible for this tax break if your adjusted gross income is less than $32,550 for single tax payers or $65,100 for married taxpayers filing jointly.

Many retired couples with comfortable incomes, but who draw a significant part of their income from Social Security and tax exempt interest, may be well below the $65,100 threshold. This presents an opportunity to cash out some of those highly appreciated stock positions or sell an appreciated piece of property without paying a sizable chunk in taxes. In an alternate scenario, children of these retired couples could transfer highly appreciated assets to their parents, while retaining the same cost basis and holding period. The parents could cash the asset out at zero percent capital gain; this strategy could be ideal in the case of children assisting elderly parents.

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Smart women and their money.

Smart women and their money.Money and finance were “taboo” topics of conversation in my family when I was growing up; we lived with a “those who have it shouldn’t talk about it” mentality. In college, I was amazed to discover that other students had their own checking accounts, and I was totally shocked by my future husband’s family’s openness about financial matters. Still, this was the very beginning of a journey that eventually ended with an MBA in finance, a CFP certification and a life long commitment to financial planning, especially concerning those issues specific to women.

Our culture puts a premium on financial success and security, but often, for women, withholds the opportunity, exposure and experience required to become fluent in financial language and comfortable interacting in the world of investments. Women on their own face some daunting cultural and circumstantial challenges.

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Heed the following warnings and invest with confidence in uncertain times.

Money ReportIn this turbulent period, when markets and the economy are experiencing an unending drumbeat of bad news, it is hard to keep a long-term perspective. Even knowing that periods like this have been - almost without exception - superb opportunities for stock market investment, this is not enough.

Distancing yourself from the daily assault of irrelevant and impractical information can be helpful. Look at some of the things that really can derail long-term wealth preservation and accumulation, no matter what kind of market you may live through. Six real risks we see are: a weak investment plan, over concentration, behavior, taxes, discord and liability.

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Proper copying and storage of important documents is not just smart - it’s essential.

Proper copying and storage of important documents is not just smart - it’s essential.We all have vital documents that should be treated with the utmost care and concern. Marriage licenses, birth certificates, wills, deeds, mortgage papers, insurance information, stock and bond certificates - these are just a few of the essential papers most Americans have on hand, but probably aren’t caring for or storing properly.

According to document service experts at The UPS Store(r), there’s no time like the present to update, copy and store your personal documents. In fact, store franchisee Donna Evans recommends that people make copying important documents a yearly ritual and The UPS Store offers this handy top-ten list of easy tips for preserving valuable documents.

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Approaching real estate and mortgage lending with optimism.

Approaching real estate and mortgage lending with optimism.If you are trying to make sense of the condition in the real estate and mortgage industries these days, don’t bother referring back to your old Economics 101 textbook where you first read about the laws of supply and demand. You’ll remember the side of the equation that says when the price of a product goes down, the demand for that product goes up.

Now, let’s apply our economics refresher course to the current housing and lending markets. According to The Wall Street Journal, the median U.S. home price was $201,000 in January of this year, down 4.6 percent from January 2007. The S&P/Case-Shiller National Home Price Index for the fourth quarter was down 8.9 percent from a year earlier, the biggest drop in 20 years. Furthermore, there was a 10-month supply of existing homes for sale in January, up from just under five months during boom times. The supply is up so prices are down.

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Are you buried in your own paperwork? Long distance moves, downsizing and spring cleaning can cause us to ask, “Will I ever need all this stuff? And if I do, how will I ever find it?” Alongside the box of old holiday lights and outgrown children’s clothes are boxes upon boxes of cancelled checks, receipts, bank statements and income tax forms going back to your first job and that first tax filing you did by hand. After all, it’s easier to keep everything than sort, make a decision and discard or re-file.

But when you reach that point when you can no longer store it all, it’s time to decide – what can stay and where; what must go and how to safely dispose of private information.

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With some pundits throwing around the ‘R’ word, how can we turn it around?The dark miasma of pessimism that sent stock prices tumbling is obscuring powerful and far-reaching trends that could propel the market higher, much higher, in 2008 and beyond, even though the markets are likely to continue to test us with increased volatility and declines in the near term. There are compelling reasons to believe we are moving out of trouble, and not further in, hence our optimism and enthusiasm for U.S. stocks and our view that this turbulence, in retrospect, will prove an extraordinary opportunity for long term investors.

First, this is a real slump no matter how you work the numbers. Two-thirds of us believe we are already in a recession. The abuses in sub-prime lending have resulted in nearly $100 billion of financial write-downs and losses so far, and for all intents and purposes choked off the credit markets. The housing market is moribund, with foreclosures reaching crisis levels in many U.S. cities.

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For Love or MONEY... but preferably, both.Valentine’s day is upon us – bringing hope to every romantic while sparking gift anxiety into everyone else. Once again, the challenge of finding the perfect gift to capture the essence of each particular relationship. To some that may mean a Hallmark card; to others, the sky’s the limit. Gold, diamonds, jewelry of all sorts, candy and fragrances all express that romantic “Be My Valentine” feeling. What about a gift of stock? Not very romantic, but for the practical, diet conscious or investment-oriented loved one, this might be the perfect solution.

Two Februaries past, this column reviewed several Valentine stock choices. Let’s see how the lucky recipients fared and whether the investments have lasted longer than the candy and flowers.

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Carolina FirstYou wouldn’t start a long road trip without consulting a map would you? Well, the same holds true for creating a strategy for managing your investments. Developing this strategy is a process, an organized and disciplined approach to making the right choices to ensure that you and your loved ones will be financially secure and that you will have peace of mind knowing you have crafted a well thought-out plan. Carolina First Securities has the people, resources, and know-how to help guide you through this process.

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