2019 – 8 new laws passed favoring homeowners.

Assembly Bill 1772 – Extends from 24 months to 36 months the period of time within which an insurance policyholder is entitled to collect full replacement benefits under a replacement cost fire insurance policy.

Assembly Bill 1800 – Prohibits, in the event of a total loss, a residential property insurance policy from limiting or denying payment based on the fact that the policyholder has chosen to rebuild or purchase a home at a new location.

Senate Bill 824 – Prohibits an insurer from canceling or refusing to renew a homeowner’s insurance policy for one year from the date of a declaration of emergency and requires insurers to report specified fire risk information to the Department of Insurance.

Assembly Bill 2594 – Extends the existing statute of limitations for a homeowner to sue an insurer from 12 to 24 months if the loss is related to a state of emergency.

Senate Bill 894 – Provides assistance to survivors of major disasters or catastrophic events, including requiring insurers to renew a residential insurance policy for at least two renewal periods (24 months), requiring insurers to grant an additional 12 months of additional living expenses and allowing combined payments for losses to a primary dwelling and other structures so homeowners can apply those losses as they see fit, such as rebuilding the main home.

Senate Bill 30 – Requires the Insurance Commissioner to convene a working group to assess new and innovative investments in natural infrastructure and insurance products in light of California’s worsening fire vulnerability due to climate change.

Assembly Bill 1875 – Connects consumers who need residential property insurance with agents and brokers to help ensure they obtain plans and coverage that suit their specific needs.

Senate Bill 917 – Requires insurers to cover a loss resulting from a combination of disasters (landslide, mudslide, mudflow or debris flow) if an insured disaster is the proximate cause of the loss or damage and would otherwise be covered.

Tax Tips for Divorcing Homeowners

By: Dona DeZube

Published: January 7, 2015

Some divorcing homeowners end up with unanticipated tax bills when they sell their home. Find out how you can avoid being one of them.

If you’re getting divorced, your home may be the biggest asset you’ll have to divide with your soon-to-be ex. As you decide whether to sell it and split the proceeds or let one spouse live there until the last kid launches, remember there’s often a third party involved in your home sale transaction: Uncle Sam.

Keeping, selling, or continuing to share your home can each create different federal tax tabs for you and your ex-spouse. Here’s a look at the tax consequences for six of the most common situations divorcing couples face.

1.  One of you stays in the house until the kids grow up; then you sell it.

If you’re the one who moves out and agrees to hold off on selling the house until the kids are grown, you can end up with a whopping tax bill years later. That’s because the tax law provision that lets you avoid tax on home sale profits (or in tax speak, capital gains) typically only applies if you’ve lived in the house for two of the past five years.

Unless the kids are older and will be out of the house soon, the spouse who moves out typically won’t meet that two-year test.

Luckily, there’s a way to avoid this problem: If the divorcing spouses can agree that one of them will be granted use of the property under a divorce or separation instrument, the spouse who leaves can still consider the property as his or her main home under tax rules as long as the former spouse is living there. (You’ll need the supporting documentation — the decree — to prove this with the IRS, especially if you maintain this arrangement for more than 6 years.)

When the house is finally sold, each former spouse can avoid paying tax on up to $250,000 of profit from the sale. This is the same beneficial tax treatment they would have received had the divorce never happened.

2.  One of you buys out the other’s share of the house now.

When you want to keep the house but lose the spouse, a buyout can work for both of you. In a buyout, you buy your spouse’s share of the house.

You don’t have to pay exactly half the value of the house; it can be any amount that works for you both given other assets you’re dividing. To decide the current value of your home, ask a REALTOR® to do a broker’s price opinion for you.

Typically, the spouse who stays refinances the current mortgage, but that doesn’t have to happen.

Generally, you don’t have to pay taxes on any gain or loss you have from the buyout. That’s true even if the house is just one part of the bigger plan to divvy up your assets and debts — for example, if you get the house because you agreed to give your ex-spouse cash or to pay off debt you both owe.

Warning for spouses who are moving out: Be sure the mortgage really was paid off. Otherwise, you could still be liable for paying it. Call or write your lender and ask it to send a copy of the mortgage lien release to your new address. That’ll come in handy in the unlikely event that the mortgage continues to show up on your credit report and you need to prove it was paid off.

3.  You sell and both move out.

Some couples opt for a clean break from each other and from the home they shared. They sell the home and split the profit based on their divorce agreement.

If you sell a home you own jointly with your spouse, each of you can typically exclude up to $250,000 in home sale profits if you’re filing as a single and $500,000 if you’re filing a joint return. IRS Publication 523, Selling Your Home has the details.

The IRS fine print on the exclusion requires that:

  • The home was your main (principal) residence.
  • You lived there for two of the past five years.
  • You only use the exclusion once every two years.

Spouses who haven’t lived there for two of the past five years (perhaps because of job transfer or military deployment) might be eligible for a partial exclusion of the gain. You’ll find more information on those in Publication 523.

4.  You continue to share the house. 

Some couples who share custody of their children want to avoid having the kids shuffle between the parents’ two homes. The kids stay in the original house and the parents take turns living with kids some weeks and living in a second home or a rental during the other weeks.

The tax repercussions depend on whether you still consider the main home to be your principal residence. If, for example, you still get your mail there and keep it as your address for your driver’s license, it would likely still be counted as your home for tax purposes.

5.  You have a vacation or second home to divide.

You don’t get that lovely home sale profit (capital gains) exclusion when you sell a vacation home, so you’ll likely owe tax if you make money from selling a vacation home due to a divorce.

Capital gains tax varies based on your income. Most people pay 15% in capital gains taxes on their vacation home sale profits. Low-income sellers might pay no capital gains taxes, while those earning more than $406,750 would pay 23.8%, including the 3.8% surtax on net investment income.

If you don’t sell and instead get your spouse’s share of your vacation home, you won’t have to pay taxes on the transfer as long as it’s part of your original or modified divorce or separation agreement.

Maybe you can continue to share your vacation home with your ex-spouse and work out a written usage agreement as part of your divorce. You could each use the home 26 weeks of the year, for example.

6.  You own rental properties.

In general, if you give or receive a rental property as part of your divorce agreement, you won’t owe income taxes because of that transfer. But the spouse who sells the property in the future might owe tax on the recaptured depreciation that you both took in the past.

Depreciation is an annual allowance real estate investors get for the wear and tear, deterioration, or obsolescence of a property. When investors sell a property, they owe taxes on the depreciation they deducted in prior years.

Ask your accountant how the depreciation you both claimed might be recaptured and whether there are ways to avoid paying tax on recaptured depreciation.

For more information about investment property transfers in divorces see IRS Publication 504.

Three Caveats

There are three important exceptions to the six situations for divorcing homeowners outlined above:

1. They don’t apply if your spouse is a nonresident alien.

2. Properties held in trust follow a different set of tax rules outlined in Publication 504.

3. Property you got in a divorce agreement that happened before July 19, 1984, falls under a different set of IRS rules outlined in Publication 504.

One-Off Property Situations for Divorcing Couples

Although most people will find themselves in one of the six situations discussed above, other home-related tax complications can arise from divorce, especially if you continue to have a joint mortgage on a home that only one of you continues to own and/or live in. Here’s how the taxes play out for some of these one-off situations:

You used the first-time homebuyer tax credit.

Whichever spouse keeps the house is responsible for potentially repaying the first-time homebuyer tax credit if relevant. File Form 5405 to let the IRS know you don’t own the house anymore because of your divorce.

You pay the mortgage but don’t own the house.

Sorry, you can’t deduct the mortgage interest unless you own the home.

You don’t own the home and your ex pays the mortgage.

Sorry, you can’t deduct the mortgage interest unless you own the home and pay the interest.

You own the home but your ex pays the mortgage.

You report the mortgage payment on your tax return as alimony income and you then get to deduct the mortgage interest payment on Schedule A of Form 1040 if you itemize. You have to be legally obligated to pay the mortgage to be able to take the mortgage interest deduction.

If your lender sends your spouse (instead of you) Form 1098 (the form that proves to the IRS that interest payments were made), put a statement in with your tax return telling the IRS:

  • You own the house
  • Who the 1098 went to
  • Where the 1098 got mailed

You both own the home and you both pay the mortgage.

If both spouses own the house and contribute to the mortgage payment, but only one of you lives in the house, you each deduct the mortgage interest you pay. To take the mortgage interest deduction, you have to own the home and be legally obligated to pay the mortgage.

Each of you should include a statement with your respective returns, noting that you pay a share of the total interest shown on Form 1098.

Related: Tax Records to Keep — and For How Long

This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but shouldn’t be relied upon as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for tax advice and a legal professional for legal advice.

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9 Easy Mistakes Homeowners Make on Their Taxes

By: G. M. Filisko

Published: January 5, 2015

Don’t rouse the IRS or pay more taxes than necessary — know the score on each home tax deduction and credit.

As you calculate your tax returns, be careful not to commit any of these nine home-related tax mistakes, which tax pros say are especially common and can cost you money or draw the IRS to your doorstep.

Sin #1: Deducting the wrong year for property taxes

You take a tax deduction for property taxes in the year you (or the holder of your escrow account) actually paid them. Some taxing authorities work a year behind — that is, you’re not billed for 2013 property taxes until 2014. But that’s irrelevant to the feds.

Enter on your federal forms whatever amount you actually paid in that tax year, no matter what the date is on your tax bill. Dave Hampton, CPA, a tax department manager at the Cincinnati accounting firm of Burke & Schindler, has seen homeowners confuse payments for different years and claim the incorrect amount.

Sin #2: Confusing escrow amount for actual taxes paid

If your lender escrows funds to pay your property taxes, don’t just deduct the amount escrowed. The regular amount you pay into your escrow account each month to cover property taxes is probably a little more or a little less than your property tax bill. Your lender will adjust the amount every year or so to realign the two.

For example, your tax bill might be $1,200, but your lender may have collected $1,100 or $1,300 in escrow over the year. Deduct only $1,200 or the amount of property taxes noted on the Form 1098 that your lender sends. If you don’t receive Form 1098, contact the agency that collects property tax to find out how much you paid.

Sin #3: Deducting points paid to refinance

Deduct points you paid your lender to secure your mortgage in full for the year you bought your home. However, when you refinance, you must deduct points over the life of your new loan.

For example, if you paid $2,000 in points to refinance into a 15-year mortgage, your tax deduction is $2,000 divided by 15 years, or $133 per year.

Related: How to Deduct Mortgage Points When You Buy a Home

Sin #4: Misjudging the home office tax deduction

The deduction is complicated, often doesn’t amount to much of a deduction, has to be recaptured if you turn a profit when you sell your home, and can pique the IRS’s interest in your return.

But there’s good news. There’s a new simplified home office deduction option if you don’t want to claim actual costs. If you’re eligible, you can deduct $5 per square foot up to 300 feet of office space, or up to $1,500 per year.

Sin #5: Failing to repay the first-time homebuyer tax credit

If you used the original homebuyer tax credit in 2008, you must repay 1/15th of the credit over 15 years.

If you used the tax credit in 2009 or 2010 and then within 36 months you sold your house or stopped using it as your primary residence, you also have to pay back the credit.

The IRS has a tool you can use to help figure out what you owe.

Sin #6: Failing to track home-related expenses

If the IRS comes a-knockin’, don’t be scrambling to compile your records. File or scan and store home office and home improvement expense receipts and other home-related documents as you go.

Sin #7: Forgetting to keep track of capital gains

If you sold your main home last year, don’t forget to pay capital gains taxes on any profit. You can typically exclude $250,000 of any profits from taxes (or $500,000 if you’re married filing jointly).

So if your cost basis for your home is $100,000 (what you paid for it plus any improvements) and you sold it for $400,000, your capital gains are $300,000. If you’re single, you owe taxes on $50,000 of gains.

However, there are minimum time limits for holding property to take advantage of the exclusions, and other details. Consult IRS Publication 523. And high-income earners could get hit with an additional tax.

Sin #8: Filing incorrectly for energy tax credits

If you made any eligible improvements in 2014, such as installing energy-efficient windows and doors, you may be able to take a 10% tax credit (up to $500; with some systems your cap is even lower than $500). But keep in mind, it’s a lifetime credit. If you claimed the credit in any recent years, you’re done.

Installing a solar electric, solar water heater, geothermal, or small wind energy system can also make you eligible to take the Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit.

To claim the deduction, you have to use the complicated Form 5695, which can mean cross-checking with half a dozen other IRS forms. Read the instructions carefully.

Sin #9: Claiming too much for the mortgage interest tax deduction

Taxpayers are allowed to deduct mortgage interest on home acquisition debt up to $1 million, plus they can also deduct up to $100,000 in home equity debt.

This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but shouldn’t be relied upon as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice.

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Are Mortgage Points Tax Deductible?

Are Mortgage Points Tax Deductible?

By: Dona DeZube

Published: November 17, 2014

When you took out a mortgage to buy your home, did you pay points? You may be able to deduct that prepaid interest on your federal tax return — but only if you meet a long list of rules.

The points you paid when you signed a mortgage to buy your home may help cut your federal tax bill. With points, sometimes called loan origination points or discount points, you make an upfront payment to get a particular rate from the lender.

Since mortgage interest is deductible, your points may be, too.

If you itemize your deductions on Schedule A of IRS Form 1040, you may be able to deduct all your points in the year you pay them.

Some high-income taxpayers have their total itemized deductions limited, including points. You can read more about that in the instructions for Schedule A.

Lucky for you, the IRS doesn’t care whether you or the homesellers paid the points. Either way, those points are your deduction, not the sellers’.

Tip: Tax law treats home purchase mortgage points differently from refinance mortgage points. Refinance loan points get deducted over the life of your loan. So if you paid $1,000 in points for a 10-year refinance, you’re entitled to deduct $100 per year on your Schedule A.

The Fine Print for Deducting Points

The IRS rules for deducting purchase mortgage points are straightforward, but lengthy. You must meet each of these seven tests to deduct the points in the year you pay them.

1.  Your mortgage must be used to buy or build your primary residence, and the loan must be secured by that residence. Your primary home is the one you live in most of the time. As long as it has cooking equipment, a toilet, and you can sleep in it, your main residence can be a house, a trailer, or a boat.

Points paid on a second home have to be deducted over the life of your loan.

2.  Paying points must be a customary business practice in your area. And the amount can’t exceed the percentage normally charged. If most people in your area pay one or two points, you can’t pay 10 points and then deduct them.

3.  Your points have to be legitimate. You can’t have your lender label other things on your settlement statement, like appraisal fees, inspection fees, title fees, attorney fees, service fees, or property taxes as “points” and deduct them.

4.  You have to use the cash method of accounting. That’s when you report your income to the IRS as it comes in and report your expenses when you pay them. Almost everybody uses this method for tax accounting.

5.  You must pay the points directly. That is, you can’t have borrowed the funds from your lender to pay them. Any points paid by the seller are treated as being paid directly by you.

In addition, monies you pay, such as a downpayment or earnest money deposit, are considered monies out of your pocket that cover the points so long as they’re equal to or more than points.  Say you put $10,000 down and pay $1,000 in points. The downpayment exceeds the points, so your points are covered and therefore you can deduct them if you itemize. If you were to put nothing down but you paid one point, that $1,000 wouldn’t be deductible.

6.  Your points have to be calculated as a percentage of your mortgage. One point is 1% of your mortgage amount, so one point on a $100,000 mortgage is $1,000.

7.  The points have to show up on your settlement disclosure statement as “points.” They might be listed as loan origination points or discount points.

Tip: You can also fully deduct points you pay (for the year paid) on a loan to improve your main home if you meet tests one through five above.

Where to Deduct Points

Figured out that your points are deductible? Here’s how you deduct them:

Your lender will send you a Form 1098. Look in Box 2 to find the points paid for your loan.

If you don’t get a Form 1098, look on the settlement disclosure you received at closing. The points will show up on that form in the sections detailing your costs or the sellers’ costs, depending on who paid the points.

Report your points on Schedule A of IRS Form 1040.

There are two things related to points that you can’t deduct:

1.  Interest buy-downs your builder paid

Some builders put money in an escrow account (as a buyer incentive) that the lender taps each month to supplement your mortgage payment. Those aren’t considered points even though the money is used for an interest payment and it’s prepaid. You can’t deduct the money the builder put into that escrow account.

2.  Interest payments from government programs

You can’t deduct points paid by a federal, state, or local program, such as the federal Hardest Hit Fund, to help you if you’re experiencing financial trouble.

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Tax Deductions for Vacation Homes

By: Donna Fuscaldo

Published: January 9, 2015

Tax deductions for vacation homes vary greatly depending on how much you use the home and whether you rent it out.

A vacation home offers a break from the daily grind, but it can also offer a break from taxes. The IRS allows most owners to lower taxable income by taking tax deductions for vacation homes. What’s deductible depends on a number of factors, especially how often you visit and whether you allow renters.

Don’t limit your notion of a vacation home to a beach cottage or a mountain cabin. Even RVs and boats can count, as long as there are sleeping, cooking, and bathroom facilities. Tax deductions for vacation homes are complex, so consult a tax adviser.

Is Your Vacation Home a Vacation Home?

If you bought your vacation home exclusively for personal enjoyment, you can generally deduct your mortgage interest and real estate taxes, as you would on a primary residence. Use Schedule A to take the deductions.

The tax law even allows you to rent out your vacation home for up to 14 days a year without paying taxes on the rental income. You might be able to deduct any uninsured casualty losses too, within limits, though you can’t write off rental-related expenses. (More on those below.) If the home is rented for more than 14 days, you must claim the income.

Now, if you own what you consider a vacation home but never visit it, or only rent it out, other tax rules apply. Without personal use, the law considers the home an investment or rental property. Time spent checking in on the house or making repairs doesn’t count as personal use.

Tax Deductions for Rental Owners

As an exclusive rental property, you can deduct numerous expenses including property taxes, insurance, mortgage interest, utilities, housekeeping, and repairs. Even towels and sheets are deductible. Use Schedule E. You can also write off depreciation, the value lost due to the wear and tear a home experiences over time.

Treat the rental property like a business, says Mark Steber, chief tax officer at Jackson Hewitt Tax Services. Keep detailed records and maintain a separate checking account. Figure you’ll spend a couple of hours a week, on average, over the course of the year managing the property.

To maximize deductions, you need to be actively involved in the rental property. That means performing such duties as approving new tenants and coming up with rental terms. You also need to own at least 10% of the property. See IRS Publication 527 for details.

If your adjusted gross income is below $100,000, you can deduct as much as $25,000 for rental losses — that is, the excess of your rental expenses over your rental receipts. The deduction gradually phases out between an adjusted gross income of $100,000 and $150,000. You can carry forward excess losses to future years or offset losses to offset gains when you sell.

Mixed Use of a Vacation Home

The tax picture gets more complicated when in the same year you make personal use of your vacation home and rent it out for more than 14 days. Remember, rental income is tax-free only if you rent for 14 days or fewer.

The key to maximizing deductions is keeping annual personal use of your vacation home to fewer than 15 days or 10% of the total rental days, whichever is greater. In that case the vacation home can be treated as a rental, meaning you get the same generous deductions. To avoid going over the 10% limit, essentially you shouldn’t use your vacation home more than one day for every 10 days you rent it.

Make personal use of your vacation home for more than 14 days (or more than 10% of the total rental days, if this is greater than 14 days), however, and your deductions may be limited. For example, suppose you rented your vacation home for 180 days last year. You could use the home for up to 18 days of personal use before your deductions would be limited.

If you exceed the maximum, some deductions are limited; those related to the rental of the property are again limited by the ratio of actual rental days to the total days of use.

Let’s say you have a vacation home you personally use for 25 days and rent for 75 days. That’s 100 total days of use, and it exceeds the greater of 14 days or 10% of the rental days.  Therefore, your deductions are going to be limited in total and will also have to be allocated to personal and rental use by the ratio of time you rented the house compared with the total use. So you can only write off 75% of the expenses as rental expenses — 75 rental days divided by 100 total days of use works out to 75%. Some of the personal expenses, such as mortgage interest and real estate taxes, may be deductible on Schedule A.

Congress Closes Tax Loophole

A popular strategy used by owners of vacation homes to avoid paying capital gains on a sale was to convert a vacation home into a primary residence. This was accomplished by living in the home for two years out of the previous five before selling. Doing so qualified the sale for an exclusion from taxes for a profit of up to $250,000 for single filers and $500,000 for joint filers.

While the exclusion remains available, Congress closed a loophole for vacation homes. For 2009 and later years, you pay regular cap gains taxes on the portion of the gain that’s equivalent to the time you used the home as a vacation home after 2008.

Let’s say you bought a vacation home on Jan. 1, 2003, and it becomes your primary residence on Jan. 1, 2011. Two years later, you qualify for the cap gains exclusion and decide to sell on Jan. 1, 2013. You’re liable for capital gains taxes on 20% of the gain. Why?

Because for 20% of the 10 years you owned the property, it wasn’t eligible for the exclusion: In 2009 and 2010, you used it as a vacation home. But you can take the exclusion for the other eight years — 2003 through 2008, when the old rules applied, and Jan. 1, 2011, to Jan. 1, 2013, when the place was used as a primary residence.

This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but shouldn’t be relied upon as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice.

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7 Homeowner Tax Advantages

By: G. M. Filisko

Published: January 2, 2015

When you’re evaluating how much home you can afford, make sure you factor in the tax advantages of homeownership.

Owning a home can be a real help at tax time because it generates deductions that may reduce the income tax you owe.

Here are seven tax benefits for homeowners.

1.  The mortgage interest deduction

Every year, you can deduct the amount of mortgage interest and late charges you pay on your mortgage and home equity loans, though there are limitations. Find out more in IRS Publication 936.

If you were required to purchase private mortgage insurance (PMI) because you made a downpayment of less than 20% on your home, you can also deduct those premiums for your 2014 taxes.

2.  Deductions for home loan fees

Typically, you can deduct the prepaid interest you paid in the year you took out your mortgage loan. That includes points, loan origination fees, and loan discount fees listed on your settlement statement, even if the seller paid those fees for you.

If you refinance your mortgage and use that money for home improvements, any points you pay are also deductible in the same year.

When you refinance your mortgage to get a better rate or shorten the term of your loan, you can deduct prepaid interest fees, but you typically have to spread the deduction out over the life of your loan.

You must meet certain requirements to take the prepaid interest deductions when you purchase or refinance your home. Check with your accountant to be sure you’re following the rules.

3.  Property tax deductions

In the year you purchase your home, you’re entitled to deduct the real estate taxes you paid at the closing table. You can continue to deduct the property taxes you pay each year.

4.  Home office expenses

If you have a home office you use only for business, you may be able to claim a standard deduction of up to $1,500 per year based on $5 a square foot for up to 300 square feet. Or you can do a more complicated calculation outlined in IRS Form 8829.

The government scrutinizes home office deductions closely. Be sure you’re entitled to the deductions before claiming them.

5.  The costs of selling your home

In the year you sell your home, you can deduct the costs of selling it, including real estate commissions, title insurance, legal fees, advertising, administrative costs, and inspection fees.

You can also deduct decorating or repair costs you incur in the 90 days before you sell your home. See IRS Publication 523 for more information about the home sale deduction.

6.  The gain on your home

If you lived in your home for at least two of the previous five years before you sell it, the government lets you to take up to $250,000 of profit on the sale of your home tax free. That amount is doubled for married couples. This deduction isn’t available on rental or second homes, the IRS explains in Publication 523.

The government also allows you to subtract from your home sale profit any amounts you spend on capital improvements, such as window replacement, siding, or a kitchen remodel. Money invested for routine maintenance and repairs doesn’t count.

7.  Solar panel system tax credit

Adding solar panels to your home cuts your electricity bill, but it can also cut your federal taxes if you can take the Residential Energy Tax Credit. Breaks are also available for wind turbines and geothermal heat pump systems.

This article includes general information about tax laws and consequences, but is not intended to be relied upon as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice; tax laws vary by jurisdiction.

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer whose enjoyed the tax advantages of homeownership for more than 20 years. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.

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