Pretend Your Apartment is a Car: Cleaning Tips for Guys

Are you a man? Is your apartment appalling? Why not consider joining the cult of men who clean?

You owe it to yourself to investigate the mysteries of the livable apartment. A new year requires new ways of doing things, so read on for a few quick cleaning tips that will help keep your apartment presentable. (You may discover it’s not as bad as you expect.)

Pretend your apartment is a car
Many a woman has lamented the fact that her man could spend hours detailing his car, but seem blind to household grime. Why not tackle your apartment cleaning in the same way you would your car? Vacuum under all the furniture, dust every corner and surface, and scrub away every bit of mildew in the shower — all with the same single-mindedness and dedication you reserve for keeping your car clean! Once you’ve done a thorough apartment cleaning initially, the gleam will be much easier to maintain and in even less time.

More on cleaning your apartment:
Declutter Your Apartment: What’s OK to Throw Away?Prioritize Your Apartment Cleaning EffortsHow to Clean Your Space in a HurryHow to Keep Your Apartment Cleaning Earth-Friendly

Assemble your tool kit
What man doesn’t like assembling tools for a project? Apartment cleaning is no different than a workbench scheme. Get the right tools for the job, and clean-up will be a breeze.

Here are a few things you may already have on hand to gather together in your cleaning tool box.

• A squeegee for windows, mirrors, shower doors and tile.
• A wet/dry vac. Attach a soft brush attachment and you can spin away cobwebs and dust.
• Car polish. Wipe down your shower stall and door to keep soap-scum from sticking.
• Tennis ball. Spray with a general cleaner and buff away scuff marks on floors and walls.
• Steel wool (fine, synthetic). Good for scrubbing pots and counter gunk.
• Sponges, scrub brushes.
• All-purpose cleaner.
• Mop or Swiffer WetJet.
• Electromagnetic duster.

Create a plan
Guys like solutions to problems, right? So look around. Even the worst mire can be cleaned up with a bit of smart planning. Come up with your own system on your own time. If you’re a night owl who gets inspired at 3 a.m., work your cleaning magic then. Or maybe you’re self-employed and want to get your clean on first thing in the morning. Don’t fight it; go with your particular flow, grabbing any time you can get.

Multitask for success
You likely value multitasking in your work endeavors, so try double duty to clean your apartment, as well.

• Start your bathroom cleaning while you’re getting clean yourself. Scrub the shower while you’re taking one, wipe the sink right after you brush your teeth, and quickly wipe down the toilet with a flushable cloth, after giving it a scrub with a little cleanser.

• Throw on a load of wash while you’re getting dressed or undressed, and start the dishwasher as soon as you’ve finished your last bite of breakfast or dinner.

• Sweep or vacuum your kitchen floor every morning or evening, and never leave a mess in the sink or on counters overnight.

• Vacuum, dust and straighten your living room during the commercial breaks of your favorite show.

A man can take good care of his living space without giving up the image that he just doesn’t care about those things! Implement these cleaning steps, adapting them to your own schedule and needs. Remember that some effort is required – preferably, a little each day – to maintain an apartment space that’s comfortable, livable… and sharable. Your buddies will be impressed — and you can even bring home a friend without wondering where you tossed your boxers!

Photo Credit: Shutterstock / Yuri Arcurs




The Best Way to Organize Your Closet

How do you store stuff in your closet?

If you’re the type of person who tosses in everything, transforming your closet into a cluttered hole of hidden treasures, you should consider a new approach.

With a little effort and a few organizational accessories, you can figure out the best way to organize your closet. No longer will you lose items in the overstuffed space or spend too much time searching for an item you know is in there.

Transform your closet so it serves you rather than simply holding your clutter. These closet organization tips will help you set your space up for maximum usage.

1. Complete a purge

folding clothesfolding clothes

Before you can organize, get rid of what’s only taking up space. All the items you don’t wear or even want anymore shouldn’t hang around in your closet. Purging may seem simple enough on paper, but sometimes we keep clothes, shoes, purses or ties because they remind us of our younger selves or hold a special memory.

As you go through your closet clutter, instead of thinking about how the item makes you feel in general, ask yourself if you still feel great when you wear it. Does it still look good on you? Would you even wear it out today? If the answer is “no” to any of these questions, it’s time to part with it.

Once you’ve separated the stuff in your closet into keep and discard piles, you can donate unwanted items. Closet Factory shares some of the most popular charities for donating clothing, shoes or other common closet accessories:

  • Goodwill and Salvation Army often have easy drop points and take just about anything. You can schedule a pick-up if you have a lot of items, or just go to a drop point at your convenience.
  • Soles4Souls and Indigo Rescue handle specialty items. The first sends donated shoes to people in need while the latter collects unwanted jewelry that’s used to fund animal shelters.
  • If you have a lot of professional-style clothing to donate, consider an organization like Dress for Success or Career Gear.

2. Create a closet system

closet systemcloset system

Whether you need to completely organize your closet or are only focusing on one specific area, there’s an organizational solution to any closet issue, according to Good Housekeeping.

This can mean doing a complete overhaul with the help of a full system like Elfa at The Container Store. Using a system lets you design your own closet, along with the option to install the pieces yourself or have it done for you. Many pieces are also modular and easy to change.

When your closet has good bones, and you just want to make a few additions to its overall design, it might be easier to buy organizational items a la carte.


Adding some additional shelving into your closet can create way more storage space. If there’s nothing above your closet rod, a few extra shelves can become a great place to store out-of-season clothing, jackets or even sweaters.

Add a small, folding step-stool to your closet and these items won’t ever be out of reach. Putting a few extra shelves at the bottom of your closet can provide great storage for shoes, handbags and even extra sheets and towels.


If you don’t like the way it looks to have all your clothing stacked on open shelves, consider bins or crates. You can even create a makeshift dresser by stacking these in just the right way. This becomes great storage for smaller items like sandals, socks or accessories. They’re a great way to keep items organized and give everything in your closet a proper place.

3. Add some organizational accessories

closet organization accessoriescloset organization accessories

Once the closet itself starts to feel organized, it’s time to tackle the extra space. You may think, “What extra space?,” but doors, walls and even the sides of your closet system are all begging for organizational accessories to fit even more into your closet without sacrificing its nice and neat appearance. Some great items to add include:

  • Over-the-door shoe racks to hold shoes or store your jewelry
  • Stick-on hooks for walls and any vertical space. Positioned at varying heights, they’re great for everything from purses to belts.
  • A floor shoe rack for easy access to the sandals, sneakers and boots you wear every day
  • Hanging storage that fits right on the closet rod. With multiple compartments, they help you take advantage of vertical space.

Specialty hangers

Another accessory you might not immediately think of for organization are hangers. These essential closet components not only keep your clothes wrinkle-free, but they can create even more room in your closet. Substituting some of your regular hangers with specialty ones can free up space and keep your closet looking perfectly arranged.

  • Multiple and tiered hangers drop down, allowing you to use the footprint from a single hanger to hang more than one piece of clothing
  • Hangers with clips allow you to combine a top with bottoms on just one hanger
  • Hook hangers let you drape multiple items from a single spot

You can also transform a regular hanger into a specialty space-saver with the help of a few shower curtain rings. Attach them to your hanger and then store things like scarves, belts or hats. You can fit your entire collection on a single hanger rather than having it take up too much space in a stack.

4. Work in some decor

closet decorcloset decor

There’s no reason your organized closet needs to look boring. The best way to organize your closet can include a few personal touches. This can help make the space feel welcoming and purposeful.

If you have room, add a mirror or small framed picture. Use hat boxes, vintage luggage, decorative boxes or decorative metal baskets as storage containers instead of more generic, plastic ones.

Get creative when storing small items, such as jewelry, gloves and sunglasses with cigar boxes, vintage lunch boxes or even a small (clean!) tackle box.

What’s the best way to organize your closet?

The best way to organize your closet is to do whatever makes it easiest for you to get to all your stuff. No matter the size, it’s time to embrace your closet’s potential. When you design a closet space that’s easy to access, it will surprise you how motivated you’ll be about neatly hanging up your clothes. Use these closet organization tips to maximize every inch and love your closet again.




Robot Vacuums: Fun Floor Cleaning Technology for Your Apartment

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a robot maid to clean your apartment for you, just like Rosie the Robot on “The Jetsons?” While cleaning technology hasn’t come quite THAT far, there are some modern-day solutions that make floor cleaning less of a chore.


We take a look at some cleaning technology for apartments that makes the robot maid seem plausible. (Who knows? You may be able to talk to your robots, someday soon, and they may complain right back!)

How do they work?
Robot vacs use infrared sensors and multiple motors to assess and cover the room in which they are left to do their dirty work. While the exact formula for determining how long the device should roam is unknown to all but the manufacturer, the theory seems to be that enough time spent zigzagging in a systematic pattern should allow the machine to reach every accessible inch of a room. (Sensors warn and divert the device when an obstacle like a drop-off comes near.)

Like any vacuum, the robot collects dirt and dust. The latest models return to a home base to empty themselves and recharge. Current techie wisdom about robot vacuums is that they are much improved from their early days, but still somewhat hit or miss when left to their own devices to cover an entire room.

The Roomba and other iRobots
The Roomba by iRobot is the first product many think of when they hear the term “robotic vacuum.” It was the first of its kind to market and has won a lot of loyal fans. Once the Roomba is charged, it goes to work cleaning your floors and can be programmed to clean carpet or hardwoods.

Like the idea of a robotic maid, but have more of a mobile mop in mind? Look into iRobot’s Scooba. The Scooba has a squeegee-vacuum system that washes floors without pushing around dirty water, as a conventional mop would. (This might be the way to go if your apartment is carpet-free.) The iRobot Mint is another robotic cleaner which uses microfibers to sweep and mop hard floor surfaces.

More on cleaning your apartment:
10 Tips to Detox Your ApartmentTips to Keep Your Apartment Allergen-Free17 Cleaning Essentials for Your ApartmentHow to Get Your Space Cleaned in a Hurry10 Ways to Eliminate Home Allergens

Neato Automatic Vacuum Cleaners
The Neato line of robotic vacuum cleaners share a lot of the features of their competitive counterparts. They also map a room (using their own proprietary formula), clean in a pattern and work on different types of flooring. While Neato only offers vacuums, they have come out with a special pet and allergy model for those who desire a deep level of clean.

Samsung’s Smart Tango Corner Clean
As of this writing, Samsung has just announced its new Smart Tango Corner Clean. Along with the usual functions found in robotic cleaners, this automatic vacuum has special attachments that are designed to clean corners, spots that are traditionally difficult for robotic vacuums to reach.

No matter which robotic vacuum or cleaner you want to purchase, do your homework first! Check out reviews by editors and users on sites like CNET, PCWorld, or Amazon. Make your informed choice, and then sit back, relax and let your personal robot assistant do the floor cleaning for you!

Photo Credit: Shutterstock / Jirsak




Spring Cleaning: 6 Tips to Keep Your Apartment Allergen-Free

Indoor allergies caused by dust mites, pet dander and mold trigger allergy and even asthma symptoms in millions of indoor allergy sufferers each year. Spring cleaning is on the horizon!

While it is impossible to make your home completely allergen-free, below are a few tips to clear most of the bothersome allergens from your apartment.

Dust your surfaces

dusting surfacesdusting surfaces

Dust is the most common cause of indoor allergies, but be careful how you dust, because you can actually make your allergies worse by kicking up dirt and debris while you’re cleaning.

Use a wet or treated cloth that attracts dust, minimize dust-catching clutter and clean dusty surfaces, such as ceiling fan blades, regularly so that dust doesn’t have a chance to accumulate.



To really ensure your space stays allergen-free, any carpet or rugs should be replaced with hard flooring, but that might not be an option in your apartment. Instead, use a vacuum that has a HEPA filter that traps dust mites, pet dander and other allergens, and try to vacuum at least once or twice a week.

Wash your bedclothes

washing bed sheetswashing bed sheets

Dust mites thrive in bedding, so wash your sheets, blankets and pillowcases once a week in hot water, then dry them in a hot dryer, to kill all the dust mites. Also, encase mattresses, comforters, pillows and other non-washable items in allergen-proof covers.

Go green

eco cleaning productseco cleaning products

Many cleaning products have harsh chemicals that can trigger allergic reactions in people. Opt for environmentally-friendly cleaning products instead. These contain plant-based, natural ingredients. You can also make many common household cleaners using things like baking soda, vinegar and lemon juice.

Reduce pet dander

dog on floordog on floor

A protein found in the saliva and dead skin of dogs and cats is a common indoor allergen. If you have pets, vacuum frequently and wash your pet once a week. You can also keep them off your bed and furniture and even designate certain areas of your apartment as pet-free areas. And if know there’s a certain pet that you know sets off your allergies, don’t get that type of animal. Unfortunately, a short-haired dog or cat will still cause an allergic reaction.

Go on mold patrol

bathroom moldbathroom mold

Spores from mold and mildew can get into the air and cause allergies and even sickness. Run an exhaust fan after you take a shower, and replace any bathroom wallpaper with tile or mold-resistant paint. Replace moldy or mildewed curtains and moldy carpeting.

Following these guidelines should keep your apartment relatively allergen-free, and you’ll be much more happy and healthy.




18 Simple Storage Tips for Small Apartments

The average U.S. household has 300,000 things in it.

From the tiniest thumbtack to each book on your shelf and every piece of clothing hanging in your closet, there’s a lot of stuff to keep organized. It’s even more daunting if you’re bringing it all into a smaller apartment.

Many people tend to look at a smaller home and see what’s missing — space. Yet, fewer closets and less built-in storage doesn’t mean you’re missing out on somewhere to put your stuff.

If you’re smart with your furniture choices, color picks and organizational tactics, every corner of a small space can become a “beloved spot.”

Cut the clutter

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When working with a smaller living space, your goal, according to Michelle Crouch writing for Reader’s Digest, should be to remove clutter not create more storage space. Clutter can manifest as items you want to keep, but not display, as well as things that you no longer need.

Certain keepsakes you want to hold onto can spend some time in a storage unit until you have a larger home. Paper records, greeting cards, mementos from special events (that aren’t that special anymore) and old letters from past relationships are all things that no longer need to follow you from place to place.

In fact, having a smaller apartment can help you triage what you really want to keep with you. What’s left can either go into storage or head to the round file (a.k.a. the trash.)

Rearrange what’s left

After narrowing down your necessities, take a look at your apartment for hidden storage opportunities. Each room can yield more space than you may think upon the first inspection. Taking a close and thoughtful look can help you find the right place for all your belongings, even in a small apartment.



There are two areas in your bedroom that can be great for storage — your closet and under your bed. Maximizing space in your closet is possible with a variety of storage ideas. From special hangers to repurposing household items, your closet can hold twice as much stuff as you think.

  • Use vertical space: Stack shirts or pants on shelves
  • Shower curtain hangers: Install these in your closet to hold scarves, belts or even tank tops freeing up drawer space in your bedroom for bulkier items
  • Over-the-door shoe organizer: Less stuff on the ground helps your small space feel less cluttered
  • Under-bed storage: Even if you have a bed that’s lower to the ground, special storage bins exist that will slide under. Store your off-season clothing here to free up more space for the items you need.



Tips for organizing small spaces are handiest in the bathroom. It’s most likely the tightest space in a small apartment, but there’s room to spare in there, too. Overlooked areas ideal for extra storage include above the toilet and inside cabinets.

  • Over-the-toilet shelf: Since it slides in around the toilet, you’re not adding to the footprint within the bathroom. This is a great place to hold toiletries that don’t fit on the sink.
  • Over-the-door hooks: Perfect for wet towels or bathrobes
  • Shower caddies: Hang these over your shower head to hold soap and shampoo
  • Small storage containers on the inside of your bathroom cabinets: A great place for your hairdryer and straightener
  • A wine rack or special shelf for fresh towels: Putting them up on the wall makes sure they aren’t taking up valuable closet or cabinet space. It also looks decorative if you incorporate towels in vibrant colors.



The best way to increase storage space in your kitchen is to add more counter space.

  • Make use of all free space: Large bowls have a lot of space in them. Condense your Tupperware or dishes by putting smaller objects inside of larger ones.
  • Appliances for storage: No cabinets, no problem! Your oven or microwave is a great place to keep dishes, pots and pans out of sight.
  • Portable chef’s cart: Put cutlery or even small kitchen appliances under it, then wheel the cart near an outlet when you have to plug in something. It gives you an extra surface to prep food, and you can move it out of the way when you’re done.
  • Wall hooks and over-the-door storage: Hang large utensils, pots and pans, cleaning supplies and even pantry staples

Living room

living roomliving room

Most likely the largest room in your apartment, the living room can serve as a catch-all for the stuff you need to store that won’t naturally go somewhere else.

  • Decorative boxes: They can fit under coffee tables or desks, and can hold almost anything. Store magazines, board games and puzzles, along with any personal items you want to keep but don’t need to display.
  • Book cart: If your couch is set up against a wall, consider moving it forward a little bit to create even more storage space. Slide in a cart to hold all your books in a way that’s easy to access.
  • Portable desk: Living rooms in small apartments often double as an office. Make the space less cluttered with the convenience of wheeling your small, portable workstation back into a corner when it’s not in use.



While not technically a room, don’t dismiss the potential for storage in seemingly useless spaces. Your hallways are the perfect location for things like coats, shoes or umbrellas.

  • Coat rack: Give your guests a spot to hang their coats when they visit, rather than tossing them on a chair or your couch
  • Shoe cubby: Clear some space off the floor and keep your shoes organized

A word about shelving

Small storage shelves can go in almost any space in your home. They’re a universal space-saving device because they turn wall space into storage space. Especially in corners, which can feel like unusable areas of your apartment, shelves can save the day.

Trade in the cute, framed pictures you’ve put up on one wall and install shelves for instant storage. Deeper shelves can hold small bins, masking the appearance of anything that’s not so cute, and special corner shelving units nestle in nicely. There are so many shelving ideas out there, it’ll be easy to incorporate a few in your apartment.

After everything gets put away

Now that you’ve found a spot in your apartment for all your stuff, it’s time to decorate. Just because you have a small space doesn’t mean every nook and cranny has to go to holding stuff.

Leave a little room to make things pretty and transform your small space into the perfect home.




Understanding Pivot Points for New Investors

Pivot points are a tool that traders use to determine price levels of technical significance on intraday charts. A pivot point can help to identify a potential price reversal, which traders can then use (often in tandem with other technical indicators) as a cue to buy or sell.

When used alongside other common technical indicators, identifying pivot points can be part of an effective trading strategy. Pivot points are regarded as being important indicators for day traders.

What is a Pivot Point?

Pivot points are predictive indicators that average the high, low, and closing price from the previous period to define future support levels. These pivot points can help inform a decision to buy or sell.

The main pivot point is considered to be of the utmost importance. This point indicates the price at which bullish and bearish forces tend to flip to one side or the other (i.e., the price where sentiment tends to pivot from). When prices rise above the pivot point, this could be considered bullish, while prices falling beneath the pivot point could be considered bearish.

Brief History of Pivot Points

Pivot points got their start back when traders gathered on the floor of stock exchanges. Calculating a pivot point using yesterday’s data gave these traders a price level to watch for throughout the day. Pivot point calculations are considered leading indicators.

Today, pivot points are used by traders around the world, particularly in the forex and equity markets.

Different Types of Pivot Points

There are several different kinds of pivot points in addition to the standard ones. The variations make some changes or additions to the basic pivot point calculations to bring additional insight to the price action.

Standard Pivot Points

These are the most basic pivot points. They begin with a base pivot point, which is the average of the high, low, and closing prices from a previous trading period.

Fibonacci Pivot Points

Fibonacci projections, named after a mathematical sequence found in nature, connect any two points a trader might see as important. The percentage levels that follow are potential areas of a trend change. Most commonly, these percentage levels are 23.6%, 38.2%, 50%, 61.8%, and 78.6%. It’s thought that when an asset falls to one of these levels, the price might stall or reverse.

Many traders love using Fibonacci projection levels in some form or another. These work well in conjunction with pivot points because both aim to identify levels of support and resistance.

Woodie’s Pivot Point

The Woodie’s pivot point places a greater emphasis on the closing price of a security. The calculation only varies slightly from the standard formula for pivot points.

Demark Pivot Points

Demark points create a different relationship between the open and close price points, using the number X to calculate support and resistance, and also emphasizes recent price action. This pivot point was introduced by a trader named Tom Demark.

How Do I Read Pivot Points?

A trader might read a pivot point as they would any other level of support or resistance. Traders generally believe that when prices break out beyond a support or resistance level, there’s a good chance that the trend will continue for some length of time.

•  When prices fall beneath support, this could indicate bearish sentiment, and the decline could continue.
•  When prices rise above resistance, this could indicate bullish sentiment, and the rise could continue.
•  Pivot points can also be used to draw trend lines in attempts to recognize bigger technical patterns.

What Are the Resistance and Support Levels in Pivot Points?

The numbers R1, R2, R3 and S1, S2, S3 refer to the resistance (R) and support (S) levels used to calculate pivot points. These six numbers combined with the basic pivot point level (PP) provide the seven metrics needed to determine pivot points.

Resistance 1 (R1): The first pivot level above the PP.
Resistance 2 (R2): The first pivot level above R1, or the second pivot level above the PP.
Resistance 3 (R3): The first pivot level above R2, or the third pivot level above the PP.
Support 1 (S1): The first pivot level below the PP.
Support 2 (S2): The first pivot level below the PP, or the second below S1.
Support 3 (S3): The first pivot level below the PP, or the third below S2.

Which Pivot Points Are Best for Intraday?

Because technical analysis has a large subjective component to it, traders will likely have their own interpretations of which pivot points are most important for intraday trading.

While some traders are fond of Fibonacci pivot points, others may prefer different points.

There are communities online, like TradingView, where traders gather to discuss ideas like these.

Pivot Points Calculations

The PP is vital for the pivot point formula as a whole. It’s important to exercise caution when calculating the PP level, because if this calculation is done incorrectly, the other levels will not be accurate.
The formula for calculating the PP is:

Pivot Point (PP) = (Daily high + daily low + close) divided by 3

To make the calculations for pivot points, a chart from the previous trading day will be needed. This is where the values for the daily low, daily high, and closing prices are obtained. The resulting calculations are only relevant for the current day.

All the formulas for R1-R3 and S1-S3 include the basic pivot level (PP) value. Once the PP has been calculated, you can move on to calculating R1, R2, S1 and S2:

R1 = (PP x 2) – daily low
R2 = PP + (daily high – daily low)
S1 = (PP x 2) – daily high
S2 = PP – (daily high – daily low)

At this point, there are only two more levels to calculate, those of R3 and S3.

R3 = Daily high + 2x (PP – daily low)
S3 = Daily low – 2x (daily high – PP)

How Are Weekly Pivot Points Calculated?

While pivot points are most commonly used for intraday charts, the same thing could be accomplished for a weekly time frame by instead using a weekly chart from the previous week as the basis for calculations that would apply to the current week.

The Takeaway

The pivot point indicator is best used with other indicators on short, intraday time frames. This indicator is thought to provide a good guess as to where prices could “pivot” in one direction or another.

Different types of pivot points are preferred by different traders, and they all can potentially be incorporated into a successful trading plan.

For hands-on investors, active investing with a SoFi Invest® online brokerage account lets members make trades and manage their account directly from the convenient mobile app.

Find out how to get started with SoFi Invest.

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More Monthly Child Credit Payments, Higher Child Care Credit, and Other Tax Breaks in Biden’s Latest Plan

In March, the American Rescue Plan Act made several tax credits better. And, in one case, it requires the IRS to send monthly payments to families with children. However, the enhancements are only temporary – they only apply for the 2021 tax year.

The Biden administration sees those temporary improvements as simply a first step. So now President Biden wants to extend the expanded tax credits and continue supporting low- and middle-income families, as well as low-income workers without children, with tax reductions beyond this year.

That’s the goal of the tax-cutting provisions in the president’s American Families Plan. The $1.8 trillion package would also do many other things for ordinary Americans, such as providing universal pre-school, free community college, guaranteed family and medical leave, caps on child-care costs, and much more. All these – along with the extended tax credit enhancements – are designed to “build a stronger economy that does not leave anyone behind.”

It’s way too soon to tell if any of the tax credit extensions – or any other part of the American Families Plan – will make it through Congress and be signed into law. There will be stiff resistance from Republicans in Congress, and a few Democrats are likely to push back on some of the more costly items, too. Biden’s plan is just the starting point for further negotiations, so we’ll just have to wait and see how things progress from here. But in the meantime, we can take a look at the 4 tax credit enhancements that President Biden wants to extend. If you qualify, you’re already going to save a lot of money in 2021. If the extensions become law, you could pocket even more cash in 2022 and for years to come.

1 of 4

Child Tax Credit

picture of a happy family at home on their sofapicture of a happy family at home on their sofa

For tax years before 2021, the child tax credit is worth $2,000 per dependent child 16 years old or younger. It begins to phase out if your adjusted gross income (AGI) is above $400,000 on a joint return, or over $200,000 on a single or head-of-household return. Once your AGI surpasses $400,000 or $200,000, the credit amount is reduced by $50 for each $1,000 (or fraction thereof) of AGI over the applicable threshold amount. Up to $1,400 of the child credit is refundable for some lower-income individuals with children. But you must also have at least $2,500 of earned income to get a refund.

Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, the 2021 credit amount is increased to $3,000 per child ($3,600 per child under age 6) for many families. Children who are 17 years old qualify for the credit, too. The credit is also fully refundable for 2021, and the $2,500 earnings floor is eliminated. In addition, the IRS will pay half of this year’s credit in advance by sending monthly payments to families from July to December 2021. (To see how much you’ll get, use Kiplinger’s 2021 Child Tax Credit Calculator.)

The new American Families Plan, if enacted, would generally extend the 2021 child tax credit enhancements through 2025 (including, presumably, the monthly payments). There would be one important difference, though. The new plan would make the credit full refundable on a permanent basis.

For more on the 2021 credit, see Child Tax Credit 2021: Who Gets $3,600? Will I Get Monthly Payments? And Other FAQs.

2 of 4

Child and Dependent Care Credit

picture of young children gathered around a preschool teacher who is reading a bookpicture of young children gathered around a preschool teacher who is reading a book

The American Rescue Plan also expanded the child and dependent care tax credit for 2021. This will boost tax refunds for many parents when they file their tax return next year.

For the 2020 tax year, if your children were younger than 13, you were eligible for a 20% to 35% non-refundable credit for up to $3,000 in childcare expenses for one kid or $6,000 for two or more. The percentage dropped as income exceeded $15,000.

The American Rescue Plan made several enhancements to the credit for the 2021 tax year. First, it made the credit refundable for the year. It also bumped the maximum credit percentage up from 35% to 50%. More childcare expenses are subject to the credit, too. Instead of up to $3,000 in childcare expenses for one child and $6,000 for two or more, the 2021 credit is allowed for up to $8,000 in expenses for one child and $16,000 for multiple children. When combined with the 50% maximum credit percentage, that puts the top credit for the 2021 tax year at $4,000 for families with just one child and $8,000 for families with more kids. The full credit will also be allowed for families making less than $125,000 a year (instead of $15,000 per year). After that, the credit starts to phase-out. However, all families making between $125,000 and $440,000 will receive at least a partial credit for 2021. (For more information, see Child Care Tax Credit Expanded for 2021.)

The American Families Plan would make these enhancements permanent. If it becomes law, parents paying for childcare will continue to see lower tax bills and/or higher refunds until their youngest kid turns 13.

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Earned Income Tax Credit

picture of a fry cook standing with arms folded in front of a grillpicture of a fry cook standing with arms folded in front of a grill

The earned income tax credit (EITC) provides an incentive for people to work. And, under the American Rescue Plan, more workers without qualifying children will qualify for the credit on their 2021 tax return and the “childless EITC” amounts will be higher.

For 2020 tax returns, the maximum EITC ranges from $538 to $6,660 depending on your income and how many children you have. However, there are income limits for the credit. For example, if you have no children, your 2020 earned income and adjusted gross income (AGI) must each be less than $15,820 for singles and $21,710 for joint filers. If you have three or more children and are married, though, your 2020 earned income and AGI can be as high as $56,844. If you don’t have a qualifying child, you must be between 25 and 64 years old at the end of the tax year to claim the EITC.

The American Rescue Plan expanded the 2021 EITC for childless workers in a few ways. First, it generally lowers the minimum age from 25 to 19 (except for certain full-time students). It also eliminates the maximum age limit (65), so older people without qualifying children can claim the 2021 credit, too. The maximum credit available for childless workers is also increased from $543 to $1,502 for the 2021 tax year. Expanded eligibility rules for former foster youth and homeless youth apply as well.

Under the just-released American Families Plan, the credit enhancements for childless workers will be made permanent. If enacted, the enhancements for workers without children would join other changes made by the American Rescue Plan that continue past 2021 to:

  • Allow workers to claim the EITC even if their children can’t satisfy the identification requirements;
  • Permit certain married but separated couples to claim the EITC on separate tax returns; and
  • Increase the limit on a worker’s investment income from $3,650 (for 2020) to $10,000 (adjusted for inflation after 2021).

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Premium Tax Credit

picture of a stethoscope laying on several one-hundred dollar bills picture of a stethoscope laying on several one-hundred dollar bills

The premium tax credit helps eligible Americans cover the premiums for health insurance purchased through an Obamacare exchange (e.g., The American Rescue Plan enhanced the credit for 2021 and 2022 to lower premiums for people who buy coverage on their own. First, it increases the credit amount for eligible taxpayers by reducing the percentage of annual income that households are required to contribute toward the premium. It also allows the credit to be claimed by people with an income above 400% of the federal poverty line. According to the White House, these changes will save about 9 million families an average of $50 per person per month.

The American Families Plan would make these changes permanent to lower health insurance costs beyond 2022.

However, it’s not clear if the American Families Plan would extend the suspension of advance payment repayments. When you purchase insurance through the exchange, you can choose to have an estimated credit amount paid in advance to your insurance company so that less money comes out of your own pocket to pay your monthly premiums. Then, when you complete your tax return, you’ll calculate your credit and compare it to the advance payments. If the advance payments are greater than your actual allowable credit, the difference (subject to certain repayment caps) is subtracted from your refund or added to the tax you owe. If your allowable credit is more than the advance payments, you’ll get the difference back in the form of a larger refund or smaller tax bill. The American Rescue Plan suspended the repayment of excess advanced payments for the 2020 tax year. (If you already filed your 2020 tax return and repaid any excess advance payments, the IRS will automatically adjust your return and send you a refund if necessary.)

We suspect that the American Families Plan wouldn’t extend the repayment suspension. This, we believe, was and is intended to be a one-year-only rule to help people struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Portable Washing Machines: No Laundry Room Required

The saying goes that the only two things in life that are certain are death and taxes. They forgot about laundry.

Whether you’re sending it out or doing it yourself, laundry happens. Even if you end up buying a few extra pairs of socks to extend the inevitable, laundry will still be there. What isn’t certain, is exactly where you’ll have to do it.

Cleaning clothes can quickly become a huge pain if you’re unable to do your laundry at home. Lugging a full hamper down to a laundry room, hoping machines are available, digging in your pockets for quarters, all to scurry back and forth in time to save your machine from someone else stealing it. It’s a process many of us like to avoid but can find it hard without washer and dryer hookups in the apartment.

There’s a solution. Go portable.

The portable washing machine

Full washing machine running with a wicker hamper beside itFull washing machine running with a wicker hamper beside it

You’re not going to get a full load of laundry into a portable washing machine, but it will do the trick when it comes to giving you in-unit laundry when you don’t have washer-dryer hookups.

Portable washers stand around three feet high and are about two feet wide. They’re lighter than a full-sized machine by a significant amount, making them easy to move around.

Using a portable washing machine is easy, but it does need access to a sink. For that reason, you’ll want to put the machine in either your kitchen or bathroom. They may be in the way while running, but don’t worry about them having to stay in the middle of a room. Because they’re easy to move, you can store portable washers somewhere else between laundry loads.

Deirdre Sullivan of The Spruce suggests you invest in a special dolly to make moving your portable washing machine even easier. She says:

“While portable washers are movable, their size and weight can make them pretty unwieldy. A telescopic furniture dolly designed to double as an appliance base will make moving your machine a breeze.”

Setting things up

With an outlet and a sink close by, you have all you need to get a portable washing machine up and running. There may be a lot of steps, but the basic setup involves a faucet to attach a hose to for the water to go into the machine and a sink for another hose go into to drain the water out.

Next, plug in the machine to get it up and running. Once the setup is complete, you add detergent and run it like a normal washing machine. For any other specific instructions, consult the manual that comes with your particular model of machine.

Lightening the load

Because of its size, it will take more loads to do your laundry with a portable washer than if you used your laundry room. If you typically broke your laundry up into four loads: lights, darks, delicates and sheets and towels, you’ll most likely have to double your loads.

A good strategy is to plan on doing laundry more often. Having a unit in your apartment makes this easy. Rather than running back and forth to the laundry room, giving up an entire day of the weekend, you can now throw a small load in when you get home from work each night.

Picking the right machine

There are two primary types of portable washing machines. Top-loading, single-stream machines will “fit in more places and run through the entire wash-rinse-drain-spin-dry cycle without having to do anything,” says Dan Nosowitz from the Strategist.

Side-by-side portable washing machines have two compartments and require an extra step to go from wash to spin. The spinner compartment can also sometimes be smaller than the washer, meaning you can only wash as much as fits in the spin compartment unless you want part of the load to sit wet while the other finishes a cycle. These machines can also be slightly larger.

Other features unique to each portable washing machine can help narrow down your decision even more. It’s important to know what you’re looking for when you begin the search. According to Jody Healey from The Hunt Guides, a few things to think about before shopping around for a portable washing machine are:

  • Size of overall machine
  • Capacity of the washing tub
  • Cost
  • Electric vs. manual power
  • Need for portability, based on how often you’ll move the machine around
  • Location of the spinner, and whether it should be separate from the washer

The cost of owning a portable washer

Person folding laundry on their deskPerson folding laundry on their desk

Basic portable washing machines start as low at $80 new, although it may be worthwhile to check for used machines in good condition online first. You may find a machine with a few more features at an affordable cost.

Buying new machines above the basic level can cost up to a few hundred dollars. Machines at the top of the line, with more bells and whistles than you may actually need, can cost as much as $800. This is what the initial purchase will set you back, but the real cost comes from actually using the machine.

What you spend

Regular use of a new appliance in your home impacts utilities. Your water and electricity bills will increase, although probably not too much. You also lose access to your bathtub or sink while the portable washing machine is in use, so it costs you a little space.

A cycle does often take longer than a standard machine and the loads are smaller. This means it’s going to take longer to wash all your clothes using this method, so the biggest cost of using a portable washer may be time.

Another potential cost of a portable washing machine is the damage it can cause to your apartment’s floor. Machines can produce a lot of moisture on their underside. This can lead to floor damage you may end up paying for when you move out of your apartment. Make sure to keep the machine away from carpet and hardwood floors to cut risk.

What you save

On the flip side, what a portable washing machine can save you may make the costs worth it. This is a great option if your apartment doesn’t have hookups and you’re overusing the coin-operated laundry room in your building.

Save the stress of worrying about having access to a machine at the time that’s best for you to clean your clothes. Save the annoyance of clothing going missing or someone taking your clothes out of a machine, leaving them wet and at risk of getting dirty all over again.

A portable washing machine gives you the added security of doing your laundry in your own home. The machine is always available and nobody else can mess with your stuff.

The portable dryer decision

Woman using clips to hand wet clothing on a drying rackWoman using clips to hand wet clothing on a drying rack

To own or not to own a portable dryer, that is the question. While a portable washer is necessary to get your clothes clean, having a companion dryer isn’t always a must. If you’re interested though, they do exist.

They work like a full-sized dryer, tumbling your clothes with blown-in heat, but like a portable washing machine, these dryers are smaller. Basic models cost around $90 but can get as expensive as $600 based on the features you need.

“All that you have to do is pop your clothing into the dryer and allow it to dry the items completely, putting your mind at ease…” says the site, OMO, who also shares that using a dryer saves you from having drying clothes taking up space needed for other purposes.

Speaking of space, if you have enough of it to hang laundry to dry, you can save money on the added electricity costs from running a portable dryer. Remember, hanging clothes to dry means they’re going to drip. Aim for a spot over your bathtub or somewhere where a puddle won’t be damaging or dangerous if it forms.

Invest in some metal hook clips or something similar for a space-saving trick to get more drying space on your shower rod. You can also place a collapsible drying rack into your bathtub for clothing. If you decide air drying is best, consider doing laundry at night so clothes can dry while you sleep and get put away easily the next day.

Go for a combo

Woman dropping dirty socks into the washing machine from the perspective of the washerWoman dropping dirty socks into the washing machine from the perspective of the washer

Another portable option is a washer/dryer combo. These are slightly different than if you buy a portable washer and dryer separately. The dryer in a combo machine does not use heat to dry. Instead, it spins the clothes to wick the water away, which means clothing may come out a little damp.

Still, a compact and lightweight machine, some combo units can wash and dry at the same time, speeding along a complete laundry cycle. The cost is right around $100 on average, and the most frequent complaint is that the dryer doesn’t get lint off clothing (there’s no lint trap.)

Get the laundry clean

While it’s ultimately all about getting your clothes clean, having an alternative to using the building laundry room may sound appealing. Before deciding to go portable, make sure to check with your property manager that it’s OK to use this type of appliance in your apartment.

Your lease may prohibit them based on the age of your building and whether you have on-site laundry. Once you get the green light, it’s time to find the best portable washer, dryer or washer/dryer combo that works for your space.

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How to Air Out Your Apartment

Wet clothes … old cat litter … spoiled meat … these are all serious smells that might funk up your apartment for days. And few odors stick with – or stink up — a space, as powerfully as cigarette smoke. If you’ve moved into a formerly smoky spot, or have other smelly issues of your own, here are some tips that will help with the toughest odor removal.

When you need to remove a bad smell, your first step is to air out the room. The easiest way to do this is open all the windows and leave them open for 24 hours, if you can. You might also invest in an air purifier or plants to increase your efforts.

Veteran cleaners believe in the bowl method. Fill a bowl with vinegar or coffee grounds. (Inexpensive coffee will do just fine.) Place the magic bowl in your stinky room, and let it sit there for a few days, one bowl per room. This is an economical and earth-friendly cleaning option, plus you can use the vinegar to tackle other smelly areas. There’s also the obvious, getting a good air freshener. But if these aren’t enough, there’s more that you can do. 

Clean your carpet

Carpets are notorious for trapping odors, so cleaning your carpet is a must if you want to rid your apartment of cigarette smell. You can turn to another trusty friend in green cleaning, baking soda. Sprinkle it on the carpet and leave it on for at least 30 minutes or up to 72 hours; then, vacuum. This should lift away the stink and residue.

If the baking soda/vacuuming combination doesn’t work, you might try steam cleaning or a powerful cleaning product like Nature’s Miracle. Consumers rave about its ability to eradicate pet odors, and the word online is that it also works on cigarette smoke. Look for it at most pet stores.

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Clean your floors & doors

If you have wooden floors and doors, be sure to use a wood-friendly cleaner. Mop the floor first and make sure you change the water when needed. You might need to hand-scrub the corners, baseboards and door frames. If it’s really bad, you should consider replacing them.

Wash windows & mirrors

Here are two spots you may not have considered to be cigarette smell traps: windows and mirrors. Like walls, these surfaces can get covered with residue. Be sure to clean them thoroughly with — you guessed it — vinegar and warm water.

Clean your drapes & blinds

Take down all of the drapes and blinds. Wash them in hot water and add some vinegar to the wash – add this to the water before the drapes and use one cup per load. Vinegar is a great natural cleaner, however it is also a natural bleach and can fade colors, so never let fabrics sit in it for an extended period of time. If they need to be dry-cleaned, be sure to mention the smoke smell to your dry cleaner, they’ll know what to do.

Replace air filters & clean vents

If you’ve cleaned every surface and things still smell a little stale, try replacing your HVAC filter, as well as wiping down air vents. This is a quick tip that will help get cigarette smoke out of air circulation. Note that replacing filters may be a maintenance call, depending on your apartment community rules.

Clean the ceiling

This isn’t an easy task but it’s necessary when trying to eliminate cigarette odor. One trick is to clean with a soft cloth dipped in a blend of 1 part vinegar to 2 parts warm water and wring out any excess moisture before wiping down the ceiling.

Change out light bulbs

The final frontier. This might come to you as a surprise, but changing your light bulbs will definitely help remove the smell. Plus it prepares you for brighter and better-smelling days ahead as you settle into your apartment!

Now you know how to get cigarette smoke smell out of your apartment, so follow these simple steps to fresh, clean-smelling air.

Hot Tip: Before you attempt to remove a really bad smell, do check in with your landlord or apartment community manager. Your landlord may prefer to provide a cleaning service to help remove the offensive odor.

Photo by The Creative Exchange on Unsplash




What Are Comps? Understanding a Key Real Estate Tool

Whether you’re buying or selling a home, comparing similar homes can yield a wealth of helpful information.

“Comps,” or comparable sales, is a term anyone on either side of a real estate transaction should know well. It refers to homes located in the same area and very similar in size, condition and features as the home you are trying to buy or sell.

Buyers look at comps when deciding what price to offer on a home, and sellers use comps to figure out how to best price their home for the market. Real estate agents look at comps all day long as a way to keep on top of their local market. If you are a buyer or seller, it’s helpful to have a strategy to analyze comps, because all comps aren’t created equal.

Location is the highest priority

If you are trying to price a home or figure out its value, you need to look nearby. The market is based on location, so keeping as close to the subject property as possible — meaning, within the same neighborhood — is the most effective approach.

If you can’t get enough comps nearby, it’s fine to keep expanding out. But there will always be a boundary, like a school district, that you need to stay within.

Timeframe matters

The best comps are homes that are currently “pending.” Why? Because a pending home is a piece of live market data. A pending home means that a buyer and seller made a deal, and that deal will reflect the most up-to-the-minute stats on the market.

A good local real estate agent, leveraging her network, can get a fairly accurate idea what the ultimate sale price or range is for a pending deal. Try to stick with sales in the past three months, and never go more than six months, because older data is not reflective of the current market.

Factor in home features

Once you have location and timeframe, it is key to look for homes with similar features that have sold, as opposed to comparing price per square feet. While the latter is helpful, it won’t consider factors like views, a new designer kitchen or a finished basement vs. unfinished.

If you have all three bedrooms on the top floor, look for something similar. Try to compare your subject property to like properties when it comes to traits like total size, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and the size of the lot. You can make adjustments once you have found similar homes.

Don’t overanalyze the comps

Putting your trust in a good local agent will keep you from agonizing over the petty details of each comparable home. Your agent is likely familiar with some of the recent sales, and can help shed light on why one comp fares better than another. You may not know that one home was next to a fire station or across from a parking lot, or that another didn’t have a real backyard, but your agent will. These small nuances will affect the home’s value.

Find your home on Zillow to see your Zestimate® home value with your comps.


Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.