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Personal Finance

Tax

Retail Return Policies Tighten Up

Retailers are changing their return policies to target customers who abuse more liberal return policies and combat return fraud that costs them $16 billion annually. Penalty restocking fees are being implemented, particularly on electronics, home appliances, tools, lawn and garden items, and automotive items. Retailers are identifying specific items or categories where they suffer the most fraud, according to Joseph LaRocca, vice president of loss prevention for the National Retail Federation, speaking to the Baltimore Sun.
Tax

Vehicle Donations & Recognized Charities

Donating your car is a charitable act, but you cannot use it as a deduction unless properly documenting your donation in your taxpayer return. The charity does even not need to sell your donated vehicle in 2005 for you to deduct your charitable contribution, according to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). But, like other things in life, some things are not done until the paperwork is completed.The American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 specifies that your deduction is limited to the gross proceeds of the sale of the vehicle to the charity.

Sales of New Homes Down; Number of Unsold Homes Increasing

Sales of new homes fell 11 percent in November, after setting a record in October, and the number of houses for sale jumped 3 percent, the Commerce Department reported last week, according to the New York Times. Median prices for new homes -- $225,200 -- is nearly unchanged from last year at this time, the report said. While new homes sales for the first eleven months of 2005 set a record for the fifth straight year, economists predict a leveling off in 2006, because rising interest rates will affect costs for home builders and mortgage rates for potential buyers.
A&A

Estate Planning is Important for Farmers, Too

Much has been said about the federal estate tax, but the myths are not especially the truth. Careful estate planning is the key to unraveling the myths and truths of the “death” tax. Dr. Marsha Goetting, professor and family-economics specialist in the Department of Agriculture and Economics at Montana State University, told the Missoula Independent that seven out of ten Americans die without a will. Goetting continued, “There’s almost a stick-the-head-in-the-sand approach.
Practice Management

Top Resolutions for Business in 2006

A Small Business Television (SBTV.com) poll, of 600 owners of small businesses, reported that 70 percent would make marketing and sales their top business resolution, followed by technology at 26 percent, according to a Principal Financial Group. Only 2 percent of the respondents would make business finance-related resolutions, with the same number resolving to focus on workforce issues. Internet marketing is at the top of the “Six for ‘06” list of business resolutions developed by AllBusiness.com, a leading online resource.

Company Drug Prescription Plans Vary

The Kaiser Family Foundation has released a new retiree health benefits survey showing that almost 80 percent of employers that currently offer retiree health benefits will take government subsidies to maintain prescription coverage in 2006. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that the basic Medicare coverage of more than 12 million retirees is supplemented by company health plans. The annual survey was released last week in Washington.
A&A

Good Estate Planning Involves Communication with Family Members

When getting their “financial house in order” through setting up an estate plan, is high on a person’s list of New Year’s resolutions, he or she should remember that communicating the details of the estate plan to family members is an important part of the process, according to research by The Hartford Financial Group.
Technology

Tips for Last Minute Gifts to Charities

Holiday giving is strong this year, U.S. charity officials report. “It seems to be a phenomenal year,” said Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, according to the Associated Press. “Donor fatigue is something not many charities are seeing.”The primary motivation for holiday giving is love for an organization and its work, Tony Martignetti, manager of Planned Giving Advisors told the New York Daily News.
Tax

Don't Let Holiday Time Be Scam Time

Santa and his elves are not the only busy people at this time of year. Robbers, thieves, carjackers and shoplifters all seem to thrive during the holiday season.
Tax

Only Two Weeks Left to Make Final Tax Moves for 2005

Taxpayers only have two weeks left to make their final financial moves for the 2005 tax year. Before making any moves, or beginning to prepare their 2005 tax returns, taxpayers will want to review the tax law changes featured on the IRS web site at www.irs.gov.Among the moves that can still be made are:Under the Katrina Emergency Tax Relief Act of 2005, taxpayers can deduct cash contributions made to qualified charities, up to 100 percent of Adjusted Gross Income (AGI), through December 31, 2005.
Community News

How to Hire Holiday Care-Givers

The holiday season is a busy time of year. For many people, care-giving, either for children or older family members, becomes a major issue. Whether the need is for someone to “fill-in” for a few hours and provide care while a primary care-giver goes shopping or attends a holiday function, or a longer term need for ongoing care-giving throughout the coming year, finding and hiring the right care-giver can be tough.The Wall Street Journal’s Career Journal reports demand for part-time care-givers, especially babysitters, has been surging this fall.

Illness Impacts Family Finances Without Disability Insurance

A new survey from MetLife reveals that nearly 60 percent of Americans have $5,000, or less, in personal savings available for use in the event of a major illness. Even more ominous, nearly half would have to borrow against retirement savings, or secure a line of credit on their home, if they needed access to between $10,000 and $35,000 to cover expenses related a major illness.
A&A

Household Employment Services Offer Employers a Helping Hand

Accounting for eldercare providers, nannies, and other domestic employees can be difficult on your own. Fortunately there are several alternatives. You could purchase payroll software developed especially for household employers, such as Essentia Software’s NannyPay 2000. You can also contract with one of several Internet-based services that provide tax and payroll specifically services for household employers. GTM Associates offers a tax and payroll service and provides tax and overtime calculators on their web site, as well as a tax calendar and tax forms for easy reference.
Tax

A Little Help Around the House Can Become a Tax Liability

Who wouldn’t welcome some extra help around the house this holiday season? If you are thinking of hiring baby-sitters, cleaning people, yard workers, drivers, health aides/private nurses, or similar domestic workers, there are some things you should know to help minimize tax implications later on.The most important thing to know is how the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) defines an employee. According to the IRS a “worker is your employee if you can control not only what work is done, but how it is done.” That’s it. It doesn’t matter if the work is full-time or part- time.
Tax

The Art of Office Gifting

“It’s important to give gifts at the holiday,” Leah Ingram, author of You Shouldn’t Have! How to Give Gifts They’ll Never Forget, told the Ladies Home Journal. “It’s how you say thank you to people who support you throughout the year, and how you show appreciation to your professional mentors.”It may be important but it can also be a nightmare. Striking the right balance between a truly heart-felt, appropriate gift and shameless sucking up can be quite a challenge, especially in a small office.
Technology

Record ATM Fees Could Be Impacting Checking Balances

Automated Teller Machines (ATM) fees have hit a record high according to Bankrate.com’s latest survey of large banks and thrifts. The fees are leaving many balances short despite rising interest rates.The key findings of the semi-annual survey, which compares checking accounts and ATM fees offered by large banks and thrifts in the 25 largest markets with a sampling of checking accounts available at online banks, include:The fee for using the “wrong” ATM – one owned by a bank other than the bank issuing the ATM card – hit an all-time record high.
Tax

IRS Announces 2006 Standard Mileage Rates

Last Friday, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued the optional standard mileage rate to be used with the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business, charitable, medical or moving purposes.Beginning January 1, 2006, the standard mileage rates for the use of a car, van, pickup or panel truck will be:44.5 cents per mile for business miles driven18 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations, other than activities related to Hurricane Katrina reliefThe new rate for
Practice Management

Why Every Business Needs a Cafeteria…Plan, That Is

They’ve been called one of the most under-used employee benefits for small businesses. Not only do they allow employees to set aside a portion of their pre-tax salary for qualifying insurance premiums, medical expenses and even child-care expenses, they also reduce employer payroll tax liability by eliminating matching FICA taxes of 7.65 percent and, depending on the state the business is operating in, possibly also workers compensation. What are they?
A&A

High Deductible Health Care Plans Off to Slow Start with Small Businesses

Health care plans with high deductibles that can offer Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) grew only 2 percent among small businesses this year, according to a survey by Mercer Health and Benefits consultants reported on by USA Today. The high deductible plans are more popular among employers of more than 20,000, 22 percent of whom will offer some form of the plan this year.

New Blue-branded Healthcare Debit Card Introduced

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) has teamed up with Visa USA in an agreement to offer co-branded debit cards to members of participating Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies.

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