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Personal Finance

A New Look For And At Gift Cards

Gift cards are a popular option to gift buying. Trying to dispel the generic look and feel associated with gift cards, merchants are dressing them up for the season. Gift cards are available picturing Christmas trees, birthday gifts and wedding scenes, to name just a few. Some gift cards can even be personalized with a message!Merchants are also getting creative with packaging. Coffee retailer Starbucks, always a popular standby, has replaced the familiar paper sleeve with a festive red felt pouch giving their card less of a “last minute” look.

Tip Time: Giving to Those Who Do For Us

Cash is the best way to say “Happy Holidays” to those whose job it is to make others lives easier, experts and recipients told CNN.“You tip the people who perform services for you year-round, who are there for you when you need them and whom you have a valuable relationship with,” Peter Post, director of the Emily Post Institute and author of Essential Manners for Couples told CNN.In addition to the cash, Hilka Klinckerg, founder of Etiquette International, suggests including a short note of thanks and giving the tip in person whenever possible, CNN reports.

Senate Pension Reform Bill Approved

The Senate passed a bill aimed to strengthen U.S. company pension plans although warned that President Bush intends to veto the legislation. The White House labeled the bill inadequate according to the New York Times. The House may reconcile two bills that were approved by separate committees next month.In a prepared statement, Bill Thomas, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee said, “Pensions obviously are a critical component of retirement security for millions of Americans, providing an important source of income for retirees.

State Surpluses May Lead To Tax Cuts

The U.S Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that state and local revenues are up 7.2 percent in the first three quarters of 2005. With state personal and corporate tax collections peaking, the question is what to do with their revenue surpluses in 2006. Strong revenue growth has New Mexico realizing a $1 billion surplus, Florida a $3 billion, and even California seeing a $3.4 billion surplus according to USA Today. States taxing energy production and real estate construction have seen windfalls also. “Every month we’re surprised by the good news and say it has to slow down.

Mark Your Calendar: 2nd Annual Insurance Industry Summit

A spirited debate on state versus federal regulation of the insurance industry, along with the emerging life settlement business will highlight the Second Annual Industry Summit and Breakfast being held December 5, 2005, at the Union League Club of Chicago, Illinois.

The Transformation of Microphilanthropy and Microfinancing

Microphilathropy and microfinancing are ideas with similar social missions: allowing people to uplift themselves. The Dalai Lama has said that wealth should be viewed as an ability to give. More directed social and personal impacts are the goal. Both initiatives will require the development of more efficient ways of distribution and communication to reach more people. Microfinancing involves making business loans to people that are too poor to qualify for normal-sized loans. Traditional banks have ignored microfinancing loan amounts of $500 or less.
Community News

Toward A Financially Fit Ohio

Last Thursday, the Ohio Society of CPAs launched a campaign to help Ohioans make better and more informed decisions about their personal finances.“Ohioan today face a growing list of personal financial challenges,” Janice L.

Consumers Demanding Convenience of Online Bill Payments

The main criteria for choosing a bank used to be its proximity to home. Now customers are looking carefully at the quality of a bank's online bill-paying service before they choose.“Paying bills online is in the mainstream, and for the first time online banking and bill pay has moved into the top three factors considered by consumers when choosing a bank," said Matt Lewis, executive vice president and general manager of CheckFree's Electronic Commerce Division.

Retail Sales Dip in October, But Less Than Expected

If it weren't for fewer car purchases and high gas prices, retail sales for October would have been strong, a new government report shows.Analysts had predicted retail sales would fall 0.7 percent last month, but sales actually fell only 0.1 percent from the month before, Reuters reported. Car sales fell sharply by 3.6 percent in October, so if those figures were excluded, retail sales would have risen 0.9 percent.

New Medicare Drug Benefit Open for Enrollment Today

Seniors can begin enrolling in the new Medicare prescription drug plan starting today, but many are finding the wealth of options confusing.Selecting the best plan may be difficult, but President Bush touted it in his weekly radio address as “the greatest advance in health care for seniors and Americans with disabilities since the creation of Medicare 40 years ago.”Some of the country's 40 million Medicare beneficiaries have felt stymied by the system in the past.

Conversation Starters: Tips for Talking About Estate Planning

Parents in their 70’s are more comfortable discussing estate planning than their Baby Boomer kids, according to research recently released as part of the “Family Conversations” series from The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc.. The research also shows that parents and children need some help discussing estate planning issues.“Older adults tell us they really do want to discuss topics such as estate planning, medical care and final arrangements with their children,” Maureen Mohyde, director of The Hartford’s corporate gerontology group said in a prepared statement.

Consumer Confidence Seems to Recover

A recently released poll shows that consumer confidence took a rebound in November according to the Associated Press. The RBC CASH Index showed an upward trend starting in September at 61.5 to October at 66.8 to November’s poll numbers at 81, almost a 20-point increase in two months. The RBS CASH (Consumer Attitudes and Spending by Household) Index started at 100 in January 2002 according to a prepared statement. The monthly results are obtained in phone interviews with 1,000 individuals located across the United States.

Automatic Extensions Available to Most in 2006

Earlier this month, the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced new regulations developed to streamline and simplify the procedures for taxpayers requesting automatic six-month tax-filing extensions. Beginning January 1, 2006 and effective for the 2005 returns filed in 2006, individuals will be able to use a single form (Form 4868) to get an automatic six-month extension rather than the current two-step process.“Some taxpayers need a full six months for extensions as the law provides.

MasterCard’s Debt Know How Program

Credit card companies often play a significant role in people’s debt problems. If MasterCard has its way, however, it is going to be a significantly positive role. In order to achieve this role, they must not only overcome popular perceptions but also the 32 percent of Americans who feel they are doing the “best possible job” when it comes to managing debt.Fortunately, 30 percent of respondents indicate having more information about debt management would help them reduce debt faster and more efficiently.

Welcome to Money Management U!

How much time do employees at your firm spend dealing with, or just worrying about, their personal finances? According to a recent Texas Poll, nearly 30 percent of Texas employees spend six or more work hours a week on personal finance.

Drug Program Choices: Employer Paid Benefits or Pharmaceuticals’ Charity Programs

Retirees currently covered by employer-sponsored health plans will receive letters by November 15 that tell how their coverage compares with the new Medicare Part D, and how their current health benefits may change, a requirement of the federal government, says the New York Times.
Community News

UPDATE- EVENT POSTPONED: PICPA Offers Veterans Financial Planning Program

On Monday, the PICPA announced this event has been postponed due to last week's SEPTA strike and ensuing trvel challenges. The event will be rescheduled when the residual effects of the strike and travel disruption have subsided.Veterans can get free financial advice from members of the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA) at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center on Wednesday, November 9, 2005 between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. The event is part of a national effort by the CPA profession to promote financial literacy and help Americans improve their financial future.

Attention Turning to Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Programs

Just two months after Congress passed a massive energy bill supporting increasing supplies of oil and gas, homeowners and businesses in the Northeast and Midwest are bracing for huge projected cost increases for natural gas for heating and electricity this winter, and are scrambling to find ways of conserving energy. Children have been encouraged by the U.S. Department of Energy to be on the lookout for “EnergyHog” in their homes, reports.

Record High Oil Profits Spur Talk of Windfall Tax

Talk of a windfall tax on oil companies is surfacing as the companies are reporting their latest quarterly revenue. The concern is that while American consumers are facing much higher energy costs, especially for heating oil and natural gas, the oil companies are reporting record-high profits. “Some might call it a novel approach for me, but I cannot sit back in good conscience while those in our society struggling to heat their homes are being left in the cold by oil companies,” Sen.

Americans' Spending, Income Up in September

Consumer spending increased somewhat in September, but income grew by the largest amount in 10 months, a federal report says.The U.S. Department of Commerce said income rose 1.7 percent, due in part to post-hurricane insurance payouts, which increased at a $120 billion annual rate, Reuters reported. Consumer spending increased 0.5 percent in September, but when the figures were adjusted for inflation, the increase turned into a 0.4 percent drop because soaring fuel prices eroded the gains. Consumer spending amounts to about two-thirds of all economic activity.


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