Archive for January, 2009


How to save on your taxes

Now is the time to start thinking about your taxes because your refund could help you get through these tough economic times.

“Good Morning America” financial contributor and president of Ariel Investments Mellody Hobson shares five ways to maximize your tax refund this year.

New Homeowner Deduction

As part of the housing bailout bill passed by Congress, homeowners who do not itemize their taxes can claim a property tax deduction of $500 or $1,000 if you are married and filing jointly, in addition to the standard deduction.

And if you were a first-time home buyer in 2008, you may be eligible for a tax credit of up to $7,500 or 10 percent of the purchase price, whichever is less.

There is an important catch to this credit though. You have to pay it back in the next 15 years, in equal amounts each year, which makes it a bit more like a loan than a credit. So if you took the maximum credit of $7,500, you would need to pay back $500 per year for the next 15 years. But it still helps you get some much needed cash now when the economy is so bad, and you can pay it back a little at a time as things get better.

Unemployed Can Deduct Many Job Hunting Expenses

If you were laid off in the last year, most of the expenses incurred while looking for a job can be deducted from your taxes, so carefully track these expenses. For example, any money you spent on creating and mailing your resume is deductible. You can also deduct expenditures for career coaches and headhunters. You can even deduct long distance or cell phone charges related to the job search, as well as travel expenses incurred for interviews, including mileage.

Commonly Missed Deductions

Teacher Book Credit: Teachers who paid for books or other classroom supplies can deduct up to $250.

College Tuition Credit: Parents who paid their children’s college tuition in 2008 can deduct up to $4,000.

Clean Fuel Credit: If you bought a hybrid car or truck you’re eligible for a conservation tax credit of between $250 and $1,000. Depending on the make of the car you could get a fuel economy credit of between $400 and $2,400.

Prepaid Refund Cards From Tax Preparation Companies

Many tax preparation services have introduced prepaid tax refund debit cards, where your tax refund amount is loaded on a debit card. These cards are targeted at consumers who don’t have a bank account — approximately 28 million Americans — and the 45 million Americans who pay high bank fees because they don’t maintain the minimum balance.

However, these refund cards are a better alternative to high-cost refund anticipation loans, which could carry annual interest rates of more than 187 percent.

It takes many cards about two weeks to arrive, which is about the same amount of time it would take the typical e-filer to get his or her return.

Many — not all — of the cards also have hidden fees, such as a one-time fee for the card, transaction fees, inactivity fees and added ATM fees.

If you have the ability to e-file or do not need your tax return right away and you have a bank account, I’d suggest you do not use these prepaid refund cards because of all the fees.

The H&R Block prepaid debit card is called the Emerald Card. There’s no wait to receive the card, but it can’t be activated until you actually get your refund. The fees associated with the card are:

an ATM fee of $1.95 per transaction
a $2.50 inactivity fee if card isn’t used for three months.
a $10 replacement charge if the card is lost or stolen
the balance on the card cannot be redeemed for cash

H&R Block responded, saying there are minimal fees associated with its prepaid debit card. The company provided “GMA” with a list of fees and benefits associated with the card:
no fee to receive a card or to set up the card
no fee to receive payroll direct deposit on the card. This feature allows people to avoid paying to have payroll checks cashed, saving them, on average, $360 to $500 a year
no point-of-sale transaction fee
no monthly fee for active cards. If there is no activity on the card for three months, beginning in the fourth month, the client will see a $2.50 monthly inactivity fee. However, there is no fee to cancel the card, so that would be a better option
a $1.95 ATM fee; however, we educate all of our clients on ways to avoid this fee, which is especially important for clients who are new to banking. We give them instructional materials that let them know that many grocery stores, drugstores, etc., will let you get cash back with a purchase for no fee
no fee for VRU to check their balances
no fee for a personalized card. Clients can request one for free and are automatically sent a personalized card after reloading money on the card four times
and, every Emerald Card comes with a savings account and there is no fee to open or maintain that. Clients have the option of splitting their refund — part into the spend account, part into savings

Save Before You File: Increase Your Exemptions

Increasing your exemptions may lower your eventual refund, but it will increase your take home pay during the year. For example, in 2008, the IRS issued approximately 107 million refunds averaging $2,400, or a total amount of $256 billion.

When you get a refund, it means you overpaid your taxes and essentially loaned the government money during the course of the year, free of interest.

With an average refund of $2,400, you could be entitled to three extra exemptions. In the 25 percent tax bracket, that could boost your take-home pay by $2,625 per year, and you’ll have that money to use right away with every paycheck instead of waiting until the end of the year.



First lady prego?

Sources in Washington D.C. are reporting that Michelle Obama is pregnant with baby #3… At 44, isn’t she a little old to be taking this risk?!


Gmail without internet?!

Now there’s one less excuse for not dealing with your e-mail.

Google Inc. is giving people a way to manage their e-mail even when they’re offline, marking the Internet search leader’s latest move to unshackle its services from the Web.

The offline feature introduced this week is aimed primarily at workers who rely on Google’s Gmail service as part of their jobs. But anyone with a standard account can choose the option. (This can be accomplished by clicking on “settings” and then entering Google’s “labs” section.)

After the e-mail box synchronizes with a computer’s hard drive, virtually all of Gmail’s usual tools become functional offline _ except for the ability to send and receive messages. Those chores are handled the next time a computer connects to the Internet.

Google is trying to lessen its dependence on Internet advertising by selling an online package of commonly used business programs that include a souped-up version of Gmail. The offline feature makes the e-mail program more competitive with rival Microsoft Corp.’s Exchange and Outlook programs, which are widely used by corporations.

Google previously added an offline feature to its word processing and spreadsheet programs, as well as its Picasa service for digital photography. The Mountain View, Calif.-based company plans to take its calendar application offline later this year.

By adding offline capability to Gmail, Google also catches up with rival Yahoo Inc., whose larger _ and also free _ e-mail service has been able to work without Internet access since last July.

To take Yahoo mail offline, users first have to download the company’s Zimbra software to their computers. The Zimbra program also can be used to work offline on competing services, including Gmail.

Gmail is making its offline leap through Gears, a Google-owned service that the much smaller Zoho relied on to provide offline access to its e-mail program last year.

Watch the below video to learn how to set it up:


No mail saturdays?

Massive deficits could force the post office to cut out one day of mail delivery, the postmaster general told Congress on Wednesday, in asking lawmakers to lift the requirement that the agency deliver mail six days a week. If the change happens, that doesn’t necessarily mean an end to Saturday mail delivery. Previous post office studies have looked at the possibility of skipping some other day when mail flow is light, such as Tuesday.

Faced with dwindling mail volume and rising costs, the post office was $2.8 billion in the red last year. “If current trends continue, we could experience a net loss of $6 billion or more this fiscal year,” Postmaster General John E. Potter said in testimony for a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee.

Total mail volume was 202 billion items last year, over 9 billion less than the year before, the largest single volume drop in history.

And, despite annual rate increases, Potter said 2009 could be the first year since 1946 that the actual amount of money collected by the post office declines.

“It is possible that the cost of six-day delivery may simply prove to be unaffordable,” Potter said. “I reluctantly request that Congress remove the annual appropriation bill rider, first added in 1983, that requires the Postal Service to deliver mail six days each week.”

“The ability to suspend delivery on the lightest delivery days, for example, could save dollars in both our delivery and our processing and distribution networks. I do not make this request lightly, but I am forced to consider every option given the severity of our challenge,” Potter said.

That doesn’t mean it would happen right away, he noted, adding that the agency is working to cut costs and any final decision on changing delivery would have to be made by the postal governing board.

If it did become necessary to go to five-day delivery, Potter said, “we would do this by suspending delivery on the lightest volume days.”



This day in history….

1986 Space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff from Cape Canaveral, killing all seven crew members.

1547 England’s King Henry VIII died.

1596 English navigator Sir Francis Drake died off the coast of Panama.

1915 The Coast Guard was created by an act of Congress.

1959 Vince Lombardi was named head coach of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers.



We’re making this easy on you!!!!


1. Highlight this letter and press COPY.

2. Go to your email program and press COMPOSE EMAIL.

3. Now go to the body of the email and press PASTE.

4. Erase the ____________ at the bottom of the letter and put your name in there.

5. Erase the ____________ at the beginning of the letter and insert your Congressperson’s name in there. If you don’t know who you are supposed to send it to, FIND OUT HERE!


7. In the To: field, put the email address(es) of the Congresspeople you are trying to write to. Again, if you don’t know, FIND OUT HERE!

8. Hit the SEND button!

9. CONGRATULATIONS! You just participated in democracy!

10. If you want to be extra-super amazing, you can also use this site to CALL your Representatives and Senators.

Congressman/Senator _____________________,

I am writing today to express my concern over the current status of our economy. I understand that the economics of this country are complicated, but one thing I know is that the concept of capitalism has been corrupted by (1) the executives of many large banks and mortgage companies who chose personal greed over the greater good of the people, including their shareholders, (2) high ranking members of the Treasury Department who failed to properly regulate these companies and (3) members of our Congress who were swayed by these companies’ lobbyists to rubber stamp legislation that lessened pressure on these companies to properly observe government regulations and who spent hundreds of billions of dollars over the last eight years so that we now face a national deficit of epic proportions. Now we face a fiscal crisis that is affecting hundreds of thousands of Americans who are losing their jobs and millions more, including myself, who are struggling to maintain a comfortable standard of living.

I ask you, as your constituent, as a voter, and as a taxpaying “employer” of my government representatives to review the upcoming stimulus package with the idea that it is a necessary, but not permanent, remedy to the situation. Once this stimulus package is passed, your work is nowhere close to being done. You must demand that your colleagues in the Congress and in the Treasury Department begin to look to the root of the problem and restore the true meaning of capitalism back to our nation.

In the meantime, I demand that oversight with regard to the money being dolled out for this stimulus be strict and transparent. I want to see who is receiving each dollar and how each dollar is being spent. I want daily updates to be available on the internet for public access to view this information. And I want there to be some form of back-and-forth communication through which citizens like myself can comment about the use of this money. This is the only democratic way for this stimulus to proceed. Transparency and accountability are key. And since it has become obvious that CEOs, Treasury Department officials, and our elected state and federal officials cannot be trusted to care for taxpayer dollars on their own, it is my duty and obligation as a citizen to demand it from you.

Thank you for your time and I look forward to seeing a website established for these purposes.





  • Spent & Approved War-Spending – About $800 billion of US taxpayers’ funds spent or approved for spending through mid-2009.
  • U.S. Monthly Spending in Iraq – $12 billion in 2008
  • U.S. Spending per Second – $5,000 in 2008 (per Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on May 5, 2008)
  • Cost of deploying one U.S. soldier for one year in Iraq – $390,000 (Congressional Research Service)
  • Lost & Unaccounted for in Iraq – $9 billion of US taxpayers’ money and $549.7 milion in spare parts shipped in 2004 to US contractors. Also, per ABC News, 190,000 guns, including 110,000 AK-47 rifles.
  • Missing – $1 billion in tractor trailers, tank recovery vehicles, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and other equipment and services provided to the Iraqi security forces. (Per CBS News on Dec 6, 2007.)
  • Mismanaged & Wasted in Iraq – $10 billion, per Feb 2007 Congressional hearings
  • Halliburton Overcharges Classified by the Pentagon as Unreasonable and Unsupported – $1.4 billion
  • Amount paid to KBR, a former Halliburton division, to supply U.S. military in Iraq with food, fuel, housing and other items – $20 billion

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January 2009
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