Should Small Business Owners be Worried About Their Money in December 2012?

by John Kiernan on July 18, 2012

FDICThe countdown to December and the date that could alter our future is on. Have you started thinking about what you’ll do if the prognosticators are right? Do you have contingency plans? Will you remove your money from the neighborhood bank? After all, the impending elimination of Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insurance on small business bank accounts is no joke (raise your hand if you thought I was talking about the Mayan prediction that the world will end on 12/12/12).

The fate of FDIC insurance on business accounts has certainly garnered less mainstream attention than the latest, greatest doomsday prediction, but with the more than 27 million small businesses in the United States employing half of all private sector employees, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, it’s certainly significant nonetheless.

How Relationships and Marriage Affect Health, Happiness and Finances

by Guest on July 17, 2012

Recently a study conducted by students at Cornell University showed that people who are in a committed relationship or a marriage are comparatively happier than those who are single, and both of the partners have the highest sense of well being, even if they do not rate themselves as happy. The study, related to happiness and well being, reported that people who are in a live-in relationship are equal to married people in terms of happiness. They are followed by people who are in a steady relationship, and last come those who are in casual relationships. To be very precise, researchers say that it is good to be in a relationship as it keeps both men and women in a happier state of mind. As the relationship between a couple gets stronger day-by-day, they feel better and happier than ever.

It is often said that married people or those who are in a relationship live longer than others. Statistical surveys, conducted in a number of countries throughout the world, prove that people who are married suffer less from disease and illness, and, even if they become ill, they recover sooner than those who are single. Married couples who live under one roof suffer from lower risk rates, for example, from driving, smoking, etc. The rate of suicide and alcoholism is also less. It has been observed that health changes toward the positive frequently take place after marriage. A husband or wife who was vulnerable to frequent health issues earlier suffers less after marriage.

Why You Should Think Twice Before Hitting a Toll Road in a Rental Car

by John Kiernan on June 6, 2012

automated toll roadYou know the toll that usually costs around $3? Well, imagine how you’d feel if the price tag suddenly rose to $53. Unfortunately, this is not a hypothetical scenario for many consumers, but rather an all-too-common headache associated with renting a car in the age of automated toll plazas.

Typically, when a driver goes through an automated toll without an EZ-Pass or another similar electronic payment device, the toll’s cameras will snap a picture of the license plate and mail a bill to the registered driver. This is obviously impossible with a rental, however. So when a rental company gets charged, it typically passes the cost on to the driver, along with a hefty surcharge, through a company like the aptly-named Violation Management Services (VMS), which works with Fox Rent a Car.

Students with Summer Jobs Shouldn’t Forget the Tax Man

by John Kiernan on May 2, 2012

Taxes for Summer JobsOnce that final bell rings on the last day of school before summer break, the minds of students across the country will immediately shift from history, math, and science to pools, beaches, summer sports leagues and free time. For most, summer jobs will be a means to an end, a way to afford summer fun, and taxes won’t even be on their radar. That’s a dangerous oversight, according to the California Society of CPAs (CalCPA). Understanding the implications of taxes on summer earnings can save student workers both time and money down the road, and the California accountants have a number of tips for how to do so

1.  Understand the IRS forms you fill out

5 Ways to Make Your Job Application Stand Out

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on April 12, 2012

Things are looking up for job seekers. According to the Department of Labor, December 2011 marked a three-year high for job postings, and while the numbers dipped slightly in January, they were again on the rise as of February, the latest month for which data is available. Just because employers are hiring doesn’t mean you’re assured of a job, however, so how are you going to differentiate yourself?

If the Great Recession has taught us anything, it’s that competition for jobs can be fierce. Under healthy economic conditions, roughly two people compete for every job opening, yet there were as many as seven candidates for each available position in 2009. Now, with 12.8 million people unemployed and 3.5 million jobs available, there are roughly four people per each open job. And when you consider that most jobseekers apply for a number of different openings at the same time, it’s clear that the competition level is actually exponentially higher than that.

Last-Minute Tips for Filing Your 2012 Tax Return

by John Kiernan on April 9, 2012

2012 TaxesIt’s getting to be that time. April 17 (i.e. tax day) is nearly upon us, and as was the case in school, such a major deadline is inevitably met with a bit of procrastination. Luckily for those of us who’ve put off preparing our tax returns, CalCPA has some Cliff’s Notes of sorts that will help get them filed correctly, on time, and with the greatest possible savings. The Internal Revenue Service is not going to accept the trite “dog ate my taxes” excuse, after all.

  • State Tax Refunds: Don’t make the mistake many taxpayers do by blindly reporting prior-year state tax deductions as income in the current year. Even if the state taxing authorities notified you of your refund, they have no idea whether that refund is taxable. If you didn’t benefit from a state tax refund on your 2011 federal return (e.g. if you took the standard deduction or deducted for sales taxes instead of state income taxes), then your refund might not be taxable, either in part of in full.
  • Unnecessary Itemization: Many taxpayers assume they’re better off itemizing expenses, but those who have already paid off a mortgage or who live in a state without an income tax might be better served just taking the standard deduction.
  • Alternative Minimum Tax: Trying to figure out whether this type of income tax is applicable can be confusing, but you could wind up being on the hook for penalty fees and interest if you mistakenly don’t account for it. The IRS has an online Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) Assistant that can help you make this determination.
  • 2011 Carry-overs: You can often deduct losses from previous years (e.g. bad stock choices) on your current year’s taxes.

Logistical Tips
In addition, CalCPA has some basic logistical tips that may seem obvious but can easily be overlooked with the filing deadline looming:

5 Most Common Tax Questions

by Guest on April 5, 2012

 

It seems that it’s always the little things that create uncertainty in the tax world. Here are some of the questions that commonly plague taxpayers, and the answers they seek.

5 Reasons To Consider Creditor Insurance

by Guest on January 12, 2012

If you have a mortgage, loan, line of credit, or a credit card, it may be in your best interest to accept the creditor life and disability insurance that goes along with it. Although it will cost you extra money out of pocket, it may just be worth your while.

1. It can give you peace of mind. If something were to happen that drastically changed your ability to earn income, you want to know that you and your family would be protected. Without insurance, you would still be expected to make payments to your credit products. But, with insurance, you would know that it would be paid of in full in the event of your death and that your disability insurance would kick in if you were unable to work due to an accident or injury.

Helpful Tips for Tax Season 2012

by John Kiernan on January 3, 2012

With the holiday season in the rearview mirror, we are all getting back into our normal routines. Unfortunately, that means starting to think about tax season 2012. April is right around the corner, after all, and if you foresee an inability to pay your full tax bill in full, this can be quite disconcerting. To help ease concerns, the California Society of CPAs recently announced some important strategies for dealing with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) if you cannot cover your total tax toll.

Before we get to them, however, there are a few things that you need to know about the IRS, its practices, and the terminology you can expect to come across when dealing with an inability to pay:

Think Miles & More is Bad? Check Out What British Airways Has to Offer

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on December 20, 2011

A few months back, I wrote an article about how glaring flaws in Lufthansa’s rewards program were causing me to question my long-time relationship with the Star Alliance member. With these doubts in mind, the 100,000 initial bonus miles being offered at the time by the British Airways Credit Card proved too much to resist. What’s the worst that could come of shifting my airline loyalty program allegiances and opening the British Airways Card, I thought? Sure, BA’s network of partner airlines doesn’t even come close to matching Star Alliance’s, but shouldn’t that result in the company compensating via better rewards, customer service, etc.?

Apparently not, as my experience thus far with the British Airways rewards program has made Star Alliance look terrific by comparison. While BA’s problems are numerous, they can be separated into two primary categories: effectively worthless rewards and unprecedentedly bad customer service.

The Battle of the Black Cards: American Express’ Centurion Card vs. Barclays’ Visa Black Card

by John Kiernan on December 13, 2011

In one corner, we have the Black Card. In the other, we have, uh, the Black Card. Confused? Most likely, and that’s exactly why American Express recently engaged in a legal battle for the right to use the name that has come to signify wealth and status not only in the credit card industry, but throughout society and pop culture as well. Rappers routinely crow about their Black Cards in songs, athletes and movie stars are spotted using them by the paparazzi, and they’re even employed in shows like “The OC” and “Entourage” to signal things like prosperity, greed, or overspending to viewers. While Amex was successful in nullifying the Black Card LLC’s trademark on the term “Blackcard,” several trademark infringement and false advertising claims remain unsettled, as does the ultimate question: Which is the better Black Card?

American Express Centurion Card
Though the American Express Centurion Card has long been shrouded in secrecy – an Amex representative responded to a request for comment by saying, “We actually can’t confirm much about the Centurion Card as we don’t talk about its services or benefits” – a few things are substantiated, including its fee structure and the fact that it is available by invitation only. The rest we can only glean from various sources and first-hand accounts, almost as if the Centurion Card is a Bigfoot-esque mythical creature.

Calling Customer Service? A New Scam is in Town

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on December 7, 2011

During a recent experience to forget with WalMart.com and its customer (dis)service department, I happened upon something likely to be quite interesting to both American Express and anyone using an American Express small business credit card.

It all started when a WalMart representative informed me that my digital gift card order had not been completed as a result of a problem with my credit card. I, of course, reacted by immediately flipping the card over and calling the number listed on the back for Amex’s 24/7 small business customer service department…or so I thought.

How to Write Business Plans For Funding Sources

by Guest on December 5, 2011

When most entrepreneurs need to go to banks or investors to raise funding, they realize they need to develop a business plan. But, unfortunately, most entrepreneurs complete their business plans incorrectly, and thus fail to raise money.

Interestingly, most entrepreneurs do include much of the key information they need in their business plans, such as the executive summary, industry analysis and marketing plan sections. But, since most entrepreneurs have the wrong mindset when creating these plans, they fail to achieve their goals.

Walmart.com Review: Be Prepared for Problems

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on November 28, 2011

While the tradition of stores being veritable zoos on Black Friday continued this year – news reports describe consumers getting pepper sprayed, trampled, and even shot – many people turned to the Web for their Thanksgiving purchasing, hoping to score the same deals without the lines, bodily harm, and overall hassle. Unfortunately, this approach did not help Walmart.com customers save money or live better, as we all learned the hard way. You see, before learning of the technical problems that plagued the retailer’s website on Black Friday, forcing shoppers to look elsewhere to complete their purchases, I had quite the adventure when trying to purchase a digital gift card.

My ordeal began on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving when I placed my Wal-Mart electronic gift card order. It’s important to note from the start that I opted to get a digital gift card precisely because the person I was buying it for wanted to purchase a TV from Walmart.com on Black Friday. In order words, time was a factor. After providing my payment information and completing the transaction, I received an e-mail confirmation, saying that the gift card would be delivered to the recipient’s inbox within a few hours. Everything was going according to plan.

iPhone 4S: International Use, Mobile Hotspots and “Anytime” Minutes

by John Kiernan on October 20, 2011

iphone-4-verizon-sprint-attBy now, everyone knows what Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T have to offer in terms of standard data, texting and talk plans for the new iPhone 4S. But what about the niche aspects of major carriers’ iPhone offerings? Not every consumer is content with plain vanilla utility and many, in fact, require certain supplemental features. With that being said, we took a look at how the aforementioned networks differ in terms of international usage costs, mobile hotspots and how “Night & Weekend” minutes are classified.

Night & Weekend Minutes
In our previous article examining the iPhone 4S, we noted that the three carriers offered calling plans in terms of how many “Anytime” minutes they provided: 450, 900, or “Unlimited.” Obviously, if you opt for the unlimited anytime minutes, the number of “Night & Weekend” minutes you get or when in the day these minutes begin doesn’t matter, but the same cannot be said for those of you that choose the two other options. So let’s take a closer look at what they offer.

iPhone 4S: Verizon, AT&T or Sprint?

by John Kiernan on October 13, 2011

iphone 4 verizon sprint attYou’ve likely seen the Sprint commercial that shows phones from the four most prominent smartphone carriers—Sprint, Verizon, At&T and T-Mobile—racing up a chart, almost as if they are those mascots that race at sporting events, in order to display the differences in their data plans. And while it’s been around since about late July, this commercial might not have struck a chord with you until the October 4 announcement that Sprint would for the first time be carrying the iPhone. With the new iPhone 4S slated to hit stores tomorrow at 8 AM, many of you have a tough choice to make in terms of which network to get it on. So, how are you supposed to decide?

Obviously, people already under contract will stick with what they’ve got, but where you cell phone free agents end up depends on precisely how much texting, talking and e-mailing you plan to do. Each of the networks carrying the new iPhone—the aforementioned four, minus T-Mobile—offers plans at different price points, and figuring out your usage habits ahead of time is the best way to get the coverage you need without incurring extraneous costs. To help in this endeavor, we took a look at the best carriers for different types of smartphone consumers:

Managing Your Finances on Your Phone

by Guest on September 21, 2011

cell-phoneUntil recently it had been far too easy to fall in the trap of relying on a not-so-keen sense of frugality to keep your expenditures in order–especially while out and about. Was it just last week that you bought that new TV you had to have because it was on sale? Did your buddy Ted already pay you back for that one time you covered his dinner because he forgot his wallet at home? Maybe you’ve got a few hundred dollars to go before you hit your spending limit, right?

We all know how those stories end. You end up missing payments, dealing with overdraft fees or penalties, and falling into debt. Okay maybe that’s an overstatement–but it can happen often enough that it remains a very real worry.

College and Future Earnings: What’s the Connection?

by John Kiernan on September 16, 2011

Help for College StudentsWe’ve all heard about the statistics that show that people with college degrees earn more than people who only have a high school education or who dropped out of high school without receiving their diploma. But, does having a framed piece of paper on your wall necessarily mean you are destined for a bigger payday? Why don’t we take a closer look at what exactly these oft-quoted stats reveal?

Income rises and unemployment falls
First, information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics clearly shows that median income does indeed rise in accordance with education level.

Hurricane Recovery Tax Benefits Explained

by John Kiernan on August 29, 2011

hurricane-recoveryFrom time to time, knowledgeable sources from around the personal finance industry send us timely information, hoping to use Wallet Blog to better reach the general public. The following information about hurricane recovery tax benefits was sent to us by the California Society of CPAs, and we thought it would be both useful and of interest to our readers:

Hurricane Irene has done an estimated $7 -13 billion in damage over 10 East Coast states. Wind and flood damage alone could total about $5 billion and $2 billion, respectively, according to the Consumer Federation of America.

Money Market Accounts vs. Savings Accounts

by John Kiernan on August 12, 2011

money market accounts vs savings accountsWe recently took a look at the differences between money market accounts and money market funds. This week, to follow up on that discussion, we will examine what separates a money market account from a traditional savings account. After all, if we’re to make responsible banking decisions and effectively manage our money, we must understand the options available to us.

Overview
Both savings accounts and Money Market Deposit Accounts (MMDA) are essentially bank accounts insured by the federal government that allow you to safely deposit your money and garner interest. Accounts offered by banks are insured for up to $250,000 per depositor ($100,000 beginning in 2014) by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) insures those accounts offered by credit unions for the same amount.

Shareholders Don’t Want Board Members, Who Cares?

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on July 29, 2011

Board RoomImagine for a second a U.S. president loses an election, decides he’s just not ready to give up his power yet, and concludes that he’ll remain president for another four years, whether the American people want him or not. How do you think that would go over with the voters? Not so well, I would guess. In fact, he might have to board up the White House’s doors and windows to deal with the resulting revolt.

Well, if you think about it, that’s essentially what’s going on right now with the board of directors system in this country. According to Business Week, more than 200 board members at public U.S. companies over the past three years have received less than 50% of the shareholder vote at elections, yet all but a few retained their seats. Two-thirds of the S&P 1,500 doesn’t even require that board members garner the approval of a majority of shareholders in order to keep their positions. But how could that possibly be?

Traveling Abroad? Save Big With A Credit Card

by John Kiernan on June 29, 2011

international-currency-exchangeCredit cards provide the cheapest means of currency conversion. Hold on, before you balk at this statement and argue that someone working for a credit-oriented blog would of course make such a claim, let me tell you something: I have the facts to back it up. In fact, credit cards have the potential to save international travelers as much as 15% on currency exchange, according to a recent Currency Exchange Study by Card Hub.

Card Hub – using both online fact finding and anonymous phone calls – was able to determine the U.S. dollar-to-Euro exchange rates offered by Visa and MasterCard, the credit card networks with by far the largest coverage areas worldwide; 15 of the largest consumer banks in the United States; and Travelex, the most significant airport currency exchange service in the world. And aside from the mere fact that the payment type most conducive to international travel is a credit card, this study revealed that:

How Much Does Watching TV Really Cost You?

by John Kiernan on June 6, 2011

American RuleTelevision is a big part of most of our lives.  We watch it to relax; we watch it when we’re bored; we watch it live; we watch it recorded; we watch it on our computers, phones, and tablets; in short, we watch it all the time.  In fact, the average American watches over 35 hours of TV a week, according to The Nielsen Company.  Now, television is great; don’t get me wrong.  It can be both entertaining and informative, but it can also cost you—both directly and indirectly.  Television, commercials in particular, directly influence our purchasing habits, and it also represents a significant sunk opportunity cost.  But how much does television consumption really cost us?  And how can we limit the financial impact?

Opportunity Cost

Save 25% on Life Insurance Premiums

by Guest on May 12, 2011

InsuranceYou’re not going to believe how easy it is to cut your life insurance costs by as much as 25%.  You can easily save a bundle just by eliminating unnecessary or duplicate insurance you don’t need!

For starters, never – we repeat, never – think of insurance as an investment. Any insurance policy you use as an investment is costing you much more than you need to be paying. You can buy all sorts of investments that will treat you better than an “insurance” investment. We’ll talk more about these later.

15 Items that Impact the Cost of Homeowners Insurance

by John Kiernan on May 2, 2011

home-insurance-tipsNo more than once a year, most people will repeat the insurance ritual. When it comes time to renew your homeowners insurance, you’ll likely do one of the following:

  1. Write a check and renew the policy.
  2. Do some research to compare insurance rates.

Number two is the better choice as it helps you to be sure you are going to be getting the best insurance rates. Don’t worry. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be switching insurance companies every year or two. If you find a better rate, call your current insurance provider and let them try to match the rate.

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