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Consumer Archive

Consumer

Need tax tips Theres an app for that

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WASHINGTON (1/31/12)--The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is touting its social media platform, complete with smartphone apps, YouTube videos, tweets, and other technologies, making it easier for tax filers to get tax information how they want it, when they want it.

Although you won't get answers to personal tax questions through any of these services, take advantage of these helpful tools, listed at irs.gov:

  • IRS2Go. Use this smartphone app--available for the iPhone, iTouch, and Android--to get your refund status and tax updates. Expect even more features for the 2012 filing season (Forbes Jan. 8).
  • Twitter. Use @IRSnews to follow tax-related announcements, news for tax professionals, and updates for job seekers. For information in Spanish, use @IRSenEspanol.
  • YouTube. Watch videos on tax topics offered in English, American Sign Language, and a variety of foreign languages. Visit youtube.com/irsvideos. For Spanish tax topics, enter "Centro Multimediatico" into the search box of the irs.gov website.
  • Audio files for podcasts. These audio recordings are available on iTunes or through the Multimedia Center on irs.gov.
  • Facebook. IRS has Facebook pages that post information for tax professionals and for anyone needing help resolving long-standing issues with the IRS.
  • RSS. Really Simple Syndication allows you to easily gather a variety of content in one place on your computer or other electronic device. Get news you want whenever it's updated, even if you're not on the IRS website, through RSS feeds.
The IRS reminds filers never to post confidential information, such as your Social Security number, on social media sites. Toll-free telephone assistance is available at 800-829-1040.

HandFF Radio talks tax-season tips

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WASHINGTON (1/27/12)--Sunday's Home & Family Finance Radio program provides information about tax season, electric cars, military resources and boomer financial issues.

The show, which you also can hear later via the Internet, features Paul Berry, Washington, D.C., journalist and broadcaster, discussing these topics with special guests:

  • "Tax Season." Eric Smith, national spokesperson, Internal Revenue Service, Washington, D.C., explains why April 17 is the important tax day this year.
  • "Electric Cars." Jack Gillis, public affairs director, Consumer Federation of America, Washington, D.C., discusses whether you should use your tax refund to buy an electric car.
  • "Military Line." Brenda Linnington, director, Better Business Bureau's Military Line, Arlington, Va., shares financial advice and resources for military servicemembers and their families.
  • "Boomer Money Matters." Kathy Bernard and Barbara Kline, hosts, "2BoomerBabes," Easton, Md., cover financial issues for the boomer generation.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at the Credit Union National Association (CUNA). The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, maker of award-winning cheddar; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve the country worldwide.

Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. ET on the Radio America Network. The show also is carried on American Forces Radio Network. The one-hour program devoted to consumer finance issues is brought to you by America's credit unions and their 90 million members, and is presented by CO-OP Network.

CUNA and Radio America are podcasting Home & Family Finance through iTunes, Podcast Alley, Odeo, and other popular podcast library sites, as well as on Radio America and CUNA's websites.

For more information, watch "Get Tax Records Organized" and read "Cars Are Plugged In and (Almost) Ready to Go" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Home heating costs leave many in the cold

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NEW YORK (1/24/12)--Many homeowners are being left in the cold this winter when it comes to the cost of heating their homes. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that homes using oil heat can expect to pay $2,383 on average this season, compared with an average of $671 for homes using natural gas for heating (money.cnn.com Jan. 12).

Why such a disparity? The same factors that drive fuel prices higher--such as refineries closing and uncertainty overseas--also affect heating oil prices (cbsnews.com Jan. 17).

Fight the frigid temps and save on heating costs with these suggestions:

  • Service systems. Keep your furnace, heat pump, or other heating equipment in top operating condition to heat your home efficiently as well as safely. Clean or replace dirty air filters. Clean and tune up your gas furnace, if you have one. Regular maintenance also helps ensure that your equipment lasts a long time and prevents costly repairs, not to mention service outages when you need heat most.
  • Improve insulation. The proper amount of insulation material keeps the heat in and the cold out. Make sure you have the correct amount installed in attics, basement ceilings, and exterior walls.
  • Diminish drafts. A small investment in caulk, weather stripping, door sweeps, or insulated outlet covers for drafty areas will block heat from escaping and save money, too.
  • Tune temperatures. Set your thermostat in the 60- to 65-degree range while you're away or asleep and in the 66- to 70-degree range while you're at home and awake. Turning the heat lower than 60 degrees when you leave and cranking it back up when you return actually makes your system work harder, reduces its efficiency, and costs you more.
  • Shorten showers. The more hot water you use during a shower means more energy use and money down the drain. Reduce the water temperature and shorten the time you spend in the shower to help save money.
For more energy-saving information, read, "Debunk Energy-Savings Myths" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

IHandFF RadioI Adopt a millionaire outlook

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WASHINGTON (1/20/12)--Sunday's Home & Family Finance Radio program helps you think like a millionaire, calculate what your time is worth, go green and understand credit scoring.

The show, which you also can hear later via the Internet, features Paul Berry, Washington, D.C., journalist and broadcaster, discussing these topics with special guests:

  • "The Millionaire's Handbook." Vicky Oliver, author, "The Millionaire's Handbook: How to Look and Act Like a Millionaire, Even if You're Not," New York, shares ideas for living in style while still maintaining your budget.
  • "Know What Your Time is Worth." Susan Tiffany, director of consumer periodicals and certified credit union financial counselor, Credit Union National Association (CUNA), Madison, Wis., explains how to set your spending priorities for both time and money.
  • "Going Green in 2012." Danielle Nierenberg, senior researcher and project director, Nourishing the Planet, Washington, D.C., highlights 12 simple steps for reducing your environmental footprint.
  • "Clearing Up Credit Score Confusion." Adrian Nazari, founder and CEO, Credit Sesame, Los Altos, Calif., answers common questions about obtaining a free credit score.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at CUNA. The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, maker of award-winning cheddar; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve the country worldwide.

Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. ET on the Radio America Network. The show also is carried on American Forces Radio Network. The one-hour program devoted to consumer finance issues is brought to you by America's credit unions and their 90 million members, and is presented by CO-OP Network.

CUNA and Radio America are podcasting Home & Family Finance through iTunes, Podcast Alley, Odeo, and other popular podcast library sites, as well as on Radio America and CUNA's websites.

For more information, read "Know What Your Time is Worth" and watch the "Build Your Best Credit Score" video in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Boomers emerge as great entrepreneurs

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DULLES, Va.  (1/17/12)--The boom in boomer entrepreneurship has taken analysts by surprise. Duke University's Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization has released research indicating the highest rate of entrepreneurial activity has shifted in the past three years from 20-somethings to those in the 55-to-64 age group (Huffington Post Jan. 10).

In fact, the age of entrepreneurs may be advancing. Many boomers lost home value and retirement savings, if not jobs, in the recession and yet are living longer and healthier lives. They're finding it harder to compete with younger people for jobs--boomers' experience and salary requirements often mean employers can't afford to hire them. Self-employment, for many, is the best and sometimes only option.

What does it take to start your own business? Possessing technical creativity--an original idea, a new way to solve a problem, the ability to take advantage of new opportunities--is the first step in starting a business.

Whether you are inherently technically creative or not, you can take these first steps to develop quality:

  • Adjust your attitude. Self-perception often is the main difference between creative and uncreative people. Creative people give themselves the freedom to create, and you can learn to do this, too. Creativity doesn't exclude discipline. One way to start is to regularly set aside just 30 seconds a day to ask if there's a better way to do something.
  • Imagine. Scan your environment for simple potential consumer issues, needs, or problems and picture different ways to address them. Allow yourself time to develop insights on different ways to take advantage of new opportunities. As you develop confidence, investigate issues that are more complex.
  • Research. Learn as much as you can about subjects that interest you. Read or talk to others who share your interests; this is where new ideas crop up.
 

The U.S. Small Business Administration's website, SBA.gov, contains detailed information about the steps to successful entrepreneurship, from finding a mentor, writing a business plan, getting training and assistance, picking a location, and accessing capital, to the nuts and bolts of registering your business, handling taxes, and more.

For more information, read "Starting a Business" in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

HandFF Radio Should you buy an electric car in 2012

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WASHINGTON (1/13/12)--Sunday's Home & Family Finance Radio program covers buying an electric car, the Military Saves campaign, financial predictions for 2012 and college savings plans.

The show, which you also can hear later via the Internet, features Paul Berry, Washington, D.C., journalist and broadcaster, discussing these topics with special guests:

  • "Going Electric." Ed Ingalls, president, Connecticut Electric Car Co., Newington, explains why the time could be right to buy an electric or hybrid vehicle.
  • "Military Saves." Andia Dinesen, coordinator, Military Saves, Washington, D.C., discusses the importance of the annual campaign to help military servicemembers find financial success.
  • "Money in 2012." Jordan Goodman, financial expert and author, "Master Your Debt: Slash Your Monthly Payments and Become Debt-Free," New York, shares ways to prepare your finances for economic changes in 2012.
  • "Have a Plan to Save for College." Roger Michaud, chair, College Savings Foundation, Washington, D.C., highlights plans and programs that can help you afford the cost of higher education.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at the Credit Union National Association (CUNA). The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, maker of award-winning cheddar; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve the country worldwide.

Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. ET on the Radio America Network. The show also is carried on American Forces Radio Network. The one-hour program devoted to consumer finance issues is brought to you by America's credit unions and their 90 million members, and is presented by CO-OP Network.

CUNA and Radio America are podcasting Home & Family Finance through iTunes, Podcast Alley, Odeo, and other popular podcast library sites, as well as on Radio America and CUNA's websites.

For more information, read "Cars Are Plugged In and (Almost) Ready to Go" and use the "What Will It Take to Save for a College Education?" calculator in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Small biz owners Start new year on organized foot

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McLEAN, Va. (1/10/12)--The new year may bring the urge to organize, but that feeling can fade quickly. While resolutions are still fresh, go through the piles of paperwork that are hiding your desk (USAToday.com Dec. 30).

If you're a small-business owner or self-employed, you'll acquire a lot of paperwork throughout the year. Though you might get into a throwing-out frenzy, you should keep some items:

  • Financial documents. You might think that you can toss items such as taxi and parking receipts, but don't. Experts recommend that small-business owners keep supporting documents for business expenses for at least five years. It's a good idea to hang on to some documents indefinitely, such as tax returns and stock and investment statements.
"First, figure out which expenses affect your taxes and keep the related receipts in a specific place until they can be filed," suggests Darla Dernovesk, a freelance writer in Clinton, Wis. "It can be a file folder, a basket, or even a shoe box, but make sure you put these documents there immediately. Then when you have a slow day, or even a slow week, you can file them away for easy access at year-end. This frees you from the tyranny of daily filing while making it easier to tackle the task when you have time. It also allows you to explain your system to employees or other helpers who pitch in when you're out of the office or ill. Labeling the container used for this purpose is helpful, especially if others sometimes visit or use your office space."

  • Legal documents. Keep contracts, business licenses or incorporation papers, and critical correspondence with suppliers or customers--anything that could involve legal action.
"Always record and file invoices as soon as they are generated so you know how much is owed and how much has been collected," says Dernovsek. "This makes it possible to predict your cash flow as well as allowing you to send another invoice after 30 or 60 days to pursue late payments. Stay on top of this by placing the material in file folders and checking them regularly. This will also help you at tax time."

  • Personnel records. Hang on to employee payroll records, insurance documents, and performance appraisals.
  • Bids. Keep suppliers' bids until the job is finished. Retaining bids for a couple of years may come in handy to help keep track of pricing.
  • Miscellaneous paperwork. Everyone has a file of ideas and thoughts that may turn into something or may never mean anything at all, says Dernovsek. "Control this jumble of papers by putting it in a specific place. Then sort it regularly as time allows. This keeps you from saving papers that have no meaning while allowing you to retain ideas with merit," she adds.
Baskets, boxes, and files kept on your desktop or nearby shelves can be your friend as long as you recognize that they are temporary storage, Dernovsek says. She suggests sorting through file storage and deciding what you must keep at least once a year. Then place everything you must keep for long-term records in permanent storage. This might be a file cabinet or it might be carefully labeled boxes stored on basement shelves. The key is to sort it, label it, and store it appropriately.

You can recycle some items, but be sure to use a cross-cut shredder to discard items with personal or financial information , including credit card applications and job applications for people you don't hire, especially if they include Social Security numbers.

To help get your home office in even better shape, arrange storage for supplies that you use regularly, suggests Dernovsek. When you need a new ink cartridge or staples, for example, you usually need them right away. Creating a simple system for storing everyday items will help to reduce stress when you're under a time crunch.

Aim to thoroughly go through your piles and paperwork quarterly so you actually tackle it at least two or three times a year, encourages Dernovsek. "Once a year is simply not often enough to find the records required to take maximum advantage of expenses and track payments.

"When work or life becomes overwhelming, catching up on paperwork can be calming. You can't control the chaos everywhere else, but at least you can create the illusion of order on your desk."

For more information about running a small business, read "Prep Your Home-Based Business for Success" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

IHandFF RadioI explains benefits of a mortgage refi

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WASHINGTON (1/6/12)--Sunday's H&FF Radio program covers mortgage refinancing, the financial impact of 2011, a 2012 economic outlook, and finding life balance among work, money, and happiness.

The show, which you also can hear later via the Internet, features Paul Berry, Washington, D.C., journalist and broadcaster, discussing these topics with special guests:

  • "Economic Outlook: What to Expect in 2012." Michael Farr, president, Farr, Miller, & Washington, Washington, D.C., and CNBC contributor, discusses current economic conditions and what to expect financially in the coming year.
  • "Financial Impact of 2011." Michael DeSenne, online senior editor, Kiplinger, Washington, D.C., recounts the eight biggest stories that affected your wallet in 2011.
  • "Catch the Refi Wave." Susan Tiffany, certified credit union financial counselor and director, consumer periodicals, Credit Union National Association (CUNA), Madison, Wis., explains ways you might benefit from a lower mortgage rate.
  • "Finding Harmony in Hectic Lives." Ethan Willis and Randy Garn, co-authors, "Prosper: Create the Life You Really Want," give 12 ideas for balancing work, money, and happiness in the new year.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at the Credit Union National Association (CUNA). The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, maker of award-winning cheddar; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve the country worldwide.

Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. ET on the Radio America Network. The show also is carried on American Forces Radio Network. The one-hour program devoted to consumer finance issues is brought to you by America's credit unions and their 90 million members, and is presented by CO-OP Network.

CUNA and Radio America are podcasting Home & Family Finance through iTunes, Podcast Alley, Odeo, and other popular podcast library sites, as well as on Radio America and CUNA's websites.

For more information, read "Catch the Refi Wave" and watch the "Refinancing Your Mortgage" video in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.