Senior Personal Finance Correspondent
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Apr 20, 2011

Home buyers try to beat ‘jumbo’ loans squeeze

WASHINGTON, April 19 (Reuters) – Bethany and Karl Schreiber
are hunting for a nice big house in the pricey Washington,
D.C., suburbs and they are facing a deadline: In just a few
months their third child will be born, and the tiny two-bedroom
they’ve been inhabiting will officially get too small.

But there’s a second deadline looming for them as well.
Beginning on Oct. 1, the government will dial back on the size
of mortgages it guarantees in high-cost areas like San
Francisco, New York and Washington.

Apr 20, 2011

Stern Advice: How not to buy an annuity

WASHINGTON, April 20 (Reuters) – Suddenly, everyone is
talking about immediate annuities as if they were the answer to
every retirement question.

Unions and other fans of traditional pensions like the
guaranteed income stream these products promise to retiring
workers. Employers, with the Obama Administration’s
encouragement, are trying to figure out how they can offer
annuities to workers who are ready to withdraw money from their
401(k) accounts. Academicians are churning out studies about
how immediate annuities can boost the lifestyles of retirees.
And annuity companies, of course, would be happy with even a
slice of the $17.5 trillion (yes, trillion with a “t”) sitting
in retirement accounts, according to the Investment Company

Apr 15, 2011
via Reuters Money

Dear IRS: Where is my tax refund?


Whoo hoo! A refund. Speaking personally, this is the first time in about 10 years that I’ve qualified for a refund. I think it’s because I took this full-time job at Reuters and signed up to have big bucks deducted from my paycheck. And it’s because 2010 tax breaks passed retroactively actually lowered my total tax bill (and those of many others).

This year, the average tax refund is pushing $3,000, according to the Internal Revenue Service. Many financial advisers believe that it is a big mistake to get a big refund. Getting a big refund means you’ve loaned the IRS money all year long without earning a penny in interest. “My gripe with large tax refunds… is two-fold,” Eleanor Blayney, the consumer advocate for the CFP Board of Standards, said in a recent press statement. “First, they make mincemeat of any attempt to manage your cash flow. Second, they often go unplanned.”  She advocates budgeting your taxes as closely as you possibly can to the amount you’ll actually owe when the year ends, and integrating the extra cash you’re not sending the IRS into a reasonable spending and saving budget.

Apr 15, 2011
via Reuters Money

Taxes: How to file an extension


If you are one of those chronic procrastinators who has yet to close out the 2011 tax season, don’t waste time reading all of this. Just file an extension asap. If you think you’ll owe money, send a check along with it.

And what if you’re reading this after the April 18 deadline has passed? Go directly to your post office and mail an extension form right now. It couldn’t hurt.

Apr 13, 2011

Stern Advice: Fixes for the biggest retirement risks

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Life is kind of crazy and unpredictable, and that doesn’t stop when you retire. You could still win the lottery or get hit by a bus, or anything in between.

That’s why traditional straight-line retirement planning does not address much of what goes on during real-life retirement. The old guidelines of “put this in every month until you retire, then take this much out every month,” just don’t cut it anymore. In order to protect your life style no matter what happens, you have to cover a lot of bases.

Apr 12, 2011
via Reuters Money

Scary and scarier: rising prices and rising rates


Data expected out of Washington this week may raise anxiety levels of investors and consumers who are already worried about inflation and rising interest rates.

On April 12, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that U.S. import prices jumped in March. We’ll also get data on producer prices on April 14 and consumer prices on April 15. But here’s what we already know: It costs more to fill your car, and your belly. And what doesn’t run on food or fuel?

Apr 8, 2011
via Reuters Money

Maxing out on miles with the latest credit card offers


It was just a month ago that we reported on a big fat miles offer from Capital One on its Venture Card.  The company offered to double existing airline miles for new cardholders until it had given away  one billion miles. That was fast! They weren’t quite gone in 60 seconds, but Capital One announced on April 5 that it had given away all those miles and was done with the promotion.

Don’t despair if you missed it. There are some new and potentially juicier deals on the table from other issuers. Here’s where to get your free trips now:

Apr 6, 2011
via Reuters Money

IRS commissioner: My taxes are done. Where are yours?


A threatened government shutdown won’t stop Internal Revenue Service commissioner Douglas Shulman from filing his own taxes on time; they’re already done. “I make sure it gets done on time,” he told Reuters. “I just have to look it over.” He said that taxpayers should follow that example and not expect to get any extra filing time if there is a temporary federal work stoppage.

“The IRS will be accepting tax returns,” he told the National Press Club in a luncheon speech on April 6. “The American people should file their taxes and they are required to file by April 18.”

Apr 6, 2011

Stern Advice: Should you buy a 529 for your unborn grandchild?

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As publisher of the SavingforCollege website, Joe Hurley is a bit obsessed with 529 college savings plans, so it’s no surprise that he has one in his name and one in his wife’s.

What’s unusual is that he doesn’t expect to use those funds to send his kids to college. One has already completed his undergraduate education and the other is almost done.

Apr 5, 2011
via Reuters Money

5 ways to avoid a tax audit


Don’t stay up at night worrying about having your taxes audited, or imagining horrible interrogation scenarios with tax agents and windowless rooms. Fewer than one percent of returns are ever examined, and the vast majority of those are done through the mail and not in person. More reassuringly, more than one in 10 of those audits result in “no change” in the amount the taxpayer owes.

That data and more is included in the Internal Revenue Service’s most recent data book. In 2009, the IRS received 187 million returns, and it audited 1.7 million returns in fiscal year 2010, producing a 0.9 percent audit rate. So breathe.

    • About Linda

      "Linda Stern is an award-winning personal finance journalist who loves to write about how the big picture affects your pocketbook. A former contributing editor at Newsweek magazine and a long-time Reuters columnist, Stern covers everything from credit cards to retirement planning to investing. As a Washington-based correspondent, she sneaks in as much tax and economic policy as her editors will allow. She tweets at And when she expresses opinions, they are her own and not those of her employer."
      Joined Reuters:
      October 2010
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