Senior Personal Finance Correspondent
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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

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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.

Apr 1, 2011
via Reuters Money

Day trading is a waste of money, says tax court

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Still day trading? You might as well roll your dollars into a fat cigar and smoke them. That’s not a comment on your investment prowess, it’s the official position of the U.S. Tax Court.

Here’s the backstory: A taxpayer named Larry Tucker filed tax returns for 2000, 2001 and 2002 on April 15, 2003, but didn’t pay his taxes. By 2004, he owed $23,263 and, facing a tax lien, asked the Internal Revenue Service to accept an “offer in compromise.” (That’s a technical term for the deal the IRS will cut with a taxpayer who can afford to pay part of his bill, but not all of his bill.) But the IRS is permitted to reject those compromises if it decides the taxpayer has been wasting or consuming money that could have otherwise been used to pay taxes.

Mar 31, 2011
via Reuters Money

Tax obsessed? There’s an app for that

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Are you so into tax season that you hate to be away from your tax forms? Maybe you’ve got questions about your return that you’d like to be answering while you’re on your way to work, or out at dinner with your friends.

If you’ve got a smart phone, you’ve got an answer. Here are some tax apps for this tax season.

Mar 30, 2011

Stern Advice: Opening day of financial aid season

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – This is the week most colleges send out their financial aid award letters.

Enterprising students and parents will consider those packages a first offer. They will spend the month of April trying to cut a better deal before they decide, by May 1, where to send their sons, daughters and dollars.

Mar 28, 2011
via Reuters Money

Take Social Security now or later? Answer not so simple

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It’s a no brainer that your retirement will be better funded if you delay it. Work longer, and you (1) earn more money; (2) reduce the number of retirement years you have to cover; and (3) boost your Social Security benefits doubly, by delaying them (unclaimed, they’ll grow roughly 7.25 percent a year), and by adding new earnings to the formula by which they are calculated.

But here’s a question that’s far tougher: What if you can’t work longer, because you lost your job when you were 59 or 60? Should you start taking Social Security as early as possible (when you are 62) or defer it as long as you can?

Mar 25, 2011

Consumer for Sale: Companies pay big bucks for you!

WASHINGTON, March 25 (Reuters) – Consumers may be worth a
lot more than they realize.

You may feel worthless if you have just received shabby
treatment from a retailer, bank or utility. But a look at how
much you have been traded for in a Wall Street deal might make
you feel more valuable — though perhaps not much happier.

Mar 25, 2011
via Reuters Money

Linkapalooza! The 21 best websites for tax help

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It’s tax season. Of course, you’ve got questions. And not just “why do I have to fill out these annoying forms in the middle of spring?” If you’re doing your taxes, you’re probably wondering about all kinds of things, like (1) was there a stimulus credit in 2010? and (2) Can I deduct the points on my last refinance? and (3) Where did I put that receipt for all the books I donated? and (4) Why isn’t my accountant answering the phone at 2 a.m.?

Happily, answers to at least half of those questions are only a click away. Welcome to Linkapalooza! (The tax season version.) Here are 21 of the best websites to get you through tax season.

Mar 23, 2011

Stern Advice: Tax breaks, matches can boost charitable gifts

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Perhaps you have opened your wallet to help the afflicted in Japan — and before that, Haiti, and New Orleans. And you’ve donated money to your church, the local homeless shelter, symphony and the Boy Scouts.

Now what? First, keep it up. Americans give away more than $300 billion a year and that generosity helps in immeasurable ways.

Mar 21, 2011
via Reuters Money

Taxes: When it pays to procrastinate

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Yes, tax returns are due in less than a month. But who’s got the time to deal with that?

Certainly not Bob Meighan, vice president at TurboTax. He’s too busy dealing with tax season to actually fill in his own forms. “There’s a chance I’ll file by April 18″ when returns are due this year, he says. “I’m a procrastinator.” He often files an extension and slips his taxes in on the last possible day, with extensions, which is October 17 this year.

    • 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 www.twitter.com/LindaStern. And when she expresses opinions, they are her own and not those of her employer."
      Joined Reuters:
      October 2010
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