Senior Personal Finance Correspondent
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Feb 24, 2011

IRS says it’s easing up on those who owe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Internal Revenue Service is going to go easier on taxpayers who owe money, its commissioner said on Thursday.

“We are making fundamental changes to our lien system and other collection tools that will help taxpayers and give them a fresh start,” Doug Shulman told reporters. “I always encourage our employees to try to walk in the taxpayer’s shoes.”

Feb 23, 2011

Stern Advice: Tax breaks for the Sandwich Generation

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – What can you do when your parents are struggling to pay medical bills and your kids can’t land jobs? Why, write checks, of course!

Being surrounded by loved ones can be a costly proposition. Much has been made of the recession’s effect on recent college graduates; they’re pouring lattes and surfing sofas. And aging parents can run through money at rates that would challenge Donald Trump’s next wife.

Feb 23, 2011
via Reuters Money

New tax breaks for the self-employed

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Limited-time offers usually come from television pitchmen, but this year the Internal Revenue Service is tossing a couple at self-employed folks who cover their own health insurance. If that describes you, check out these breaks on your 2010 tax returns. They’re new this year, and could offer significant savings. Here are the details.

Health insurance premiums will offset the self-employment tax

People who have salaried jobs pay 7.65 percent in Social Security and Medicare taxes, and their employers pay a like amount. But self-employed workers pay both halves — a total of 15.3 percent —  in what is called the self-employment tax. In all other years, they have been able to deduct their health insurance from their net income, but not until after the self-employment tax is calculated. So, a consultant earning $100,000 and paying $15,000 for health insurance would owe the self-employment tax on the full $100,000, and then be able to deduct $15,000 before the income tax is calculated. (Half of the self-employment tax is then deductible.) That would leave her with a $15,300 self employment tax, and a taxable income of $77,400.

Feb 18, 2011
via Reuters Money

3 ways to save money on a new car loan

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Car dealers don’t just make money on cars. They make money on extended warranties, undercoating, fancy floor mats, extra insurance and loans. They make a lot of money on loans, according to the consumerist Center for Responsible Lending, which reckons that dealers rack up hundreds of dollars in kickbacks for every loan they offer.

How much? According to a new calculator at the center’s website, if you’re financing a $26,000 car for five years and you have a decent credit score, the dealer is getting between $556 to $2,223 back from the lender. That’s because the dealer is essentially acting as a loan broker, according to Chris Kukla, the center’s senior counsel for government affairs. Dealers make the loans and then sell them to third party lenders. The sale price includes a markup that goes into the dealer’s pocket… not yours.

Feb 16, 2011
via Reuters Money

Are equally-weighted indexes better for investors?

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What’s at the core of your retirement portfolio? If it’s an inexpensive index fund or exchange-traded fund (ETF), you’re up on the latest in investment science – circa 1995. But now, science may be moving on, and a new way of looking at portfolio construction has emerged.

Stock index funds like the widely-held Vanguard 500 Index Fund give investors access to broad markets for pennies in trading and carrying costs. Boatloads of research have demonstrated that they typically beat most actively managed funds on an after-fee basis. So if you’re depending on a fund or ETF like that, you’re not doing too badly.

Feb 16, 2011

Stern Advice: Does your money need a mission statement?

WASHINGTON, Feb 16 (Reuters) – There is much said about the
need for a clear financial plan to maximize savings for
retirement, college and other goals. But before you create that
plan, you’ll want guidelines to help you write it.

It’s like this: If your plan is a road map, you need to
know where you want to go first, right?

Feb 14, 2011
via Reuters Money

The Obama budget: What’s NOT in it for you

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President Obama’s proposal for the fiscal year 2012 federal budget is just that: A proposal that would have to wind its way through a Republican-controlled House and a divided Senate to become law. So there’s no sense in panicking about what’s in it and what isn’t.

But here is why you need to pay attention: The wish list, released on Feb. 14, is indicative of the themes that will dominate the remainder of this presidential term and the 112th Congress. Individual taxpayers will find a tight budget. Retirees could get an extra break, and students may lose valuable subsidies.

Feb 11, 2011

White House’s unwritten mortgage memo: Act now

WASHINGTON, Feb 11 (Reuters) – The Obama Administration’s
newly unveiled housing finance plan may have clouded the
picture for policymakers, lenders and bond buyers, but it made
the future for borrowers starkly clear: It’s going to cost more
to get a home loan.

Mortgages have already become more expensive in recent
weeks, as Fannie Mae (FNMA.OB: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) and Freddie Mac (FMCC.OB: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) began
began adding risk fees to almost all of the loans they sponsor.
Average rates on 30-year fixed rate-loans have already moved
from 4.4 percent in November to 5.2 percent now, according to
Mortgage Marvel, a loan comparison web site.

Feb 11, 2011
via Reuters Money

Write a separate check for IRA fees, save big

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If you’re getting investment advice for your Individual Retirement Account (IRA), Roth IRA or Rollover IRA, you’re probably paying for it, even if the charges aren’t obvious. But by making that payment explicit, and covering it with funds from outside of your retirement account, you can magnify your retirement savings and get an extra tax deduction, too.

That’s because the Internal Revenue Service has ruled that money paid to financial advisers for managing IRAs doesn’t have to count against the annual IRA contributions limit. Put simply, if the fee you’re paying to your adviser is a wrap fee, or a fee calculated as some percentage of the assets your adviser is managing, you can write a separate check for it and not allow it to deplete your retirement account. If, instead, your adviser is compensated by trade-related commissions, you can’t separate them from your account and take advantage of this break.

Feb 10, 2011

Breast-feeding supplies deductible, U.S. IRS rules

WASHINGTON, Feb 10 (Reuters) – Breast pumps and other
lactation supplies are now tax deductible as medical expenses,
the Internal Revenue Service said on Thursday, reversing a
long-held position.

The new ruling means that families can use pre-tax funds
from their flexible spending accounts and health savings
accounts for these supplies. Breast pumps typically cost more
than $200 and, along with supplies, can run as high as $1,000
in the first year of a baby’s life.

    • 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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