Archive for May, 2009

How to Get More Money In Your Wallet

Friday, May 29th, 2009

The IRS offers a great way to put more cash in your wallet but they generally won’t tell you about it – and all that is required of you is that you fill out an easy form. Each year there are millions of people that get a tax refund from the government because they had previously overpaid their income tax. While it may seem like a great idea each year when you receive that refund, the reality is that the money you are overpaying the federal government is essentially an interest free loan you are supply to the feds. If you want to save money each year, you are much better off not expecting a refund.

If you work at paying just the right amount of taxes each year, you can end up saving yourself a lot of cash. That saved cash can be used to pay down or pay off debts throughout the year or put more cash into your savings account. By reducing debt and saving more, you are more financial stable throughout the year rather than during that one month you receive a windfall check. Most people who receive a refund will not use it for either debt or savings but rather as a splurge once a year.

To get rid of the annual refund, the only step you really need to take is visit your human resource department at work and request a form that will allow you to adjust your tax withholdings. The form is called a W-4 and for some it can be a bit confusing. Here is a break down of what the form actually means to help you fill it out correctly.

Allowance Claims – as a general rule, you should be claiming one allowance for you, one for your spouse, and one allowance for each child you have. The higher number of allowances you list, the less deductions will be taken from your pay as it designates lower tax withholdings.

Allowance Amount – for each allowance you have in the 2009 tax year, you’ll have $3650 worth of tax-free income.

Too Many Allowances – underpaying your taxes because you have too many allowances is a no-no and you could incur penalties for not paying in enough taxes.

If you consistently receive a tax refund each year, you really should consider a visit to your Human Resource department and alter your withholdings so you’ll start having more cash put back into your regular paychecks. If you are unsure as to how to handle your tax situation, you can visit the IRS website and use the calculator that will help you figure out your withholdings allowances before you go making changes to your W-4 form.

How Donating To Charities Can Save You Money

Monday, May 25th, 2009

Philanthropy is expressed through acts of charity and generosity. As more and more people find themselves unable to keep afloat financially the need for charitable donations has never been stronger. Not only do your fellow humans need financial assistance, the organizations that sponsor programs designed to help anyone (or anything) in need survive on donations. Most people who donate to charity do so because it is the right thing to do and it feels good to help others in need. That feeling in itself is enough motivation for those that are able to help however it is important to know that helping others can save you money as well.

Donations and Tax Deductions

When you donate either money or items to a qualifying charity you can reduce the amount of income that is subject to tax. Here are a few tax rules that you should understand to ensure you receive the maximum tax benefits from your donations.

  • Check to see if the charity you are donating to is qualified by the IRS. Obviously this should not deter you from making a donation to a cause which you believe in, however you should know that not all charities qualify, making it necessary to know where you stand before attempting to claim a tax deduction.
  • You can only claim a deduction after you have physically donated cash or property. If you are in a situation that requires a pledge or promise of a donation, that in itself in not tax deductible until the actual donation has been made.
  • Document donations to provide necessary proof required by the IRS. You will need to keep good records to be eligible for a tax deduction. Save canceled checks, letters of acknowledgement from the charity and appraisals (required for deductions of more than $5,000) for property donated.
  • Determine the value of donated property. When claiming a non-cash donation on your tax return you will have to claim the fair market value of the donation. The IRS has a guideline that can help you determine the fair market value of your items.

The following contributions are not considered tax deductible.

  • Volunteering your time is a great way to help organizations in need of assistance, however you will not be able to claim the value of your “time” as a tax deduction.
  • Money donated to business associations, labor unions, individual people, foreign governments and political donations.
  • You must donate to a non-profit organization. For-profit organizations do not qualify for tax deductions.

Avoid Getting Scammed

Sadly like many things in life there is a down side to donating to charities. There are con-artists who are more than happy to take your charitable donation and use it for their own benefit, making it important to fully investigate the charity prior to committing any money or property for their cause. Find out how long the charity has been operating, if there are complaints reported against them and how much of your money actually goes toward the cause versus administrative and other costs. By taking the time to research the charity you reduce the chances of donating money to an illegitimate organization.

EBSB Direct Online Savings Account Review

Monday, May 18th, 2009

West Boston Savings Bank has created an online division called EBSB Direct.  The online savings account is ideal for individuals who have a large amount of money to save, as the interest rates are best for balances over $50,000.  For balances over $50,000, EBSB Direct is offering a 2.81% APY through September 30, 2009.

For balances between $5,000 and $50,000 during the same time period, the rate is 2.00% APY and the minimum balance to open the account is $5,000.  If you don’t have a lot of money to deposit, you  will probably be better off checking around for banks that don’t have such a high minimum balance requirement.  With EBSB Direct, when your balance falls below $5,000, you pay a monthly fee of $15 and will not earn interest on your savings. You can save up to $1 million maximum in an EBSB Direct savings account.

The bank offers unlimited external account linking, which means you can connect your EBSB Direct savings account with as many other accounts as you like to transfer money via the ACH bank-to-bank transfer service.   To verify external banks, EBSB Direct will make small deposits to the external bank that you can confirm in order to verify the account you are linking is your own.  They have a maximum transfer limit of $150,000 per transfer, which makes it easy to transfer money between your accounts whenever you need to.

EBSB Direct is available nationwide, and can be opened online. You can make your initial deposit and subsequent deposits with ACH transfers from other bank accounts.  The account you use to initially fund an EBSB Direct savings account does not need to go through any further verification process in order to perform additional bank-to-bank transfers in the future.

According to the bank’s published FAQ’s, there is no credit report accessed when you open an account.  You are limited to a total of 6 withdrawals per month from your account as is true with many pure savings accounts, and there is no check writing feature. If you meet the minimum balance requirement to earn the interest on your savings, interest is compounded and credited monthly.

The Carnival of Personal Finance Pays it Forward

Monday, May 18th, 2009

This week, the Carnival of Personal Finance is hosted on Wisebread.com and reminds us what Pay it Forward is all about.  Participants were asked to link back to the carnival itself; as well as 3 or more posts from other participating bloggers in an effort to “pay it forward” online.  Here are some we liked:

Should You Switch to a Credit Union to Save?

Friday, May 15th, 2009

As consumers, we are doing all we can to make ends meet and start saving more cash. Interestingly, the one place people fail to notice they are losing cash is the exact same place they store their cash. Banks have been raising their fees and lowering their interest rates, leaving customers unsure of what to do. There is no chain binding you to your banking institution and may want to consider your other options.
Exploring Your Options

A credit union is one such option. Banks and credit unions do differ and you should take a look at what your local credit union have to offer you. There are over 90 million people who belong to credit unions across the country and nearly anyone can belong to a credit union because of their employer and other associations where the consumer belongs.

Exploring the Differences

Credit unions are owned by its members. When you open an account at a credit union, you essentially are part owner in the business. You are more likely to get better customer service that at your traditional bank. Credit unions are not designed to make a profit, therefore their fees are smaller and occur less frequently than at a bank. The profits that are made will then be divided up amongst account holding members. Banks keep adding fees in order to boost profits. Unlike bank, credit union ATM cards can be used at a large network of ATM’s for no fee. Some will even reimburse you for fees incurred from other ATM’s used.

Many consumers have joined credit unions only to get a good deal on a loan but then come to discover the other benefits, such as lower fees, better interest rates, and good mortgage rates. Many will find a credit union from information given out by their employer. Otherwise you can find a credit union for you here.

Deposits at a credit union are insured for at least $250,000 on each account. That coverage is provided by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and backed by the federal government. If you haven’t taken a serious look at your bank policies lately, now is a great time to do just that. You may be surprised to see exactly how much your bank is costing you each month. You can always comparison shop with other local banks and see what kind of deal you can get, or even negotiate with your current bank to get a better deal but if you find that banks are no longer meeting your financial needs, check out your local credit union for more options.

Tips To Find The Best Deals On The Internet

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

While many people still enjoy the atmosphere of traditional shopping, the current economic climate has caused more people to jump on board the online shopping band wagon. Buying items online while not a new concept, is certainly gaining momentum as more people look for ways to cut costs and save money. Consumers are scaling back on frivolous spending and merchants are responding by offering lower prices, deals and coupons to tempt consumers to buy their products. If you haven’t yet tried your hand at online shopping the following tips can help you find the best bargains on the world wide web.

  • Coupons Are Not Just For Clipping- Consumers new to shopping online may not know that you can save money at checkout using coupons just like you would in a “real” store. Unlike clipping paper coupons from a store flier, you can instead visit coupon code sites to find codes that will be entered before final payment. Depending on what type of codes you find you can save money on purchase prices, be eligible for special offers or get free shipping. All of these benefits lower the original price you would have paid, therefore are worth the time spent looking for them. Like paper coupons you will have to read the fine print or conditions associated with the “coupon” to ensure you meet the requirements to get the deal.
  • Get Your Fliers Online- Merchants love to reward loyal customers with special deals. Just as your local grocery store can follow your spending habits when you use store loyalty cards, online merchants also offer discounts and special offers based on your past purchases. In order to get these special bargains delivered to you inbox you will have to sign up for newsletter or updates issued by the merchant. Before signing up you should understand that not all merchants offer special deals through their mailing list but those who do may make it worth your effort.
  • Comparison Shop To Find The Best Bargains- Consumers know that shopping around is often the only way to find the best deal. When making purchases online the same rule applies. As always you need to make sure you are comparing the prices for the same product to avoid getting sidetracked by a cheaper make or model. Remember the best deal isn’t always the lowest price, you must consider additional add on costs such as taxes and shipping. Consider refund and return policies to ensure you are not committing yourself to a purchase with no recourse if you are not satisfied. In short, shop around and compare prices but make your decision based on the best value for your money, not necessarily the cheapest price.
  • Take the time to read reviews- When purchasing a product sight unseen it is often difficult to get the real feel for that product like you could if you were actually viewing or handling it in a store. Many products from children’s toys to electronic equipment have consumer reviews that you can read to find out if there is a common problem (or lack thereof) that might make buying that item online unadvised. Of course reviews are just independent opinions and you may not experience the same problem, but if you have your eye on a new cell phone and one hundred people who already have it agree that it is a dud…you should consider yourself forewarned.

By following the tips mentioned here you will be on your way to making educated online purchases that can save you money.

USAA Bank, 3.25% 2-Year CD Review

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

The CEO of USAA Bank is offering a promotional offer for a 3.25% APY 2-year CD from now until May 31st, 2009. You must be eligible for USAA property and casualty insurance to qualify for the CD, and the minimum deposit is $1,000. You need to mention the offer code CEO CD when opening your 2-Year CD. You won’t find this offer on the main USAA Bank website; it appears to only be offered through the link above.

USAA has received no government bailout money. In their 2008 report to members, they indicated that 94% of the members say USAA Bank meets or exceeds their family needs for financial solutions and advice. It also includes financial data that USAA is profitable and returned more than $857 million to the members – a portion of which were bank rebates and rewards.

Membership to USAA Bank is open to individuals who meet at least one of the following membership criteria:

  • Active-duty officers and enlisted personnel.
  • Children whose eligible parents have or had a USAA auto or property insurance product.1
  • National Guard and Selected Reserve officers and enlisted personnel.
  • Officer candidates in commissioning programs (Academy, ROTC, OCS/OTS).
  • Former military personnel:
    • Retired officers and enlisted personnel.
    • Former officers and enlisted personnel who separated from the military on or after Jan. 1, 1996.
  • Former USAA members who had USAA auto or property insurance.

In addition to the 3.25% APY for the 2-Year CD promotion, if you are eligible for the CD you are also eligible to open a checking account and receive a $100 checking bonus. This offer is available through 5/31/2009 as well. If you’d like to call USAA Bank to open your CD or checking account with bonus, the phone number is (800) 531-8132.

While you must meet the above membership requirements for the promotional 2-Year CD and checking promotion described here, USAA Bank allows all United States Citizens to open a deposit product. They offer a free checking account with free ATM use around the world, and it includes free checks. Their CD products have a history of higher than average interest rates, and the USAA is known for providing quality services for consumers looking for automobile insurance coverage and mutual funds.

USAA Bank has headquarters in San Antonio, Texas. It is FDIC insured and has been since 1983. The BauerFinancial rating is 5 stars (superior) and Bankrate.com gives it a sound rating of 4 stars based on December 2008 data.

Camping as the Perfect Money-Saving Vacation

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

If you sit quietly for a while, you might hear a pin drop at some of the largest resorts and vacation spots in America. Sorry, Mickey, but the trend is toward camping in order to save money.

And, why not – it is fun as well as cheap (relatively speaking). Whether you plan on pulling a camper, or taking a tent or trekking across the nation on your multi centre holidays you can make the best of the outdoors while saving money. Here are some tips that you can use to make your camping vacation as special as a date with Cinderella.

Pick a location. You will need to perform some research to see what camping spots are available in your area, or where they are located around some of the top national parks in the U.S. Do your research on the Internet. Keep in mind, though, that some information might be a little dated. Always verify openings and book reservations if they are offered.

Check out the prices. Compare prices on camping. These vary state-by-state and by park based on the attractions nearby. Campsites that are perfect for tent campers are usually less than those fully equipped for campers, but that is not always the case.

Look for bargain camping items. The time to buy camping supplies is in the fall when the season is over with, however, you can find some good buys right now. Check your local retailer for tents and other camping items such as small stoves, flashlights, batteries, sleeping bags, etc. Compare prices to what you can find online. If you plan this in advance, you can probably find better pricing online, but beware of shipping costs.

Plan your menu for the time that you will be camping, and purchase non-perishable food items before you leave. You can take frozen and refrigerated items, too, but they will not last as long so if you are travelling a long distance it is better to wait until you arrive in order to buy those things. Be sure to plan enough meals and then some in case you change your mind.

Plan for weather extremes. It is wise to pack jackets, sweaters, and the like to help prevent from overexposure to the cold and rain that can invade a vacation. This also applies for the sun. Be sure to take an appropriate sun blocker to help prevent sunburn.

Schedule in fun. While you are camping, look for opportunities that are close by in order to take advantage of something fun for the whole family. Make sure that it fits into your budget.

Protect your property. Keep your property safe by securing it as best you can. Campers are great about keeping a code of honor among themselves that helps prevent theft of your possessions, but that is not assured. Lock items of value like digital cameras and other electronic devices up in a vehicle if you are going out for a hike, etc.

Camping is a lot of fun and can bring a family together like nothing else can so go have a blast!