Tips & Advice

Were you one of the people that received an additional tax rebate last year? If so you will want to make sure that you do not make the mistake of reporting that rebate in a spot intended for a select group who are eligible for an additional credit.

Last year the IRS sent qualified taxpayers a rebate check as part of the economic-stimulus package. Individuals received up to $600 while married couples received $1,200 plus an additional $300 per eligible child.

Some individuals who did not get the economic stimulus payment, and a smaller number of those who did, may be eligible for the recovery rebate credit. However, most taxpayers who received the economic stimulus payment last year will not qualify for the recovery rebate credit on their 2008 federal income tax return.

To avoid delays in tax refunds, it is critical that taxpayers know the correct amount of the stimulus payment they received last year, if any, to help determine whether they qualify for the recovery rebate credit now.

The amount of the stimulus payment will not be entered directly on the tax return. For people using a paper tax return, the stimulus payment amount will be required when completing a related worksheet. For people using tax software, the stimulus payment amount will be needed as part of the return preparation process.

For most taxpayers, the correct entry for the recovery rebate credit will either be blank or zero.

If there is any question at all as to the amount that should be reported for the recovery rebate credit, the taxpayer or preparer should enter "RRC" next to the appropriate line above, and the IRS will determine whether a recovery rebate credit is due, and, if so, how much.

Some of the major factors that could qualify you for the recovery rebate credit include:
Your financial situation changed dramatically from 2007 to 2008.
You did not file a 2007 tax return.
Your family gained an additional qualifying child in 2008.
You were claimed as a dependent on someone else's return in 2007 but cannot be claimed as dependent by someone else in 2008.

For additional information go to or speak with a tax professional.






When times are tough you don't have to sacrifice having fun you just need to adjust what you do in order to save money. Here are some ideas on how to save some money on entertainment.

Check out the library: Dust off your library card and enjoy DVDs and books for free. If you'd normally rent a movie a week and buy a book a month, you can cut costs by $30. Plus, check out library-sponsored events, such as book readings and clubs, film screenings and lectures.

Watch for discount days: Many theaters, museums, galleries, zoos and parks offer special discount days, such as standing room only or pay-what-you-can nights. Some even offer free admission on certain days of the month.

Team up for baby-sitting: As any parent knows, a good chunk of any entertainment budget can be eaten up just paying the baby sitter. Join forces with a relative, neighbor or friend and trade off watching each other's kids, instead. For example, you watch their kids one Saturday evening and they watch yours the following weekend.

Catch a matinee: Matinees aren't just for senior citizens or little kids. You can often get cheap tickets to movies, theater productions and other shows if you attend in the early afternoon instead of the prime evening time slot.

Daytime is also a good time to try out a hot new restaurant. You can get lunch-menu prices for dinner-quality entrees.

Go back to college: College campuses are a trove of quality entertainment options, from student musical performances, film festivals, art exhibits, theater productions, dance recitals, sporting events and more. The best part: Many are free or incredibly inexpensive to attend.

Fire your video store: Spending $5 for a movie at the corner video store can add up quickly. And mail-order subscription services can be costly, too, unless you watch a lot of movies every month to make the expense worth it. Instead, scope out DVD kiosks in your neighborhood. For example, for $1 per night, you can rent a DVD from Redbox kiosks. They carry new releases and are located nationwide in thousands of convenient spots, such as fast-food restaurants and grocery stores. If you're a once-a-week renter, you could shave your movie costs from $20 a month to a mere $4.

Give the secret handshake: As with many things in life, getting a deal on entertainment can come down to whom you know. You could score discount tickets to amusement parks, sports arenas and other events through clubs and associations you belong to, such as AAA, AARP, a credit union, alumni or professional association or even your job. Flash your membership card; save money.

Head outdoors: Mother Nature offers plenty of free and cheap entertainment. Go hiking, picnicking, bird watching, fishing, kayaking or camping. You could even host a campout and hot dog roast in your backyard.



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What to Expect

Taxes are by no means very fun, especially if you are the subject of an audit. Audits can range from small honest mistakes that have to be backed up with documentation to large-scale seriousness of tax fraud.

If you receive an official envelope from the IRS, don't panic. There are three kinds of audits. Most audits fall into the first category. The IRS will contact you by letter asking for more information on a couple of simple items. These are generally not serious and once you provide the information requested the situation is settled. They may contact you again if their findings show that you owe more money.

With more serious inquires you will need to meet with an IRS examiner at the nearest district office. They will examine your return more closely. Only provide them with the information they request and don't volunteer any other information not specifically related to their questions. It may invoke further unnecessary investigations.

The final type of audit is a field audit, where an IRS agent conducts an investigation at the taxpayer's home or business. These are generally reserved for people in the higher tax-bracket. The taxpayer will be subject to a ÒlifestyleÓ audit where everything from their house and neighborhood to the type of car they drive is examined to determine if it applies to the taxed income that individual pays.

If you have been tapped for any type of audit it is important to act immediately. It is a good idea to hire a professional to help you with the legalities of an already confusing subject. If you hired a professional to do your taxes in the first place, those responsible will generally handle everything for you. They will ask you to provide them with information and then take it from there.

Just because you have been audited doesn't mean that you are doomed. You have a right to appeal the audit if you feel that the information you provided is accurate. The process is fairly simple and won't cost you anything unless you hire a professional. It will also delay your tax bill, giving you time to save money to pay it off if need be.

The downside of an appeal is that interest on your tax bill continues to grow while you are appealing and on a rare occasion they may find more errors when re-examining your tax bill. This will cause you to owe even more. You will also probably want to hire an attorney or accountant to help you if the appeal is complicated.

The best way to prevent from being audited is to keep accurate records and be prepared to prove any of the deductions in question. Just because some deductions may send up red flags doesn't mean you shouldn't take them. Just make sure you have legitimate proof to back it up, and there will be no problems. People who are self-employed or earn most of their income in cash have to be especially cautious when filling out their taxes. Make sure your business deductions are just that, and if you claim to earn $21,000 a year as a waiter make sure you have proof.

The IRS compares similar tax returns for people in the same income bracket and any that are not with the norm may get another look.

It is important to provide all the information that the IRS requests from you and to answer their questions honestly. Remember, only provide the information they request. Do not provide any extra information that may be used against you. Again, a tax professional can assist you to make sure that you are providing all the accurate and necessary documents.

Even though an audit is not the best thing for you, it's not the end of the world and can be taken care of.

There are endless amounts of questions you may have on taxes. Use the references below or contact a tax professional to help further assist you.



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What to Expect

The chill of winter is slowly melting away and soon it will be time to clean out the cobwebs inside and out. Spring-cleaning is an annual ritual and a great time to also spruce up your finances.

Start with your tax return

A completed tax return acts as a squeaky-clean window into your money life. It shows your after-tax income and reminds you of how much you made in the stock market and how little you earned on your side gig.

Before you put the forms away, take a moment to assess whether your tax situation will change dramatically this year because of a job change, college graduation, or new baby and plan accordingly.

If you received a big refund or owed big-time this year, now is the time to rework how much is withheld from your paycheck. The more dependents you claim, the less money is taken out and the more money makes it to your pocket up front and vice versa.

Need to tinker with your withholding? Check out the IRS' withholding calculator (go to and put "withholding calculator" in the search field).

Eliminate the junk and clutter

It's a good idea to buy a fire safe and track down which papers to keep and which to toss.

Generally, the IRS advises you to keep your tax returns indefinitely. Supporting documentation - such as W-2s, 1099s and receipts - should be kept for at least three years.

With the rest of the documents, ask yourself three questions: Have I used this document recently? Why would I need it? Is it easily replaced? Old phone bills and credit card statements hit the shredder, while mortgage documents, birth certificates, insurance policies and the like are filed away.

Here are some items that should be kept in an accessible, safe, and secure place:

* Birth Certificates
* Social Security Cards
* Marriage License
* Deeds/Titles
* Contracts - Mortgage Papers
* Home Improvement Receipts
* Wills or Power of Attorney
* Veteran's Papers
* Transcripts, etc
* Family Health Records
* Warranties and Manuals
* Large Purchase Receipts
* Insurance Policies
* Credit Card Information

Clean up your credit

Now is as good of time as any to check your credit report and make sure there are no errors and to find out how you look through the eyes of creditors. This will also help you come up with a way to pay off debt.

If you haven't checked to see if your credit report is filled with mistakes, visit You can receive 3 free credit reports each year (one from each credit reporting agency). For an additional price you can also receive your credit score.

If you find yourself with debt problems it may not be a bad idea to consult a credit counselor. They can take a look at your situation and determine if they can help you pay off your debts faster and improve your credit.

Plant your coins in the bank

During a traditional spring cleaning, coins sprout from couch cushions and junk drawers. The average American has $99 in coins lying about, according to Coinstar. Stick $99 in a savings account each year for 10 years earning 5 percent and thanks to compound interest - the equivalent of financial Miracle-Gro - you'll have about $1,300.

Dust off your Budget

If you haven't already done so, now would be a good time to start or revamp your budget. Find out where you are having spending holes and fix them by disciplining yourself and cutting down on some of your spending categories. It's also a good time to start planning for summer events that may cost you some extra money like graduation, weddings, and reunions.

A good spring cleaning can take up the better part of a day so start now before the weather gets too nice and that way you will be able to enjoy the sun and flowers of spring.




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Remember how last month I was talking about how I was going to get my taxes done earlier this year? Well, surprise it's getting towards the end of February and all I have really got done is gathering all my tax info and stuffing it into a folder. If I could just find a spare couple of hours not dedicated to work, cooking, cleaning, playing with my 2 year old, or preparing for a newborn I may actually get them done. Wish me luck.

I've flirted with the idea of working a second job. Not for the responsible reason of paying off debt but for the store discount. I tried to convince my wife to let me work at Best Buy on weekends so I could get the employee discount and buy all the electronics a man could dream about. Apparently she was not to keen of the idea of me spending time away from the family and spending the extra paycheck before it ever had a chance of seeing our bank account.

I have been trying to add additional income that doesn't require me to spend much time away from home. I have started to do some freelance graphic design and photography work. Granted it's mostly been for friends and family and the money I have received from them was more of a donation, as I didn't really ask for money.

As mentioned above I am trying to find as much time during the day as it is and have not been able to focus much more attention on a second job. I am hoping that once the new baby comes and we get settled I will be able to make more of an effort to make some extra money using my talents.

I have researched it plenty and found out that there are plenty of legitimate ways to make money on the Internet. There are sites where you can bid on jobs or people will hire you out. So essentially you can find work from home with a good internet connection.

Saving on entertainment has been something we have been trying to do since it is a spending category that allows for flexibility. We have the Redbox movie vending stations a couple of places around town and have found that these are a great option for renting a movie. They are only a buck a night per rental, so as long as you can get it back the next day it's quite a cheap movie night. In some ways it's easier to pick out a movie because there is not as many options to choose from so you don't have to wander around the store choosing between titles.

The other thing that has been happening is the daily barrage of hospital and medical bills. As I mentioned last month, I had to go to the doctor and have a number of tests done. Well, when you see your regular doctor then they send you to a specialist and then they send you to get tests done you are interacting with a lot of different organizations. So I am getting bills from different places and don't know what I am paying for because I am not receiving itemized bills, just statements that have the amount due and timeframe from which to pay.

As you can imagine it can be frustrating when you are constantly writing checks to pay off medical bills and you don't know what you are actually paying for. I am currently in the process of contacting all the medical places and requesting they send me an itemized bill. Also, I have been contacting them to set up payment arrangements, as I do not have the extra money at this time to pay all the bills off in full. Most medical billing representatives are very accommodating and will come up a payment plan. I find it is easier to call them instead of just sending them what you can and having them guess on how you plan to repay.

On top of all my medical bills we are getting ready to payback the bills that will come with the birth of our new child. Insurance will cover the large majority but there will still be some that we will be responsible for. So basically, we have to accommodate for medical bills every month the rest of this year.

As far as the rest of March goes, I'm looking forward to it warming up and being able to get outside to start running. The race season begins in March and I'm looking forward to it. Most of my running/workout gear has held up pretty well and I should be able to hold off replacing it for a month or so.

To leave you this month I will end with an Irish quote in the spirit of my favorite holiday St. Patrick's Day.

For each petal on the shamrock
This brings a wish your way -
Good health, good luck, and
For today and every day.


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Increase Your Income

When things get tight you may find yourself trying to decrease spending while increasing income. In order for some of us to do that the idea of a second job may come to mind.

I'm sure that most of us work long enough hours as it is and can't imagine finding the extra time needed to earn more. The key is to find ways to get paid for things you enjoy doing or find the job jems that don't have you burning the midnight oil.

Come up with a plan first. Look at your budget and determine what amount of extra money is needed. Do you need the money to pay bills or buy groceries? Or do you want to pay off some debt faster and build up your savings account? Knowing what you need the money for and how much you need will help you narrow down some of your job choices.

Try and find a job that you will enjoy and different than your day job. Do you spend all day in a cubicle? Then maybe you would like to do something that has you moving about interacting with others. Perhaps you like a fast paced environment and could bartend a couple nights a week making good money with tips.

Use talents you already have to try to make some extra money. This way you are working for yourself and don't have another job with another boss and you aren't on someone else's schedule. You may be surprised what people will pay you to do things you enjoy doing anyway. This can include taking photographs, making scrapbooks, or hemming clothes for example.

Find a job that gets you moving. You may not get rich but delivering a daily or weekly newspaper can pay a few extra bucks a month as well as get you off the couch. Another fun job that has you outdoors is working for the census bureau for the upcoming census. You can go door-to-door verifying addresses and gathering data for the 2010 census. They are currently hiring and you can find out more information on how to apply at:

There are also plenty of jobs that involve sitting, as in house-sitting, pet-sitting, or baby-sitting. You can earn extra money by doing tasks as simple as bringing in the mail, watering the plants, feeding the fish, and making sure nothing happens while the owner is away. House-sitting doesn't require the demands of a second job and could even be thought of as a mini-vacation if the homeowners let you actually stay in the house.

Pet-sitting requires more commitment and you should make sure you are comfortable with the animal before you accept the job. Many people treat their pets like children and expect them to be taken good care of. There are also jobs out there for those people who are too busy to walk their own pets so they will pay someone to do it for them. So if you are good with animals you may inquire around about becoming a dog walker.

Babysitting jobs are not just for teenage girls needing gas money. You may be able to get better paying jobs as some parents may trust an older person watching over their kids than a teenager with less experience. Put up flyers around town to offer your services.

Work special events. You may be able to find a job at an events center and only work when there is a game, show, or concert going on. You could work the door and take tickets or you could work concessions or help people find their seats and mind the rules. An added bonus to this is that you may be able to catch some of the event and get paid to do so.

When it comes to taking on another job there are things that you want to be aware of so you don't burn yourself out or jeopardize your main job.

It's a good idea to let both employers know that they are not your only job. They may be more willing to work with you about accommodating your schedule and they will also let you know if they feel your work has been affected.

Having a family can make it more difficult to spend time away from them by working another job. Make sure you are open to your family and discuss your options. You may find ways to save money without having to work another job and sacrifice time away from your family.

A second job is a good way to help pay off debt and assist with the bills. With some research you can find something that you are both happy with and still allows you a social and family life.

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