My glove box is full of printed maps and I carry a road atlas with me on vacations. Even when my car was equipped with a navigation system, I still planned my trips with the aid of a printed map.
My experience using electronic navigation aids has been mixed. In the very early days of the programs, our home address was entered on a road one mile south of its actual location. Delivery van drivers had to be warned not to rely on them. We Extension field staff frequently have programs in unfamiliar locations and the apps have been helpful, but I’ve also had experiences with closed roads and wrong locations. This lack of reliability has taught me to allow ample time to search again when I land at the wrong place and ask a local resident for directions.
When it comes to travel, understanding how navigation systems work can help you pick the best one for the job. Examples of features that improve their guidance would be using traffic congestion to direct you to routes that are longer, but less likely to result in a white knuckle drive or traffic jams. Several commercial sites are available that rate the apps and share details about their operation.
Using navigation apps to locate specific nearby businesses and repair services has its own set of problems. One major navigation app has recently come under fire for a serious flaw in its program. Fake business listings are hijacking the names of real businesses, and then providing a phone number that calls a scam artist. The scammer is able to enter the fake business in multiple locations, making it more likely to appear early in the search results.
In the spirit of “buyer beware” it makes sense to use personal sources whenever possible for reliable contact information. Confirm business numbers by cross checking in a local directory or phone book. The Better Business Bureau or local Chamber office is also a source to confirm a location and phone number. Use the police department’s regular phone number if you can find no other source to confirm your information. IMPORTANT NOTE: 911 should only be used for an emergency.
It’s time to buy picnic supplies, watermelon, hotdogs, and buns for the 4th of July. Shopping with a list and a coupon or two would lower the grocery bill. Maybe that is why the $80 HyVee coupon scam is circulating again.
The coupon looks authentic and so does the web page where you land to retrieve your big bargain. In a congratulatory invitation, victims are asked to answer a “customer survey” that gathers their name, birth date, telephone number, and email address. Sharing a social media link is required, expanding the circle of individuals exposed to the scam. The personal information is then used for other scams or sold to scam operations.
The Coupon Information Center lists on their counterfeit notification page over 19,000 fake coupons. Fake coupons are more likely to offer free items or high dollar values. They are also common in bulk coupon sales offers. (Manufacturer’s state on most coupons that the sale of their coupon is a violation of use.)
It’s illegal to modify coupons or use them for products other than identified by the manufacturer. “Limited offer: one per customer” means just that, using multiple email addresses to receive online offers or making photo copies is a violation of law.
Remind yourself when you see a coupon with a value of $80 of the old saying: “IF it’s too good to be true, it probably IS!”
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was passed in 2017. The legislation increased the amount that is exempt from federal estate taxation. Between 2018 and 2025 the amount exempt from taxes is $11,180,000 for singles (more than $22 million for couples) and is adjusted for inflation each year after 2018. In 2026 the amount will fall back to $5,400,000. A majority of individuals will never exceed either amount; however, estate planning is more than avoiding estate taxes. Some decisions about property transfer can have other tax consequences. Changes in tax law can make old estate plans obsolete.
One important element of estate transfer is the “step up” in basis of real estate and other property that has gained value over time. An acre of ground purchased for $200 (original cost or basis) in 1984 could have a value of $4000 or more in 2019. If the property were sold it would be subject to capital gains taxes on the $3,800 of appreciated value. If the property is inherited, it passes without taxation and the basis is reset to the market value the day the owner died. This “stepped-up basis” is a key consideration when decisions are made about gifting property, setting up trusts, and developing other estate transfer plans. Example: suppose you gave your daughter that acre of land today. Upon selling the land, she would owe income tax on the $3800 capital gain; if she had received it as an inheritance after your death, the sale would involve little or no capital gain, saving her the tax bill.
Transfer of wealth through estate plans has also resulted in new requirements for reporting and keeping records on appreciated property (real estate, stocks, etc.) with a stepped up basis. New IRS rules define the property subject to appraisal, steps to ensure accuracy, and required reporting to the IRS and beneficiaries. Executors are responsible for date of death appraisals. Appraisals must be kept by the beneficiaries and used if the property is sold. It is wise to complete the date of death appraisal promptly; the IRS is more likely to question an appraisal that is completed a long time after the death of the owner. Details are included in IRS Form 706.
Ag Decision Maker is an Iowa State University Extension source of additional estate planning resources and information. Scroll down the page to find estate planning publications.
A client at the volunteer income tax site asked if we could load her tax refund on a prepaid card. The free volunteer site doesn’t offer a prepaid card option; refunds are direct deposited or sent by paper check. Some prepaid cards restrict deposits of federal funds. A test of prepaid cards was completed by volunteers a number of years ago. The sites raised concerns about the fees and hidden charges associated with the cards. An example was a $25 fee paid to receive a cash withdrawal from refunds loaded on a card.
The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau proposed rule changes for the popular cards in 2016. They are used by employers to issue paychecks, government agencies for benefits, and colleges/universities for financial aid. The new rules took effect on April 1, 2019.
Primary changes include simple upfront details of fees for store purchased cards; expanded access to account activity and balances at no charge; and registration options that afford protections if the cards are used for unauthorized transactions, lost or stolen. These rule changes also apply to electronic wallets.
Employers, government agencies, and colleges/universities must offer an alternative method of funds transfer. If a card option is used there must be access to monthly account transactions and fees.
Social Security numbers have to be correct on tax returns. At the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites we receive an immediate reject on the return if the name and numbers don’t match Social Security records. We also receive a reject code when a social security number has already been used on a tax return. Individuals must still file a return, but with the electronic submission blocked, it must be a mailed copy.
The IRS and Iowa Department of Revenue will send you a letter saying more than one return was filed in your name. Be sure to respond to the letter promptly. Use the internet to validate the IRS phone number and address (scam artists are now creating very good look alike letters). Call and discuss the evidence needed to support your tax return submission.
A letter will also be sent if the IRS or Iowa Department of Revenue has a record of earned income that you didn’t report on a return. It may mean your SSN was used by someone else so they could avoid paying taxes on their earnings.
Social Security numbers can be obtained through scams or by buying numbers that were stolen in a security breach. If you have been notified that someone has committed tax-related identity theft with your personal information, report it promptly. Go to identitytheft.gov to complete and send the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit. By doing this, you will also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and obtain an ID Theft Recovery Plan.
After your identity is falsely used for tax purposes, the IRS will send you an annual PIN number (a new number each year). This PIN number will be added to your tax return to verify your identity to the IRS, and will prevent anyone else from continuing to use your social security number on false claims.
It’s strange to hear marketing promoting the use of e-cigarettes. Legislation has restricted campaigns promoting tobacco products for many years. A frequently-used e-cig marketing approach targets smokers who feel their habit has forced them into self-imposed isolation to hide their habit or protect others from second hand exposure. Web sites declare the product is for individuals who already smoke, offering them a safer alternative.
Nicotine is an addictive substance and e-cigarette ads or commercials clearly state its presence. E-cigarette use often leads to use of tobacco products. Among individuals who smoke, nine out of ten started as teens.
A 2016 report by the Surgeon Generals Office pointed to data indicating a rapid increase in the use of e-cigarettes (also known as “vaping”) by teens and young adults. In research designed to measure whether youth understand the risks, the findings clearly indicate that teens and young adults view e-cigarettes as safe. Flavor options are attractive, and natural curiosity are reasons given to try e-cigarettes.
Tobacco product use in any form, including e-cigarettes, is unsafe for adolescents. Lifelong addiction is costly, not only in health terms, but also in financial terms. E-cigarette pods, equivalent to a pack of cigarettes, cost $4-$5. The device to use the pods is around $35. When a substance is addictive, as e-cigarettes are, users will typically increase consumption over time. This is a bonus for the companies selling the products. Even with low use (2 pods a week), the habit will cost $500 a year.
Running a calculation of what $500 a year could become if it was saved provides an argument against vaping. A modest $50 deposited monthly into an account earning 3% a year with annual compounding (I’m being intentionally conservative here…) from the age of 16 until age 65 would result in cash assets of $65,000. Unfortunately it’s hard to make this example exotic enough to hook individuals on saving instead of vaping.
Early returns prepared at the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) site where I volunteer are resulting in similar refunds or taxes due from previous years. VITA serves individuals with incomes at or below $55,000.
Dependents listed on returns are the biggest factor resulting in similar results. The child tax credit increased to $2000, the refundable portion of the child tax credit has increased to $1,400, and there is a non-refundable credit of $500 for dependent individuals who are 17 or older on December 31st of the tax year.
At the tax site, parents often state they won’t claim a dependent, even when they are eligible. If someone can be claimed as a dependent on your return it should be done; the IRS doesn’t allow a choice. Income deductions don’t increase and the $500 credit may be lost.
Lower withholding hasn’t been a problem with clients we’ve seen, but it has resulted in slightly higher incomes on the state returns, due to reduced deduction on Line 31. While most individuals won’t exceed the federal standard deduction, it makes sense to gather and record allowable deductions so they will carry over in software to the state return. Iowa has a standard deduction of $2,030 for single and $5,000 for couples, so it’s much easier to itemize on the state return.
If you aren’t setting up your refund to be deposited directly into your checking or savings account, this would be the year to start. As one client stated, ” The Federal government could shut down again. It’s hard to tell when I would get my refund, if I have a check mailed. Here is my bank information!”
How’s your New Year’s resolution going? Maybe I can help. Add a short term goal to read one book about money or personal management by the end of January and use the content to improve your original plan to improve your well being. Here are few I recommend:
The Millionaire Next Door identifies seven common traits that show up again and again among those who have accumulated wealth. If your resolution was to slow down the purchase of stuff, adopt a minimalist approach to life, or start recycling/reusing what you have, the book could give additional reasons to stick with it. Authors are Thomas Stanley, PhD and William Danko, PhD
Loaded by Sarah Newcomb, PhD, introduces you to behavioral finance. The book explains how our experiences with money have a psychological basis and can often run counter to what we’d like to accomplish. She explains that money is just a tool and how we use it is entirely a matter of personal choice. The book offers advice about overcoming negative behaviors, so if you are concerned that you might fail to follow through with plans to change your use of money in 2019, this book offers tips that could help you change your goal and make it more achievable.
Charles Duhigg is a business reporter. The Power of Habit describes why habits exist and how they can be changed. Your resolution might be failing because you haven’t really examined why you are repeating the same behavior loop over and over again. Taking advantage of his tips to find your weak links and embrace change could lead to success.
Finally if you use this suggestion and read one book before the end of January, don’t forget to celebrate. One short term resolution accomplished!!!
When will it be delivered? I’m learning that tracking services offered by vendors vary with accuracy and details. Packages I mailed at Halloween took a broom stick ride in the opposite direction of their destination and then circled back for a late delivery. I have a purchase that has been “out for delivery” for a week and there are no details.
The Federal Trade Commission enforces rules for online and mail order sales. Packages have to arrive within 30 days. If that isn’t possible, you must be notified and have an option to cancel the order.
Where will I find it? I have an inspection routine at my house when I receive confirmation of delivery. Packages have been found in multiple locations: on the front porch; the back porch; the bushes near the doors; and the back of the mailbox. I’m thankful I don’t have my son’s dog (shredded packages) and I’m not on a busy city street. There are alternatives to consider: work address, neighbor, requiring a signature for delivery (usually involves a separate charge), using the carrier’s designated pickup and delivery location.
I’m not complaining. “Mail-order” shopping has come a long way from the days of the Montgomery Ward catalog. I remember when you mailed in an order and instead of a package, the vendor’s letter arrived informing you the item was “sold out” or “not in stock”. Sometimes they sent a substitute item, which wasn’t always satisfactory. Inventory control with access from your home computer has reinvented “mail-order” shopping, and it’s definitely on the up swing.
Making a decision about health insurance coverage is not easy. Most of us rely on our employer to wade through the details of policy coverage and negotiation of rates. We gladly accept what is offered, choosing between 2-3 options that personalize the coverage. HR sends a letter or hosts a meeting for questions and answers. If we don’t do anything, the policy we have continues into the new year.
It’s not quite as easy when you are purchasing insurance on your own: some parts of Medicare, the Marketplace, and plans offered from private insurance agencies can be more confusing. The options for coverage have experienced a period of volatility. Assistance with enrollment varies. Here is an overview of the open enrollment time frame, who can help you sort through the options, and major changes to be aware of in 2019:
Medicare: Open enrollment for Medicare Advantage and Prescription Drug coverage (Medicare D) began on October 15th and closes on December 7th. SHIIP volunteers are excellent resources to help sort coverage and find plans that will meet your needs. Medicare is also providing assistance through an online education program, Medicare Plan Finder. Advantage plans are increasing in numbers and are being heavily marketed this season. Individuals enrolled in supplemental coverage (Medigap) and prescription drug (Medicare D) plans should open and read any notices they received in the past 30-60 days. Your coverage may have changed.
Marketplace Coverage: Open enrollment began on November 1 and closes on December 15th. Iowans may call 1-800-318-2596 or visit healthcare.gov for information. Independent insurance agents may be able to assist. If you received assistance last year, try contacting the agency that sponsored the service. Medica and Wellmark will be offering ACA-compliant individual health insurance plans to Iowans statewide for plan year 2019. If you currently have coverage through the exchange and do not choose a plan for 2019 by the end of open enrollment, you will be re-enrolled into the same plan offered by Medica. Reminder: if you want to use Premium Tax Credits to help cover the cost of your insurance, you must purchase it in the marketplace.
Private Plan Coverage: Enrollment is not limited to a set period of time for most policies. The Iowa Insurance Division provides a listing of licensed agents. New this year for individuals who do not qualify for premium tax credits are association benefits plans.
Children’s’ Health insurance Plans (known in Iowa as HAWK-I): Enrollment is not limited to a set period of time. Contact the Department of Human Services for applications and program details.
Medicaid: Enrollment is not limited to a set period of time. Individuals may qualify based on income or specific health issues. Contact the Department of Human Services for applications and program details.