Options for Filing Your Taxes

When you get ready to file your taxes this year, it is important to research the best way to do so. If you feel comfortable completing the tax forms yourself, the IRS has a free file program for anyone whose income is $66,000 or less. There are also different companies such as H&R Block, Turbotax, TaxAct, Credit Karma, etc. that offer free e-filing for simple returns or you can pay to use their software for more complicated returns.

If you pay to use a tax company’s software, be aware of upselling and hidden fees.  Most companies will offer to file your simple return for free but try to sell you extra services such as audit protection. Depending on your situation, you may want the audit protection but just be sure to read the fine print to know exactly what type of protection you are receiving when purchasing that service. Additionally, these companies will offer to let you pay for services using your refund money, but this usually comes with a hefty service fee. The seemingly “free” tax refund advances can also come with hidden fees such as prepaid card fees, fees for tax preparation, etc. Although these advances are preferable to the once popular high interest tax refund loans, you should be careful when deciding whether to sign up for one.

If you choose to have a professional tax preparer complete your tax forms, be sure to choose someone you trust. Take the time to review the tax preparer’s work, ensure they are licensed, and know how the forms were completed to make sure you are receiving all applicable deductions and credits.

-Kathryn M.

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Two Resolutions to Add to Your List​

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Safety Tips for Holiday Shopping

Everyone knows, including criminals, that now is the busiest time of the year to be out shopping. So, it is especially important to take extra steps to keep yourself and your information safe. Plan ahead before you leave the house and only bring the cash or a credit/debit card that you will be using. Leave all other cards at home. This will not only help limit impulse spending but also protect you from losing all your cards and cash if your wallet is stolen.

Also, make sure your trunk has space in it to store the items that you buy. You should always keep your purchases locked and out of sight in your trunk. Whenever possible, insert your card in a chip reader instead of swiping it. The chip adds an extra level of protection by creating a one-time code that can’t be duplicated or counterfeited (unlike the static data on a magnetic strip).

When shopping in a store, always keep your belongings close (e.g., don’t leave your purse in the cart while you are distracted and deciding which shirt to buy). Be aware of your surroundings and pay attention to other shoppers especially when walking in the parking lot. Have your car keys ready and don’t linger for a long time with your car doors open. And finally, check your bank and credit card statements frequently to check for any fraudulent purchases. If there are any, report them immediately.

-Kathryn M.

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Tricks to Lower Your Heating Bill

As temperatures get lower and lower, most people see their heating bills rise. Fortunately, there are some tricks that you can do to save on heating.  To start, get a programmable thermostat. You can save 2% off your bill for every degree that you keep your thermostat below 72 degrees. Program the thermostat to be lower when you are away and when you are asleep. Keeping your thermostat at 68 degrees or lower while home will also save you money. Stay warm by bundling up with socks, sweaters and blankets. Make the most of free heat by opening your curtains to let sunshine in.  Use your ceiling fan to help push the warm air down by running it in a clockwise direction (when you are looking up at it) on a low speed. Have your house inspected to ensure your house is properly insulated including around the doors and windows. Finally, contact your electric company. Many states have programs to help low income families pay heating bills.

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Selecting the Right Charity

With all the hurricanes, flooding, and earthquakes happening around the world right now, you may be wanting to help by donating money. But before you donate your hard-earned cash, you should make sure that you are donating to a legitimate organization that provides the most help to victims. Below are a few websites that a donor can use to research an organization before donating money.

  • The IRS website provides a list of charitable organizations where your donation is tax deductible. Just be sure that the organization is eligible to receive tax deductible donations and isn’t just tax exempt (meaning the organization doesn’t pay taxes).
  • The Better Business Bureau monitors charitable organizations by rating their governance, effectiveness, finances, and solicitation practices.
  • The Guidestar website claims to be “the world’s largest source of information on nonprofit organizations.” You can search their website to compare nonprofits by looking at revenue and expense data for the year, balance sheet data, 990 forms and annual reports.

You may also want to consider donating items like clothes or food instead of money. No matter how you decide to help those in need, be careful not to fall victim to a scam. Research the organization before donating.

 

-Kathryn M.

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Are Your Online Shopping Sites Secure?

Shopping online is convenient and can be a huge time saver but if you enter your payment and personal information on an insecure site, you are putting yourself at risk for identity theft. Before entering any personal or payment information on any site, you should always make sure that it is secure. Sites that are secure and protect customers’ information will not have pop-up ads or send unsolicited emails. You should always look for positive customer reviews and check with the Better Business Bureau for a rating. A secure site will also have a physical address and post a refund policy.

You should be able to pay with a credit card and see a padlock or unbroken key symbol signifying that the site is enabled and encrypted.  Finally, the payment page should start with “https” and not “http”. The “s” means that there is a secure, encrypted connection between your device and the site. If you are ever unsure or something does not feel right about a site, don’t make the purchase! Trust your instincts and keep your personal information safe.

 

-Kathryn M.

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Saving Money on Back to School Purchases

Getting ready for a new school year is exciting but also can be very expensive especially if you have more than one child in school. Here are some tips on how to save money when preparing for the new year.

  • Wait to buy school supplies until late August or early September. This can save you lots of money because stores are trying to get rid of merchandise. It is a good idea to buy the essentials before the year begins and wait a few weeks to buy the rest.
  • Only buy what is on the teacher’s list. It may be tempting to buy cute extras but sticking to the list will help you stay within your budget.
  • Repurpose items from last year’s school supplies and your home office. Don’t buy a new backpack or binder unless the old one is truly worn out. Search your home office for unused items that your child could use. You can help your child personalize the item by adding photo collages or stickers.
  • Shop sales and buy in bulk when possible. It may be more convenient to buy everything at one place but you could save money by shopping sales at different stores. Also, buying pencils and pens in bulk can save you money by not having to buy those items multiple times throughout the year.
  • Check mailers and websites for different stores such as Target, Walmart, Office Depot, and Staples to see which items are on sale at each place and plan out where to go for each item you need.

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