Monthly Archives: October 2010

Top 6 Ways to Increase Your Tax Refund Now



Top 6 Ways to Increase Your Tax Refund Now

Mark P. Cussen
Wednesday, October 20, 2010

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For many Americans, an income tax refund is a windfall — a chunk of money that can be used for many different purposes. But the amount of this refund is determined by the numbers that are generated from the previous year. Therefore, the fourth quarter of the year is the time to start thinking about what can be done to maximize the amount that you can get back when you file your return in the spring. Here are some of the more common strategies that you can implement as the year ends:

Charitable Donations
Filers who are on the edge of being able to itemize their deductions for the year should consider making a donation of either cash or property to a qualified charity before the year is out. This can be especially beneficial if the filer has a piece of property of some value that he or she wishes to dispose of, such as an extra car or recreational vehicle. These can provide a substantial deduction that can increase your refund by hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars.

Retirement Plan Contributions
Those who need to reduce their taxable income for the year should make the maximum allowable contributions to their traditional, deductible retirement plans. In some cases, such as small business owners and those who make the maximum allowable lump-sum contribution to their plans for the year, this deduction can be fairly large.

Although contributing to Roth accounts may be the best way to go for some, traditional plan contributions afford a current deduction that can make a huge difference in the amount of declarable income for many filers. Even low-income taxpayers can claim the retirement savers’ credit for small contributions to their IRAs or employer-sponsored qualified plans.

Education Expenses
Parents who pay tuition for their kids’ higher education are usually eligible for education tax credits of some sort. Those who must deplete their savings for this reason should take care to record the amounts paid for their tax records. The credits for these expenses can reduce a parent’s tax bill by thousands of dollars, depending upon the circumstances.

As rudimentary as this may sound, good record keeping is essential to maximizing your tax deductions. Make sure that you record every charitable contribution, every above-the-line deduction and anything else that can increase your income tax refund for the year. Keep copies of all receipts and other documentation that proves your transactions, as the IRS now requires this in order to accept these deductions on every return. Those who fail to do so invite a negative adjustment to their tax returns if they should become subject to an audit.

Miscellaneous Deductions
Many taxpayers may be surprised when they discover that certain kinds of expenses or losses can be deducted on their tax returns. Gambling losses are deductible, though only on par with winnings, and investment expenses (such as IRA custodial fees and margin interest) are only deductible if they exceed a certain percentage of your adjusted gross income (AGI).

Capital Losses
This could be a good time to cut your losses in the market, if you are a short-term investor. Swap out losing stocks or bonds for similar holdings that offer potential gains and realize the losses on your return. These can provide a maximum reduction of $3,000 of your reportable income, or reduce your reported income by more, if you have large reportable gains that you can write your losses against this year. And reduced income can translate into a larger refund, in most cases.

The Bottom Line
These are just some of the ways that taxpayers can increase their tax refunds. But remember that your refund is just that; it’s the return of excess money that you have withheld from your paycheck throughout the year.



21 Money Savers You May Be Ignoring


21 Money Savers You May Be Ignoring

What eats up your paycheck: food, clothing, your home, your car? Well, you might be making these 5 common money mistakes or missing out on valuable savings. Here are a few simple money-saving tricks for your most common purchases.

Don’t miss 104 more money savers you may not know about.


  • Stock up on grocery staples right after Thanksgiving. It’s prime time: More food coupons are issued in November and December than in any other season.
  • Try for nonperishables. Its “Subscribe & Save Program” typically gives 15 percent discounts (plus free shipping) on items such as paper towels.
  • Stop buying bottled water: At $1.50 per 20-ounce bottle, a family of four that goes through 20 bottles a week could save about $1,560 annually. The equivalent water from the faucet? Maybe $1. And it takes just seconds to fill a glass or a reusable water bottle.
  • Don’t buy premixed: You can pay up to 50 percent more for foods with sugar, spices, or sauces already mixed in. Juice in cartons can cost a hefty 60 percent more than frozen concentrate.

Related: How to Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half and Readers’ Best Money-Saving Secrets

Medical Care:

  • Fill prescriptions at Internet stores for savings. Check for legit businesses.
  • Local pharmacies often have savings clubs. At Walgreens, a $20 to $35 enrollment fee gets members a 90-day supply of any of more than 400 generic meds for less than $1 per week.
  • AAA and AARP members get lower rates on eye-care costs — AAA’s deals include 30 percent off exams and glasses.
  • Dental schools offer cut-rate care so students can, um, cut their teeth on procedures like cleanings and cavity fillings. All work is supervised, and it can be up to 70 percent cheaper than at a regular dental office.

Related: 10 Ways to Save on Health Care

Your Mortgage:

  • Document preparation and administration fees can be a rip off. Ask your bank or mortgage company up-front to waive these charges; the loan origination fee more than covers these costs.
  • Beware of inflated charges for credit reports and courier fees. Some companies may tack on as much as $65 for obtaining your credit report and $100 for courier fees. Before you sign with a lender, say you won’t pay more than the going rate for these services — $6 to $12 per credit report, and about $20 for overnight delivery.

Related: 5 Common Fights About Money in Marriage and 50 Cheap (but Romantic!) Date Ideas


  • Hit the swankiest neighborhoods for top bargains on thrift-store goods. Ask what day they put out newly donated items, or stop by early in the week (most people drop off duds on the weekend, and it can take a day or two for them to hit the racks).
  • Shop liquidation sales — but wait until the last days for the best deals. Pay with plastic: If the item turns out to be broken, the Fair Credit Billing Act gives you the right to dispute charges for items that were not delivered as agreed. 
  • Learn the sales cycle at your fave stores (every six weeks? every Wednesday?). The easy way: Ask a salesclerk.

Related: Savvy Secrets of Bargain-Hunting Experts

Your Car:

  • Slow down! Driving at 65 mph uses 15 percent more fuel than driving at 55 mph — that can be like adding 40-plus cents per gallon to the price of gas.
  • Keep wheels from tiring: Have them rotated every six months (or 6,000 miles) to distribute wear evenly. This occasional $25 (plus a monthly inflation check) could double your tires’ life. 
  • When negotiating for a new car, go to to get the manufacturer’s invoice price (the amount the dealer pays); offer the dealer that price. He may sell you the car for as little as $100 more in order to get a profit called a “pullback” from the manufacturer.

Related: Try These Tricks for Lowering Your Credit Card Bills


  • Watch what he eats. If you can’t easily feel your pet’s ribs, it might be time for a diet. Most pet food labels list recommendations for un-spayed or -neutered active adult animals — a “fixed” pet needs 25 to 30 percent of that, which will cost less, too.
  • Humane societies, animal shelters, and vet schools often provide quality routine services, like spaying or neutering, for less. Your local health department may sponsor rabies shots for as little as $5.

Related: 6 Penny-Pinching Habits You Should Adopt


  • Don’t cut back on retirement savings in hopes of providing your kids with a full ride to college. Aim to save enough in a 529 plan to cover about half your expected college costs.
  • If you’re young or middle-aged, don’t increase your mortgage payments at the expense of your nest egg.
  • Don’t stuff all your spare cash in your 401(k). Contribute as much as is needed to get your company’s full match. A good option for some extra savings (if you have any) is a Roth IRA.

Related: 7 Steps to Retiring Rich

The Scary Truth About Budgeting: It only takes spending $27.40 a day to fritter away $10,000 per year. will show you exactly what you’re spending your cash on (shopping? groceries? fast food?) — and help you come up with a budget you can stick to.

What are your biggest expenses? How do you save on everyday items and cut down on your monthly bills?



Thank you for your interest in Texas democracy and the election process. The Elections Division has prepared this information for use by citizens and election officials at the state, county, city and other political subdivision levels. It is designed to inform you about the early voting election process in Texas.

The Elections Division of the Secretary of State’s office is open from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. weekdays, and during the hours that the polls are open on all uniform election dates (i.e., 2nd Saturday in May and 1st Tuesday after the 1st Monday in November). Answers to questions on election law and procedures may be obtained by telephoning the Elections Division toll-free at 1.800.252.VOTE (8683) or direct at 512.463.5650.

For additional information on election dates, deadlines, election law opinions or election returns, please visit our website at

Again, thank you for your interest in early voting. Please become familiar with the instructions, guidelines and examples in this brochure to cast an informed ballot.

Office of the Secretary of State

Elections Division

There are two ways to vote early in Texas.

1. Early Voting in person-

Early voting in person may be easier than you think. You don’t have to stand in long lines on Election Day. Registered voters may vote early at a location convenient to them within their political subdivision. Early voting in person generally starts 17 days before each election and ends 4 days before each election. Early voting for the May uniform election date begins 12 days before the election and ends on the 4th day before the election. If you can drive or if you have a friend or relative who can drive you, you don’t even have to get out of the car. Call ahead to notify the early voting clerk that you want to vote from your car. This procedure is called “curbside voting” and is available to any voter who has difficulty walking or standing for long periods. The election official will bring your ballot to your car outside the polling place. Curbside voting is available during early voting and on Election Day. State and Federal law requires all early and Election Day polling locations to be physically accessible to voters with disabilities. Call your election official for information on your particular voting sites.

2. Early Voting by mail-

You may vote early by mail if you are:

  • going to be away from your county on Election Day and during early voting;
  • sick or disabled;
  • 65 years of age or older on Election Day; or
  • confined in jail, but eligible to vote.

Applications for a ballot by mail must be submitted to the early voting clerk on or after the 60th day before Election Day and before the close of business on the 7th day before Election Day. If the 7th day is a weekend, the last day to submit an application is the preceding Friday.

If you are voting early by mail, you must send your application by:

  • regular mail;
  • common or contract carrier; or
  • FAX (if a FAX machine is available to the early voting clerk and if you are submitting your application from outside the county).


  • If you are voting early because of expected absence, you may apply in person for a ballot by mail before the first day of early voting in person.

You may obtain a formal application from the early voting clerk in your county or from the Secretary of State’s web site at or toll-free at 1-800-252-VOTE (8683). You do not have to use a formal application; however, an informal application must be in writing and include:

  1. your signature (or a witness’ signature if you cannot sign);
  2. your name and the address at which you are registered to vote;
  3. the address to which the ballot is to be mailed;
  4. the election date and for which election you are requesting a ballot (for a primary election, you must state the political party’s primary in which you wish to vote); and,
  5. a reason why you are eligible to vote early by mail (to be eligible to vote early due to expected absence from the county, your application must state an address out-of-county to have your ballot mailed).

The early voting clerk must receive your marked ballot by 7 p.m. on Election Day.


  • If you are mailing your ballot from outside the United States, the early voting clerk must receive your ballot by the fifth day after Election Day. (You must mail it no later than 7 p.m. on Election Day.)

Early voting timeline:

  • 60 days before Election Day-first day to submit an early voting by mail application;
  • 17 days before Election Day (12 days for May election) -early voting in person begins;
  • 7 days before Election Day-last day to submit an application for ballot by mail;
  • 4 days before Election Day-early voting in person ends;
  • Election Day-marked early ballots by mail must be returned by 7 p.m., unless mailed from outside the United States.

Visit our website at for:

Voting by mail has been available to elderly voters and voters with physical disabilities in Texas for decades. In recent years, some candidates have built well-organized campaigns aimed at this segment of our voting population. Many of the legal safeguards designed to protect voters and their ballots are impossible to enforce in the privacy of a voter’s home. Scams designed to manipulate the voting process by gaining access to mail-in ballots could become a problem in Texas if voters are not well-informed.

When you vote by mail, you can take steps to protect your ballot and your vote. The most effective ways to protect your ballot are:

1. If you do vote by mail, get your application from the early voting clerk, or from the Secretary of State’s office.

You can call the office holding your election and have an application for ballot by mail sent directly to you, or you can call our office and we will send you an application. If you need help filling out the form or mailing it, ask someone you trust. If someone helps you fill out the application, you must write the assistant’s name and address next to your signature on the application. The person helping you must also sign the application.

All applications must be addressed to the early voting clerk. Applications mailed to an address other than the early voting clerk will be rejected.

2. Send your application as early as possible.

You may send your application for a ballot by mail up to two months before an election. This will give you plenty of time to receive your ballot, mark it and mail it back to the early voting clerk. If you don’t get your ballot or some other problem occurs, this will also give you more time to cancel, if possible, and obtain another ballot.

Your Mailing Address: The general rule is that a ballot must be mailed to the address where you are registered to vote. However, if you are 65 or older or have a physical disability, you may have your ballot sent to a hospital, nursing home or long-term care facility, retirement center, or relative, but you must check the blank on the form indicating which address you are providing.

3. If you need help reading, marking or mailing your ballot, ask a trusted relative or friend to help you.

For example:

A stranger might “show up” on your doorstep offering to help you with your ballot soon after you’ve received it in the mail. We recommend you decline this kind of help for several reasons. If you allow your ballot to be mailed by someone you don’t know, it might not be mailed at all. Your ballot will be rejected if a common or contract carrier attempts to deliver it to the elections office from the address of a candidate or a campaign’s headquarters. The safety of your vote is best assured by asking someone you know and trust to help you read, mark or mail your ballot. Remember, you must put your helper’s name and address on the carrier envelope, which is the one used to return your ballot to the early voting clerk. The helper must also sign the carrier envelope.

4. Know your rights as a voter.

It is our hope that the examples in this publication cover most of the fraudulent tactics you may encounter, but if a situation arises and you don’t know what to do, please call our office. Our legal staff is available toll-free at 1.800.252.VOTE (8683) to advise you on your rights as a voter.

For more information, Contact: The Secretary of State’s office, your County Clerk, County Elections Administrator or the Voter Registrar in your county.

Elections Division
P.O. Box 12060
Austin, Texas 78711-2060
512.463.5650 or 1.800.252.VOTE (8683)
Fax 512.475.2811, TTY 7.1.1

soft addictions…….???


Do You Suffer From Costly “Soft Addictions”?

Zoning out for hours watching reruns, checking your smartphone every 15 minutes, spending a morning surfing the Web for bargains — these are hardly behaviors that defy social norms. And, really, what’s the big whoop about checking your messages or biting your nails a wee bit too much?

Nothing. Until it’s not nothing, that is.

When done in excess, harmless habits morph into something far more sinister and self-destructive — what self-help expert Judith Wright calls “soft addictions.”And make no mistake: Soft addictions can run roughshod on your emotional and financial well-being.

The signs of soft addictions
Overshopping, overeating, watching endless amounts of TV, and sporting an impenetrable umbilical cord to the Internet are common soft addictions, Wright says.

The psychological signs of sufferers can be subtle, but the emotional drain is very real: They “rob us of time, numb us from our feelings, mute our consciousness, and drain our energy,” she says. (You can take this quiz on her website to see if some of your habits have become bona fide soft addictions.)

When soft addictions involve money, they inflict yet another side effect: financial drain. Left unchecked, things like boredom spending, convenience shopping, and day trading can quickly balloon out of control and become emotional and financial cement galoshes.

All it takes is a few too many clicks and suddenly:

  • Convenience shopping turns into a mountain of credit card debt.
  • Trading in and out of stocks eats away at your long-term wealth.
  • Those winning bids on auction sites eat away at the money you’ve amassed for a down payment for your dream home.


How habits become harmful
You can be the most self-aware person on the planet and still suffer from a spending soft addiction. That’s because the things that make it easier to manage our money also numb our brains to what’s really happening with our finances.

Consider credit cards: Like poker chips, they only represent money. Studies show that when we put purchases on plastic we spend more because we don’t experience the discomfort of parting with actual cold, hard currency. (This also explains why I’ve never walked out of Target with just the things on my shopping list.)

Online shopping, stock trading, auction sites — same thing. Done in moderation, all is well. But it doesn’t take much for our reliance on these tools to turn into a harmful addiction.

Break bad habits before they become addictions
Because of that fine line between “harmless habit” and “soft addiction,” it’s easy to overlook or brush aside budding problem areas. Don’t.

If worry about the financial fallout of your everyday actions even occasionally breaks through the subconscious into the realm of acknowledgement, it’s worth taking a deeper look.

1. Bring consciousness to your cash flow
You do this by tracking your spending — but with a twist. This tried-and-true exercise is always an eye-opener. But we’re going to add an element of depth to the spending analysis:

  • For at least three days (two weeks is even better), record the factual details of every dime you spend.
  • Here’s the twist: Within the next hour, write down how that transaction made you feel (e.g., “a brief buyer’s high, but I felt restless again 30 minutes later”).
  • Extra credit: Try to identify any triggers that drove you to whip out your wallet.


After several days, you’ll be able to identify some mind-money connections you might never have detected if they had gone unchecked. Quite often the overwhelming feeling people experience is numbness — not even remembering or getting much of any fulfillment from these habits.

Here are 5 Ways to Stop Buying Stupid Stuff.

2. Calculate the price of happiness
Sit down with your notes and add up how much money you spent. Then compare it to the amount of satisfaction each transaction brought to your life.

Did that sweater bring you $45 worth of joy? The answer is, of course, subjective. So also consider how many hours you spent toiling at work to pay for the cardigan. Now, was it worth it?

Asking questions like these will help heighten your financial awareness in a different way than simply reviewing a rundown of the previous month’s credit card transactions.

Get Zen With Your Money by following these five steps to forming a more enlightened relationship to your money.  

3. Manage your money more meaningfully
Take some time to write down some things that truly add to your quality of life — items, events, pursuits, and purchases that put a lasting kick in your step and were worth the time and money spent.

Then make a list of the things you are willing to change about how you handle money today to free up psychological and financial space so you can pursue things like those you just wrote down.

Start with the small stuff (e.g., turning off the TV, canceling premium cable, and joining the Y with the family) and work your way up to bigger changes you’d like to make. Just a few tweaks to routine spending habits can really add up.

If you find yourself slipping back into old habits, review your list of joy-inducing items and remember that a little self-control can keep you and your finances out of harm’s way.