Friday, December 28, 2007

AMT Tax Forms Delay Returns

The IRS has announced that there will be a delay in processing returns from taxpayers submitting forms related to the AMT. This could potentially delay refunds for millions of taxpayers.

Congress' late enactment of the Alternative Minimum Tax "patch" will affect up to 13.5 million taxpayers using forms related to the AMT. The IRS estimates that February 11, 2008 as the potential starting date for taxpayers to begin submitting the five-related returns affected by the legislation. The IRS needs time to update and test its systems to accommodate the changes.

Returns that include the following forms cannot be filed until Feb. 11, 2008:

* Form 8863, Education Credits
* Form 5695, Residential Energy Credits
* Schedule 2, Form 1040A, Child and Dependent Care Expenses for Form 1040A Filers
* Form 8396, Mortgage Interest Credit

For more information, visit the IRS Website

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Paying for Christmas begins

The Christmas blitz is over and now is the time to take stock of your Christmas debt. Did it all go on the credit card this year? Unfortunately, for many of us, it did. We probably spent more than we meant to, as is usually the case when we put the Christmas shopping on the card. When we get that statement next month, how will we go about paying for it?

Well, if you're planning on paying your minimum payment, expect it to take about 26 years to pay off your balances. The right way to do it would be to pay the entire balance, but most of us won't be able to do that. Second best is to pay as much of it as you can each month until it is wiped out. But if you can't afford to do that either, try adding just 1% of your principal balance to your minimum payment. You will decrease the balance each month and therefore, slow the accruing interest as well.

However, you plan to pay for your Christmas indulgences, here's wishing you financial health and a happy and solvent New Year!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

FTC Facts on Bankrupt Lenders

A new publication from the Federal Trade Commission called "How to Manage Your Mortgage if Your Lender Closes or Files for Bankruptcy" gives consumers the facts on what to do in the event that their mortgage company or mortgage servicing company goes under. The Facts for Consumers publication contains advice related to servicing transfers, escrow accounts, and payment disputes.

The new publication is available at

Do You E-Resumé?

Did you know that 80% of employers use the Internet to search for job candidates? The Internet is changing the way we search for jobs and the way prospective employers choose which candidates to interview. Computers are now the front line for screening resumés and deciding which are passed on up the line.

You may have carefully prepared a resumé in years past that you mailed or presented to an employer whom you wished to have consider you for a position. Today you are going to need a resumé that will be easy to transmit electronically and be one that will be selected by the company's computer.

Remember that a computer is going to read this first and it is going to be looking for specific keywords. When writing of your experience and qualifications check the listing to get an idea of what the position you are applying for entails. Then read over your resumé to see how many words coincide. The computer is going to scan for keywords, so your eloquence and charm are not going to get you in the door.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

82% of Online Shoppers Very Satisfied

More and more consumers did at least part of their holiday shopping online this year, and most of them rate online shopping as a positive experience. Over 80% of consumers who shopped online this year report being "Very Satisfied". This is the result of a poll done by Nielson Online.

Online shopping has so many advantages over going out to crowded malls and fits so much more easily into anyone's schedule because it's available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Retailers benefited greatly from the online sales this year and can only expect the numbers of shoppers who choose this option to grow.

If you did any part of your shopping online this year, how would you rate it? I did order some of my holiday gifts online, and I would say it was very easy and although I didn't pay for express shipping it appears that my gifts will arrive before Christmas. I definitely would give the experience a thumbs-up.

Friday, December 21, 2007

SCRA Protections for Military Members

This story about a soldier in Iraq whose credit card company unfairly applied late charges to his account while he was overseas shows how fees can add up without ever having used the card. Ben Singer applied for the card before he was shipped overseas but it was never activated because he was deployed. An initial $20 payment was sent late because of the lag time between the soldier receiving the bill and his father sending in the payment for him, and late fees began to be charged until he owed $220 on a credit card he had never charged anything on.

The story prompted me to remind all military personnel who may be deployed overseas that they should check out the protections afforded to them under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act(SCRA) signed into law on December 19, 2003 amended the Soldiers' and Sailor's Civil Relief Act. The SCRA provides certain protections for those serving in the military who are on active duty, such as relief from mortgage payments, eviction and places a 6% cap on interest rates for servicement who are serving overseas.

For more information on debt relief and protection for members of the military who are on active duty, see the SSCRA website.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

No Piggyback Credit Ride

Adding a spouse or child as an authorized user to your credit card accounts, called "piggybacking" will cease to be a way to raise their score when the three top CRAs - Experian, Trans-Union and Equifax - switch to a new formula for determining credit scores next year. The new system will not regard their credit history as an authorized user on other people's accounts, only accounts in their own name and those jointly held will be counted towards their FICO score.

If you're a consumer who has counted on the beneficial effects of "piggybacking" on your credit score and haven't much credit in your own name, you will see a difference in your credit score next year. But, you can still take advantage of the piggybacking boost. Because you have until spring before the new FICO formula takes effect, it is still possible to use your current credit score to open new accounts in your own name and establish your own credit score.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Senate Votes To Help Homeowners

Some more help is on the way for homeowners burdened with subprime ARM loans. In a 93-1 vote the Senate has given its support to legislation that will allow some homeowners to refinance their ARM loan into an FHA loan.

Concerned about the collapse of the subprime market and the rising foreclosure rate, lawmakers have taken this step to help Americans save their homes. The Senate also voted to lower down payments on FHA loans and raise the limit on FHA-backed mortgages to $417K in an effort to include more homeowners in the program.

The Bush administration is also backing a plan that would allow homeowners to get a "loan freeze" on ARM loans for up to five years. This could potentially keep more houses out of danger of foreclosure by keeping loan payments in a range that the homeowner can continue to pay. It will only apply to homeowners who are now keeping current with their mortgage payments but could fall behind when the adjustable rate takes effect.

Claiming Charitable Donations

When you go to do your taxes in January, consider your charitable contributions. It's possible to lower your tax responsibility with charitable contributions but some changes in the law means you may have to provide more receipts in order to claim the deductions.

If you donate to your church, for instance, you will need to prove all cash donations. If your church uses individual envelopes that you can write your name on, then your cash donations will be recorded for you and most church organizations will provide you with a tally receipt at the end of the year. But if this is not the case where you worship, consider making your donations by check so that you have a record.

Donating used clothing items is still allowable as a charitable contribution, but you will need to be able to prove that the items were in good condition and their value. If you can, get a receipt from the organization you donate these items to for your tax returns.

Taking a few extra, precautionary steps now can save you money at tax time. It's not too late to make some extra donations now for this year, and keep these tips in mind for next year as well.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Women Suspect Waitress in Credit Card Theft

Here's another case of credit card numbers being stolen at a restaurant - the only time that people let their credit card go out of sight.

The three Texas women whose numbers were stolen and used in a $2500 shopping spree, say that only the waitress at a restaurant could have stolen the magnetic strip on the cards. The theft is especially painful, as it comes at Christmas and will keep them from using the cards for gift shopping.

Some restaurants are introducing portable card readers that allow the customer to swipe their credit cards right at the table. But if you are planning on going to a restaurant that doesn't have that option, you might want to consider a stop at the ATM on the way and pay in cash.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Consumer Credit Rises in October

Consumers are borrowing more than ever. Credit use is on the rise, with consumer credit having grown at an annual rate of 2.3 percent as compared with 1.6 percent growth in September.

Revolving credit in October rose at an 8.3 percent rate and overall consumer credit was up by $4.7 billion.

The increase in the use of credit cards may be a reaction to the slowdown in refinancings in the housing market. Auto loans also shrank during the same period of time.

AP Story

Monday, December 10, 2007

Universal Default

If you are late with payments on one of your credit cards, you could fall victim to "universal default" and find other credit cards you hold raising your interest rates.

It's a widespread practice, credit card companies can track your credit history and if they find your debt increasing or your payment record unsatisfactory elsewhere, even if you have faithfully paid the credit card account you have with them, they could decide to raise your rates.

For consumers struggling under a load of personal debt, this practice pushes them further under by increasing their debt. For consumers who have an account that is kept current but are penalized anyway because of some difficulty or default on an unrelated debt, it's a bitter pill to swallow.

Senator Griffo of New York believes it is worse than that, calling the practice "disgusting" and "appalling" and tried to outlaw the practice in New York State. The governor vetoed that bill, but hopes are that Congress will soon move on legislation to ban the practice on a national level.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Credit C ard Companies Settle Foreign Fees Suit

If you used a credit card outside the US in the last ten years, you may be owed a refund. Recently, several credit card companies were sued in a US District Court in New York over fees charged to customers for transactions in foreign countries. The fees were not disclosed to the cardholders.

The story on this lawsuit has been reported in many places on the internet and has been widely debated as many were afraid it was an elaborate scam. 35 million mailings went out, informing cardholders of their eligibility for part of the $336 million settlement. Based on my research, it appears that this is legitimate class action lawsuit.

If you received a mailing and are eligible, you can go to

Credit Card Safety Star Rating Bill

Senators Barack Obama and Ron Wyden think that consumers need to have more easily understood credit card agreements. Because the devil is in the details, that is the fine print, they believe that the language and transparency of the agreements is key to consumers having the information they need to make decisions about credit card offers. To this end, they have introduced the Credit Card Safety Star Act of 2007.

The bill would provide a rating on credit card agreements, based on how easy they are to understand. The legislation would provide that every credit card, billing statement, agreement, application and all marketing material will be required to display the credit card's safety star rating. Ratings would be from one to five stars, with five being the safest credit card.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Bush Mortgage Plan To be Announced

President Bush is expected today to announce the details of a plan to help homeowners avoid foreclosure on subprime loans by freezing the rates on some subprime mortgages.

The plan will assist homeowners with adjustable rate mortgages who are making their mortgage payments on time at the lower introductory rate but are due to have their rates go up substantially. The plan has been worked out between the Bush administration, banking regulators, banks, and consumer groups who fear another wide sweep of foreclosures on subprime mortgages without the rate freeze.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Paying Credit Cards by Automatic Debit

Having your credit card automatically debit your minimum payment from your bank account may save you money over time. What if you want to pay more than the minimum? That can easily be taken care of by making a second payment of whatever amount you can afford or want to pay down on your debt.

It could be that your due date is inconvenient and you are not assured of having the money in your bank account on that date. Many card issuers will let you adjust your payment due date to ensure on-time payments and especially if you enroll in an automatic payment plan. Call the credit card company and ask them if you can set the payment date for the day after a payroll direct deposit, for instance. Enrolling in the automatic payment debit will increase your chances of your request being honored.

Late fees can be costly and mailing in a payment can result in delays, even if you mail on time. By making automatic minimum payments, you prevent the possibility of getting hit with hefty late fees and keep your credit history in good standing.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

IRS Says Refunds May Be Delayed

The IRS says that 38 million tax refunds could be delayed this filing season due to a tax bill that still lingers in Congress. The IRS has delayed finalizing and printing some forms and may have to delay the start of the filing season.

At issue is the AMT, the Alternate Minimum Tax. Congress needs to pass a bill that will temporarily stop the AMT from expanding and applying to millions more taxpayers. But due to disagreements over other taxes tacked onto the bill, it was not passed before the Thanksgiving break.

The delay will disappoint some who usually file early and count on refunds to pay for necessary expenses and holiday bills.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Compare Australian Credit Cards

Choosing the right credit card is the first step to handling your finances well. There's no one-card-fits-all when it comes to credit. The wrong card could end up costing you money, not providing the services you need or giving you the interest rate you deserve.

If you're an Australian consumer looking to compare Credit Cards, there's an easy way to compare and contrast features, interest rates and fees to assist you in making an informed decision. At, you'll find a comprehensive list of credit cards available in Australia as well as helpful information on how to choose the credit card that's right for you. There are also calculators that help you compare advantages and savings for each card based on how you will use it. You can even apply online.