Tag : finance

Tips on Recognizing Tax Scams

Submitted by Jon Freeman

Every year people fall victim to different types of tax scams. These scams can be via a phone call, or some other format. Here are some things the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) thinks taxpayers should remember to help them spot scams and avoid becoming a victim:

Tax Phone scams:
1. The IRS does not leave pre-recorded, urgent or threatening messages.
2. In many versions of phone scams, potential victims are told if they do not call back, a warrant will be issued for their arrest. Other verbal threats include law-enforcement agency intervention, deportation and revocation of licenses.
3. Criminals can fake or “spoof” caller ID numbers to appear to be anywhere in the country. Scammers can even spoof an IRS office phone number, or the numbers of various local, state, federal or tribal government agencies.

The IRS will never do the following:
1. Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. The IRS does not use these methods for tax payments.
2. Ask for checks to third parties. The IRS has specific instructions on how to pay taxes. All tax payments should only be made payable to the U.S. Treasury.
3. Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying.
4. Demand that taxes be paid without giving the taxpayer the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.

To learn more about spotting these types of scams visit the IRS tax scams web page. For more information on managing your money feel free to visit the GCPL Personal Finance Guide.

What To Do With Gift Cards You Don’t Want

Submitted by Jon Freeman

Were you given a gift card recently that you don’t want? Perhaps you were given a gift card for your birthday or some other occasion (like over the holidays), and the gift card is to a place or company that you don’t buy stuff from regularly. In fact, you seriously doubt that you will ever end up using it. The result could be your gift card never gets used. You may have more than one unwanted gift card like this, and you are unsure what to do about it. Did you know that you can take that gift card and sell it for cash?

According to David Pogue’s book, Pogue’s Basics: Money – Essential Tips and Shortcuts, there are websites where you can sell your unwanted gift cards for cash. You will not get full value for them, but you will receive a lot more than zero – what you would get if an unwanted gift card stays in a drawer forever. Pogue says that you could get 65 to 90 percent of the card value in cash. Here are some card exchange websites Pogue mentions in his book where you could sell gift cards: cardcash.com, raise.com, cardpool.com, and giftcardgranny.com.

You could be in a very different position. You don’t have a gift card you want to sell, but you would like to buy a gift card at a discount. You can use some of the same websites mentioned previously in this article to buy discounted gift cards other folks are selling. Pogue recommends doing this when you want to buy a gift card for a restaurant or store because you can buy gift cards for less than face value. He says, “If you’re in the market for a gift card, it’s like free money.” David Pouge’s book, “Pogue’s Basics: Money – Essential Tips and Shortcuts”, can be checked out from the Gwinnett County Public Library in book or ebook form. You can access more money management resources by visiting the GCPL Personal Finance Guide.

Guide to Finances after Fifty

Submitted by Jon Freeman 

Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz’s book, The Charles Schwab Guide to Finances After Fifty, answers different important questions people in their fifties or older who are retiring soon or are already retired may have about their finances. There are a total of 50 questions and answers given in the book. The Q&As cover a range of topics like things to do when retirement is ten years away, what to do with your finances as you transition into retirement, maximizing what you get from social security and medicare, life in retirement, and estate planning. There is a glossary of financial terms in the back of the book as well.

There are a variety of questions the book provides answers to, and here are just a few examples:

“I’m 50 and haven’t started to save for retirement. What can I do?”
“How can I save for my kids’ college without derailing my retirement?”
“The stock market has me spooked. How should I invest as I get closer to retirement?”
“Can I keep contributing to my retirement accounts indefinitely?”
“Should I be debt free before I retire?”
“What should I do with my 401(k) when I leave my job?”
“My kids are grown. Do I still need life insurance?”
“Should I take my pension as a lump sum or monthly payments?”
“Should I buy an annuity?”
“Now that I’m retired, how should I manage my money to make it last?”
“Does a reverse mortgage make sense?”
“When should I file for Social Security benefits?”
“My husband has no interest in our finances. How can I get him involved?”
“I have a child with special needs. What can I do to make sure that she will always be taken care of?”
“I want to create an estate plan. What do I need?”

The IRS Warns of Scams Related to Hurricane Florence

Submitted by Jon Freeman

In the wake of Hurricane Florence, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is reminding taxpayers that criminals and scammers try to take advantage of the generosity of taxpayers who want to help victims of major disasters.

According to the IRS, fraudulent schemes normally start with unsolicited contact by telephone, social media, e-mail or in-person using a variety of tactics:

1. Some impersonate charities to get money or private information from well intentioned taxpayers.
2. Bogus websites use names similar to legitimate charities to trick people to send money or provide personal financial information.
3. They may even claim to be working for or on behalf of the IRS to help victims file casualty loss claims and get tax refunds.
4. Others operate bogus charities and solicit money or financial information by telephone or email.

To help taxpayers donate to legitimate charities, the IRS website has a search feature, Tax Exempt Organization Search, that helps users find information about a charity or tax-exempt organization’s federal tax status and filings.

To find more information on personal finance money management feel free to visit the GCPL Personal Finance Guide.

Happy Birthday 403(b)!

Submitted by Jon Freeman

This year the 403(b) is celebrating its 60th birthday! The 403(b) has been around for a very long time. When was the 403(b) established? The 403(b) was established in 1958 by the federal government to encourage employees in certain government and tax-exempt organizations to establish retirement savings programs. There are contribution limits and other rules for an individual’s eligibility to contribute to this type of plan, and there is usually a choice of investment options available for the employee to pick from when enrolled in the plan. Employees save for retirement by contributing to individual accounts in the plan. Employers can also contribute to employees’ accounts. Just as with a 401(k) plan, a 403(b) plan lets employees defer some of their salary into individual accounts. The deferred salary is generally not subject to federal or state income tax until it’s distributed (typically during retirement). However, a 403(b) plan may also offer designated Roth accounts. Salary contributed to a Roth account is taxed currently, but is tax-free (including earnings) when distributed.

To learn if your employer offers this type of retirement plan, or some other retirement plan, and find out if you are eligible to participate in it, contact your employer’s human resources department.

To learn more about finance and managing your money feel free to take a look at the GCPL Personal Finance Guide.

Cryptocurrencies

Submitted by Jon Freeman

Cryptocurrencies have been rising in popularity the past couple of years. In fact, there are now over 100 different cryptocurrencies from around the world with names like Ethereum, Litecoin, Zcash, and Dash, just to name a few. Then of course there is the cryptocurrency that almost everyone has probably heard of – Bitcoin. But before deciding to buy any cryptocurrency there are risks a person should consider. Below is a list of potential risks that, according to the Federal Trade Commission, a person should know about before buying any cryptocurrency:

1. Cryptocurrencies aren’t backed by a government or central bank. Unlike most traditional currencies, such as the dollar or yen, the value of a cryptocurrency is not tied to promises by a government or a central bank.

2. If you store your cryptocurrency online, you don’t have the same protections as a bank account. Holdings in online “wallets” are not insured by the government like U.S. bank deposits are.

3. A cryptocurrency’s value can change constantly and dramatically. An investment that may be worth thousands of dollars on Tuesday could be worth only hundreds on Wednesday. If the value goes down, there’s no guarantee that it will rise again.

4. Nothing about cryptocurrencies makes them a foolproof investment. Just like with any investment opportunity, there are no guarantees.

5. No one can guarantee you’ll make money off your investment. Anyone who promises you a guaranteed return or profit is likely scamming you. Just because the cryptocurrency is well-known or has celebrities endorsing it doesn’t mean it’s a good investment.

6. Not all cryptocurrencies or the companies behind them are the same. Before you decide to invest in a cryptocurrency, look into the claims the company is making. Do an internet search with the name of the company and the cryptocurrency with words like review, scam, or complaint. Look through several pages of search results.

To learn more about Bitcoin and how it works click here.

To get more information about personal finance and money management take a look at the GCPL Personal Finance Guide.

The Elements of Investing

Submitted by Jon Freeman

“The Elements of Investing” is a simple guide that provides the reader with different investment principles. This book has a main goal: to teach the principles of investing in the same manner that Professor William Strunk Jr. once taught composition to students at Harvard University, using his classic book, “The Elements of Style.” The Elements of Investing hacks away at some of the over thinking so predominant in the hyperactive thought patterns of many investors. The authors of this book, Burton Malkiel and Charles Ellis, offer investors a set of simple but powerful thoughts on how to win the investing game by not losing.

Some topics touched upon in the book include:

Big Ways to Save
Small Saving Tips
Diversify Across Markets
Minimize Costs
Assett Allocation
Investing in Retirement
Dollar Cost Averaging
Rebalancing
Save on Taxes Legally

To find more information about managing your finances feel free to take a look at the Gwinnett Library’s Personal Finance GCPL Guide 

Holiday Budgeting

Submitted By: Jon Freeman

We are now approaching the holiday season. Halloween has come and gone, and we are quickly headed for Thanksgiving. Soon people will be busy purchasing gifts for friends and loved ones (if you haven’t already started). However, I am always curious to know how many people actually budgeted for all of the things they will end up buying before the year is done. Will some of the folks who we see buying gifts at the mall be upset when the holidays are over and have to pay their credit card bills? Will people be sad when they take a look at their bank statement at the end of December and think about all of the money they spent? My guess is that this year a few people will be in that situation. To keep you from experiencing post holiday blues over the cash you spent and charges you racked up during the holidays you may want to try having a budget for things. For example, before you go out holiday shopping budget how much money you should spend on gifts. If you want to you can break it down by person, and assign a specific dollar amount that you will not exceed per gift for individuals. Deciding how much that specific amount should be is up to you, but for more information about budgeting and the topic of personal finance feel free to check out Personal Finance for Dummies, or you could visit the one of the Gwinnett Library’s free online personal finance resources: Consumer Ed.

Personal Finance for Dummies

SUBMITTED BY JON FREEMAN

Are you looking to take charge of your financial situation? Want to read a book that can help give you some basic financial advice? Then Personal Finance for Dummies is worth checking out from your local Gwinnett County Public Library. The book provides information on measuring your financial health and improving your financial literacy, how to deal with debt and reduce your spending, and how you can use technology to help you manage your money. It also covers investment concepts such as saving for retirement, saving for kids college education, saving money in taxable accounts, and even a chapter on working with financial planners.