Pet Trusts - Pet owners' love for their animals often lives longer than they do. Many include their pets in their wills. Others opt to establish trusts for their pets' care. Texas Tech University School of Law professor Gerry W. Beyer specializes in estates, wills and trusts. Since he wrote his first legal treatise on pet trusts 15 years ago, Beyer has seen the field go from an obscure legal move that very few folks talked about to a "pretty well-accepted" part of estate planning. Most states have laws that allow for pet trusts, says Beyer. But even if your state lacks specific statutory language, it's still possible to set up a pet trust. You don't have to be wealthy to set up a pet trust. Beyer does advise, though, working with an attorney who specializes in these types of legal final wishes. And note that a trust doesn't mean zero tax concerns. Beyer says that depending on how the trust is structured, the responsible tax party could be the pet owner in the case of a living trust; the trust beneficiary, who typically is the pet's caregiver; or the trust itself. Still, a trust is a dependable way to ensure your pet gets the care you want the animal to have after you're gone. "You get certainty," says Beyer.
[Source: Bankrate Weekly Tax Tip | Kay Bell | November 25, 2015 ++].
Saving Money► Air Conditioning Operating Expense Hear that? It's the sound of your air conditioner running and the sound of your bank account drying up. Heating and air conditioning your home take a 43 percent bite from your monthly utility bill, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Here's how to reduce those costs in summer.
Trees- "Most heat that accumulates inside a house comes directly from the sun shining onto the roof or through windows, and heating the house directly," says John Krigger, owner of Saturn Resource Management, which offers energy conservation training in Helena, Mont. Planting leafy trees around the building's exterior will stop the sun from reaching inside your home. "Even for the cost of going to the nursery and buying a 15- to 20-foot-tall tree, trees are still the best value," Krigger says. If the trees or shrubs shade your air conditioner, you could boost your AC's efficiency by up to 10 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Windows - Solar screens, or mesh-like window screens, intercept up to 70 percent of solar energy before it gets into the house, Krigger says. Window screens are particularly effective on east- and west-facing windows, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Window films are another option. They are transparent, metalized sheets that reflect heat before it can be transmitted through glass. However, windows must be shut for window films to work, while solar screens do double-duty, keeping sun and insects out even with windows open.
Flip a Switch - Go ahead, get comfortable. Lower your air conditioner's thermostat setting to 78 degrees Fahrenheit when you're at home. But let that number rise to a warmer temperature at night or when you're away from home. You can save 5 percent to 15 percent on your air-conditioning bills by raising the temperature setting on your thermostat when you're away and don't need cooling, according to the Department of Energy.
Fan it - No need to invest in fancy fans. Krigger says the key is to circulate air inside the house. If possible, locate fans on your house's upper level and open windows on a lower level. If you live in a one-story house or apartment, you should close windows near the fan and open windows in rooms far from the fan, preferably on your home's windward side, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Moving air also helps evaporate the sweat from your skin, says Paul Scheckel, an energy efficiency consultant in Montpelier, Vt., and author of "The Home Energy Diet." "Evaporational cooling is an incredibly efficient process for removing heat, and our bodies do it all by themselves. A little help can increase the cooling effect," Scheckel says.
Chill in the Basement - Camp out in your basement, says Stan Cox, author of "Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World (and Finding New Ways to Get Through the Summer)." In your eco-cooled basement, a television, couch or futon and a cold drink may be all you need. However, Scheckel says don't open basement windows when outdoor air is heavy with humidity. "Warm, moist air will cause condensation on cool surfaces such as basement walls, ultimately increasing the humidity in your home," he says.
Stove Usage - Skip the stove-top boiling and oven baking, Cox says. Decrease indoor heat by making microwave nachos or eating a cool salad. If you must boil pasta for tomorrow's potluck, cook in the evening. After cooking, turn on the kitchen exhaust, and use the bathroom exhaust fan after a hot shower. "Remove heat and moisture at the source," Scheckel says. "Reducing humidity can help increase comfort."
Maintain/Replace AC - AC efficiency is mostly a function of the technology," Scheckel says. "Keep the filter clean to allow for good air movement and keep the unit level so the condensation drains properly." If you replace your older room air conditioner with a newer unit, you could cut your energy costs in half, according to the Department of Energy. Look for a high-energy-efficiency ratio, or EER, or an Energy Star-qualified unit. Higher EER ratings mean a more efficient air conditioner. Energy Star refers to a system adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy to identify energy-efficient products.
Humidity - Set the AC fan speed on high, except on very humid days, says the U.S. Department of Energy. On humid days, set the speed on low. The slower air movement through the air-condition equipment removes more moisture from the air, improving comfort in your home.
Splash in the Bath - Hop in the shower, spray yourself with a water bottle or use a cool cloth on the back of your neck. And if you don't chill out right away, don't give up, says Cox, the environmental writer and scientist. "Our comfort range depends on the temperatures we have experienced in recent days and weeks," he says. "The body and mind adjust to rising temperatures."
[Source: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/personal-finance/chill-air-conditioning-costs-1.aspx#ixzz3ac0xYL3M May 2015 ++]
Fake Customer Service Numbers Scam ► How it Works Next time you call the customer service department of your credit or debit card, be sure to double check the number. Scammers are purchasing phone numbers similar to those of customer service lines and fooling card holders into sharing account information.
How the Scam Works:
You have an issue with your credit card, so you search online for the card issuer's phone number. You dial the number at the top of the search results and get a recorded message. It prompts you to enter your credit card number and other information.
Don't fall for it! Scammers are purchasing toll free numbers and promoting them though search ads and fraudulent websites. In a hurry, consumers simply dial the first number, not realizing it's an ad placed by scammers.
In other cases, scammers purchase numbers very similar to the real customer support line and prey on customers who misdial. This scam is not limited to credit cards; con artists are also pulling this trick with popular retail brands, as well.
How to avoid fake phone numbers:
Be wary of phone numbers in search ads. Frequently, the slots at the top and sides of search results are for sale. This means scammers can buy these spaces and use them to promote fake phone numbers.
Find the customer service number on your card. That is always your best first option for reaching your card issuer.
Look for the company's official website. If you don't have your credit/debit card handy, be sure to look on the official website.
Try other ways to contact the company. If you can't find an official customer service phone number, try contacting the company by other means, such as email or a live chat.
To find out more about other scams, check out http://www.bbb.org/council/bbb-scam-stopper . To learn more about this scam, check out this recent alert at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/too-close-call from the Federal Trade Commission. [Source: BBB Scam Alert | July 31, 2015 ++]
Personal Email Impersonation Scam ► How it Works A sophisticated new scam is targeting business and personal email addresses. Scammers create email accounts nearly identical to an existing account and use that new account to initiate wire transfers.
How the Scam Works:
You are working for a business that deals with contractors or suppliers. One day, you receive an email that comes from your contractor, requesting to be paid by wire transfer. This is unusual, but you have a long standing relationship with this contractor, so you initiate the transfer.
Watch out! The email may be a fraud. Scammers are hacking into email accounts and spying on messages sent by the account owners. Then they create a new, second account that looks very similar. It may differ by a single character.
Con artists then use these new accounts to initiate wire transfers. In some case, the funds from the unauthorized transfers are sent to money mules located in the United States. These mules may be victims of employment scams. They may have no idea that their new "job" involves moving money for scammers.
Tips to protect yourself from this scam:
As always, be wary of suspicious emails. Do not open e-mail messages, click links or download attachments from unfamiliar senders.
Double check email addresses. Watch out for changes in e-mail addresses that mimic legitimate e-mail addresses.
Question changes to payment instructions. Contact the real vendor to check on the change.
Have a dual step process in place for wire transfers. This can include verbal communication using a telephone number known by both parties.
Know your vendors. Be aware of each company's typical payment activity and question any variations.
To find out more about other scams, check out http://www.bbb.org/council/bbb-scam-stopper. To learn more about this scam, read the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center alert at http://www.ic3.gov/media/2015/150827-2.aspx#fn1. [Source: BBB Scam Alert | September 4, 2015 ++]
DFAS SmartDocs Email Scam ► How it Works Email scams are targeting servicemen and military retirees and their families by posing as the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS)
How the Scam Works:
The most recent scam looks like a “Smart Doc” email with the subject line, “myPAY IMPORTANT SECURITY UPDATE” and appears to come from DFAS SmartDocs email address.
The links provided in the emails direct the user to a malicious website that requests personnel information. Following is an example of the email:
Dear Account Holder,
It has come to our attention that your myPay account information needs to be updated as part as part of our continued commitment to protect your account and to reduce the instance of fraud on our website. If you could please take 3 minutes out of your online experience and update your personal records you will not run into any future problems with the online service.
However, failure to update records will result in account suspension. Once you have updated your account records, your Online sessions will not be interrupted and will continue as normal. To update your myPAY records clock on the Update button.
MyPay Customer Center
DFAS provided the following statement regarding this scam. “Valid SmartDocs messages for DFAS are always sent in plain text, do not include attachment, and do not ask you to send any information in response. Your email program may automatically convert a valid SmatDocs message into HTML, and convert some texts into clickable links. We recommend that you do not click on any links within any email message. To access a site referenced in an email, open your browser and type the URL directly into your browser.”
Tips to Protect Yourself:
Don’t be fooled. If you receive a SmatDocs message that contains a link, don’t click on it.
If an URL is listed in a message, type it in manually within your browser.
Delete unexpected and unsolicited messages that contain attachments or that request you to send information back.
[Source: Military Officer Magazine | September 2015 ++]
Tax Burden for Alaska Retired Vets ►As of Nov 2015 Many people planning to retire use the presence or absence of a state income tax as a litmus test for a retirement destination. This is a serious miscalculation since higher sales and property taxes can more than offset the lack of a state income tax. The lack of a state income tax doesn’t necessarily ensure a low total tax burden. States raise revenue in many ways including sales taxes, excise taxes, license taxes, income taxes, intangible taxes, property taxes, estate taxes and inheritance taxes. Depending on where you live, you may end up paying all of them or just a few. Following are the taxes you can expect to pay if you retire in Alaska. Sales Taxes
State Sales Tax: The state currently does not have a sales and use tax. However, 62 municipalities impose local sales taxes that range up to 7.5%. Typical sales tax rates are from 2% – 5%.
Gasoline Tax: 29.7 cents/gallon (Includes all taxes)
Diesel Fuel Tax: 36.2 cents/gallon (Includes all taxes)
Cigarette Tax: $2.00/pack of 20 (Anchorage – add $3.45)
Personal Income Taxes
No state income tax
Retirement Income: Not taxed.
Alaska is the only state in the United States where a large part of the land mass is not subject to a property tax. Although property tax is the primary method of raising revenues for most of the larger municipalities in the state, smaller municipalities favor a sales tax. This is due primarily to the fact that the smaller incorporated areas lack a tax base large enough to support the property tax. The unincorporated areas of the state do not have the legal authority to levy a tax. Of the 18 Boroughs, only 14 levy a property tax. Only 11 Cities located outside of Boroughs levy a property tax. Therefore, only 25 municipalities in Alaska (either cities or boroughs) levy a property tax. These 25 municipalities can be found on https://www.commerce.alaska.gov/web
Alaska taxes both real and personal property. There are several municipalities that have chosen to exempt some or all categories of personal property. For a listing of those municipalities and categories, refer to https://www.commerce.alaska.gov/web/WelcometoourNewWebsite.aspx. Homeowners 65 and older (or surviving spouses 60 and older) are exempt from municipal taxes on the first $150,000 of the assessed value of their property. This also applies to disabled veterans. The average assessed value exempted from taxes for senior citizens and disabled veterans is $134,520 which equated to a tax exemption of $1,839 for 2010. In 2010, the total full value for all municipalities (over 750 in population) was $98.1 billion (including TAPS — Trans-Alaska Pipeline). With a statewide population of 692,314 the per capita full value was $141,644. Intangible personal property is exempt from taxation. Call 907-269-6620 (Anchorage) or 907-465-2320 (Juneau) for details.
Inheritance and Estate Taxes
There is no inheritance tax and the estate tax is limited to federal estate tax collection.
For further information go to the Alaska Department of Revenue site http://www.revenue.state.ak.us or call 907-465-2300 [Source: http://www.retirementliving.com/taxes-alabama-iowa Nov 2015 ++]
Tax Burden for Massachusetts Residents► As of Nov 2015 Personal income tax
Massachusetts imposes two tax rates:
A 5.2 percent rate that applies for the 2014 tax year to wages, interest and dividends and long-term capital gains. Beginning with the 2015 tax year, the rate drops to 5.15 percent.
A 12 percent rate applies to short-term capital gains, long- and short-term capital gains on collectibles and installment sales before 1996 that are classified as capital gain income.
A Massachusetts full-year and/or part-year resident is required to file a state tax return if his or her Massachusetts gross income is in excess of $8,000.
Form 1, Resident Income Tax Return, is due by April 15, or the next business day if that date falls on a weekend or holiday.
The state's Limited Income Credit is available for taxpayers whose income falls below the specified filing threshold for their status. This credit is an alternative tax calculation that can result in a tax reduction for people whose income is close to the no-tax status threshold. The credit is not available to married taxpayers who file separate returns. See the Form 1 instructions for details.
Massachusetts imposes a 6.25 percent sales tax on retail sales of tangible personal property in Massachusetts by any vendor.
Personal and real property taxes
All real and tangible personal property located within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is taxable unless specifically exempted by statute.
The administration of the assessment and collection of all real and tangible personal property taxes in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is handled by the city and town assessor and collected in the jurisdiction where the property is located.
Lower rates among jurisdictions, however, don't necessarily mean lower tax bills; that is determined by the assessed value of property (based on 100 percent of the fair market value) within a municipality.
Property is taxed according to its class: residential, open space, commercial, industrial and personal property.
All real and tangible personal property taxes are due in two installments. The first half of the tax is due by Nov. 1 in the year of assessment or within 30 days from the mailing date of the tax bill, whichever is later. The second half of the tax is due by May 1 of the year following the assessment year.
There are several property tax exemptions and deferrals available for certain taxpayers and/or types of property.
Massachusetts does not have an inheritance tax, but does collect an estate tax. Previously, the state's estate tax system was tied to federal estate tax collection, but Massachusetts decoupled its estate tax from the current federal levy.
Other Massachusetts Tax Facts
Since May 16, 2004, Massachusetts law has permitted same-sex couples to be married. For Massachusetts personal income tax purposes, same-sex spouses file as married persons, jointly or separately.
Taxpayers can deduct some commuting costs, including payments of more than $150 for tolls paid through the Massachusetts FastLane account and the cost of weekly or monthly passes for MBTA transit, bus, commuter rail or commuter boat. The total deduction amount cannot exceed $750 per individual. More information is available on Form TIR 06-14 and the work sheet for Schedule Y.
[Source: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/taxes/state-taxes-massachusetts.aspx Nov 2015 ++]
Thrift Savings Plan 2015► Returns as of 27 Nov 2015 There are currently 10 investment funds in the Thrift Savings Plan. Five are individual stock and bond funds, and the other five are target retirement date funds. The table below summarizes the historical performance and risk characteristics of the five primary TSP Investment Funds. Click on any link in the table header to see performance charts and other details for that fund.