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January 2012


This is a relatively long review of TurboTax 2012 Online, software for completing tax forms and submitting them to both the federal and state authorities. I’ve updated the review to reflect the changes to the software in 2012 (for filing 2011 tax returns).

Recently, the IRS began accepting federal tax returned filed electronically. Even before the IRS began accepting returns, you could still have completed your tax forms online through software. Programs like TurboTax, H&R Block, and Jackson Hewitt have been accepting customers and holding off on filing until now. This delay affected those who had itemized deductions, claimed the tuition and fees deduction, or claimed the sales tax deduction.

Many taxpayers are just getting started with their 2011 federal returns now. I’ve been using the services of an accountant for the past few years, and he was able to cut through the more confusing tax consequences of owning a business, saving me $15,000. Before my tax situation was complicated, however, I completed my taxes online using various software. Following a series of questions, completing and filing my 1040 form was easy.

Every year, the companies that provide tax e-filing services like TurboTax and H&R Block tweak their products, not only for the latest tax laws, but to improve features, making the process of tax filing easier. I took a look at TurboTax to see what changes the newest edition has to offer.

The first thing I noticed with TurboTax is the wide variety of products they have available. There is an option that is completely free for filing federal returns, but it is limited. This free version is for taxpayers whose returns can be completed using the 1040-EZ form, a simplified version of the 1040 form. If you have deductions, investments, a mortgage, or self-employment income, or if you want a step-by-step hand-holding guide to completing the forms, you will not be able to take advantage of the TurboTax Free Edition.

TurboTax offers several flavors in addition to the Free Edition, including Deluxe, Premier, Home & Business, and Business, each to handling more complicated tax situations above and beyond the lighter editions. The Deluxe Edition focuses on capturing all of your deductions. The Premier Edition does deductions, as well, but also includes the forms you need for investments like stocks, mutual funds, and rental properties. Home & Business covers all of the above as well as self-employment income, and the Business Edition is for anyone who is a partner in or owner of a corporation.

The editions are flexible; start with the Deluxe Edition, and as you come across features you need, TurboTax will ask if you’d like to upgrade — without charging you yet — to the edition that takes all of your needs into account. I started the Deluxe Edition to see how far I could go. I saw that for the most part none of the upgrades are needed if you are confident about your tax accounting abilities and are willing to enter your information directly into forms rather than have the software hold your hand through every decision.

Get your refund in as little as 8 days. E-file with TurboTax today. It’s Easy

Here is an overview of my entire process of completing my federal and state tax returns with TurboTax.

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It may be illegal for states to print money for commerce, but local communities have no such restriction from the federal government. And in some communities, local currencies have been successful, at least in gaining the support of some retailers and consumers.

There’s no law of nature that says that an economy functions best when the broadest number of people use one currency exclusively. Currency is just a placeholder that creates efficiency. Without it, we’d have to barter for products and services. Without currency, a tailor would need to trade his services whenever he wanted to buy food for his family. In a free market, theoretically, anything could be used as a currency. The government or quasi-government organizations help by establishing a currency as a standard, so there is faith in its consistency.

Dollar currencyNot everyone is satisfied with this solution, however.

A community may start its own currency for a few reasons:

  • Local currencies can help keep more funds invested in the community instead of helping national or global companies profit. When you buy a light bulb at Home Depot, part of that profit goes to the headquarters, and eventually shareholders, including global investors. When you buy a light bulb at a local hardware store whose owners live within the community, more of that profit stays in town — but not all unless the light bulb supplier and manufacturer is also in town.
  • When companies pay a part of their employees’ salaries in local currency, or when a consumer participates in a community marketplace by selling their items or services while taking payment in the local currency, the profit stays in the community.
  • A town or city bonded together by a unique currency builds the sense of community and encourages businesses to work together, not just for the greater economic benefit of the town, but to ensure that all consumers and retailers engaging in economic activity using the currency remain good citizens and fair businesses.
  • Local currencies present an alternative choice for people who believe the federal government cannot be trusted with the responsibility of ensuring economic stability through monetary policy. A community-based financial system can help people in the community feel better about threats of inflation or devaluation.
  • With local currency in hand, a customer will peruse the directory of merchants accepting the currency and make purchasing decisions based on this list, effectively ignoring companies whose profits benefit those outside the community.

In Philadelphia, the “equal dollar” is a local currency that has flourished for over a decade. Philadelphians can earn equal dollars by volunteering in the community or by selling items. There is a $10 (USD) membership fee and a =$50 (equal dollars) sign-up bonus for individuals; merchants can join for a $25 (USD) fee and receive a =$125 (equal dollars) bonus. It’s unclear how many merchants accept equal dollars, but those who do often require the bulk of the transaction to be in U.S. dollars.

This system isn’t too far removed from certain gift cards. Replace the idea of the community with a mall, and you’ll recognize the paradigm. One of my local indoor malls is owned by a national mall company. They offer gift cards that can be used in any store within any of this company’s branded malls. This is a currency as reliable as the U.S. dollar (as the value is denominated in dollars, not a separate currency of its own), but just like a local currency that ties its spending to the community, the gift cards tie spending to stores that pay rent for space in the mall properties.

Philadelphia is not the only community that has created its own currency to increase local solidarity. You can find local currencies in the Berkshire region of Massachusetts, Seattle, Portland, and Traverse City, Michigan.

I’d be concerned about counterfeit currency. Official government currency like the U.S. dollar is though to counterfeit effectively due to a large number of security measures, but it seems to me that this technology is not readily available to whatever printing services are used by communities that offer their own currency. Of course, since the U.S. dollar is incredibly popular, more counterfeiters aim at overcoming the security measures. Thus, popular currencies may be subject to fraud more than a community currency, but the concern still exists.

Would you use a local currency to replace some or all of your U.S. dollar use in your community?

Images_of_Money

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Cash Back Rewards Stolen

This article was written by in Credit. 33 comments.

Using cash back credit cards is rewarding in two specific ways. First, you’re earning money when you spend. That’s the obvious part. But when you know that you’re getting a rebate when you use your credit card, you also feel better about spending than you would otherwise. Feeling good can be dangerous, as you might make mistakes like spending more than you should while chasing that good feeling.

That’s why I’ve identified ten traps for using cash back credit cards. The issuers know that many people will fail to handle their credit cards properly, and the resulting profit from customers’ mistakes helps pay for those cash back rebates.

Credit card users are generally aware of these traps and can avoiding them, but sometimes other problem occur, beyond the spenders’ control. Consumerism Commentary reader SteveDH recent encountered a problem with his cash back credit card.

Here’s his story:

Burglar alarmWhen I received my last VISA statement it showed that I had redeemed $275 in Cashback awards — I hadn’t. I got in touch with my bank and also started looking at all of the web pages and we found the someone had added a “Transfer Account” from GE Capital Retail Bank in Draper Utah to the redemption page and apparently requested the redeemtion. The information that they had to enter was the ABA number and account number. That’s how I know which bank it is even though only the last four digits of the account number were there. How they got to the redeemtion page without going through my login (which my bank says wasn’t compromised) is a mystery.

Although my bank killed the credit card and promised to apply the missing money to the new VISA card, I’m stilling waiting for final resolution. I download into Quicken almost everyday but I hadn’t even thought of checking rewards balances. In fact I’m amazed I noticed it on the statement this month. Yet another example of the crooks out there — some are pretty darn creative.

This is insanity. Cash back rewards should be something consumers should be able to forget about; they should be able to trust that each purchase earns the correct cash back amount (it occasionally doesn’t) and that the cash back will be there when you retrieve it. It’s a mystery how this redemption bank account was added to the cash back rewards page without SteveDH’s account being compromised. Perhaps it was an inside job.

I confess that I rarely look at my accrued rewards balances. As I primarily use airline miles rewards cards now, I generally see my rewards only when I visit Continental’s and United’s websites. The miles I earn from spending are deposited monthly, and I’ve not yet noticed any discrepancies. Cards that earn cash back, however, can be less organized.

Since cash back information is not downloaded into Quicken or reported in other software like Mint.com, it takes extra effort to verify your cash back is accruing correctly and is available according to the rules of your agreement. Don’t forget to check once in a while. You won’t be able to prevent every problem, but you’ll be able to report it to your issuer promptly, and hopefully have the problem resolved without difficulty.

Thanks for staring the story, SteveDH. If any other readers have stories to share, please contact me.

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Today on the Consumerism Commentary Podcast, Tom Dziubek talks to Jenny Kerr, founder of The Jenny Pincher.

Jenny talks with Tom about how married women can better prepare themselves financially for a divorce. Some of the items she discusses are keeping individual checking accounts, knowing where the money is and being prepared to start a new job.

Consumerism Commentary Podcast
Protecting Individual Finances in a Marriage: S06E15 / 172

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Table of contents

Consumerism Commentary Podcast[00:00] Introduction from Tom Dziubek
[00:38] Interview with Jenny Kerr
[00:49] Jenny’s inspiration for article
[03:15] Individual bank accounts
[05:34] The need for a joint account
[06:13] Funding the individual account
[07:33] The individual account for emergency access
[08:57] Know where the money is
[10:27] Keeping your resume current
[12:06] Part-time work
[14:21] Understanding the necessities
[15:24] Knowing what benefits are tied to your spouse
[16:40] Identifying policies your spouse could benefit from
[19:13] End

We always welcome feedback from listeners. If you have any comments for this episode or for any other, or if you have suggestions for future episodes, please leave us comments here or email us at podcast at this domain name.

Theme music by Mindcube.

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The Role of Money in Choosing a Relationship

by Luke Landes
Relationships couple

Do people have any kind of control over whom they fall in love with? Perhaps Cupid’s arrow strikes randomly, and there is no choice but to obey the heart — or chemicals in the brain — or sexual urges. But once that initial response has subsided, if you and your partner are headed for a ... Continue reading this article…

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Improve Your Child’s Cognitive Ability for Income Potential

by Luke Landes
Rubik's Cube

There’s a chance you could become a multi-millionaire after repeatedly slamming your head into other people and suffering through the resulting mini-concussions and minor brain damage, but not everyone can be a professional football player in the NFL. There’s a safer and less harmful path toward financial independence. Cognitive ability is an important part of ... Continue reading this article…

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She Spends Less Than She Earns: Zooey Deschanel

by Luke Landes
Zooey Deschanel

It’s not often that a young, female star of music, movie, and television can avoid financial scrutiny. Tales of financial woe tend to be much juicier, anyway. It’s not difficult to remember the Britney Spears train wreck. She couldn’t handle earning more than $700,000 a month. At least her antics kept her in the news. ... Continue reading this article…

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Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Wants Payday Loan Feedback

by Luke Landes
Check

While the mainstream financial industry has faced a dizzying array of government and quasi-government regulations through most of the last one hundred years, non-bank financial products have, for the most part, evaded regulations. Catering to lower-income communities, payday loan storefronts and check cashing establishments have managed to justify their business models. The more desperate you ... Continue reading this article…

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Buy Airfare Six Weeks in Advance

by Luke Landes
Airplane

Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC), a company that processes airline transactions for travel agents and consumers, has analyzed 144 million transactions for domestic flights in 2011 to better understand airlines’ pricing schemes. The study found the lowest fares were available six weeks in advance of the departure date. I’ve always been under the impression that the ... Continue reading this article…

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The Lonesome, Pet-Free Life

by Luke Landes
Rupert

For almost as long as I’ve been living without a human roommate, I’ve enjoyed the company of my cat, Rupert. I adopted Rupert from my friend who determined his newborn daughter was allergic to cats. He had already owned Rupert for a long time, and I knew I’d be the cat’s new owner for the ... Continue reading this article…

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Fix the Tax System By Taxing Consumption

by Luke Landes
Ferrari

An elegant answer to the over-complicated tax system is to shift the basis of the system from income to spending. There have been a variety of proposals to make this happen. It’s the core of the so-called Fair Tax and Herman Cain incorporated its concept into his 9-9-9 tax plan. Other proposals have called for ... Continue reading this article…

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Podcast 144: Best Things to Buy During Winter

by Luke Landes

Today on the Consumerism Commentary Podcast, Bryan J Busch talks to Andrea Woroch, consumer savings expert. They discuss when and why it can be smarter to shop for certain items during the winter. Consumerism Commentary Podcast Best Things to Buy During Winter: S06E17 / 170 Download – RSS – iTunes Table of contents [00:00] Introduction ... Continue reading this article…

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How Is Your Budget Doing These Days?

by Phil Cioppa

This is a guest article by Phil Cioppa of Arbol Financial Strategies, LLC. Phil has over 10 years of financial service experience and specializes in asset management strategies, insurance planning and taxation issues. A budget is an important part of any financial plan, and right now is the best time to take another look at ... Continue reading this article…

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Kodak Files for Bankruptcy

by Luke Landes
Kodak Portra

There were rumors and predictions for a while, but today it’s official. Kodak, the company that revolutionized film photography and adopted digital photography early, has declared bankruptcy. The company has been struggling since the 1980s; I’m surprised it survived this long without filing Chapter 11. That’s what the company chose to do today, with debt ... Continue reading this article…

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Frugal Employers Will Lose Their Talent

by Luke Landes
Paycheck

During the recession, my employer, a firm in the financial industry, eliminated raises for employees at the Vice President level and above for one year. The company, although continuing to perform well compared to its peers, cut back bonuses and other benefits. It’s easy for employers to demand higher productivity for less compensation when the ... Continue reading this article…

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$362,000 in Income: Not That Much for Mitt Romney

by Luke Landes

It’s no surprise that politicians have difficulty relating to their constituents. When Mitt Romney was asked about his finances, he admitted two facts that would sound strange to most listeners. Romney considers what he earned from speaking fees in one year, $362,000, as “not that much.” Like most individuals who earn most of their income ... Continue reading this article…

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5 Reasons to Beware 401(k) Retirement Plans

by Luke Landes
Cubicle

Financial planners just love promoting 401(k) retirement plans. They have quite a few benefits, notably a tax deduction for contributions as well as a tax deferral for contributions and earnings. They’re also one of the most popular vehicles for introducing the working middle class to the stock market, something that might not have been accessible ... Continue reading this article…

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Save Money: Break Up Before Valentine’s Day

by Guest Author
Valentine's Day

This is a guest article by Jennifer Calonia, Junior Editor at GoBankingRates. In the article, the author encourages couples in failing relationships to break-up before holidays and their obligatory expenses are imminent. While it may sound like the antithesis of romance, calling it quits with your other half before the Valentine’s Day can be advantageous ... Continue reading this article…

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How to Solve the Financial Literacy Problem

by Luke Landes
Kid with money

Many Americans experience financial jeopardy at some point in their lives, and experts share an opinion about a strong cause: there’s no formalized way to learn how to use money properly, so most people must learn by experience, making mistakes as they learn what is necessary for building a solid financial foundation. It would save ... Continue reading this article…

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Podcast 143: Tax Law Changes in 2012

by Luke Landes

Today on the Consumerism Commentary Podcast, Bryan J Busch talks to Kathy Pickering, Executive Director of H&R Block’s Tax Institute. They discuss the difference between smart investments vs. emotional decisions, the importance of financial planning, and how most people are better off just buying an index fund and ignoring investment gurus. Consumerism Commentary Podcast Tax ... Continue reading this article…

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