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Don't be duped; the IRS isn't calling you

Updated: Thursday, September 01, 2016 @ 9:22 AM
Published: Wednesday, January 20, 2016 @ 2:16 AM
By: Elizabeth Hagedorn

Trending on Facebook

"The IRS is calling me," a man said in a promotional video for the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. "Can this be for real?"

Nope. Tax season is here, and so are the con artists posing as IRS agents.

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It usually goes something like this: Victims are told they owe back taxes to the IRS and must pay up immediately through a debit card or wire transfer — or face arrest.

In 2014, the Federal Trade Commission received nearly 55,000 complaints about scammers like these — that's a 25-fold increase from complaints filed in 2013.

Thousands have fallen for it. Since October 2013, some 5,000 people have forked over $26.5 million because of these scams.

To avoid getting scammed, keep in mind some things the IRS says it will never do. It won't call to demand immediate payment, ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone, or threaten you with the police.

The IRS will always first make contact by letter. 

How thinking like a poker player can help you get a raise

Updated: Saturday, September 24, 2016 @ 5:16 PM
Published: Tuesday, January 06, 2015 @ 10:02 AM
By: Christine DiGangi

Trending on Facebook

Not everyone has a taste for poker, and people choose to not play it for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they don’t have the math skills or they just don’t understand the game. It could be they have little tolerance for risk and don’t enjoy formulating and following game strategy. Some people don’t handle losing well, so it’s best to avoid games with high stakes.

That’s fine. You don’t need to like poker. You can go your whole life without needing to play it — no one will force you to.

That doesn’t mean you can’t use the basic poker skills to your advantage. There are a lot of lessons you can learn from poker that will help you thrive personally and professionally. Rather than have you put money on the line to learn them, we decided it made more sense to ask experienced poker players to share the most valuable things they’ve learned from the game and apply them to something most people experience but many don’t enjoy doing: salary negotiation.

1. Read the Situation

When going into your boss’ office to ask for a pay raise, there are a lot of factors in play that will impact the outcome of your discussion. There are the facts — you know what skills you bring to the table, and the employer knows how much he or she can afford to pay you — and there’s not much you can do to alter those.

Here’s where the dynamics of your meeting come in. You have no control over the cards your boss is holding, but you can persuade him or her to play in your favor by delivering a convincing pitch without appearing vulnerable. Just as in poker, body language has a huge impact on someone’s perception of you and can affect the way they respond.

David Daneshgar, a former professional poker player who won an event at the 2008 World Series of Poker, said everything from posture to breathing patterns can have a huge impact in how seriously you’re taken by the person across the table.

“Act genuine and normal,” Daneshgar said. “I wouldn’t come off too cocky — people in poker with a bad hand would overcompensate with action.”

2. Get Comfortable With an Uncomfortable Situation

The stakes can be high when asking for a raise. For some people, it may mean the difference between paying off debt or having to make tough personal budget cuts. No matter how badly you want to win, you have to understand that you may not and be willing to accept that. Negotiating for a raise may be extremely stressful, but you can’t let your emotions derail your game plan. If you’ve given your strategy a lot of thought and believe you’ve come up with the best course of action you can think of, stick to it, even when things aren’t going well. Desperation won’t win you anything.

“One of the things in poker is, ‘don’t reveal your hand till it’s time’,” said John Rogers, an amateur poker player who has used his 12 years of experience to guide him through the tough stages of entrepreneurship. One of the most common things Rogers sees among new players is a tendency to hold their cards too high or have to look back at their hand frequently, allowing other players to pounce on that vulnerability.

3. Learn to Make Quick Decisions

In poker, quick decision-making indicates you know what you’re doing, Daneshgar said. Don’t mistake immediate action for impulsiveness, because making good decisions requires a lot of thought — just make sure you’re done thinking before you head into negotiations.

It requires a lot of prep work. Daneshgar said poker players run through the scenarios in their minds, knowing exactly what they’ll do in any given situation. A slow response indicates unpreparedness. If you’re asking to receive a larger paycheck, your boss should rightly expect you to have given your request a lot of thought and be able to stand behind everything you’re asking for.

“If they’re thinking on the spot, they haven’t thought it through,” Daneshgar said. To get what you want out of a negotiation, you need to know what you want before the back-and-forth even starts. Even if the situation doesn’t end up the way you would have liked it to, you can reflect on it knowing you did everything you could to have it play in your favor, and you can’t always win.

4. Assess the Risks Associated With Each Scenario

If you play poker, you will lose a lot. When you ask for changes to your compensation, you may not get everything you want. When deciding how to proceed through salary negotiations, decide what’s worth fighting for,based on how much you have to lose if you don’t get it.

This is a process we do daily. If you’re driving to a meeting and the traffic light turns yellow, you’re quickly assessing the risk of the situation: “I’ll definitely get in trouble if I’m late for this meeting, but there’s a good chance I won’t get a ticket if the light turns red as I pass through the intersection,” you think, as you press down on the gas pedal.

If you submit a long list of demands to your supervisor, there’s a very good chance he or she will deny some of them. On the flip side, you’re likely to get what you ask for if you’re requesting something very small — but is that really what you want? You have to know when — and if — you’re willing to walk away. Daneshgar gave an example: If he asks for nothing, his employer will certainly keep him around. If he asks for a $20,000 raise (a massive raise, in this scenario), he risks offending his employer, damaging his relationship with his boss or getting fired. Given those options, he’ll ask for something in between, knowing it’s not worth it to him to risk his job or settle for no raise.

5. Leave Emotions Out of It

Even with all the preparation you’ve put into asking for a raise, no matter how well you think you can read the temperature of your meeting, it’s possible the situation will not go at all the way you want it to. If nothing else, you want to walk away feeling good about the way you handled yourself and confident in your ability to learn from the experience.

“If you change your strategy because of emotional response, that’s a flaw, that’s a crack in the game,” Rogers said. In poker, it’s called tilt — allowing one hand to affect the way you play the next.

“In poker here’s the reality: If you lose a hand for $50,000 and you can’t let that go by and play another game, you’re going to lose a lot of money,” Daneshgar said. Getting emotional when you don’t get what you want in the workplace could translate into a loss of respect or credibility, which severely hampers your ability to succeed. If you don’t get what you asked for the first time, don’t let disappointment filter into your work. If you keep doing a good job and prove your value to the company, you have a much better chance of getting what you want the next time you have an opportunity to ask.

These skills are extremely useful in many career-related situations, not just asking for a raise. Both Rogers and Daneshgar used what they learned in poker to start their own businesses — Rogers is creating a digital poker table called Nucleus, and Daneshgar started online floral business — and they say their ability to mitigate risk and take emotions out of their decisions have helped them succeed.

Such attitudes are extremely helpful in the world of personal finance, because things often don’t go the way you’d like them to (think home price negotiations). Planning is crucial to any kind of financial success, and as frustrating as failure can be, minimizing the amount of emotion you let dictate your decisions is likely to help you reach your goals.

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10 things to know: Last-minute tax filing

Updated: Saturday, September 24, 2016 @ 12:34 AM
Published: Tuesday, April 14, 2015 @ 11:52 AM

            10 things to know: Last-minute tax filing

Trending on Facebook

April 15 is the tax deadline to file your 2014 tax return with the IRS. offers the following advice for people who have waited until the last minute to file.

  1. Use IRS Free File: If you make $60,000 or less, you can use brand-name tax software to do your taxes and file for free. Information on this service is here:

  3. Try IRS e-file. Instead of mailing your paper return, you can digitally file. Also, the IRS said there’s less a chance for errors because tax software will correct common paper filing errors.

  5. Use IRS Direct Pay, which is the easiest way to pay your tax.

  7. File on time. The IRS said if you owe taxes by April 15, but you cannot pay them, you should still file on time and pay as much as you can. This minimizes penalties and interest charges.

  9. File for an installment agreement if you can’t pay the tax you owe. You can do this by using IRS Form 9465. More information is here. Also, if you cannot pay because of a financial hardship, the IRS will work with you.

    MORE INFO: Click here to view our special page of tax information


  11. File an extension. If you’re not ready to file by April 15, you can get an automatic six-month extension. You can request the extension for free using IRS Free File or IRS Form 4868. You will then have until Oct. 15 to file your taxes.

  13. An extension does not give you more time to pay. Even if you file an extension, you must estimate and pay what you owe by April 15 to avoid a late filing penalty. You will be charged interest on any tax that you do not pay on time.  You may also owe a penalty.

  15. If you have questions, the IRS recommends you use online resources.  The IRS warned of possible long lines at some of the largest Taxpayers Assistance Centers across the country and long hold times on the phone.

  17. Before filing your return, double check for these common errors. Make sure you are using the right address to send your forms, review all figures and sign and date your forms. Check more common errors here.
  19. For the latest information, visit It has tax information and resources to answer questions you may have while completing your return.

9 places you should never use a debit card

Updated: Thursday, September 01, 2016 @ 10:06 AM
Published: Friday, November 20, 2015 @ 6:23 PM
By: Clark Howard Staff

            9 places you should never use a debit card

Trending on Facebook

Debit cards are a popular alternative to credit cards, because they only allow you to spend what you have in your checking account. In fact, 31% of holiday shoppers plan to use debit to pay for their purchases this season, according to a new survey. But debit cards are full of hidden dangers for your wallet!

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Long called "piece of trash fake Visas and fake MasterCards" by Clark, debit cards are overwhelmingly inferior to credit cards for several reasons.

If your credit card is compromised, the harm to you is relatively small. You contact the issuer to report false charges and you may have to do some paperwork, but no money leaves your hands. With debit card fraud, however, there is money that leaves your hands. And you have to fight to get your own money back. Unfortunately, it's now taking longer and longer to get that money back.

Here's why you might want to kick that debit card out of your life

First, hotels, gas stations, and rental car companies will put a hold on your checking account if you use a debit card. If you have other checks floating around that someone tries to cash, that could throw you over into insufficient funds land and result in heavy fees. Plus, the company that runs your debit card may even do a hard inquiry on your credit without you knowing, which will lower your credit score!

Second, you have fewer consumer protections with debit cards. For example, let's say you notice fraudulent activity on your credit card. You have 60 days to report it and dispute the charge with your credit card company. But if you used a debit card, you have only 2 days to report it!

>>Read more: 9 money mantras to avoid overspending

9 places to never use a debit card

1. Pay at the pump

>>Read more: Dangers of using your debit card at the gas pump

2. When you're buying online

3. At the supermarket - A couple of years ago, Save Mart supermarkets were hit by criminal rings that put skimmers on the credit/debit card readers at self-check lanes in 20 Save Mart and Lucky branded locations throughout California. Very often, this particular kind of scam will be perpetrated by a crook dressed in the counterfeit uniform of the technology company that does regular routine maintenance on credit/debit card readers at a business!

4. At the car rental counter - The Dallas Morning News found that it's standard practice (and completely legal) in the industry for car rental companies to do a hard inquiry on your credit report, often without your knowledge or consent. They're trying to protect themselves against auto thieves that love to use debit cards as a low-risk method to get rentals that they can steal. But that inquiry can drastically lower your credit score in the process. The simple solution is to use a real credit card instead.

>>Read more: How to turn off the debit function of your debit card

5. When booking advanced travel - If you have concerns about the solvency of a company you're buying future travel from, you're better off using a credit card. This holds true particularly during an economic downturn when leisure travel businesses like cruises and some airlines can go bust. Paying with credit card ensures you can do a chargeback if you don't get the travel you paid for. While we're at it, have you considered trip insurance if you're taking a cruise, a tour, or traveling on a trip that requires pre-payment of thousands of dollars?

6. When buying furniture and major appliances - If you are ordering furniture or appliances and waiting on delivery, pay only by credit card. You reduce your risk if the store goes bust by doing that, which we saw a lot of during the housing slump when furniture and appliance retailers really took it on the chin. If you do not have your delivery within 50 days, put the credit card charge in dispute. You lose all right to any dispute after the 60th day.

7. When setting up automatic drafts - Auto drafts are a favorite way of utility companies, cable companies, health clubs, burglar alarm companies, and even mortgage lenders to get their money from you each month. But that business may continue to make monthly automated clearing house (ACH) debits from your account once your contract with them ends. That is illegal and you can get it to stop by citing what's called "Regulation E" and using Clark's sample letter to stop automatic payments.

8. Independent ATMs - You run the risk of skimmers. While skimmers can be found on bank ATMs, they're less likely because there are often security cameras in place.

9. At a restaurant - Because there is such high turnover at restaurants, you don't want a dishonest employee to get hold of your digits.

The only safe way to handle a debit card is...

If you wish to continue using a debit card in the future, be sure you tie it into a separate account that's only used for debit transactions so only that money is at risk. You want your account that has the money you pay your mortgage, your car payment, your student loans, etc. cordoned off so it can't be compromised.

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Is college worth it? See list of highest-paying majors

Updated: Thursday, September 01, 2016 @ 8:34 AM
Published: Wednesday, October 01, 2014 @ 9:03 AM
By: Clark Howard

Trending on Facebook

Good news for new college grads. Employers are planning to hire you this year, according to a new Harris survey.

Business majors are in highest demand, followed by computer and information sciences majors, and engineering majors. But good luck finding a job if you studied liberal arts, general studies and humanities, education; science technologies, or communication and journalism. Those fields are in the lowest demand, according to the survey.

Either way, don't expect too fat of a pay check. The majority of annual starting salaries will be less than $40,000.

The highest-paid college majors

If you're looking for the highest-paid college majors, here's the latest list (these are starting salaries) according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers:

  • Petroleum Engineering: $93,500
  • Computer Engineering: $71,700
  • Chemical Engineering: $67,600
  • Computer Science: $64,800
  • Aerospace/Aeronautical/Astronautical Engineering: $64,400
  • Mechanical Engineering: $64,000
  • Electrical/Electronics and Communications Engineering: $63,400
  • Management Information Systems/Business: $63,100
  • Engineering Technology: $62,200
  • Finance: $57,400

Meanwhile, new research from The Hamilton Project shows that the highest-paying majors will earn you roughly $1 million more over a working lifetime than the lowest-earning majors. This chart offers a great visual aid to take in all the research at a glance.

Degrees that pay the most have lifetime earnings in excess of $2 million. (The average earning over a career is $1.25 million.)

However, there are some real weak spots when it comes to earning; a 4-year elementary education degree earns you less over a lifetime than the average 2-year associate degree. Ditto for social work, drama, and theater arts. Music is dead even on earning power with a 2-year associate degree.

The point is if you find something you would really like doing and it pays, maybe you consider it. Though money is not everything.

You're hearing mixed messages from me because it is a mixed message. Taking on enormous student loans to be an art history student, well, maybe that's not a great idea. Ditto for a social worker. On the other hand, if you do chemical engineering, that has a real payback over a lifetime.


Jobs of today that are going away

Of course, the job market is a constantly moving target. Technology moves at such a quick pace that many jobs we know today could be extinct tomorrow. recently ran a list of 12 jobs on the brink of extinction. Among the professions listed were librarian, professional typist, video store clerk, travel agents, newspaper deliverer, switchboard operator, and more.

The takeaway for you is don't put blinders on. You've got to gain continual education and re-education to make yourself marketable for today's jobs and tomorrow's jobs. 

I like to cite a Canadian study that found 70% of jobs that will exist two decades from now don't exist today. Think about that in your own life. Twenty years ago, if you talked about being a web master, or about e-commerce or the Internet, people would have no idea what you were talking about.

The reality is, if you're not getting ahead, you're falling behind.