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The 5 biggest tax mistakes people make

Published: Friday, March 29, 2013 @ 9:00 AM
Updated: Tuesday, December 30, 2015 @ 12:09 PM

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Did you know taxes are due right around the corner?

Of course you did, and you're probably almost done preparing everything as well. However, before you file them away and checkmark that box off your to-do list, ask yourself one question — are you totally prepared to file?

We spoke with Thomas D. Fisher, CPA, LLC and asked: What are the top five tax mistakes people make every year?

Check out what he told us, and be sure to get your own ducks in a row before signing those magical slips of paper. 

1. Not contributing to 401(k) plans 

Forgetting to fund your 401(k) policy is a mistake for a number of reasons. For starters, if your company offers a match, deciding to not sign up means that you are actually leaving free money on the table. On the tax side of things, 401(k) contributions are taken from participants' paychecks before taxes are deducted, which means contributing to this type of plan will lower how much income you're required to pay taxes on.

2. Taking unnecessary withdrawals from retirement plans 
According to a new study, more than one in four households dips into retirement accounts like 401(k)s and 403(b)s for funding of things outside of retirement, despite the fact that doing so can cause some significant damage to those savings tax wise. According to the New York Times, the report, 'The Retirement Breach in Defined Contribution Plans,' found that withdrawals for non-retirement purposes by account holders under 60 amount to $60 billion a year, or 40% of the $176 billion employees put into such accounts each year..."

Their proposed solution? Hold off on funding retirement plans until you have an emergency savings account to pay for things that may unexpectedly come up. And if you're considering borrowing against retirement accounts to help fund college for your kid, you might want to think again. After all, your kids can always take out student loans for school — there are no such loans available for your retirement.

3. Not getting receipts for clothing donations to charities 

When it comes to making tax-deductible clothing donations to charity, keeping accurate records is key. Complete and accurate records can help speed up the process when it comes time to file and, perhaps even more importantly, will be what you'll need to fall back on should you ever be audited. In fact, H&R Block's Guide to Charitable Deductions claims that for deductions of less than $250 you should keep a receipt from the organization with the name and location of the charity, the date of donation and description of the property, as well as a photo of what you're donating. You might also keep notes on the fair market value of the property at the time you donated it and how you figured the value you're applying for a deduction for. 

Donations over $250 come with their own set of rules. See the full list of suggested documentation for donated items here.

4. Not considering the marriage penalty 
As my new husband and I recently discovered, sometimes there's a nice little price tag that comes with getting married, and it has absolutely nothing to do with paying for a pricey wedding. In a situation where both members of a couple work, that couple can most likely expect to owe more in taxes. Why is this the case? Once you earn above the 15% tax bracket, thresholds for higher tax rates are less than double the thresholds for single filers.

On the other hand, a marriage between two people where one person is not working could yield a marriage bonus, since working spouses can claim deductions and exemptions for non-working spouses and will be paying taxes at a lower tax rate overall.

5. Paying IRS notices without questioning 
Believe it or not, IRS employees are only human, and as such, they do make the occasional mistake. Before blindly paying out any amount that the IRS may tell you that you owe, it's a good idea to recheck your own numbers first. If you still feel you paid the correct amount of taxes, send a letter back and enclose all of your mathematic calculations.

Cheryl Lock is a personal finance writer at and former editor at LearnVest and Parents magazine. When she's not writing, she enjoys travel, which she blogs about at wearywanderer.wordpress.com.

(Source: Savings.com)

5 key things you should know about car insurance

Published: Thursday, October 19, 2017 @ 2:46 PM

The following are five things you probably don't know about auto insurance It may cover more than you realize Your car's contents were stolen or damaged? Too bad Other drivers in your house need to be listed on the policy Your rates could go up because of an accident that wasn't your fault You may be missing out on some discounts

Car insurance isn't something you probably think about often, but it's an important tool in protecting your assets.

It pays to learn about your policy before you need it so you can take advantage of its benefits and avoid any unpleasant surprises.

Whether you're shopping for a new policy or are wondering about the specifics of your current coverage, you may be surprised by what you find.

RELATED: 5 ways you can make bank with your wheels

The following are five things you probably don't know about auto insurance:

It may cover more than you realize.

If your car is damaged when a rodent chews through some wires, your expenses will most likely be covered, according to the Motley Fool. Your auto insurer may also pay for damage suffered when your car hits a pothole, and, although you probably won't need it, damage from a riot or meteor. And if you're involved in legal action as the result of a vehicle accident, your car insurance may also provide help with some legal costs.

RELATED: 8 ways to get the cheapest car insurance possible

Your car's contents were stolen or damaged? Too bad.

If you're like many people, you might have several expensive items – your phone, laptop and navigation system – that you often leave in your car. Unfortunately, if you're in an accident and these items are damaged, you're probably on your own when it comes to replacing them, U.S. News & World Report warns. The same is true if your car is stolen while the items are inside.

Other drivers in your house need to be listed on the policy.

In most cases, a car insurance policy provides coverage for you and other people who don't live with you but may occasionally drive your car, according to Business Insider. But if you have other drivers in your home, they will need to be listed on your policy as well. Otherwise, they probably won't be covered if they drive your car and are in an accident.

Your rates could go up because of an accident that wasn't your fault.

The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) found that many companies will raise your rates if you open a claim, even if you're not at fault. The practice is illegal in at least two states (California and Oklahoma), but drivers who live elsewhere are not protected. Companies vary in how much they'll raise your rates, and the CFA found that moderate-income drivers often face higher increases than higher-income drivers do.

You may be missing out on some discounts.

You might be getting a discount for being a good driver or because you're in a certain age group, but you may be missing out on some less-obvious discounts. According to Fox Business, some insurance companies offer discounts if you belong to certain professional groups, are a graduate of a certain college or belonged to one of its affiliated fraternities or sororities. 

Numbers don’t lie: 5 things to know about your FICO score

Published: Tuesday, October 03, 2017 @ 10:37 AM
Updated: Tuesday, October 03, 2017 @ 10:37 AM

To get into the all-important "good credit" score range, experts recommend these five strategies Check and re-check your credit report Avoid quick-fix promises Delinquent payments can seriously damage your FICO scores Pay off more of what you owe Apply for credit cards one at a time

With the 2017 hacking of credit bureau Equifax, credit scores have been in the spotlight recently. But credit scores are important every day for adults who earn or borrow money, especially the FICO score, which is used by 90 of the top 100 largest U.S. financial institutions. 

RELATED: Equifax data breach: What to know

Just what is a FICO score? The short answer: the global standard for measuring credit risk in the banking, mortgage, credit card, auto and retail industries, created by Fair Isaac Corporation. The average adult has FICO scores from each of the three main credit bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. FICO scores are based on amounts owed (30 percent), new credit (10 percent), length of credit history (15 percent), payment history (35 percent) and credit mix (10 percent).

A low FICO score might contribute to a lender's decision to deny you credit and could increase the cost of an auto loan by almost $5,000, according to Consumer Reports. A high FICO can save you thousands annually on everything from reduced credit card interest to the size of the deposit you must pay for electric utility service.

RELATED: Uber isn't everything: 7 other lucrative part-time side gigs 

To get into the all-important "good credit" score range, Consumer Reports and myFICO.com recommend these five strategies:

Atlanta-based consumer credit reporting agency Equifax reversed a decision to include forced arbitration language in its terms of service for its free credit monitoring products after a public outcry earlier this month. The company said a breach of its computer systems had exposed the Social Security numbers and birthdates of up to 143 million U.S. consumers. (Dreamstime/TNS)(The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Check and re-check your credit report

Request one free credit report from a different reporting agency every four months through AnnualCreditReport.com and check for errors, according to Consumer Reports. If you find an error, dispute it with the credit bureau. Pay particular attention to make sure no one has incorrectly listed a late payment on any of your accounts or miscalculated amounts owed on any open accounts. "Hard pull" credit inquiries, which are made by potential lenders with your permission, can lower your FICO score slightly, but this is different. When you check on your own credit, there's no penalty. 

Avoid quick-fix promises

According to myFICO.com, so-called "quick fix" efforts to repair your credit history are the most likely to backfire, so consumers should be leery of any advertisements or credit counselors claiming they can improve your credit score fast. Depending on the reason for a low score, you may need 12 to 24 months before any efforts (except for error corrections) start showing on your score. You can accelerate the improvement by enrolling in a debt-management program and making payments on time, but there's no instant fix.

(Contributed by nestiny.com/For the AJC)

Persistently pay your bills on time

Even if you are only missing payments by a few days, delinquent payments can seriously damage your FICO scores, particularly since you can't fix previous missed or late payments. If you have missed payments, get current and stay current so you can demonstrate that the problem is in the past. Accoding to myFICO, older credit problems count for less and will fade as your new on-time payment pattern starts showing up on your credit report. Some older versions of FICO keep collection accounts on your credit report for up to seven years even if they're paid off, but the most current versions of FICO ignore any collections when the balance is zero, according to Consumer Reports.

Pay off more of what you owe

The "amounts owed" category makes up 30 percent to your FICO score calculation. Unlike payment history, you can address it immediately, but you'll need financial discipline: "The most effective way to improve your credit scores in this area is by paying down your revolving–credit card–debt." Don't close unused credit cards as a short-term plan to up your scores, since it may just increase the percentage of available credit you are using - a no-no for high credit scores. The same goes for opening a new credit cards you don't need: while it will increase your available credit, it could negatively impact the average age of your credit accounts and damage your FICO scores.

Apply for credit cards one at a time

When you apply for multiple credit cards at the same time, you generate several "hard pull" requests for your credit history, which can hurt your FICO score, according to Consumer Reports. This advice only holds true for credit cards, not house, car or student loans. 

MyFICO also reminds consumers that while FICO scores are important, they're not the be-all and end-all. Lenders look at information such as the amount of debt you can reasonably handle given your income, your employment history and your credit history. Based on their perception of this information, as well as their specific underwriting policies, lenders may extend credit to you even if your score is low - or decline your request for credit even though your score is high.

To get started improving your FICO score, access myFICO's estimator tool, which helps you approximate your score range without any identifying information. It also offers a direct link that allows you to file an online credit report dispute and gives more detailed answers to the question "What is FICO?"

Scene 75 CEO buys former ITT property

Published: Tuesday, September 26, 2017 @ 2:34 PM

Jonah Sandler is the CEO of Scene 75 Entertainment Center. LISA POWELL / STAFF
Jonah Sandler is the CEO of Scene 75 Entertainment Center. LISA POWELL / STAFF

A holding company run by the chief executive of Scene 75 Entertainment has bought the nearby former ITT Tech school property on Stop Eight Road.

JDS Commercial Holdings LLC — of which Jonah D. Sandler is the principal — bought the former school property at 3325 Stop Eight Road for $740,000, Montgomery County property records show.

RELATEDMental health agency plans $1 million property investment

Five years ago, Sandler opened Scene 75 at 6196 Poe Ave. Since then, he has announced plans to open a third entertainment location 30 miles south of Cleveland in Brunswick, Ohio. Besides the Dayton center, the company also has a 84,000-square-foot Cincinnati-area venue in Milford.

The former school — which closed last September — is just south of Scene 75 on Poe, near the intersection of Poe and Stop Eight.

RELATEDBuyer pays $4.3M for property near airport

Last year, ITT Technical Institute closed all 130 of its campuses nationally in a move that put 8,000 employees out of work, in the wake of federal sanctions against the school.

A message seeking comment was left with Sandler Tuesday.

Eastway plans total $1M property investment

Published: Tuesday, September 26, 2017 @ 8:26 AM

A model of the newly remodeled Eastway Behavioral Healthcare headquarters on Wayne Avenue. The agency is purchasing a former print shop on Bainbridge near the headquarters. In total, the agency is investing $1 million into both its headquarters remodeling and the property purchase. THOMAS GNAU/STAFF
A model of the newly remodeled Eastway Behavioral Healthcare headquarters on Wayne Avenue. The agency is purchasing a former print shop on Bainbridge near the headquarters. In total, the agency is investing $1 million into both its headquarters remodeling and the property purchase. THOMAS GNAU/STAFF

Eastway Behavioral Healthcare, a mental health services agency, is purchasing an industrial building and parking lot across Bainbridge Street near its Dayton headquarters, with plans to create a center for job training there, agency leaders announced Monday evening.

Dayton-based Eastway Behavioral Healthcare has already announced an investment of about $500,000 into remaking its 600 Wayne Ave. headquarters and pharmacy — and agency leaders announced their plans for the Bainbridge property Monday at a 60th anniversary celebration at the Victoria Theatre.

Together, the refurbishing of the headquarters and the purchase of the Bainbridge property amount to a total investment of about $1 million, Eastway officers said.

RELATEDDayton mental health agency has national impact

Krystal Burke, Eastway director of business development, said she recently approached the owner of the property about the possibility of leasing some of his parking spaces to Eastway. Instead, he offered to sell the entire site, including the building where a printing and packing business had been located for decades, Burke said.

The business was Print Products Inc., 419 Bainbridge.

“It’s a very attractive building on the inside,” Burke said. “There were a lot of upgrades.”

RELATEDMental health agency to make $5ooK headquarters investment

She added: “I told John (Strahm, Eastway president and chief executive), ‘Just hear me out. I think I stumbled on a really great opportunity.’”

One of Ohio’s largest mental health care agencies, Eastway in recent months has expanded its service footprint to include Columbus and Washington Court House, even serving clients nationally from as far away as Idaho.

“Our message to the Dayton community, although we have expanded our catchment areas to Columbus … our primary commitment for 60 years has been serving the needs of these people in Dayton.”

In the past decade, the agency’s revenue has nearly doubled, from $16 million annually in 2007 to an expected $30 million in this fiscal year, Eastway leaders said.

“It’s planned growth,” Burke said. “It’s not just to see how big or how fast we can grow.”

Each year, the agency treat 3,500 adults in Dayton. The agency manages 24 facilities across mostly Southern and Central Ohio.