Free Tax Help & Credits to Remember

by The Queen on February 28, 2011

in Financial

It’s the last day of February. That means it’s time to get out your shoebox full of receipts and start working on your taxes. There is only a month and half left until tax day. If you dread doing your taxes because all the forms and calculations are overwhelming and paying a CPA isn’t in your budget, you don’t need to fret anymore. There are many free resources you can turn to for help.

Here are some ways to get your taxes done for free and save more with tax credits. 

Free Help

Free Online File – The IRS wants to make it as easy as possible to prepare and file your taxes. That is why they have teamed up with over a dozen online tax preparation companies to help you complete and file your taxes for Free. There are residency and income requirements. Your adjusted gross income has to be $58,000 or less. And according to the IRS, 70% of taxpayers fall into this category. So this is a great place to start: www.IRS.gov/freefile

Free Help in Person – If all the numbers, deductions and credits start to get confusing and you need an actual person to help you sort it out, there’s IRS help. The IRS has set up offices throughout the state and staffed them with knowledgeable reps to help you. Multilingual help is also available. For locations, times and services visit: http://www.irs.gov/localcontacts/index.html They can’t prepare your entire return for you, but they can answer as many questions as you have.

Free Tax Preparation in Person – Getting your tax questions answered in person is great, but getting your entire return prepared in person is even better. The IRS offers special tax preparation services for free for qualified individuals. The main qualifications are either having an adjusted gross income of $49,000 or less, being over the age of 60 or being a member of the military. For all the details and locations visit: http://www.irs.gov/individuals/article/0,,id=107626,00.html

Other Free Services – For the 30% of Americans that have an adjusted gross income over $58,000 and don’t qualify for other free IRS services, you can take advantage of your relationships. If you are a State Farm customer you can get TurboTax for free. Many banks, credit unions and insurance companies offer free or discounted access to tax prep software, visit your bank’s website to see all their offers.

Tax Credits to Remember

Retirement Savings Credit – Uncle Sam wants to encourage saving for retirement. He is even willing to give you money for saving money. If you contributed to a retirement account in 2010 you may be eligible for a tax credit up to $1000 depending on your income. For income limits visit: http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=107686,00.html

Home Purchase Credit – If you are a qualified first time or repeat home buyer last year, you may qualify for a tax credit worth up to $8,000. You must have been under contract by April 30, 2010 and closed on the house by September 30, 2010 and meet certain guidelines to qualify.

Energy Efficiency Credit- Did you improve your home’s insulation, replace a water heater or windows and doors last year? You may qualify for a tax credit equal to 30% of the cost up to $1,500. To see which improvements qualify visit: http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=tax_credits.tx_index.

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Boost Your Credit Score in 2011: Part Two

by The Queen on February 17, 2011

in Credit

Is your credit score as high as you’d like? If it is a work in progress, we are here to help. We are continuing our Boost Your Credit Series. In this monthly series, we provide you easy tips for improving your credit. To kick things off, last month you just had to get your credit report and score. Now that you have your report in hand, it’s time to get to work. This month we will tackle your credit utilization ratio.

What is a credit utilization ratio?

Your credit utilization ratio is simply the amount of money you owe compared to the amount of total credit you have. For example if you owe $5,000 and your total credit limits are $10,000 then your credit utilization ratio is equal to 50%. The closer you are to your limits, the higher your ratio will be.

How much of an impact does my ratio have on my overall score?

Your credit utilization score which represents the amounts you owe affects 30% of your credit score. This is the second most important factor in your overall score. It is also the easiest and fastest way you can improve your score. 

 

What is a good ratio?

Unlike your overall credit score where higher is better, with your credit utilization ratio lower is better. Credit experts generally agree that ratios should ideally be under 35 percent. And studies have shown that those with the best credit have ratios under 20%.

How can I improve my ratio?

There are two ways to improve your credit utilization ratio, either pay off debt or increase your limits. Each method has its own pros and cons.

How do I pay off debt to improve my ratio?

You can’t simply just pay more on all your accounts and expect to have a dramatic impact on your ratio. You have to be strategic. You should aim to pay off the balances on the cards and accounts with the lowest limits. For example if you pay an extra $200 on an account with a $10,000 limit, that doesn’t have a big impact. However, if you pay an extra $200 on an account with an $800 limit, you have dramatically decreased your utilization ratio for that card. You will find store credit cards are generally the ones with the lower limits and general credit cards like Visa and MasterCard have the higher limits. So start paying down the store cards first.

After I pay off cards, should I close my account?

It feels great to pay off a debt and be rid of it. Many want to get ultimate closure and actually close their paid off accounts. This may be good for your soul but not for your ratio. When you close the account, you lose your 0% ratio which is the best ratio to have.

What about increasing my credit limit to improve my ratio?

Another way to improve your ratio is to increase your limit. So instead of owing $2,000 on a $3,000 limit and having a 66% ratio, you can increase your limit to $4,000 and drop your ratio to 50%. This sounds like a good tactic but most people end up charging even more and their ratio goes back to where they started and now owe more. And in this day and age, credit companies are very reluctant to give out more credit. So the best way to improve your ratio is to simply pay down debt.

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Valentine’s Day Gift Ideas for Kids & Adults

by The Queen on February 11, 2011

in Entertainment

This Monday is Valentine’s Day. The stores are all decked out for this special day. Are you ready to play cupid? Or is your gift list overflowing with names from your kids’ school, your sweetie and the babysitter who is letting you and your sweetie enjoy a kid free evening? Don’t let Valentine’s Day become more work than play.

Here are some ideas to help you enjoy the day without breaking the bank.

Kids’ Valentines

It seems every school now celebrates Valentine’s Day in a big way with class parties and events. Celebrating is great but sending in Valentine’s cards and treats for two dozen kids is not much fun. So here a few easy and inexpensive options:

Krispy Kreme – Krispy Kreme lets you have your cake and eat it too. They are offering a free pack of Valentine’s cards with a matching coupon for a free doughnut with every purchase of a dozen doughnuts. So you can buy a couple of dozen to take into the school or your office and then use the free cards as both the Valentine and treat.

Do It Yourself – Instead of buying candy year after year, buy a heart cookie cutter and reuse that. You can make and decorate your own heart treats with cookies, brownies and Rice Krispies treats. And your kids can even help too.

Adult Valentines

The Food – This year Valentine’s Day falls on a Monday. Many restaurants are offering Valentine’s weekend specials starting on Saturday. From large chains to upscale restaurants, you will find all kinds of special dining deals.

The FlowersThe price of roses skyrockets during Valentine’s Day. Your corner florist or grocery store may charge you double or more the standard cost. One of the best deals in town is at Whole Foods. You can buy two dozen red roses for $19.99. But these can sell quickly, so make sure to call ahead.

The Gifts­

Personal Puzzle – You can create a customized crossword puzzle of your relationship. It’s easy and free to create any custom puzzle at http://www.discoveryeducation.com/free-puzzlemaker. You can even create a hidden message puzzle.

Favorite Fragrance – Men and women like fragrances, but choosing one as a gift can be hard. Sephora has made it easy with their Deluxe Fragrance Sampler. For $50 you get a set of 12 fragrance samplers. You test them all and then choose your favorite to receive as a full size with the enclosed voucher.

A Special Deal – The local daily deal sites like Groupon, Living Social and ScoutMob are offering special deals for this special time ranging from couples massages to specialty photo sessions to romantic dinners. You can enjoy a nice activity or dinner together at a sweet discount.

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Super Bowl Party Ideas & Tips

by The Queen on February 4, 2011

in Entertainment

This Sunday is Super Bowl 45. Whether you are a fan of the game, the commercials or the half time show, the Super Bowl is a great excuse to throw a party. A Super Bowl party is a great idea because it is a casual event that you can easily throw together. You just lay out some food and drinks and that is it. No fancy dinnerware or three course meal is required. 

To throw a Super Bowl party and save time and money, start with a game plan.

Pre Game Plan

Plan ahead – The teams have a game plan and so should you. What will you be serving and how many people will you invite? What about decorations? Get a plan and shopping list together. For menu and decorative ideas check out www.RealSimple.com/SuperBowl. All the grocery stores are competing for your party business, so take advantage of all the sales and promotions.

Consider a potluck – Looking to save time and money, make it potluck. You still need to plan and organize the event; otherwise you will end up with 10 bags of chips and no chicken wings. Decide on what items you would like your guests to bring and make a list. Use www.Evite.com to invite everyone. Evite now offers a potluck option. You can make specific requests and your guests can easily see and choose what they would like to bring. And remember potluck doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can do it halfway too. For example you can provide the food and just make it BYOB – Bring Your Own Beverage.

Platter Options – Serving up a platter of food is easy for you and gives your guests options. So many stores offer platter packages now and you can take advantage of the sales and selection. Shop around for the best deal at:

  • Grocery stores like Publix and Kroger
  • Casual Restaurants like Zaxby’s and Schlotzsky’s (We just ordered a chicken platter from our local Zaxby’s for 20% off.)
  • Club stores like Costco and Sam’s Club

 Buy Pizza Online – Super Bowl Sunday is the busiest day of the year for pizza delivery. Save time and money by ordering online. Instead of waiting on the phone, place your order online and take advantage of special discounts. As I always say, never leave a promo code box blank. Visit www.retailmenot.com to find promo codes for Papa Johns, Dominoes and Pizza Hut.

 Post Game Plan

 Make it easy for others to help clean- After the game you don’t want to be left with a big mess to clean, so make it easy for others to help clean up during and after the game. Place extra trash bags near the trash cans. Have extra paper towels and wipes placed around the serving and eating areas. Have an empty dishwasher ready and ask your guests to put dirty items there directly. And don’t be shy about asking people to help.

Have guests write their name on beverage cups or containers – The biggest messes typically come from beverages. And you end up with half empty cups and containers everywhere. To cut down on messes and cups everywhere provide guests a Sharpie and ask them to write their name on their cup or can. With their name on it, they will now take responsibility for the cup. They can no longer say “It’s not mine.” This simple task can really help cut down on clean up time.

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Boost Your Credit Score in 2011: Part One

January 27, 2011

A new year is upon us. The celebrating and fun parties are over. It’s now time to get serious with New Year’s resolutions. We are kicking off a monthly series called Boost Your Credit Score in 2011. Every month we will feature one technique for improving your score. We break it down into easy to [...]

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Printable Coupons: January 20

January 20, 2011

Carter’s: 20% off purchase of $50 or more exp: 1/26 Sweet Tomatoes: $6.99 lunch or $7.99 dinner exp: 1/27 Kohl’s: 15% off entire purchase exp: 1/23 Filene’s Basement: 20% off any regular priced item exp: 1/23 Stein Mart: 20% off any sale item, 40% all Red Dot clearance or 50% off all Home clearance exp: [...]

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Printable Coupons: January 3

January 3, 2011

Stein Mart: Extra 25% off all RED Dot clearance exp: 1/9 New York & Company: 30% off $50 or more exp: 1/3 Babies R Us / Toys R Us:  Baby coupons for gear, formula, diapers and more exp: 1/23 Bon Ton: 20% off purchase exp: 1/5 Hobby Lobby: 40% off any item exp: 1/8 Aeropostale: [...]

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Printable Coupons: December 15

December 15, 2010

Sears:  $10 off $20 in clothing and accessories exp: 12/16 Bath and Body Works: 20% off $25 exp: 12/17 Macy’s: 20% off Shopping Pass exp: 12/20 Express: $15 off $30 or $30 off $75 exp: 12/20 Sports Authority: 25% off any item exp: 12/15 Chili’s: Free chips and queso exp: 12/15 Borders: 33% off any [...]

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GGP Malls: $10 Gift Card W/Every $100 on Fridays

December 3, 2010

The malls in your neighborhood are pretty much owned by either Simon Properties or General Growth Partners. On Fridays, most of the General Growth Partners (GGP) malls will be offering free gift cards. Shop at GGP Malls on Fridays and get a free $10 Mall gift card when you spend $100 at the mall. To [...]

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Printable Coupons: December 3

December 3, 2010

Barnes & Noble: 10% off any item exp: 1/8 OfficeMax: $15 off $75 exp: 12/24 The Children’s Place: 15% off purchase exp: 12/31 Macy’s: 25 % off – Friends & Family Sale exp: 12/6 Payless Shoesource: $10 off $50 exp: 12/11 Express and Express Men: $15 Off $30, $30 Off $100 exp: 12/5 Borders: 33% [...]

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