Monthly Archives: December 2012

Tax Credits for Higher Education

Tax credits for higher education, are forms of educational assistance provided to students and or their parents to undertake payment of education expenses.

There are two types of recognized tax credits within the federal tax system overseen by the Internal Revenue Service and the federal government: The American Opportunity Credit and The Lifetime Learning Credit. To get access to this credit facility, one has to pay their post-secondary tuition for themselves, their spouse or their dependent. The credit may be claimed by the student or parent but cannot be claimed by both.

One can choose to claim either credit for each student in a single tax year, not both credits. For instance, one cannot claim The American Opportunity Credit to pay their child’s tuition and then claim the Lifetime Learning Credit for more school expenses. However, if one incurs education expenses on more than one student within the academic year, they can opt to seek either credit individually, with each student/year case taken separately.

The American Opportunity Credit

This is an improved version of Hope Educational Assistance Credit. It was created as a part of the 2009 Stimulus Bill, which was part of the federal government’s intervention process during the economic crisis of this period. Whereas it is improved, it does have a few limitations; one can only claim expenses incurred during the first four years of college. It is also temporary, unless the congress acts upon it, it will expire at the end of 2012.

Credit can be up to $2,500 per eligible student. 40% of the credit is refundable, meaning that; one may be able to receive up t0 $1,000 even if they owe no taxes. Expenses that meet this criterion include tuition, fees, textbooks related to the course and equipment like lab and measurement equipment.

The student must be pursuing an undergraduate course or other recognized educational credential. The student must also be registered as studying for a minimum of half the time of the projected study year. The full credit is generally available to Individuals who make less than $80,000 or $160,000 in the case of married couples wishing to file jointly.

The Lifetime Learning Credit

Like the name suggests, it is fairly flexible and open to any education activity that is taken after secondary level, or any additional job or skills courses taken thereafter.

Credit can be up to $2,000 per eligible student. The credit one has access to be limited to the amount of tax you are required to pay as part of the returns.

As mentioned above, this facility is not limited to degree courses but has a fairly wide educational access qualification basis. The expenses that can be covered by this facility include tuition and fees, textbooks and assorted equipment.

Taxpayers who make earn less than $60,000 or $120,000 for married couples wishing to file a joint return can access the full breadth of this credit as well.

Links:
http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=218389,00.html
http://news.yahoo.com/tax-credits-higher-education-080023894.html

How to Stock Up and Save

As a college student, you will begin buying things you did not previously have to worry about, such as toilet paper and groceries. These things can sometimes be expensive and rarely go on sale. This means that you have to be aware of the sales and stock up while you can! Here are a few items to keep an eye out for sales!

Stock up and Save

1. Toilet paper

Toilet paper is an interesting product. You can by the cheap kind and risk chaffing and other uncomfortableness, or you can spend big bucks on the softest and most comfortable kind and really bring up your total at the cash register. Personally, I would rather spend more and avoid any unfortunate side effects of the cheap brand. Watch for sales and stock up while you can!

2. Soda

Soda or other beverages can really add up. Water bottles, Gatorades, Arizona Sweet Tea, Coca-Cola and Pepsi products go on sale rather often. Store and off brand products are almost always cheaper than name brand and usually are made by the same companies creating the name brand companies. Stock up on the beverages when you can! You can even recycle the bottles and cans and get money back to put towards your next purchase!

3. Toiletries

I do not know about all of you, but my wonderful Mother almost always purchased my shampoo, conditioner, soap, tooth paste, and other toiletries for me while I still lived at home. Now that I am buying these things on my own, I realize just how quickly they eat up my checking account. Hit up these sales whenever possible and you will never have to worry about not having something when you need it!

4. Favorite snacks

Crackers, chips, cereal, and cookies are all college favorites. If you are burned out on Ramen noodles and soup, sales on these items can be your relief! Sales on these items can come up often, but be sure to look for manufacturer coupons as well, to bring the price down even lower!

5. School Supplies

I lose my pens and pencils almost weekly. I go through notebooks and loose leaf paper like nobody’s business. So I am constantly watching for sales on school supplies. Better to over stock and have more for next semester, than be scrounging for writing utensils your last few weeks of classes!

Stock up and save on all these items and you will thank me later. Do not forget to watch for coupons as well! Sign up for sites, like Groupon, that will send you coupons for local products. Pick up a copy of your grocery store’s weekly ad and leaf through all the deals. Saving money is as easy as that.

How to Juggle College Finances

With disposable income becoming a bigger and bigger problem both in the United States and globally and inflation and the economic situation increasingly unpredictable, investment in aspects of our lives like education is becoming harder to manage.

college finances

College education, of course, makes a critical the most important part of one’s education and is traditionally a major source of concern for the majority of families in the United States.

College education represents an expense process that covers many facets, and for a lot of people, the one thing that is focused on is tuition fees. Of course tuition forms a critical part of one’s college education but several other expenses play a role as well, without which the college degree may be encumbered or possibly not even achieved.

Apart from tuition fees, colleges have different fee structures that include registration, and access to different facilities at the university that may not be included in the tuition fees structure.

Daily living expenses are also important, as one needs to take into consideration meals, accommodation, transportation and things of that nature. Study materials, like text books and laptop computers cannot be ignored either.

All these and many more mean the study process for a college student is a difficult and expensive one for a lot of people.

However, there are a number of ways of reducing the cost implications covering the requirements of a college education.

Keeping the college choice within your state of residence or home states cuts back on transportation costs considerably and makes access to scholarships easier especially if you focus on those which are within your locality; people tend, surprisingly, to ignore these.

You can also consider the advantages, cost-wise, of using community college, which have particularly pocket friendly tuition rates and permit one to carry college credit accumulated in high school.

Applying for Free Application for Federal Student Aid doesn’t hurt at all, especially if you have more than one child attending college. You may just fall through the cracks or the criteria can include you because of the obvious implied financial strain.

Once in college, it is important for the student to remain focused on his or her studies and goals. All those extra semesters or papers carried forward imply additional costs that add to your financial load. Some universities also offer programs that help you save or recoup on certain costs like tuition, travel costs for visiting family as well as text books (http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2011/08/24/colleges-offer-hidden-savings-to-students). It helps to be on the look out for such initiatives.

Being prudent with your money at this point in your life is always going to be a challenge but it forms an integral part of learning financial discipline. Look out for student discounts in college towns, which are usually on offer at restaurants, shops and clubs. Prioritize your technical needs, for instance, do you really need to have a printer in your room? Make the most of what the college does offer you, like meals which make an unnecessary dent in your personal expense account when you eat out.

When looking to cut costs or save, it’s more often than not, the little things that actually count and the same applies to college-related expenses.

Tax Filing Tips

Filing tax returns is the single most frustrating task for most Americans. Still, every citizen has an obligation to do it. Admittedly, it is not the simplest thing to do and the average person spends more hours than they can afford preparing their taxes. Add to that the many mistakes one is bound to make. With these tips, we hope that you will be able to less time preparing taxes and avoid some of the most common mistakes.

Tax filing tips
Tax filing tips

To help you along, here are the Income-related documents you need to have:
– Form W-2 for employers you and your spouse worked for during the year
– Forms 1099-MISC for miscellaneous income
– Forms RRB-1099 for Social Security/RR1 benefits
– Forms 1099-R for Retirement Plan Distributions such as pensions, IRAs and annuities
– Schedules K-1 for Partnership, Corporation and trust income
– Forms 1099-G for unemployment compensation

If you have investments, you will need to have these forms:
– Form 1099-B to declare the proceeds from sale of stock and other indices
– Form 1099-INT to declare interest income
– Form 1099-DIV to declare dividend income

Homeowners need Form 1098 for mortgage interest and Form 1099-S showing the sale of your home or other real estate property. If part of your mortgage debt was cancelled, you must indicate it in Form 1099-C. If the cancellation was on your main residential house, you are exempt from paying tax. You will need to fill Form 982 for this.

If you are not hiring a tax preparer, use tax software for your tax calculations. It is so much easier than doing the math on your own and will help you avoid many mistakes. Check every angle for deductions you could qualify for which can make a huge difference in the amount of taxes you end up paying, from medical and self employed health insurance to work-related, property, real estate, and state tax deductions.

To meet the deadline and avoid penalties, pay as early as possible. If you have no time to file by the due date, ask for an extension via Form 4868. Note that this is for filing only, not paying. Your payments must still be made by the IRS deadline.

 

This Holiday Seasons Most Popular Gifts

As the Christmas and New Year holidays drew near, certain products started flying off the shelves, or more accurately, getting ordered online. In no particular order, these include:
holiday gifts

“Steve Jobs”, a book about the late Apple guru that passed away on October 5th, 2011. His impact on the world of computing and mobile devices was totally unprecedented and it was no surprise that this book, written by Walter Isaacson, was particularly popular, retailing at $17.49.

Amazon’s Kindle was another popular Christmas gift, with shoppers not being daunted at all by its $199; indeed, most considered it a steal for the tablet, despite it’s relatively short-time span on the market.

Nintendo surprised everyone with the game Just Dance 3, a sing and dance video that could also double as a cardiovascular regime guide. Unlike the usual role-playing or first shooter videos, this broke from the norm and was an instant it at $29.96.

Olay put out a cut price beauty product called the Olay Professional Pro-X Advanced Cleansing System that was hugely popular with the ladies. At only $ 26,it claimed to compete solidly with similar product packages used by professionals and was ten times cheaper. It would seem they were telling the truth, because it simply flew off the online shelves.

Apart from topping charts, Adele’s sophomore album “19”, sold at $9.99 was also a huge hit with Christmas shoppers with the singer-song writer from England making a mockery of poor CD sales in the industry.

Toys and holidays are synonymous and the Alex Toys Friends 4 Ever Bracelet Making Kit, handy for making friendship bracelets using beads and floss was a hit with children, selling at $20.47.

Movies also were best sellers during the holiday, and true to tradition, one of the best- selling movies was from Walt Disney Studios. The help, sold at $16.99 compared to traditional favorites from the industry in terms of sales.

Levi, the jean making brand, is a traditionally strong selling item all year round and sales shot up during the holiday season, with the jeans available in a conveniently wide array of sizes and selling at $39.99.

Beads seemed to be a central theme this holiday and the affordablely priced jewelry from Heart Mother & Daughter Beads Charm, selling at $9.99 worked as the perfect mother and child holiday gift as well.

With the holidays and a White Christmas comes the inconvenience of using a touch screen. Well, along came Agloves with the Agloves Original Touch Screen Gloves which made using a touch screen during winter for phones, tablets and other media much easier.

Honorable mention also goes to the following gifts: Janae cuff links, the ultimate in statement cuffs; gift-wrapped pistachio cookies; classy but affordable earrings from Mark; the hugely popular HoodieBuddie With HB3 Technology Sweatshirt, a hit with husbands all over the country and finally comfy Minnetonka Men’s Slippers, all of which retailed affordably at stores during the holidays.

Give the Gift to Save

Christmas is literally right around the corner and I know that many of us will be doing some last minute shopping!  When I pick out gifts for my college friends, I try to pick things that I know will be beneficial in ways that go beyond just making them happy.  Give these gifts ideas a good look over, you might just want to add them to your wish list.

1. Gift cards

Well, as if that one wasn’t obvious enough.  My favorite gift card to receive? Food or gas cards.  They are probably two of the things I spend most of my money on and I jump at any chance at spending some else’s money on them!

2. Hulu Plus or Netflix subscription

Buy them a year or couple month’s subscription to either Hulu Plus or Netflix! I am obsessed with watching and re-watching Drop Dead Diva on Netflix.  You’ll save them the money they would be wasting buying the seasons of their favorite show on DVD…or you could just buy them their favorite show and favorite season on DVD!  The choice is up to you. (cough, cough, Netflix!)

3. Coffee Machine

Does your friend need a serious Starbucks fix in the morning? It’s okay, no judgment. We all need our caffeine. We just don’t need to pay 5 dollars for a small…or whatever the heck that Italian word is.  Buy your friend a coffee machine and the first cup of the semester is on her! Enough said.

Now it is your turn.  Tell me what you think would be a great gift to give or receive that would save you money! Send all answers to megan@investinged.com and the best answer will be spot lighted in the next article.  So don’t be shy, share the savings!

 

Five Great Gifts that Cost Less Than $5

During the holiday season, like Christmas and the New Year holiday, and in fact, during any other occasions that give cause for celebration, like birthdays, finding a gift can be quite the task, especially when you consider the different considerations of what the person may actually want or like. Apart from this, in today’s difficult economic climate, or if you are a prudent person regarding spending, you might want to be interested in something that is tasteful but also still cost-effective.

Here are some suggestions that just might fit the bill.

SE Mini 45X Brass Microscope w/Illuminator

This toy is ideal for children between the ages of six and ten, especially those with a scientific leaning of sorts. At just $3.18, it can be used to examine plants, devices and anything your young aspiring son might be interested in. It has proven to be a particularly popular toy, especially with boys that age that typically, always want to take a closer look at the world around them.

Coffee Mug with an Imprint

A coffee mug with a name or an image that represents the person or something important to the person is a great gift, especially for an adult. If it is a special occasion, like a graduation or something similar, this would carry even greater weight if an insignia representing this is printed onto the mug. The cost you can expect for something of good quality? About $4.10.

A Picture Frame

A picture frame is always a great gift, especially for a female recipient. Retailing for about $4.50, picture frames vary, and you can make some excellent selections depending on the age of the person receiving the gift. Go with something bright and fun for a female child, something trendy and zany for a teenager, something urbane and sophisticated for a young female adult and something ornamental for anyone older.

A Classic Book

Some of the older classics, especially from the thrift stores make delightful gifts, especially for young adults interested in reading and who have not been exposed to some of this great work. Luckily, one has a great selection to choose from, from Lord of the Flies, the works of William Shakespeare, Lord of the Rings, Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, the list is endless. Retailing at just under $5, these make a really great and thoughtful gift.

Oven Mitts or any Kitchen Accessory

Oven mitts make a great holiday gift and are also great for birthdays or celebrations like Mother’s Day. Indeed, kitchen accessories can be a touching fit of sorts especially if your intended target is a dab hand around the kitchen. They combine practicality with elegance and have the benefit of being available in festive colors as well. Other kitchen accessories that would work quite well include kitchen towels. All these retail at just under $5 as well.

Little Luxuries on a Budget

Often times, when budgets get tight, the first things to get cut are luxuries. We say “so long” to coffee and donuts on the way to work and bid farewell to the days of weekly manicures. We cancel our newspaper subscriptions and bow out when friends ask if we’re going to a midnight premier at the movies.

free dunkin doughnuts doughnut

While cutting back is a good way to reign in spending when times are tough, there are ways to keep some of these small pleasures in your life and within your budget.

Before you cancel your newspaper subscriptions entirely to save a few bucks, consider two alternatives: decreasing and digitalizing. Many newspapers offer cheaper subscriptions with weekday only or weekend only delivery, so you can stay informed and stay within your budget. Many newspapers, and some magazines, also offer digital-only subscriptions that cost less than the print subscriptions and allow you to read the content online at your leisure. Digital subscriptions are also eco-friendly, making them good for your wallet and the environment.

Keeping a manicure looking fresh from week to week can get expensive, but trying to do it yourself can be a mess if you’re not ambidextrous. Luckily, for the cheap and chic, many salons offer a simple polish change at a price much cheaper than a full manicure. If you’re willing to clip and file your nails yourself before you head to the salon, you can have a fresh coat of polish put on without the mess of an at-home application or the high price tag of a full manicure. By applying a clear coat yourself every 3-4 days, you’ll extend the time between polish changes, too.

While renting, borrowing and streaming movies are all cheap alternatives to a night out at the movies, you can reduce the cost of a movie night without losing the theater experience. Joining your local theater’s discount club is a good place to start, as frequent trips can earn you discount tickets or free refreshments. Opt for matinee showings when possible, or wait for the movie to show in a less expensive second-run theater. Check if your theater offers discounts for students or see if any of your memberships, like AAA or AARP, will earn you a discounted price.

If that morning coffee and donut fix is your luxury of choice, you don’t have to give it up entirely. The bottom of every Dunkin receipt has instructions for getting a free donut with the purchase of any beverage, medium or larger. Simply go online within 3 days of getting your receipt, fill out the brief survey and get a validation code good for a free donut. Though Starbucks doesn’t have surveys at the bottom of every receipt, if you’re lucky enough to get one, you’ll get a free small (“tall”) drink of your choice on your next visit, with no purchase necessary.

And it’s not just the coffee shops that have survey offers, so check your receipts from other vendors too. Restaurants will often give you a free appetizer or dessert just for filling out a customer satisfaction survey, and some vendors will enter you into a drawing for a gift card just for reflecting on your in-store experience that day. These surveys usually take around 5 minutes to complete and those few minutes of work could help keep make some of those other small luxuries in life more affordable.

CouchSurfing Review

Having nailed the interview and received the job offer, I thought I’d make the best of the two weeks I had before my start date at the beginning of the second quarter – it was time for that road trip I had always wanted to take. There was only one problem: I had no cash flow. Having quit my day job two weeks prior, I had slowly but surely whittled away my checking account. The thought of dipping into my savings to finance such a spontaneous venture left me sour, a feeling that would certainly taint the entire experience. But then my buddy Joe reminded me of CouchSurfing.com, an online community network of people who generously welcome travelers into their homes – for free!
CouchSurfing Review

We had both independently heard of the service before, mentioned in passing by a handful of our more adventurous extroverted friends. Discussing their experiences, we found not a single negative report. Everyone we knew had come back with exciting stories they were eager to tell. We thought we’d give it a try.

Signing up was easy. Facebook has a direct tie-in, so we didn’t even have to fill out any forms to get our names on the network. To ensure the authenticity of its members there is an optional verification process via credit card (they recommend a $25 donation), however, in our experience, simply having a single positive reference in the network is often enough for members to open up their home. In the spirit of the community, you’re asked to post a little blurb about yourself and some general interests, which actually end up being quite helpful for finding a suitable host. After all, most people involved in the network are in it to meet new people and broaden their horizons.

Within the week, we had been offered couches by three people from Cincinnati, OH and two from Madison, WI, with requests still pending for Chicago, IL. To think, a few days earlier we were worried about not having enough money or having a place to stay, and now we had to choose who we would most like to stay with. A day later, we were on our way West out of New York.

Of course at first, it was a little odd finding yourself about to fall asleep in a random person’s guest room, the thought of possibly getting robbed or something creeping up in the back of your mind. But the more and more people we met through the network, the more positive experiences we heard of – and in the unlikeliest of places. One of our hosts had first heard of CouchSurfing after finding herself stranded without money for a night in South Africa. She was in a park lamenting about her situation and a stranger mentioned the site. She was able to find a safe, honest host on a day’s notice, and was hooked ever since.

All-in-all, the CouchSurfing experience was nothing short of incredible. Each of the homes were clean and tidy, we always had at least a futon to sleep on. Our hosts were more often than not eager to spend time hanging out and getting to know us, treat us to meals and drinks – we were their guests after all, they would say – and share their favorite local spots with us. They were happy to hear about the places we had traveled, what life was like back home, and to hear about our aspirations and life goals. What turned out to be simply an economical decision delivered a uniquely human experience that not even the most luxurious hotel-resort could compete with.

If you are particularly strapped for cash, I would also recommend pairing CouchSurfing with the MegaBus service, which offers the first open seat on any given bus for $1. Plan your trip early enough in advance and you can literally travel the U.S. for a month with just a few hundred dollars. With services like this, what are you waiting for? Traveling has never been so easy – or economical!