25 Ways To Save Big Bucks

25 Ways to Save Big Bucks

  1. The tax credit to aid first-time homebuyers enacted as part of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 is actually a loan, not a credit. And you don’t actually have to be a first-time homebuyer, only someone who hasn’t owned a home in 3 years.
  2. That is in contrast to the NEW tax credit for first-time homebuyers, part of the brand new stimulus plan of 2009, which actually IS a credit.
  3. Attention, prospective Cabinet appointees: If you pay someone $1,700 or more in a calendar year, or $1,000 or more in a calendar quarter, for domestic service in your home, you need to pay the so-called “nanny tax”.
  4. Those who buy a qualifying hybrid vehicle can receive a tax credit of between $250 and $3,000. (NOTE: The key word is “qualifying.” Believe it or not, vehicles cease to qualify after a certain number are sold, so visit the IRS Web site for a current list.)
  5. The laundry list of tax breaks for college includes 529s, CESAs, Hope and Lifetime Learning Credits, tax-free employer reimbursements, tuition deduction, student loan interest deduction, US Savings bond interest exclusion… Warning: No double dipping!
  6. Having trouble tracking medical expenses that qualify for reimbursement by your Cafeteria Plan? Check your store receipts! These days, some drugstores indicate right on the receipt whether or not a particular purchase qualifies.
  7. From the Dave Barry “I swear I am not making this up” files… being a member of AAA got me a big discount at Walgreens on medicine for my cat, Morsel.
  8. Enrolling him in the Walgreens Prescription Savings Club saved still more on his next refill, even taking into account the Club’s annual fee. (In case you’re wondering… yes, he does have his own login on Walgreens.com, so he can mail order as well.)
  9. By the third visit, they’d lost track of the fact that he was a member of the Club, and would have charged the higher AAA rate, were it not for a gentle reminder. Lesson: Paying attention to detail pays.
  10. Did you ever notice (with apologies to Andy Rooney)… although most people will go to great lengths to minimize their income tax bill, many are not just willing, but insistent, on giving Uncle Sam an interest-free loan every year? If you’re one of those still getting a giant income tax refund check every April, click here to learn why that might not be your smartest choice and what to do about it.
  11. I usually get a chuckle out of people whose name matches their vocation, e.g. Ed McMahon’s spokesman Howard Bragman, 2008 Olympians Deedee Trotter (track), Peter Waterfield (diving), Trey Hardee (decathlon.) But a money manager named Madoff who “made off” with clients’ money – well, that’s not so funny. Besides the obvious (choosing me as your financial planner), here’s what investors can do to avoid this fate.
  12. Speaking of getting burned… Did you prepay for heating oil this year, only to see the price plummet immediately after the check cleared? Being a member of Our Town Consumers Choice, the largest Fuel group in NH, ME or MA, saved us from that fate this year, and has provided excellent guidance – as well as other benefits – in years past.
  13. MA buyers of auto insurance – If you haven’t researched your options since the state passed a law allowing for competition between insurers, a recent Boston Globe article suggests you may be missing out on big savings.
  14. Want to know what it will take to pay off a debt? Use this calculator on Kiplingers.com.
  15. After quite a few years of marching in lockstep with savings/money market accounts, you can now find CDs that reward you with a higher interest rate for the privilege of hanging onto your money for a pre-defined period. Rates, terms, and FDIC coverage vary, but I’ve seen attractive offers everywhere from big banks to local credit unions to online-only institutions, so shop around.
  16. Not all lifecycle funds are created equal. Before choosing a fund because its name matches your retirement or college time horizon (e.g. “BrokerX Target 2025 Fund”), make sure the manager for that fund has chosen an asset allocation model that’s right for you, neither too aggressive nor too conservative.
  17. Investors are now allowed to make up to two changes in investment strategy per year in their 529 Plan, instead of one as previously.
  18. One of the few “silver linings” in the cloud that was last year’s financial crisis: Some excellent mutual funds long closed to new investors, including some from Dodge & Cox, Oakmark, and Third Avenue, are open again.
  19. OK, one more: Losses incurred on the sale of securities in currently taxable accounts can be used to offset income, and reduce tax liability, probably for many years into the future for some folks.
  20. If you don’t begin taking Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) from tax-deferred accounts such as 401k’s and Traditional IRAs every year starting at age 70½, you will owe a tax of 50% (!) of the required amount.
  21. Except if you’re working, except in certain circumstances.
  22. And it’s not really exactly 70½, since you have until April 1 of the following year to actually take the RMD.
  23. And you can skip 2009, for which an RMD “holiday” has been enacted. (Gee, an RMD holiday sure is nice, but how about a simpler tax code? Now that would be a reason to celebrate.)
  24. The $100,000 income limit, which kept some folks from doing a Roth conversion, goes away in 2010.
  25. Finally… there’s good news if you are one of the few whose biggest financial challenge this year will be what to do with surplus cash. In 2009, the maximum contribution to a 401k, 403b, etc., plans has jumped to $16,500 (+ $5,500 catch-up for age 50+).

About the author

Sherrill St. Germain, CFP®

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