The Home 

How To Reduce Real Estate Taxes

Now that everyone has overpaid for their homes, it’s time to learn how to combat the recurring reminder that you’ve overpaid: real estate tax time! They estimated that real estate tax collections are up like 35% the last four years and there’s little chance that those taxes will be rolled back, so the only two weapons left in your arsenal are to:

  • Contest potential errors, and,
  • Argue your case.

Unfortunately, I believe the artificial floor of your valuation is the price you paid for your home so you can never get it lower than that (it can’t possibly be worth less than what you paid for it, since you likely had a home appraiser come and value the home for a mortgage lender).

(Click to continue reading…)

 Health Care 

Cut Health Care Costs: Bargaining With Doctors

This is part of a series taking a look at CNN Money’s Fifty Ways To Cut Your Health-Care Costs and this is the first tip in the series: ask your doctor for a good deal. I was surprised, but not entirely surprised, that the rates doctor’s charge weren’t absolute and that they had the discretion to change their rates. I was surprised only because I never thought to bargain with a doctor, even though when you think about it… they’re a business like any other. Where this makes the most sense is when you have a high deductible or have no insurance whatsoever and are paying out of your own pocket. In those situations, you can probably explain to your doctor and they’ll usually be sympathetic.

Here an interesting statistic:

According to a 2005 Harris Interactive poll, about two-thirds of adults who negotiated for lower prices with a hospital or dentist succeeded, as did three out of five adults who bargained with their doctor.

Source: CNN Money

 Devil's Advocate 

Devil’s Advocate Posts

Devils Advocate Logo
This is a Devil's Advocate post.

The Devil’s Advocate series began in early 2007 when I thought it would be fun to take the opposite side of common personal finance advice. I would play Devil’s Advocate for what society considers “bad financial behavior.” Why you shouldn’t take your employer’s 401k match, why you shouldn’t have an emergency fund, or why you shouldn’t save for retirement. They won’t be humorous or sarcastic, they’ll be legitimate posts where I argue the other side, the side that never gets much exposure in the personal finance blogosphere (or mainstream media).

Why play the Devil’s Advocate?
When everyone recommends one thing (and we all recommend things like ‘get that 401(k) company match’), it’s too easy to just do it without considering the other side. With a lot of personal finance issues, the other side really doesn’t have much weight (at least not enough to make the decision at least marginally difficult) and so you don’t hear about it. These Devil’s Advocate posts will fill that void.

To see all the Devil’s Advocate posts I’ve written so far, click here.

 Personal Finance 

Regular and Stretch Goals for 2007

Last year, around this time, I didn’t do much goal setting and so I never really had much of a benchmark to judge my performance against. That being said, had I set goals for 2006 I probably would’ve shattered them because many of the things in my life, both financial and otherwise (though here we’ll only focus on the monetary ones, this is a personal finance blog after all), have exceeded my expectations on a daily basis.

So, what are some of my/our goals for this year?

  • Maximize both my and my fiancée’s contribution to our 401(k) plans.
  • Maximize both my and my fiancée’s contribution to our Roth IRAs.
  • Save at least 20% of our incomes and put it in a Vanguard Target Retirement fund.
  • Generate more passive income than what I earned actively in the first year of my full time job.
  • Donate more to charity in 2007 than we did in 2006 (~$2,000).

Now, if you have regular goals, you need to have stretch goals that you really really want to get but may be a little out of reach (or out of scope)… so here are a couple of my/our stretch goals.

  • Generate more passive income than what I earned actively from my full time job.
  • Research all the options and then open a 529 plan.
  • Increase total net worth by 25%.
  • Buy an investment/rental property.
  • Donate $5,000 to charitable organizations in 2007.
  • Start a scholarship in both my high school and my fiancée’s high school.

We’ll have to take a six month look at this and see how we’re progressing, but I believe the regular goals are reachable, the stretches may be… well, a stretch. I’d claim victory if we knocked out a couple of those.

 Personal Finance 

2006 Year End Financial Planning Roundup

I was going to try to collect a whole bunch of year end financial planning posts to do a roundup of some kind until I read a great 2006 Year-End Planning Round-Up over at Guzzo the Contrarian.

Looks like Guzzo the Contrarian is gone. 🙁

That’s it for me until Tuesday, happy holidays!

 Personal Finance, Taxes 

Remember to Update Your Tax Forms & Software

While it’s always important to ensure that your tax forms and tax preparation packages are up to date prior to you submitting this, this year it is especially important. In the eleventh hour, Congress extended some of the tax breaks that were set to expire including lucrative ones regarding deducting sales tax and education related breaks. The issue this year is that the IRS originally printed the forms on November 7th, prior to these extensions being approved, and many folks received software packages in the mail as part of promotional mailings. Personally, I know that TaxCut sent me something in the mail (twice actually) where they were giving you the software in hopes you’d install it, prepare your taxes, and pay them for it. While I’m sure some software packages do phone home to check for updates, sometimes folks prepare taxes without being connected to the Internet so it’s important do check for these updates. (If you prepare your taxes through online sites like TurboTax Online, you won’t have deal with updates since it’ll always be up to date)

Here are the update news pages for each of the major tax preparation software packages:

As for the pencil and paper folks, if this isn’t another reason to go with the software, I don’t know what is. As for checking whether your form is up to date, I recommend that you don’t download any forms until March and you’ll likely have the most up to date forms. I wouldn’t pick up the forms from the Post Office, I’d just download and print out ones from to be absolutely sure.

Update: IRS has issued some guidance with regards to the recent tax laws.

 Career, Personal Finance 

Resumes: One Page, Scannable, Relevant

I recently interviewed a candidate for a position in my company who had a resume that was four pages long. Not only was it four pages long but underneath each job title, the description was not a bulleted list of responsibilities or accomplishments but instead a paragraph of prose describing what he did in the post. Until that day, I never realized why job sites recommend resumes be limited to one page with accomplishments and responsibilities bulleted… it’s to help the reader understand what you’ve done and what you’re capable of without having to digest your writing like they’re taking the SAT.

I think the hard and fast rule of one page isn’t so much as important, especially if you have many years of experience, as the bulleted rule but two pages is really the maximum you can have on a resume. If your resume is longer than two pages then you’re really putting too much on that sucker and no one is going to be able to give it the level of attention they should if pressed they’re for time. While a long resume isn’t a deal breaker, you had better make it easily scannable by using bulleted lists or other visual cues. Please please please use bulleted lists or people looking at your resume simply won’t be able to review it effectively – especially if you’re just one in a stack.

Lastly, make sure you only put things that are relevant. If you’re going for a position doing software development, your experience as a retail sales clerk at Gap when you were in high school isn’t relevant. In fact, it’s a distraction because the reviewer will wonder why you even have it on there and whether you’re just taking up space. If you want to show a soft skill, such as sales experience even though it’s not 100% relevant, you had better make sure your bulleted list of responsibilities highlights those soft skills in a quantifiable way in order to dispel disbelief as to its relevance.

Lastly, look at your resume as if you were going to hire yourself for the position and you only had one shot to get it right. Would you give yourself the time of day or would you move to the next resume in the stack?

 Government, Personal Finance, Taxes, The Home 

My Six Biggest Tax Deductions for 2006: Energy Tax Credit

If you’ve been reading for a little while, you’ve probably heard me mention the Energy Tax Credit when talking about all the windows and sliding doors I had replaced in our home a few months ago so I’m just going to give you a little linkfest capturing all that useful knowledge (The third article is by far the most actionable of the three):

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