Banking 
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Consider Moving Your Money to Local Banks

This past weekend my wife and I went home to New York to visit my parents and my visiting relatives for the holidays. My parents recently moved within spitting distance of Port Jefferson, a cute little “village” that features a ferry and lots of restaurants and small boutique shops. My parents have been saying that the recession has really hurt the area and it’s most visible in the shops. Small shops have gone out of business and parking was now free, when before non-residents would have to pay.

On our walk we stopped by Boardwalk Games, a little board game store on the corner of Main Street and W. Broadway (their website says differently but I swore the store was on that corner). Anyway, we walked inside, talked to the couple who owned the store and walked out with a copy of Dominion, a card-based game that won some game award this year. We paid more for the game than we would’ve online but since the owners were so nice and friendly and the economy being so weak, it was good to put some of our money back into the local economy.

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 Shopping 
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Review Your State’s Gift Card Rules

Gift CardIt’s estimated that people purchased $87 billion in gift cards this holiday season, according to The Tower Group in a recent CNN Money article. Of all those cards, Marketing Workshop, another research firm, it’s estimated that 40% of recipients don’t use up all of their cards’ value, leaving an average of $2.30 on the card.

While I’m not a fan of gift cards, I’m an even lesser fan of the insidious tricks companies will play to earn money off your money. They have monthly dormancy fees and expiration dates, all designed to let the money slowly disappear into the abyss. New Federal laws are bringing some uniformity to the fees, such as prohibiting dormancy fees until a year has passed, much like they did to the credit card industry many years ago. While these new rules are not yet in effect, they may be weaker than your state’s rules.

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 Personal Finance 
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Setting SMART New Years Resolutions

Setting GoalsAs we near the eve of the New Year, many people’s minds start to wander towards setting some New Year’s Resolutions. You plan to save a little more out of your paycheck or lose a few of the pounds you gained the last few weeks. This might be the year to quit smoking or drink less. Or perhaps you just want to work less, enjoy more life and spend more time with family and friends. Whatever the case may be, the key to keeping your New Year’s Resolution lies in the basics of goal setting.

When it comes to goals, it pays to be SMART.

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 Frugal Living 
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Snag Post-Holiday Goodies Cheap!

Huge after-Christmas SalesI love the week after Christmas but before New Years because the sales are all going to be bananas, especially this year. Stores realize that all their holiday inventory isn’t even worth the shipping costs of sending it back to the warehouse. That fact is the very reason why you should go out to your local bookstore to pick up boxes of seasons greetings cards and other decorations on the cheap.

The key to getting a good on anything is to buy it when retailers want to get rid of it. Right now, they want to shed their inventory of holiday themed products. There is absolutely no value in holiday cards and lights right now! Last year we walked into a bookstore and picked up boxes of holiday cards for a dollar a piece. We didn’t need Christmas cards, the store was looking to offload them, so we bought a bunch of cute cards that normally would’ve cost us at least five times more. The best part about it is that this year we’re almost guaranteed not to send the same card as someone else. :)

In years past, we’ve always used this time to supplement our ornament collection. The first year we had a tree, we didn’t have many ornaments but we made it work with more lights. Then, right after Christmas, we headed towards our local Macy’s and picked up a bunch of boxes on deep discount. Nowadays, we get a lot of ornaments from our family, so it’s not something we’ll be doing this year, but now is a great time to pick up boxes of simple ornaments on the cheap.

In addition to holiday themed goods, retailers are, in general, offering crazy sales to try to drum up business. While the holiday retail sales figures aren’t released yet, stores probably expect them to be low given the economy and the huge snowstorm that hit the east two weekends ago. With that hanging over their heads, they’re cutting prices and trying to get people out to the stores to spend. If there are things you wanted, now’s the time to try to snag them on the cheap (except for appliances, you should find out your state’s cash for appliances program schedule!)

Anyone pick up any good post-holiday goodies already?

(Photo: timparkinson)


 Investing 
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Buying the Dividend and Dividend Dates

Dividend InvestingOne once popular way of dividend investing was called “buying the dividend,” where you buy a stock just before the ex-dividend date. The argument was that you could buy a stock just before it would record who it’ll pay a dividend to, pick up the “free” cash, and then sell the stock afterwards. The problem with that strategy is that once the company’s ex dividend date passes, the stock would fall by the same amount on the ex-dividend date. This represented cash leaving the company and going to shareholders, thus making this strategy meaningless. To make matters worse, anyone who employed this strategy would be hit with a tax bill for a dividend.

Is there any logic to buying a dividend? Some would argue that companies often recover some of that dividend difference soon after the ex-dividend date, so this isn’t that bad of a strategy. However, if that’s the case, you might as well buy shares on the morning of the ex-dividend date. You get the stock after the fall, and thus those predicted recovery gains, and you don’t pay taxes on getting your own investment back as a dividend.

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 Taxes 
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What is the Earned Income Tax Credit?

Earned Income Tax CreditThe Earned Income Tax Credit is a refundable tax credit that is designed to help low income workers. It was created in 1975 and has been expanded on several occasions, unlike some other tax laws, to continue to help low income taxpayers.

How does it work? If your earned income is under a certain amount, to be explained below, then you are given tax credits based on the number of qualifying children you have (including having no qualifying children). If you qualify, then you can get a tax credit on the following schedule based on the number of qualifying children:
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 Credit 
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New Credit Card Costs ±14 FICO Points

New Credit Applications!We recently purchased a Fujitsu ScanSnap S300 and have been scanning a lot of our documents to reduce the number of documents we retain. One of the documents we came upon were two printouts of my wife’s FICO credit score and credit reports from Equifax, through myFICO. Earlier this year she signed up for the trial to see what her score was and in between the two inquiries she applied for a credit card.

The first report was pulled in mid-March and she had a glowing score of 804. The second report was pulled a month later and her score was 790, still very strong.

The only difference? She applied for and was approved for a new credit card. It cost her fourteen FICO points.

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 Taxes 
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How to Donate Appreciated Stock

CharityIt’s well understood that when you donate $100 to an eligible charity, you get a $100 tax deduction if you itemize your deductions.

What happens when you donate $100 in stock to an eligible charity? The exact same thing. You get a $100 deduction to your taxes if you itemize your deductions.

If that’s the case, why is donating appreciate stock such a big deal? It’s a big deal because the stock didn’t cost you $100, it cost you less than that but you get to deduct the full value as a charitable donation on your taxes. The charity gets a sizable donation, you get a nice tax deduction, and everyone wins. Well… not everyone. The only loser in this entire transaction is the United States Treasury.

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