NEWS 
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American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act

US Capitol BuildingThe Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee have released the legislative text of the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act that, among other things, introduces tax cuts, expands career training, and extends eligibility for unemployment benefits. As noted by Arthur Delaney at the Huffington Post, this bill will not bring relief those who have exhausted their 99 weeks of unemployment benefits.

What’s in this bill that will affect you (as opposed to businesses)?
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 Personal Finance 
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Who is JT TEN WROS?

When I was a kid, my parents would get letters sent to them and a guy named JT TEN WROS. I had no idea who this JT guy was but I always figured it was a friend of my parents or perhaps the English name of a relative. It was always tricky growing up because I never knew anyone’s name (you don’t call relatives by their name, or even an Uncle Joe, you called them by their “rank,” i.e. fifth uncle) so I figured it was just someone’s name. While I don’t think anyone has the last name of “Wros,” you never know what immigration officers can write down as you pass through immigration, right?

It wasn’t until later that I saw the guy appears on my statements, specifically my wife and my Vanguard statements! How’d he get there? Who is this JT guy and how the heck did he get on our account?
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 Personal Finance 
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Are Prepaid Legal Plans Worth It?

Drive Thru LawyerA few years ago, my former company began offering prepaid legal plans as an employee benefit. I forget the exact terms of the deal but it worked a lot like medical insurance. You pay a set amount each month and you had access to the plan’s pool of lawyers. The pool could prepare certain documents for you, such as draft a will, and you could have consultations several times a year.

As young professionals, none of my friends took advantage of the plan because there didn’t seem to be a need for it, but I wondered whether prepaid legal plans were worth it.

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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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How to Find A Notary Public to Notarize Documents

Notary Public SignWhen I bought my house a few years ago, I was introduced to the idea of a notary public. In most capacities, a notary public is a “public official” given the right to administer oaths and affirmations. In many of the cases where you’ll need a notary public to “notarize” a document, they are there to affirm that the person signing the document is in fact the person who is supposed to be signing it. When you get a document notarized, you first provide proof of your identity, you sign the document in their presence, and then they sign and stamp the document, usually with a raised seal (depending on the state).

More recently, I had to get a notary to notarize my Pennsylvania claim form after I found some unclaimed property about a month ago (an old Best Buy rebate I think). It was a little trickier than when I still worked at a company, but eventually I found one. Now I’m going to write it down so I don’t make the same mistakes again!

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 Personal Finance 
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Federal & State Telephone Recording Laws

Pay Phone TappedIn the last post about suing debt collectors that violate the law, one of Craig’s recommendations was to record your conversations with debt collectors as evidence they violated the FDCPA. In the comments, there was discussion about whether recording or taping telephone conversations was legal. I thought a post clarifying the issue would be valuable.

Federal law permits the recording of phone calls and “other electronic communications” with the consent of at least one party to the call. From a Federal perspective, as long as you consent to the recording, you can record it without telling the other parties on the call that you’re recording the call.

However, just because it’s permitted Federally doesn’t mean every state allows it. The states are separate into “one party consent” states and “all party consent” or “two party consent” states.

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 Personal Finance 
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Why Naming Beneficiaries Is Important

Editor’s Note: How many times have you opened an account and skipped over the beneficiaries section? I know I do all the time. In fact, any one who has an ING Direct account has skipped over that section because that section doesn’t exist! In this article, Jeff Rose, a CFP in Illinois, shares a chilling tale of how skipping this section could have disastrous consequences you never envisioned.

Three sons were to be equal beneficiaries from their widowed mom’s estate. She had a modest home, about $100,000 in CD’s at the local bank, and $250,000 in an annuity. The mother named the eldest son executor of the estate. The family had always gotten along and the mother never imagined there would be an issue settling her estate, especially since her wishes were spelled out in the will - each son would get an equal third.

Sounds straight-forward enough, right? Wrong.

One minor item was overlooked and it proved to be the catalyst that drove the three surviving brothers apart.

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 Cars 
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What to Expect in Traffic Court

Metro Transit PoliceI had the great pleasure of going to traffic court this morning. Yay!

I was there to contest a ticket I received for making an improper left turn through a red light. The ticket was for $90 and I’m unsure how many points it would’ve been, but an improper turn costs 1 point and failure to stop at a red is 2 points. Do I get both? Or just the worse of the two? I wasn’t sure but I knew points usually meant my insurance would go up and I wanted to avoid that at all costs.

Everything contained in this article is based on my experience in a Maryland courtroom and with Maryland procedures, specifically Howard County District Court. The process and rules may be different in your jurisdiction.


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