Your Take 
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Your Take: Bush Era Income Tax Cuts

Despite what you feel about President Obama, you have to appreciate the sheer amount of work he’s managed to get Congress to do in the few years he’s been in office. Whether or not they’re the right things to do will remain to be seen, but one topic that is sure to take center stage within the next few months, if not weeks, is what we should be doing about the soon-to-be expiring Bush-era tax cuts.

A little history for those of us who weren’t paying taxes before 2001 (that includes myself, at least on any meaningful level). President Bush signed the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 and made one of the largest tax cuts we’ve seen in quite some time. Among other things, the EGTRRA (quite an acronym) lowered every tax bracket, lowered capital gains tax, and effectively lowered the tax burden on every single American. If you remember, this was the boom years of the Internet dot-coms and the economy was doing great. As a way to make the debt and deficit math look more palatable, the cuts were given a sunset provision of December 31st, 2010.

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 Frugal Living 
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Convert Purchases from Dollars into Time

PaycheckOne strategy that seems to work well for people looking to conquer bad spending habits is to convert purchases into hours of work. A $4 latte, the classic enemy of frugalists everywhere, doesn’t seem too expensive because it’s only four dollars. If you only earn minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, that’s nearly half an hour of work before you take taxes into consideration. Is a cup of coffee worth half an hour of your life?

This is why the strategy works and here’s how you can start using it.

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 NEWS 
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3-Month Homebuyer Tax Credit Extension

For Sale By OwnerThere have been a lot of news reports of a potential 3-month extension of the $8,000 Homebuyer Tax Credit and those reports are all correct, albeit a little misleading. The bill they voted on would extend the deadline for closing a home sale as long as there was a signed contract by the original signing deadline of April 30th. So this doesn’t extend the tax credit itself, just the deadline for paperwork process. If you didn’t have a signed contract by April 30th, nothing has changed for you. If you did and the process has dragged on much longer than you planned, then you’ll get until April 30th (as long as the measure passes the Senate).

The House of Representative voted 409 to 5 to pass HR 5623 Homebuyer Assistance and Improvement Act of 2010. The measure will now go to the Senate for a vote and, assuming they approve it, will go to President Obama for signature. The Senate had included a similar provision in a much larger tax package that didn’t secure enough votes.

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 Retirement 
12
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Consequences of a Large Roth IRA Conversion

Retirement Nest EggsYou won’t have a bigger fan of a Roth IRA. I’ve been a fan of them every since my dad told me about them over ten years ago. Back then, the appeal was in not having to keep track of capital gains and losses for tax purposes. As a kid with little understanding of personal finances and a healthy appreciation for the law, that seemed paramount. Nowadays, it’s the tax free investing that appeals to me and every other fan of the Taxpayr Relief Act of 1997.

The Roth IRA conversion income limits were removed this year and mainstream media pounced all over the topic of Roth IRA conversions. Until this year, you could convert if you earned less than $100,000, but this was the year the floodgates were opened. It seems like a no brainer, but there are significant and immediate consequences to converting a large amount into a Roth IRA. The allure of tax free investing and accrual is very strong, but there are many considerations many experts are overlooking.

At the core of these consequences is your income. Roth IRA conversions have a funny way of increasing your income significantly, especially if you’re making a large conversion from an IRA you’ve accumulated for years. Even five or ten years of diligent saving can result in a boost you are likely unprepared for. While it’s straightforward to calculate how much additional taxes you’ll owe, that’s simple math, it’s harder to see all the consequences of a much higher income.

All of these consequences are income based benefits you may lose as a result of higher income. Even if these don’t apply, hopefully they will get your brain on the right track so you can think of the benefits you might lose from having a higher income.

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 Personal Finance 
30
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How To Organize Electronic Financial Documents

Document Storage!It’s always tricky remembering how long I should keep financial documents so recently I began cheating by electronically scanning all my documents to my hard drive. I was able to save all the documents I really didn’t need, but was apprehensive about shredding forever, and created electronic backups for the documents I knew I should keep. It was the best of both worlds.

The end result, though, was a collection of poorly organized files. To help me create a system, I began reading online. When the NY Times Bucks blog talked to Alicia Rockmore, co-founder of Buttoned Up, she recommended a year-based file system.

“Have one file for everything that is tax- or finance-related per year,” she said. Then, download electronic records available online to the files and scan in paper copies of other documents as well.


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 NEWS 
5
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New Car Sales & Excise Tax Deduction

Beater Used CarIf you bought a car between February 16, 2009 and January 1, 2010 (non-inclusive), and you paid a sales tax or excise tax, you may be able to deduct it from your income taxes. This was one of the provisions of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The car, light truck, or motorcycle has to weigh less than 8,500 pounds and you must have purchased it new. You cannot take the deduction if you purchased a used car or if you leased it and this deduction is not related to the Cash for Clunkers program. You can deduct the sales or excise tax up to the first $49,500 of the purchase price. If you live in a state without a sales tax, like Delaware, you can deduct other fees and taxes as long as they’re collected by the government on sales. Fees collected by the dealer are not deductible.

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 Personal Finance 
39
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How Long Should I Keep Financial Documents?

Document Storage!We recently purchased a sheet-fed scanner, the Fujitsu ScanSnap S300, to help organize our financial records and this purchase is easily one of the top ten I’ve made in my adult life. We went from having a few banker’s boxes of documents down to just a few in about a week. Using a sheet-fed scanner, versus a flat-bed scanner like a copier, can save you a ridiculous amount of time and the ScanSnap will save your document into a PDF. It’s a big pricey but definitely worth it if you’re looking to save things electronically.

One of the benefits of storing documents electronically is that it makes the “how long should I keep financial documents?” question a bit obsolete. Data storage is cheap so you can save documents forever, but I think it’s still important to know how long to keep documents because it gives you a better understanding of finances. Knowing why you should keep tax records for seven years gives you a better understanding of the tax process.

So how long should you keep financial documents? It depends.

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 The Home 
113
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Mortgage Interest Deduction Myth

Farm House with Rising SunThe mortgage interest deduction is one of the most celebrated tax deductions in all of tax deduction-dom. It’s cited as one of the benefits of homeownership, right behind “you’re not throwing your money away,” and that fact is repeated over and over again. Unfortunately, I believe it’s misrepresented. It’s not as good as you think and I’ll explain why.

To claim the mortgage interest deduction, you have to itemize your deductions. For those who aren’t familiar with the idea of claiming itemized vs. standard deductions, you have two options when you file your return. You can either list all of your deductions, such as the mortgage interest deduction, or you can just claim the “standard,” which requires no proof.

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