Archive for March, 2010

Did You Fill Out Your 2010 Census?

March 30th, 2010

In case you haven’t noticed (dripping sarcasm), the 2010 Census is upon us.  Really, who hasn’t noticed?  There’s been a barrage of advertisement reminding us to fill out our census form.  ”10 Years.  10 Minutes.  10 Questions.”

Who Do These Census People Think They Are?

Well, the short answer is, they are the federal government.  Y’know – the same people that brought you the IRS and the Marines.  Some point, at some level, you probably ought to at least listen to what they have to say.

The slightly longer answer, is that our forefathers, in their infinite wisdom, thought it would be a good idea to keep track of how many & where people were living.  Here’s what the United States Constitution has to say:

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers… .  The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.

– U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 2, Clause 3

The basic responsibility of the Census is to take a head count to determine (1) congressional representation and (2) direct taxes.  We do this so representation and taxation will be proportional.  In our contemporary America, however, the Census asks a few more questions to gather statistics that help formulate public policy and most effectively distribute federal funding for educational and entitlement programs.

There are many groups out there that disagree with the extra-curricular activity of the Census, and argue that anything past a head count is beyond their duties as proscribed by the Constitution.  I’m not here to have a Constitutional debate, but if you’re so inclined you can read more about opposing viewpoints from the Tenth Amendment Center, SHTF Plan, and the U.S. Census website.

The 10 Questions of the 2010 Census

Taken directly from the U.S. Census website’s interactive sample form, here’s the 10 questions asked on the 2010 Census:

  1. How many people were living or staying in this house, apartment, or mobile home as of April 1, 2010?
  2. Were there any additional people staying here as of April 1, 2010, that you did not include above?
  3. Is this house, apartment, or mobile home: owned outright, owned with a mortgage, rented, occupied without rental payments?
  4. What is your telephone number?
  5. Provide information on each person living here (Last Name, First Name, MI)
  6. What is the person’s sex?
  7. What is the person’s age and date of birth?
  8. Is Person 1 of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin?
  9. What is Person 1’s race?
  10. Does Person 1 sometimes live or stay somewhere else?

Duty of the Citizenry

That’s it – 10 questions.  I filled mine out easily in under 10 minutes.  So take the time to fill out the census, lest our government run even less efficiently and effectively than it already does!

Have you returned your 2010 Census form?  Was all the advertising overkill, or necessary?  Any questions you feel were overbearing, or perhaps other questions they should have included?  Let us know in the comments below.

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Ask J: Tax Filing Status + TurboTax Giveaway!

March 17th, 2010

Reader Mailbag

Who doesn’t love giving their opinion? I’m no exception. I love the dialog that transpires on this and other personal finance blogs. If you have a personal, financial, or legal related question you’d like me to answer, hit me up on my Contact Page. And of course, remember – I don’t have all your facts. All content on my site is just that – opinion! I am not a professional financial advisor. Make sure you double-check all my sources and seek professional guidance, whether legal, financial, psychological, or otherwise :)

Ask J

Today’s question comes from a reader in California, my former home state where I was born & raised. As Dr. Dre & Tupac said, “California knows how to party” – but even rappers have to file taxes. Here’s what our reader asks:

Dear MyMoneyMinute:

I recently got married last October. In doing a trial run of our federal tax return, we get a bigger refund filing “Married – Filing Jointly”. However, in our State Tax Return, our refund is bigger when we file “Married – Filing Separate”!

My question is this — Am I allowed to use a different filing status for my federal & state returns, or must they be consistent?

Well my friend, as any good attorney would say, it depends! To find the answer to your question, I first contacted Kelly Phillips Erb, aka the “Taxgirl”, a tax attorney out of Philly. You can follow her on Twitter (@taxgirl) and read her tax musings on her website. In our Twitter exchange, we didn’t see why you couldn’t use a different filing status, BUT the issue would definitely be controlled by State law. In other words, “it depends” because there could be at least 50 different answers depending on where you live.

California Dreamin’

So the answer lies not with the feds, but the State of California. The answer to your question is found here: California Franchise Tax Board Publication 1051A. The 1st page, 2nd column, 3rd paragraph says:

“California requires you to use the same filing status on your California return as you used on your federal return.”

The relevant exceptions to this revolve around gay marriage and domestic partnerships, which the feds do not recognize and California courts did for a few months.

Mine, Yours, Ours

Another issue you may have overlooked is how community property affects your tax return in California. According to the FTB Pub. 1051A linked above, California community property rules mean that even if you file separately, you and your spouse must claim your income equally. You make $50k and she makes $10k? If you’re filing separately you both claim $30k in income. This forced equality would likely put the kabash on any plans for the lower-paid spouse to claim/qualify for any tax credits.

And That’s My Final Answer

Sorry my friend, looks like in California, the luck of the Irish is not with you today!

TurboTax Giveaway

A fellow member of the Yakezie blogging network is giving away a couple copies of TurboTax Premium Edition. If you want a chance to score free tax software and read some great content, check out Evan at My Journey To Millions. Evan is an Estate Planning attorney in New York, has great content on his site, and is a funny, funny dude. Read his post and follow his instructions on how to enter the contest.


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The Great Recession: Are We More Frugal?

March 15th, 2010

The most expensive "free" soda you'll ever purchase.

Credit Cards In The News

Credit cards have been hitting the news lately.  Over the past year, almost everyone I’ve run into has had their credit limits reduced for one reason or another.  Then, in late February, the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act of 2009 (CARD, for short) went into effect.  For specific information on how these laws impact our lives, read this article from Free From Broke.

Have Our Habits Changed?

The most recent credit card news is a bit disappointing.  According to a report by, Americans have cut $93 billion in credit card debt from 2008-2009.  Great news, right?  Unfortunately, an estimated 90% of the reduction is due to borrower bankruptcy & credit card company charge-offs on accounts over 180 days due, while only $10 billion was due to consumer payoffs. In other words, we haven’t drastically turned as frugal as we thought.

Of course, there are plenty of conclusions you can draw from this study.  Perhaps we aren’t as frugal, or maybe in the midst of the Great Recession, people have chosen to prioritize other bills over the credit cards, like their mortgage, electricity, or car payments.  Also, I suspect a drastic increase in “fix my credit” cases out there, where they encourage card holders to stop paying on their accounts for months, then come back and attempt to settle the debt for pennies on the dollar.

Frugal Out Of Necessity

The good news is that credit card use has hit a plateau.  The true test of whether we’ve collectively changed our habits will be on the other end of the Recession.  Will credit card use increase again, or will people continue living within their means with debit cards?  In America and much of the West, will we turn from a negative-savings rate, to setting aside money for emergencies?  Are we just being frugal now because we HAVE to?  It seems any answer right now creates more questions!  Ever since my early 20’s when I applied for a credit card to get a free Padres T-shirt, my credit use increased!  I jumped the pay-back curve by a few years when we paid off our credit cards a bit over two years ago.

Your Credit Card Stories

How do you perceive this $93 billion cut in credit card debt being attributable to bankruptcies & charge-offs?

Do you have stories of slashed credit lines?

Did you ever apply for a credit card just for a free gift?


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Personal Finance

Unemployment Benefits – Denied!

March 12th, 2010

I’m Unemployed

For those that don’t know, I’ve been unemployed going on four weeks now.  Like I tell everyone, the first week is pretty cool, but after that, being home gets boring, and unemployment turns into a personal and psychological whippin’.

I have been doing contract work for nearly two years now, so it’s the nature of my business to be laid off after a project is complete. There’s always the uncertainty of where future work will come from, but I’ve been fortunate to have reasonably steady work. I’m out of a job, but hey — the economy’s bad, life goes on, I’ll live to fight another day, blah blah blah. Besides, at least I’ll have some Unemployment Insurance Benefits to help tide me over in the meantime. Right?


I received a letter in the mail yesterday proclaiming I was ineligible for Unemployment Insurance, because my employer had indicated I quit my job rather than being laid-off.  Functionally, this isn’t true, but there were some mix-ups between me, my recruiter, and corporate about my “availability status” for future employment.  Unfortunately to this point, this mix-up hasn’t worked in my favor.

Nothing Comes Easy

I thought I was up a creek, but spoke with my recruiter today.  She told me corporate wishes to drop their protest of my Unemployment Insurance claim.  Great! So I followed up with my state’s Unemployment Department, and found that since an initial determination had already been made, I would have to formally file an appeal.  Great (no exclamation point this time).  My employer now agrees with me that I didn’t quit my job, but was laid-off; unfortunately I still have to file an appeal and hope all sides (state, corporate) continue to cooperate.  Such is the roller coaster we call life.  Lucky for us, we’ve been both fortunate & proactive about setting aside some money for times of unemployment.  Thanks to a hefty emergency fund, we’ll be okay.  I’m not gonna lie though, $400/week in unemployment would sure ease our burdens – it’s nothing to slouch at and fills a huge hole in our monthly budget.  I’m glad it’s there, but I’ll be happy if I never have to use it again.. that is, if I’m approved to use it at all.

What’s Your Story?

In this economic environment, there have been numerous unemployment horror stories.  What’s yours?  Were you denied coverage, or just been out of work for a while? What helped you work through the transitional period?


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Estate Planning 101

March 10th, 2010

Editor’s Note: This is a Guest Post by a fellow blogger, Joel Ohman.

Author Bio: Joel Ohman is a Certified Financial Planner™, the owner of 4 web based companies, and is currently undertaking some consumer comparison web projects that include a website for reading credit card reviews, a site with some cool financial calculators, and a website for comparing homeowners insurance rates.

It could be argued that the lack of a formal estate plan is one of the chief concerns for many Americans who may consider themselves “average” but quite uncertain as to whether the estate planning process is for them or just “rich people”. Well, the truth of the matter is that all of us “average people” need an estate plan. From those with multimillion dollar stock portfolios, primary and secondary residences, and BMW’s, to those with a couple hundred thousand dollars in a retirement plan, a house with a mortgage, and a Kia, the necessity of a proper estate plan remains. None of us can know how many more days that God has granted us on earth before it is our time to go and whether or not you are mortgaging your health for wealth, the truth remains that you just never can know what will happen.

While I am not an attorney and nothing is this brief article should be considered estate planning advice/legal advice/personal financial planning advice/tax advice/yada yada you know the deal I do think that it would be helpful if we went through some of the basic things to understand about the estate planning process and all that it entails.

Let’s get started and if you have any questions then please feel free to leave a comment ask an attorney! Just kidding! Please leave any questions you have as a comment and one of our attorney readers can be sure to jump in.

Common Estate Planning Terminology

Here are some of the most common terms used in estate planning and if you don’t get anything else from this article then at least look over this section and learn a few new fancy terms that you can bandy about with any estate planning attorney that you decide to hire!

Decedent: The deceased (once you die then you are referred to as “the Decedent”)

Will: A written legal declaration from the decedent that explains how the decedent wants their property to be distributed (who gets what, who is in charge of seeing that certain things get accomplished, etc.)

Power of Attorney: A written legal declaration that authorizes someone else to act on your behalf. There are three different kids of power of attorney: durable, general, and special. Durable power of attorney authorizes someone to act on ones behalf when they become unable to manage their own affairs (because of physical reasons, mental reasons, etc.), general power of attorney authorizes someone to conduct business on one’s behalf, and special power of attorney authorizes someone to conduct only specific business transactions on one’s behalf.

Living Will/Health Care Proxy/Medical Power of Attorney: All of these terms basically mean a written legal declaration that specifies how one wants situations involving life sustaining care to be handled (i.e. when the plug should be pulled).

Intestacy Laws: State laws that govern how property should be distributed when someone dies without a will. To die “intestate” is to die without a will.

Executor: The person named in the will who is in charge of making sure that certain things outlined in the will get accomplished

Administrator: The person who is appointed by the probate court when someone dies intestate (and “intestate” means… let’s see if you were reading the above definitions or just skimming… to die “intestate” is to die without a will).

Trust: A written legal declaration by someone setting up the trust (called the trustor) that gives certain rights to an individual caretaker (called a trustee) to manage the property of the trust (called the corpus) in a way that is in accordance with the terms of the trust and used for the benefit of a certain individual, company, or organization (called a beneficiary). Trusts can be formed during the trustor’s lifetime (called an inter-vivos trust) or upon the trustor’s death (called a testamentary trust).

Probate Estate: The property that is distributed from the decedent by way of the decedent’s will or the state’s intestacy laws.

Federal Gross Estate: The property that is included into the calculation for determining the decedent’s property that is subject to Federal estate taxation (generally speaking that is comprised of property owned by the decedent at death, property in which the decedent had any incidents of ownership, life insurance death benefit proceeds, and certain gifts). It is worth mentioning here that a common misconception about life insurance is that since life insurance death benefit proceeds are income tax free, they are 100% tax free. This is not necessarily the case as life insurance death benefit proceeds typically are counted as part of the Federal gross estate and potentially subject to estate taxes.

Why Everyone Should Have an Estate Plan

Why is it important to do some estate planning no matter what your financial situation is? The easiest answer is to just simply say that having a proper estate plan is pretty much the only way that you can be fairly certain that your wishes are carried out even after you are dead. No doubt you have heard people complain about there being many strange laws and legal loopholes for allowing all kinds of crazy things to happen and you might have even thought the same things yourself. That being the case – why would you want to not take the proper legal precautions ahead of time rather than dying intestate and leaving your property to be doled out however your state’s probate court sees fit? Avoiding the probate process is one of the primary goals of most estate plans as probate can be a long and drawn out process that may or may not end up with the results that the decedent would have wished.

Common Estate Planning Strategies

Here are some of the most common estate planning strategies:

  • Creating a will
  • Creating a power of attorney
  • Creating a medical power of attorney/living will/health care proxy
  • Creating a credit shelter trust
  • Creating an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT)
  • Creating a qualified terminable interest property trust (QTIP)

There are really a bazillion and one different types of trusts and complex estate planning strategies that a qualified estate planning attorney can discuss with you.

What is YOUR Estate Planning Strategy?

What are some of the concerns that YOU have about estate planning? What types of estate planning strategies are YOU utilizing? How well prepared do you think that you would be if you were to pass away unexpectedly (Scale of 1-10 with 1 being not prepared at all and 10 being ultra prepared)?


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Guest Post, estate planning

Links O’ The Week

March 7th, 2010

Here’s a little Sunday reading for you from some fellow bloggers:


The Yakezie Challenge

The Yakezie Challenge is a group of personal finance bloggers who are working together to promote and improve their blogs through mutual promotion.  When we promote good content, we all win!

Each week, a “carnival” will be hosted by a Yakezie member.  The carnival links you to a selected article from each Yakezie member.  This week’s carnival was hosted by Jeff from Deliver Away Debt.  Jeff’s hardcore about paying off his bills, and has taken a weekend pizza delivery job to speed up the process, pulling down about $1,500/month doing so!

Here’s this week’s Yakezie Carnival hosted by Deliver Away Debt.

Outside of the Yakezie Challenge, here’s a few articles that caught my eye:

PT over at ptMONEY reveals how you can compare 401(k) performances with BrightScope.

‘Kita at Personal Finance Journey gives us the 5 Lessons from her encounter with a financial advisor.

Punch Debt In The Face wonders if he should keep his money in savings, or pay off a debt?

Jim at Bargaineering has a not-so-whacky idea to lower taxes on interest earned from savings — maybe then we’d save more?

Don from Money Reasons gave his thoughts on allowances for kids.  I disagreed to a point on his philosophy, but show his link some love — go read the article and tell him what YOU think!

MyMoneyMinute on the Web

My Happy Hour post, Wine On A Budget: Oak Creek, was featured in a weekly round-up by Paul over at Fiscal Geek.


Have a great weekend!



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Links O' The Week

The 200,000 Mile Club

March 5th, 2010

200,000 Miles!!

On Wednesday night, our family hit a milestone.  My car, a 2000 Nissan Maxima, eclipsed the 200,000 mile mark!

A Paradigm Shift in Materialism

I’ve been looking forward to my car’s mileage anniversary for months now.  Obviously I’m pretty pumped about this, but many of you are probably thinking, “Why are you driving an old piece of junk?”

Well, since our family’s epiphany about the way we handle money, we’ve changed our attitudes about stuff.  We’ve tried to live within our means and eliminate the vicious cycle of consumer debt.  Instead of a brand new car with astronomical payments, I value no car payment, affordable car insurance and extra money each month to pay off student loans.  Each ding, dent, and extra mile on my Maxima is another badge of honor!  I don’t want to keep up with the Joneses, just for the sake of keeping up with them.  Besides, it’s still running in great condition, and has had no major issues since I replaced the clutch about 150,000 miles ago (it’s a 5-speed manual transmission).

It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday…

I don’t know when my Nissan will give up the ghost, but I have a feeling the actual car will fall apart before the engine ever will.  I’m not sure when we will get a new(er) car, or at what point we cross that threshold, but for now, I’ll enjoy cruising in my ride, knowing I got more miles out of it than I ever thought I would.

What About Your Ride?

Tell me about your car — how many miles are on it?  Are you in the 100k or 200k club?  When is the right time to get a newer one?  Do you “drive it ’till it dies”??

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Wine On A Budget: Oak Creek

March 3rd, 2010

Happy Hour

It’s Happy Hour today at MyMoneyMinute! My wife, The Lovely Miss H, really enjoys her vino, as I’m sure many of you do too. In case you hadn’t noticed though, wine can expensive! Nothing breaks a budget like a taste for the finer things in life. Well fear not, because I’m starting a new feature for our little website called “Happy Hour”. The MyMoneyMinute Happy Hour will feature fine beverages and snacks that are frugal on price, but not on taste.

Today’s Selection: Oak Creek Merlot

Oak Creek Vineyards are based out of California’s vast Central Valley, with vineyards in the cities of Livermore & Ripon. We tried Oak Creek based on a friend’s suggestion, and it didn’t let us down. I’m not a vinophile, I pretty much distinguish wine between red & white, LOL. But what I can distinguish between is good & nasty, and this wine wasn’t nasty; in fact it was pretty decent!

Quality vs. Cost

The age-old question is do you go with quality or price? Name brand or generic? Nike or New Balance? Krispy Kreme or 7-Eleven? You get the point, but here’s my take: we all value products differently, and tend to over-value products we are particularly fond of. The trick to managing your budget is to find the best quality without sacrificing your budget. Believe it or not, this compromise is almost always possible.

Cost Is Exponential; Quality Is Subtle

I love basketball. If my budget permitted, I would have season tickets to the Spurs. But I don’t have thousands to spend each year on basketball. The compromise? I buy the NBA League Pass, and can watch every game for less than what it would cost to attend one game. Oh, and I put in a 114″ projector screen in my house on the cheap. So unless I’m sitting lower bowl, I’d rather stay home and watch it anyway!

What’s my point? At some point, the cost of an item will eventually out-pace it’s matching quality. Would the quality be better to have season tickets? You bet! Is that Quality of live basketball worth paying 50 times the Cost of watching every game at home? For me, it’s a no. Compare a brand new $60,000 Lexus to a pre-owned, three-year old $15,000 Toyota. Is the Quality of the ride four times greater? No, you are paying for luxury status, and a new car smell, but ultimately it’s the same engine and body with different labels and extra added features.

Back To Happy Hour!

Currently, Oak Creek wine is on sale at CVS, $10 for 3 bottles – $3.33 each! This wine may not be as good as a $50 bottle of wine, but the Quality is enough where I don’t care to justify paying 15 times more in Cost, because I won’t get 15 times the Quality in return. In fact, this taste survey gave it decent marks. From what I’ve been told, the Cabernet is even better, so try that first. I would have, but they were sold out. Obviously, somebody found out about Oak Creek’s Quality before I did!

Next Selection

Readers, help me and the MyMoneyMinute community at-large!

Have you tried Oak Creek wine? What budget wine would you recommend?  Give me some good options and I may feature your selection in a future “Happy Hour” segment.

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$40,000 Video Game

March 1st, 2010

Rare Nintendo Game Nets $40,000 At Auction

Ever hear video games were a waste of time and money?  Or that it teaches bad habits?  Well, for a “Dave”, his procrastination turned into a $40,000 windfall.  According to a Yahoo article, the Kansas native read an article on how a rare Nintendo game called Stadium Events had sold at auction for $13,000.  He checked his basement, where he had stored 185 Nintendo games for the last 20+ years, and to his astonishment, he had a copy.

Rare = Valuable

What made Stadium Events, a track & field game, so rare?  To play the game you had to have a floor pad controller.  Nintendo bought the rights to the floor pad, and recalled all known issues of Stadium Events.  It is estimated that a mere 200 cartridges remain that were not recalled, one of which Dave from Kansas had in his basement!

Better Condition = Higher Value

Dave purchased his copy of Stadium Events for $29.99, but never opened up the game because they didn’t have the floor pad controller.  His delay in returning the game may have temporarily cost him $30, but netted him $40,000 in a recent eBay auction.  He received over three times the value of the previous auction for the same game because his was never opened – the shrink wrap had not even been removed!  Who says procrastination doesn’t pay?!?

Take a look at this video to see what top-of-the-line gaming USED to look like!

Collectibles and Video Games

As a kid, I would collect baseball and basketball cards.  Now I don’t have much of a collection of anything, although I am a sucker for any SPURS memorabilia!

I loved all sports video games.  I remember playing Bases Loaded on my friend David’s Nintendo, and Joe Montana Football on my Sega Genesis.  Good times!

What about you?  What do you collect and why?  Do you have a favorite video game from the past?

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