Personal Finance: Ask the Experts

Get advice on money matters from The Bee's Claudia Buck and a panel of local experts

August 31, 2012
Money-management milestone: Mint.com hits 10 million users

Here's a money-management milestone: Mint.com, the personal finance website, announced this week it's landed 10 million users. Once a tiny startup that was purchased by Intuit in 2009, the Mountain View-based website enables consumers to manage their finances online: setting budgets, tracking spending, charting financial goals, sending bill alerts, etc.

While it's not the only money-management site out there, Mint.com is probably the biggest and most widely known. And it's free. In past years, it's landed on Kiplinger personal finance magazine's "Best Of" lists.

Among other money-managing sites: MoneyStrands.com, Yodlee.com, as well as many banks and credit unions that offer their own online budgeting/savings tools.


August 30, 2012
Does a trustee need a lawyer for a trust administration?

Q: I have a revocable trust but do not know how to advise my trustees how to handle my trust after I am gone. Is there a list of where to start? The only option I know is to hire an attorney, which a trust is supposed to eliminate or at least reduce. --Gaylord, Placerville, CA

August 30, 2012
How to hold title to co-owned real property after divorce?

Q: I am recently divorced. My ex and I still own a house together, listed on the grant deed as community property with rights of survivorship. Is it necessary to change the deed and if so, how should we be listed? Thank you. -- Jim, Lincoln, CA

August 30, 2012
What to do if a Trustee has not taken action?

Q: I am writing for my Aunt A. My grandmother died in the 90's. She had a living trust that gave her house to her two daughters, Aunt A and Aunt B. Aunt A took care of my grandmother towards the end of her life, and the trust was changed to give her 3/4 interest in the house. Grandmother died in a nursing home, paid for by the county. Aunt A has lived in the house all these years, taking no action to close the trust or anything. She was afraid she couldn't afford to pay the attorney to do the administrative work required, afraid that the county would want some money for grandmother's care, and afraid Aunt B would find out she got more interest in the house. So she's done nothing at all. Aunt A is having health problems and needs to refinance the house for money to take care of her health and because the house is in disrepair.

My question is this: what is her legal liability at this point? She is afraid to take any action, because she doesn't know what the ramifications will be.

Any information or advice you can give us would be greatly appreciated! --Joy, Sacramento, CA

August 27, 2012
IRS wants volunteer tax preparers; no experience necessary

Want to be an IRS tax preparer? The IRS is seeking volunteers to provide free tax help to seniors as well as taxpayers who are low-income, disabled or with limited English skills.

Calling it "people helping people," the IRS requires no previous experience. Volunteers will be trained and certified in how to prepare simple individual tax returns that can be filed electronically. Other volunteer jobs, such as greeters at tax centers, also are available.

"Yes, anyone can sign up. ...The only skill needed is the desire to help people in your community," said IRS spokesman Richard Panick in an email.

August 24, 2012
FBI extends job hiring deadline to Aug. 31

Good news for those who want to be an FBI special agent: Extending its deadline by another two weeks, the FBI is now accepting job applications until Friday, Aug. 31.

Specifically, the FBI is seeking candidates who are CPAs, Chinese-Mandarin speakers and those with computer skills in cyber-network administration.

As reported in my recent column on law enforcement jobs, the FBI is among the few law enforcement agencies currently hiring, at least in California. Nationally, it accepts only FBI special agent applications for two weeks twice a year - in March and August.

Applicants must be between 23 and 36 years old, with a four-year college degree and at least three years of full-time work experience. To apply, go to: www.fbijobs.gov.

August 23, 2012
I own mineral rights; how are my oil and gas revenues taxed?

Q: I own mineral rights to land in North Dakota and have been leasing those rights to oil and natural gas prospectors for approximately seven years. In February of this year I began receiving disbursement checks for the oil and gas recovered from two wells. I would like to know how this money is taxed by the federal and CA state governments. Thank you for your assistance. -- Wayne Karlstad, Elk Grove, CA

August 23, 2012
How can I deduct gambling losses on my federal taxes?

Q: How do i clam gambing loss for IRS and federal taxes? -- Rick, Fresno, CA

August 23, 2012
How do we reduce my father's taxable estate through gifting?

Q: My 94-year-old father now lives with my eldest sister and she is also the executrex/trustee of his $1.2 million estate which is in a trust. If Congress does not move to keep the current exemption level at $5 million, will he be taxed only on the amount over $1 million or the full amount? Second question: Is there any way to reduce the amount over $1 million? Third question: Can she/he gift each of us $13,000. Without paying gift taxes? Is that $13,000 for children only or is it OK to gift another $13,000 to my spouse? Please help. Thank you. -- Sherry, Rancho Murieta

August 23, 2012
How do I work out a settlement with the IRS for back taxes?

Q: Sir, We are having a very difficult time trying to pay my taxes that we owe the IRS, currently at a total of approximately $12,888.00 for two years, 2010 and 2011. I have made arrangements with the IRS and am making a payment of $100 per month for a period six years for the first period, which owe I believe 2010 $4,200. The second period is 2011 and is owing at $8,600 and the IRS is asking for double the monthly payment for six years which we cannot afford. I have already used everything that I have available in paying off other bills. My wife has a 401(k) that she can take out $5,000 against this. Is there any way the IRS could possibly take this and call it even? Would they consider this as a settlement for back taxes? -- Dirk, Folsom, CA

August 23, 2012
How does a tax deferred exchange work with two owners?

Q: I own two investment properties with my dad in Sacramento. I live in Seattle and am thinking of purchasing a residence here, but have some questions on a 1031 Exchange:

1. The title & mortgage are held in both our names for the houses in Sacramento. Do both our names have to be on the new property's title/mortgage? What happens if my Dad dies or I get married and title has to change?

2. Do the full proceeds have to be used for the down payment of the new house, or can some be used for upgrades on the property?

3. Can both our properties be rolled into the 1031 exchange?

Thanks for any assistance. -- Scott, Seattle, WA


August 23, 2012
Should I fix my roof or pay off my mortgage?

"Q:" I will be getting around $80,000 in cash from the sale of a property. I have 13 years left on my mortgage, with $70,500 remaining in principal. The house desperately needs a new roof and a new driveway. If I pay off now, I will be saving $1,000 per month to use for the repairs. Should I invest the $80,000 or pay off the mortgage?
-- Zia, St. Peters, MO

August 23, 2012
Should I move my vacation payout to my retirement plans?

Q: I'm retiring in 43 days, when I cash in my vacation time it will amount to close to $19,000. If I take the money (cashing out) it will be taxed about 40%. So need to know should I put the money in a 457K or a 401K? Not sure which is the better option or if there is a better option. Please advise, thank you.

-- Terry, Sacramento

August 23, 2012
Should I keep all my assets with one investment company?

"Q:" I have my 401(K) in an investment management company that has been wonderful through the recent financial crises. They have managed my funds well and diversified as the market fluctuated. I will be retiring in six months and will need to move my pension funds from my employer's account. As pleased as I am with my investment company I'm reluctant to put my pension in the same "bucket". Is it safe to do so or would it be better to put my pension into separate company altogether?

-- Jackie, Fair Oaks

August 22, 2012
How should a 22-yr-old start saving for retirement?

I have a question about a 22-year-old recent college graduate who was fortunate to secure a job before graduation. Can you suggest a retirement investment? With the long investment horizon, I assume a Roth IRA would be best? Is there a particular product that allows monthly investments of $50 - $100 and has low fees? Do you have an opinion on ING Direct IRAs? Thank you!
MommaC - Roseville, CA

August 22, 2012
How do I find a Roth IRA with a reasonable expense ratio?

Q: I'd like to start a Roth IRA that is invested pretty conservatively, since I have other investments that are more aggressive and growth oriented. I've heard a lot about paying attention to expense ratios and management fees to ensure your money isn't eaten up by high fees. What is an average expense ratio or fee, and do you have any suggestions for finding a Roth to meet my needs? Denise - Elk Grove

August 22, 2012
What tips do you have to help pay for graduate school?

Q: I am entering a graduate program not related to my current job. Are there any tax deductions or any write-offs for the large expense I will be incurring? Do you have any ideas on handling this large expense? There is money in my IRA plan from my retirement in 2008. Or should I get a student loan? Thanks -- Carrie, Orangevale

August 20, 2012
More financial tips for parents of college-bound students

Column Extra: My Sunday column on "freshmen finances" covered money-management advice from college families and financial experts. Here are a couple more resources/suggestions:

Get campus help

Don't overlook campus financial aid offices, which have numerous resources for students. Hundreds of universities, including UC Davis and CSU Sacramento, offer their students free access to CashCourse.org, which has tips on budgets, saving money, even how to "eat cheap" in college.
Sac State's website also has "Financial Aid TV" videos on money basics.

August 20, 2012
Will enrolling in classes extend my unemployment benefits?

Q: I am near the end of my unemployment benefits, including federal extensions and I am way past the cutoff for requesting approval for job training. I am still looking for a job while I am still eligible for benefits. If I don't get one by the time I reach the end of benefits, I am planning to go back to school. I would like to enroll in one or two courses now, rather than waiting. These classes, offered at the Placer School for Adults would be either online or night classes, and they would not interfere with looking for or accepting a job. However, they are not on the EDD list of approved job training providers. If I enroll before the end of my benefits, should I mark "yes" on the continued claim form where it asks about beginning any kind of school or training? If so, would I be approved to continue receiving benefits?
Thank you, Sally- Auburn, CA

August 17, 2012
Have IRS tax troubles? Here's where to get free help

If you've been frustrated trying to resolve an IRS tax issue, don't fret. There's free help from the Taxpayer Advocate Service, known as TAS, which works with individuals and businesses.

The TAS assists those who haven't been able to resolve their IRS issues or who face adverse economic hardships because of tax troubles. As the IRS notes: "You may be eligible if you've tried to resolve your tax problem through normal IRS channels and gotten nowhere, or you believe an IRS procedure just isn't working as it should. The worst thing you can do is nothing at all!"

It also offers specific tips for taxpayers who were clients of nationally known "Tax Lady" Roni Deutch, whose North Highlands law firm collapsed in 2011 amid accusations that it cheated clients out of millions.

For free, walk-in help in Sacramento, there's a TAS clinic open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the IRS office, 4330 Watt Ave. Or call (916) 974-5007. To find the nearest TAS office in all 50 states, call (877) 777-4778.

August 17, 2012
What does a probate cost?

Q: I read the article about trusts, which are used to avoid probate. How much would a simple probate cost...no real estate, just cash and IRA? My son processed his divorce papers through court with all the online resources, so I'm inclined to think that person with a duplex doesn't need a trust. How many of us die in our residences? -- Linda, Folsom, CA

August 16, 2012
What should I do regarding my trust when my spouse dies?

Q: My wife and I are trustees on our Revocable Trust. My wife died recently. My question: What do I do now regarding the trust? I've received different advice such as do nothing to I must file a tax return. What about time frames for acting? Also, I understand that any shares of stock gets a step-up in basis, either a 100% or 1/2 step-up. How do I accomplish this step-up? -- Lewis, Rio Linda, CA

August 15, 2012
How do we find a good estate planning attorney?

Q: We have an older Trust which was written when our children were minors. We need to update and make some changes since the children are now in their 40s. We need recommendation for a trust attorney in our area, we are elderly and driving into the city is a problem for us. It is important to make changes in our trust before we are gone from this earth. Recommendations for a good and reasonable priced attorney in our area would be appreciated. --Gloria, Gold River, CA

August 13, 2012
Stock-picking expert from BetterInvesting in Roseville

Picking stocks takes some expertise. On August 25, the Sacramento chapter of BetterInvesting, the national nonprofit for individual investors and investment clubs, is hosting a how-to session with a nationally known expert.

The speaker is Ken Kavula - a Michigan-based member of four investment clubs, president of BetterInvesting's Mid-Michigan chapter and a longtime investment speaker. He'll share his stock-picking techniques, especially how to evaluate small company stocks.

Kavula will also cover how to balance a portfolio between large, slow-growth stocks and smaller, faster-moving stocks. And he'll show how he screens stocks, including a list of some of his favorites that investors might want to consider for their own portfolios.

Tickets are $40 per person and include breakfast. The event runs 8 a.m. to 12 noon at Sun City Roseville, 7050 Del Webb Blvd., in Roseville. To register or for more details, contact BetterInvesting local coordinator Nancy Hogan at (916) 737-8123 or www.betterinvesting.org/sac

August 7, 2012
How does a nurse become a health care consultant?

Q: I have been a nurse for over 30 years and am close to retirement. I would like to find out about becoming a health care consultant. I'm not even sure what they do or where to look. I have a lot of experience and would like to use it differently after I retire. Thanks
Lisa - Sacramento, CA

August 6, 2012
Should my parents keep their credit cards?

Q: My parents are in their 80s and have a number of credit cards. Some they pay an annual fee. I want them to get rid of most of them (zero balances on all). They think that it will hurt their credit rating if they cancel them. I told them that it would not matter, their house is paid off, their car is paid off, and they have no loans, and are not anticipating buying anything expensive. They have never done a bankruptcy, no loan defaults, no late payments on anything. What do you think?
-- Dwaddy, Sacramento

August 6, 2012
How should I invest funds to pay off mortgage when I retire?

Q: I recently received $125,000 from a trust settlement. I want to invest it for approximately four years and then use it to pay off my mortgage because at that time I will be 65 and retiring. Any ideas on where to place the money?
-- Bob, Davis

August 6, 2012
How do I choose the best vocational training school?

Q: I am a 59-year-old unemployed injured worker. I have over 20 years of banking customer service experience. I have been unemployed for several years due to my injury. I settled my case last week and have received a voucher for retraining. I want to know what industry should I retrain in that will really hire me at completion? I want to make at least $22-$25 per hour. I have problems standing and walking but can work in a seated position. I have an AA degree and have nearly completed my BA. My interest is a program with job placement at completion.
Eartha - Oakland, CA

August 6, 2012
Son has a DUI; what jobs should he apply for?

Q: My son has been looking and applying for jobs for three years. He has a DUI on his record from four years ago and I know that is probably the problem. What kind of work do you suggest he apply for and have better luck? He worked in a group home for eight years and lost it because he did not report the DUI. Thank you for your help.
Ginger - Lincoln, CA

August 6, 2012
Top consumer complaints: bedbugs to mortgage fraud

My Sunday column touched on a little-known but nagging category of consumer gripes: RV park membership contracts.

But what are typically the biggest sources of consumer complaints nationally? Last year, it was deceptive auto sales, mortgage-related fraud and debt collection practices. And among the fastest-growing categories: Bedbug infestations in apartments, timeshare sales, "Do Not Call violations" and fraudulent rentals of foreclosed properties.

Those stats are according to a recent survey by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators (NACPI). Their list is based on 2011 reports from 38 consumer agencies in 22 states, including three in California: the state Dept. of Consumer Affairs, the Los Angeles County Dept. of Consumer Affairs and the San Francisco district attorney's office.

Here's the complete list of Top Ten consumer complaint categories:

August 2, 2012
U.S. credit cards more friendly for international travelers

For those traveling overseas for work or vacation, it can sometimes be tricky to use a U.S. credit card.

That's because the magnetic stripes on the back of most American credit cards sometimes don't work in Europe, where the cards typically use a different, microchip technology. Try to swipe your U.S. card at an Italian train ticket kiosk, for instance, and it might get rejected.

But that problem could disappear. Some major U.S. credit card issuers are now offering chipped cards to their overseas travelers, says Bill Hardekopf, CEO of LowCards.com.



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Meet Our Financial Experts

Claudia Buck

Claudia Buck is The Sacramento Bee's personal finance columnist. Read all her columns here. Contact her at cbuck@sacbee.com

Terri Carpenter

Terri Carpenter offers advice on job hunting, retraining and career counseling. Carpenter works at Sacramento Works Inc., the career and job training arm of the Sacramento Employment and Training Agency (SETA). With 15 years in the field, she has hands-on experience with everyone from first-time job seekers to career professionals seeking advice after a layoff or looking for a mid-career change. Ask her a question.

Carlena Tapella

Carlena Tapella is a partner in the law firm of Webb & Tapella Law Corp. in Sacramento. The firm specializes in estate planning and probate, such as estates, trusts, conservatorships and litigation. She is a past president of the Sacramento County Bar Association's Estate Planning & Probate Section. Ask her a question.

Kimberly Foss

Kimberly Foss, certified financial planner, is the founder of Empyrion Wealth Management in Roseville. With nearly 30 years in the financial industry, her clients include women in transition, small business owners, retirees and "pre-retirees." Ask her a question.

Jesse Weller

Gregory Burke, a CPA and tax expert with John Waddell & Co. in Sacramento since 1984, worked as an IRS tax auditor for six years. He’s a past chairman of the California Society of CPAs. Ask him a question.

Daniel Tahara

Daniel Tahara takes your questions about California taxes. Tahara, a spokesman for the state Franchise Tax Board, has 10 years of experience as a tax auditor. Ask him a question.



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