Personal Finance: Ask the Experts

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

January 31, 2013
Remember when company stock shares were paper?

In today's era of online stock trading, it's almost unheard of to get a paper share of stock.

But in their heyday, paper stock certificates were 8x10 works of art, embellished with flourishes, fancy type faces and engraved images. Today, there's an online industry of collectors devoted to vintage stock certificates

We're doing a story on collecting those old paper stock certificates. If you have some you'd like to share with us, please contact Claudia Buck at (916) 321-1968 or

January 30, 2013
IRS: Most taxpayers can start filing for the 2013 tax season

Let the tax returns begin. The IRS officially kicked off the 2013 tax season, meaning most individual taxpayers can start filing their returns today, ahead of the Monday, April 15, filing deadline.

The IRS also announced new efforts to thwart fraud and connect with taxpayers.

Among them:

• Redesigned its website to make it easier to navigate and find information.

• Beefed up identity-theft and refund fraud, including more than 3,000 staffers - double the number in 2011 - assigned to I.D. theft issues. The IRS also installed stronger computer filters that it says will help detect fraudulent tax returns.

• Added more social media access to IRS information, including a new site on Tumblr. The IRS also updated its smartphone app (IRS2Go) and has more than 100 YouTube videos on tax topics such as refunds and tax credits.

January 29, 2013
Can I make any money on these stocks?

Q: I wondered what your opinion was for stocks like Coke, Abbott Labs and PG&E?
Darwyn, Davis CA

January 26, 2013
Want free advice on getting ready for retirement?

If you're nearing retirement age and want some free, online advice from financial experts, Kiplinger's magazine has it. On two days - Feb. 7 and Feb. 12 - the personal finance magazine is hosting a free web chat, "Jump-Start Your Retirement Plan Days."

On both days, you can get ask questions and get free, one-on-one advice from financial planners with the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors. According to NAPFA, its fee-only advisers normally charge $150 to $300 an hour.

Among the advice topics: Retirement savings (IRAs, Roth IRAs and 401(k)s); taxes (such as gift and estate taxes); Social Security and income-investing; othe financial challenges, such as saving for college or paying down debt.

The online chats are scheduled both days from 6 a.m. to 2 pm. Pacific Time. You can submit your questions a week early, starting this week.

January 26, 2013
When do I have to file a gift tax return?

Q: My understanding is that a gift to someone that is to be jointly shared with a spouse, even if it is less than the exclusion amount for the gift, must be reported on a gift tax return (Form 709) to the IRS. Is that true? In order to avoid estate settlement problems later, should gift tax returns be submitted for prior years in which gifts were given but no gift tax returns were submitted? Would there be penalties, fees, etc. for late returns (assuming that the life time exemption is not exceeded)? Is there an amnesty or forgiveness program for those who fess up to their ignorance of the law?
Sacramento, CA

January 26, 2013
What tax bracket am I in?

Q: I am planning and researching my retirement. Here is my tax question for tax year 2012.

I am filling single for 2012, my Gross income for 2012 was $60,010.29
I am contributing to my Simple IRA in 2012 $13,650.00
----------------- -
I paid in 2012 to my ex wife spousal support $ 3600.00
----------------- -
I am opening an tax-defered Traditional IRA for 2012 $ 6000.00
------------------ -
I have for the 2012 tax year medical bills of $ 3000.00
--------------- -
My question is: Do I fall in the IRS inflation adjusted bracket
at 15% because the $35,350?
Or do I still fall in the IRS inflation adjusted bracket at 25%
because the $85,650?
I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you.

January 26, 2013
When is the 6.2% FICA rate effective?

Q: "I just received my pay check for the weeks of 12.09.2013 thru 12.22.2012 we are paid bi weekly, they have already withheld 6.2% for social security that goes into effect in 2013. I'm paying the higher rate for wages earned in 2012, don't they have to wait til 2013 to implement the higher tax rate?

Thanks for any info
Streamwood, IL

January 26, 2013
When is the 6.2% FICA rate effective?

Q: I just received my pay check for the weeks of Dec. 9, thru Dec. 22, 2012. We are paid bi-weekly and they have already withheld 6.2% for Social Security that goes into effect in 2013. I'm paying the higher rate for wages earned in 2012; Don't they have to wait until 2013 to implement the higher tax rate? Thanks for any info.
Julie, Streamwood, IL

January 26, 2013
Do I need to file a tax return for my family trust?

Q: We recently set up a family trust. Are there any different tax forms needed to file our 2012 taxes? And if so, what are they? Thank you
Phil, Carmichael, CA

January 26, 2013
How do I report interest income from inherited CDs?

Q: I was executor of my mother's estate who passed away April 2011. She owned many CDs that matured at different dates and were staggered into 2012. I cared for my husband during his terminal illness and he passed away November 2011. Times were stressful and I only dealt with the CDs that matured in 2011. My question is how do I handle the reporting of the interest income on the 1099s to IRS for the CDs that were closed in 2012? Some were in my name only and others in my name and a sister's as co-beneficiaries. Thank you for any help in this matter.
Roseville, CA

January 25, 2013
IRS: Low-income workers could get up to $5,800 tax refund

Low-income workers got a friendly reminder from the IRS today: You could be eligible for up to $5,800 in refundable tax credits.

Known as the "Earned Income Tax Credit," it's intended to help low-to-moderate-income workers who earned up to $50,270 in 2012.

But as many as one in five eligible taxpayers never sign up. "This year, millions of workers could qualify for EITC for the first time, and the IRS urges them not to overlook this valuable credit," said acting IRS commissioner Steven T. Miller, in a statement.

January 22, 2013
How do I create retirement income from my nest egg savings?

Q: I am 69 and have $400,000- $450,000 to set up in a retirement plan to have a monthly income of $1,000 - $1,500 per month. What is the best way to go about this? What bond funds, mutual funds and ETFs would be good?

January 22, 2013
Own a home-based business? IRS makes it easier to file tax deductions

If you own a home-based business, it could soon be a whole lot easier to claim a federal tax deduction. Starting next year, the IRS says those who work from home can use a new, "significantly simplified" form to figure out what to claim for business use of their home office.

That's instead of the 43-line form that's now used to fill out the so-called "home office deduction."

The change applies to 2013 incomes taxes to be filed next year, not those filed this April.

The IRS said the new option, capped at $1,500 per year, will reduce the paperwork and record-keeping burden on small businesses by 1.6 million hours a year. The deduction is based on $5-per-square-foot for up to 300 square feet of home office space.

Existing rules, such as requirement that a home office must be used exclusively for business, still apply under the new option.

It could ease tax preparation headaches for millions. In tax year 2010, the most recent data available, the IRS said nearly 3.4 million taxpayers claimed deductions for home-based businesses.

January 22, 2013
How to explain a health-related employment gap to employers?

Q: I was laid off two years ago and, due to some health problems, I have not been employed since. What should I say to prospective employers in job interviews as to why I have not worked? Thank you. Liz - Sacramento, California

January 22, 2013
What about fees when investing in a 529 college savings plan?

Q: We recently changed financial advisors and are now putting away money for our grandkids in a different 529 fund. Previously, the fund was "CollegeBound" managed by "National Planning Corporation." The quarterly statements never listed any investment costs.
Now with our new financial advisor's recommendation, we are investing with Franklin Templeton Investments in the "Franklin Templeton 529 College Savings Plan" and are paying an initial 3.5% each time we invest.

We never saw any costs associated with investing with "CollegeBound". You recently recommended taking a look at California's 529 college savings plan called "ScholarShare". The most that any of the ScholarShare plans charge is summarized as an annual "Total Annual Asset Based Fee" of 0.61 percent (most charge .3 percent or less).

My question: Is 3.5 percent a reasonable fee for each monthly investment? I did ask our advisor about it, but her response didn't make sense at the time and I wasn't aware of the Scholarshare plan with its documentation detailing expenses.
Thanks, Papa - Roseville

January 22, 2013
Are my assets available to my son's creditors?

Q: I have a revocable trust with my wife and son (adult) as trustees (house, cars, savings, etc.). My son is on one of my checking accounts, which is not in the trust. If my son is sued, can my monies be attached in the lawsuit? And if so, how can I stop it? -- Gary, Carmichael, CA

January 21, 2013
'Ultimate Cheapskate': Jeff Yeager's money tips on AARP's YouTube

It's January, the traditional month when post-holiday wallets are depleted and everyone can use a good laugh. With that in mind, the AARP recently launched a new feature on its YouTube channel: "The Cheap Life," a series of 3-to-5-minute weekly episodes with Jeff Yeager, the self-proclaimed "Ultimate Cheapskate."

Something of an acquired taste, the lively Yeager has been writing, talking, blogging and TV-ing about how to live frugally for years. In the 40 episodes he's creating for AARP, he includes his frugal Hall of Fame/Shame (those who've excelled/failed at being frugal), his wacky ways of re-using everyday household items (a travel pillow from a winebox bladder?) and frugal cooking tips (chicken-giblet pate, anyone?).

If you're looking for some humorous - but decidedly real - tips on how to cut costs on just about anything 'n everything, give him a look.

January 18, 2013
Money 'CheckUp': Online financial tool now in Spanish

Need a tuneup on your financial life? An easy-to-use online tool, "MyMoneyCheckUp," is now available in Spanish.

Originally launched in 2011 by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, it's an easy, step-by-step calculator where you fill in your monthly income, mortgage/rent payments, spending/saving habits, etc.

In return, it gives you instant feedback on how/where to make improvement in five areas: budgeting, credit, saving, home equity and retirement planning. The Spanish version, aimed at Hispanic families, was announced this week.

And it's not just for those struggling with finances. Gail Cunningham, NFCC spokeswoman in Washington, D.C., said several of the foundation's CEO-level executives tried MyMoneyCheckUp and discovered places in their own family finances where they could improve.
Give it a try.

January 14, 2013
What websites help teach beginners about their finances?

Q: What sites do you recommend for doing research on financial investments, namely life insurance, stocks (for beginners, written in laymen's terms) and mutual funds? Hopefully, the sites I researched match yours. Thank you for your time.
-- T., Sacramento

January 14, 2013
Should I pay off my credit card debt before I retire?

Q: I owe $40,000 in credit card debt (8 cards). I am going to retire this year and have $40,000 after taxes in my savings account from work. Should I take this money and pay off my credit card debt?
- Joe, Sacramento

January 14, 2013
Where's a safe place for retiree to invest in a Roth IRA?

Q: Where do you recommend a retiree invest a Roth IRA?
I'm looking to invest $40,000 with a ROTH account in a safe place for at least 10 years. Thank you.

-- Thomas, Lincoln

January 10, 2013
Better Business Bureau: Top 10 consumer scams for 2012

Some preyed on recent, horrific disasters. Others have been around for years.

For 2012, the Northeast California Better Business Bureau has issued its list of the Top 10 worst consumer scams reported here and nationally.

"Our list highlights the scams that are the newest or most outrageous," said Gary Almond, president of the BBB serving northeast California, in a statement. "While consumers seem to be getting savvier, these scams only become more prevalent (using) new technologies."

Here are the BBB's top ten scams of 2012 and how they snare victims:

January 8, 2013
IRS: Most taxpayers can start filing federal taxes on Jan. 30

Blame it on the fiscal cliff: The official IRS tax filing season is off to a later start this year.

The IRS will start accepting tax returns from most taxpayers - an estimated 120 million households - on Jan. 30. That's about eight days later than it originally expected to launch the 2013 federal tax season.

But not everyone can file then. Due to complex tax law changes that went into effect Jan. 1 when Congress passed its last-minute, fiscal-cliff legislation, some taxpayers will have to wait until late February or early March to file their 2012 return.

That includes those who are claiming residential energy credits, property depreciation or general business credits. That's because the IRS needs additional time to update several forms that require more extensive computer programming and testing.

In a statement, the IRS said it will be working closely with the tax software industry and professional tax preparers "to minimize delays and ensure as smooth a tax season as possible under the circumstances."

January 8, 2013
Are you getting a paper Social Security check?

On March 1, the U.S. Treasury will stop sending paper checks and require every Social Security recipient to switch to electronic payment: either direct deposit or a debit card. That affects about 399,000 folks in California. If you're getting your SS check by mail, we'd like to hear from you. Please contact personal finance writer Claudia Buck at (916) 321-1968 or

January 7, 2013
Can you put a joint tenancy asset into your trust?

Q: My father, brother, sister and I are joint tenants on shares of stock that he has put in his living trust. My question, is it possible to put something in your trust that is in joint tenancy? --Tony, Roseville, CA

January 1, 2013
Personal Finance: Most popular 2012 columns

From mystery shopper scams to finding long-lost money to the rush to refinance home mortgages. In 2012, the personal finance columns that grabbed readers the most were all hit-the-wallet topics. Here's a look back at the Top 10 reader favorites:

1. Thousands of U.S. consumers, many angry over new fees, switched their bank during a nationwide "Bank Transfer Day" 610,000 ditched banks in 'fee-asco'

2. Who knew boring, ol accounting could be so attractive? A look at one of the hottest hiring sectors around: Accounting degree opens job possibilities

3. How owners of a small business - - successfully took the leap from brick-and-mortar to an online-only company:
How a small business succeeded online

4. Lured by get-paid-to-shop jobs, many lose money in a classic check scam: 'Mystery shopper' scam robs bank accounts

5. The state controller's office is sitting on $6.4 billion in unclaimed property, some of which could be yours:
State wants to connect unclaimed goods with their rightful owners

6. Making sure your heirs don't deal with financial/emotional chaos after you're gone:
Will you inherit cash or chaos?

7. Record-low interest rates create a stampede for refinancing home mortgages: Is a mortgage refinance right for you?

8. Teaching your college kids how to earn an "A" in managing their money:
College freshmen need to learn their money limits

9. Getting rid of an unwanted timeshare with losing $$ to scam artists: Timeshare resale scams surging

10. Avoiding computer identity theft by cyber-crooks:
How to plug online ID leaks

Meet Our Financial Experts

Claudia Buck

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

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.

Personal Finance columns

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