Personal Finance: Ask the Experts

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

February 28, 2013
How do I value property as a charitable deduction on my taxes?

Q: I'm considering donating a vacant lot to Habitat for Humanity to offset taxes on other property that I'm selling. For tax-deduction purposes, can I use the property's assessed value or must I use the estimated market value? If it's the latter, is the cost deductible?
Robbie
Sacramento, CA

February 28, 2013
What documents do I need to close a bank account in my living trust?

Q: I had an account with Capital One. My account was put in a trust. When I went to close the account, the bank wanted to see my entire trust. We finally agreed on certain documents. What document do I need to close my account after it is in my trust? Also if I add or delete accounts in my trust, do I need to have the documents notarized by a Notary Public?

Marie, Sacramento

February 28, 2013
How do I transfer title of my residence to my living trust?

What documents do I need (other than the County's "Preliminary Change of Ownership Report") to transfer our home in Gold River into our family trust? Can I do this without an attorney? Also, what is the best way to do the same for a rental home and 1.2-acre lot in Asheville, North Carolina?
Don, Gold River

February 28, 2013
Whole Foods CEO: Big Business needs to re-invent itself

Businesses aren't bad.

But they've got a nasty reputation as greedy, selfish, exploitative, profit-at-all-cost companies. And it needs to change.

That's the message of Whole Foods Market founder and co-CEO John Mackey, who urged a UC Davis audience this week to embrace his "Conscious Capitalism" movement, based on his belief - and a book - that good businesses can change the world.

"Capitalism has been the greatest value-creator in the world ... but the reputation of business is so terrible in our society," he told a crowd of 500 in Freeborn Hall Wednesday night. The event was sponsored by Capital Public Radio and the UC Davis graduate school of business.

In a shout-out to today's young entrepreneurs, Mackey urged them to take the reins in redefining what makes a successful business.

February 28, 2013
Accounting majors could score scholarship money

They're among the most sought after of college graduates: accounting majors. If you're one of them, there could be some scholarship money in your future.

The National Society of Accountants Scholarship Foundation is giving away more than $28,000 in scholarships for the 2013-2014 academic year to accounting majors enrolled at two- and four-year universities, both public and private.

The online application deadline is March 10.

Last year, 31 college students nationwide received Society of Accountants' scholarships, ranging from $500 to $2,000 each. Students are selected based on their academic record; leadership, school and community activities; work experience; statement of goals/aspirations; and family circumstances.

February 28, 2013
How do I report a loss on a foreclosure?

Q. As a power of attorney for my mother I sold her home in GA where she had lived for 18 years for $62M with a $5M downpayment and the balance to be paid in monthly installments to me to use to help with her support. She was 84 years old so no capital gain to report, in poor health and I had to move her cross country to live with me, then in assisted living and ultimately nursing home before her death. On the payments I received I reported the interest as income for 15 years. Then buyer stopped payments in 2011; foreclosure in mid 2012; sold property in Nov., 2012 at a tremendous loss. How do I report loss to IRS & CA? What forms? Can I take the entire loss ($30M) for 2012 or does it have to be spread out? Your detailed info will be much appreciated. Thank you.

Judy
Fresno, CA

February 27, 2013
Empty-Nesters: Have your adult kids moved back home?

We're doing a story on how parents adjust when their adult children move back home after college, losing a job or other circumstances. If that's you, we'd like to hear how you manage the transition in terms of financial contributions, house rules, etc. Please contact business writer Claudia Buck at (916) 321-1968 or cbuck@sabee.com

February 27, 2013
Will there be a property tax increase if my children inherit my house?

My assets, including my house, are in a revocable trust, with my three children as heirs. My current property taxes are based on Prop.13. When I die, will the Prop.13 rate roll over to my heirs or will their property taxes be based on the value of the house at my death?
Donna, Citrus Heights

February 27, 2013
When siblings disagree, can one force a sale of their parents' home?

My parents both passed away in 2011. My brother and myself are co-trustees of their trust. We had their home listed for $925,000, but then my brother decided to move into the house (which I discovered after the fact). He is "renting" the house and paying me 1/2 of the rent, which is below average for rental homes in that area. He now expects me to pay 1/2 of the maintenance, fix-ups and improvements. I would like to put the house back on the market, or have my brother buy it. Can my brother continue to live there, even though I never agreed to it? It is a great deal for him and a lousy deal for me.

Diane, Folsom

February 26, 2013
Want to save more money? America Saves Week shows you how

Still shaking off the recession, roughly half of all Americans have a tough time saving money. That not-so-surprising news comes from two new surveys timed to America Saves Week, now through March 2.

The first survey, issued by Bankrate.com, found that only a bare majority - 55 percent - of U.S. adults had more in emergency savings stashed away than they did in credit card debt.

Consumers showed up better in the second survey, by the Consumer Federation of America, with 64 percent saying they had enough in savings to cover a doctor's bill or a car repair. But only 50 percent were saving for retirement in a 401(k) or other investment vehicle and just 43 percent said they were putting aside enough in savings to reach their goals.

Clearly, we can all brush up our saving-money skills. That's the encouragement behind America Saves Week, and its companion campaign, Military Saves Week.

February 25, 2013
Do I go through probate for a modest estate?

Q: Father dies leaving a small estate consisting of a house valued at around $80,000 and a pickup truck valued at $4,000. His will designates son and daughter to get everything split equally. Is probate required? Is it complex enough to require lawyers or can an individual file the required papers? And what might those be?
Rick, Quincy

February 25, 2013
How do I replace the current executor of my trust?

I would like to remove my present executor and set up a new one for my trust, but prefer not to have another individual person. What are sources for finding some kind of institutional rather than a personal executor? How do I show the installation of a new one?
My will and trust are properly set up; no changes required. However, I may want to drop one or two recipients. Does this need to go through my lawyer or can I simply write and attach new instructions to the will?

Allen, Sacramento

February 25, 2013
IRS warns of tax scams via phony emails, calls and letters

In Sunday's column, we wrote about the late start to IRS tax refunds. But there's another side of tax refunds the IRS wants you to know about: scams.

With tax season underway, it's warning taxpayers to be wary of bogus IRS emails, texts, calls and letters that attempt to trick individuals into giving out personal financial information. Sometimes the scam artists send letters about a supposed refund. Other times they email using a fake website to try and get you to disclose financial information.

To avoid getting scammed, here are some IRS reminders:

1. The IRS never contacts taxpayers by email, texting or social media to request personal or financial information. Nor will it ever ask for private financial information like PIN numbers, passwords or personal access codes to credit card or bank accounts.

2. Be wary of phony IRS websites that may look like the real thing. The official IRS website is www.irs.gov. Do not be fooled by sites claiming to be the IRS but ending in .com, .net, .org or anything other than .gov.

3. If you get a suspicious email, do not reply or click on any attachments or links. Instead, forward it to: phishing@irs.gov. (Put "suspicious website" in the subject line.)

4. If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be an IRS official but you're skeptical, ask for their name or IRS badge number. Contact the IRS at (800) 829-1040 to ask if the IRS has a legitimate need to contact you. Do the same if you get a fax or letter that doesn't seem legitimate.

5. Visit the IRS website for more details on how to report scams and examples of IRS fraud.

February 22, 2013
Sacramento ranks in Top 50 in U.S. big-city credit scores

OK, we didn't make the Top 10. But residents of the greater Sacramento region did pretty well in a recent national ranking of average credit scores.

According to TransUnion, one of the major credit reporting bureaus, Sacramento logged in at No. 34 among 100 of the biggest metropolitan regions. Our average score? 674

That's not quite as robust as the San Jose/Sunnyvale/Santa Clara area, which nabbed the country's top spot with a score of 700, followed by San Francisco/Oakland/Fremont at 696. That's based on TransUnion's range of 501 (poor) to 990 (excellent).

February 22, 2013
Is it a good idea to invest in an annuity?

Q: We are both 81 years old. We both have IRAs ($104,000). We are losing about $4,000 a year (from the principal) through our minimum withdrawals, which are about 2.4 percent. My question: Is it a good idea to invest in an annuity?
Victor, Sacramento

February 18, 2013
Small business owners: Bee hosts free financial advice for 2013

What's ahead in 2013 for you and your business? From state/federal taxes to healthcare to employee benefits, there are numerous challenges and changes facing Sacramento's small business owners.
On Thursday, March 7, The Bee and KFBK will co-host a "Small Business Financial Q&A," where you can get answers from state and local experts to your questions on taxes, retirement planning, employee health benefits, retirement plans, and other bottom-line issues.

The four local experts are: Kevin Thelen, CFP and retirement plan specialist with Genovese Burford & Brothers; health benefits experts Cheryl Mellow of Ames-Grenz Insurance Services; employment law attorney Larry Kazanjian of Palmer Kazanjian Wohl Hodson; and CPA Greg Burke of John Waddell & Co.

In addition, representatives from the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce and the state's GOBiz program will be on hand to answer questions.

The event, co-hosted by Sacramento Bee personal finance columnist Claudia Buck and KFBK financial advisor Kelly Brothers, will be held at the Bee, 2100 Q St., from 6-7:30 p.m.
Admission is free but you need a ticket to attend. To register, go to: beebuzzpoints.com and click on "Bee Events".

February 11, 2013
My siblings don't agree about the property we inherited-what now?

Q: My parents have owned a summer cottage in Stonington, CT since the 1960s. When my father died 10 years ago, my mother had the names of my 2 siblings and myself added to the deed. Mom passed a few months ago. I live 2,000 miles away. My brother has no real interest in the cottage. We were always told since childhood that the cottage was the only thing my parents had to leave us. My brother and I always assumed that my sister would buy out our share. She and her family enjoy the use of the summer cottage.

Now that Mom is gone my sister feels we should just give her the cottage. She feels that entitlement because she is the only one that appreciates it and that she spent more time with our mother. My brother and I are not wanting to sell it to a stranger but on the other hand we don't feel we should just "hand it over". The cottage itself doesn't have much value, it is the property near the ocean. Total value is about $300,000. Should something happen to my sister (we are all 3 approaching 60), I am sure that her children would sell it immediately. Since last May when Mom passed we have just let my sister use it and all 3 of us have paid the property taxes. Any advice? Is this something a court has to settle? Mom really left us in a bind. Any suggestions would be welcomed. Thank you in advance. -- Cynthia, Sacramento, CA

February 4, 2013
How to stop unwanted mail, emails and telemarketing calls

In a recent personal finance column, we wrote about how to de-clutter the paper and emails clogging up our lives. Here are some additional options:

DMAChoice - A service of the Washington, D.C.-based Direct Marketing Association, a trade group of more than 3,600 companies, it enables consumers to delete their names from mailing lists, including credit cards, banks, catalogues, magazines and retailers. You also can stop mail for deceased persons and mail addressed to "Current Resident" or "Occupant." Requests can take up to 90 days to become effective but are good for three years.

For unwanted emails, DMAChoice offers Email Preference Service (eMPS), which lets you get off many - but not all - email marketing lists. It does not apply to most charitable, political, alumni or professional organizations. Registration is free and good for five years.

DoNotCall - To stop most telemarketing calls, contact the National Do Not Call Registry, sponsored by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, at (888) 382-1222 or www.DoNotCall.gov. You can register up to three phones, including mobile phones, and it's permanent.



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.



Personal Finance columns

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