Personal Finance: Ask the Experts

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

July 29, 2013
Readers share more thrifty tips for buying 'gently used' clothes

In Sunday's column on secondhand shopping, we talked about the rise of thrift-store clothes-buying by eco-conscious and budget-minded consumers.

Here are some additional tips and suggestions from readers:
Alice Gruber, an east Sacramento retiree, likes shopping at charity-backed stores whose causes she supports, such as the Salvation Army store on 16th Street or the SPCA thrift store on E street in downtown Sacramento.

Just this week, she bought two pair of cotton pants and four shirts, including a bright-orange San Francisco Giants T-shirt. All for $7.50. She's never paid more than $6 for a pair of dress pants and this summer's swimsuit was only $5.

She also buys luggage and travel totes that she uses on vacations. Some folks, she notes, buy only used clothes for vacations, then donate or discard them before heading home.

Alison Merrilees, a Capitol staffer who was featured in Sunday's story, says secondhand shopping is a great way to buy high-fashion at ultra-low prices, without using up any ecological resources. Here's a look at one of her secondhand ensembles:

July 24, 2013
Golden 1 gives $320,000 in college scholarships, mostly to Sacramento-region students

Local means lucky.

When Golden 1 Credit Union announced its list of 33 academic scholarships for California college-bound students, the majority were scooped up by Sacramento-area residents.

From Auburn to Yuba City, 25 of the recipients are from the greater Sacramento region. They received academic scholarships of up to $5,000 each for this fall, part of $320,000 in renewable scholarships given to 33 students statewide.

July 23, 2013
Can you inherit or transfer your airline frequent-flier miles?

Maybe, maybe not. That's according to a new survey of major airlines on whether you can inherit or bequeath those coveted frequent-flyer miles., a consumer site on airline fares, compared seven U.S. airlines, reviewing their websites and calling their customer service centers. What it found: some pretty confusing policies.

For instance, United Airlines clearly states that frequent-flier miles are not the consumer's property and are not transferrable at death. But in calls to United customer service agents, AirfareWatchdog got conflicting answers, from a "full-on 'Yes' to flat-out 'No'."

July 22, 2013
Will a bank account with a POD or TOD designation require probate?

Q: I am wondering if POD or TOD accounts -- with assigned beneficiaries -- go directly to beneficiaries after death or do the accounts have to go through probate? No revocable trust is involved. I have read conflicting answers. Sincere thanks.

Ellie, Granite Bay

July 22, 2013
Can I avoid a penalty on a withdrawal from my 457 account?

Q: I had a 457(k) withdrawal of $50,000. The IRS wants me to pay $20,000 in penalties, which is almost half of what I took out. How do I put a stress claim in?


July 22, 2013
Franchise Tax Board alerts 190,000 California taxpayers they may owe back taxes

Check your mailbox: The state Franchise Tax Board is busily sending out letters to taxpayers who may owe the state.

The letters, mailed to both individuals and corporations, are part of the FTB's regular audits of the 2012 tax season.

On Monday, the FTB said it sent 100,000 letters to individual taxpayers who may have erroneously filed their taxes this year as "Head of Household." It's also posted a short YouTube video about the HOH status.

It's a commonly misunderstood tax-filing status. "We see a high incidence of error because people don't actually read the qualifications," said FTB spokeswoman Denise Azimi, who said about 2 million Californians claim the HOH filing status each year.

Generally, the HOH status is for single taxpayers who have custody of a child or relative. They get a lower tax rate and a higher standard deduction - $7,682, instead of the regular $3,841 deduction - than someone filing as a regular single.

Last year, the FTB said it collected $26 million in back taxes from 38,000 individuals who had wrongly claimed the head-of-household status.

Also, the FTB is issuing letters to 90,000 California businesses that didn't file a tax return last year for their 2011 income. That's about 10,000 fewer businesses than the previous year, said Azimi, who said the reasons that businesses fail to file are "all over the board," from deliberate to unintentional.

The FTB compiles its list of corporations that didn't file a state tax return by cross-checking income records from the IRS, city business licenses, state Board of Equalization and other sources.

"If you hear from us, please respond quickly and fill out the questionnaires," said Azimi, who said not everyone receiving a letter necessarily owes back taxes. But responding promptly can minimize potential penalties, she noted.

July 20, 2013
What happens at death when title to real property is held as tenants-in-common?

Q: Several years ago, I signed a Grant Deed naming my daughter and son as Tenants in Common for my house when I pass on. My home is the only asset I have and an attorney said this would be a Life Estate, so I would not need a last will. When I pass, and the house is sold, do both of my children have to share in the proceeds equally, or is there another option for disbursement? Thank you.

Jeanne, Sacramento

July 16, 2013
Is my IRA properly insured?

Q: If one is rolling over a 401(k) into an IRA and the amount of money is over $500,000, should the money be divided up between institutions to be sure it's covered by insurance, should the institution go under? Fidelity says that anything over that amount is covered by an insurance policy from Lloyds of London. Is that sufficient or should the money be rolled into two or three IRAs at different companies?


July 12, 2013
How can I fix an IRA custodian's error on a trustee-to-trustee transfer?

Q: I switched custodian for my Traditional and Roth IRA back in March 2012. It was a direct transfer from one custodian to another. Prior to filing taxes this year, I called the prior custodian and asked if I am getting any 1099 form. The former custodian said that because it was a direct transfer, I do not get any tax form.

I recently discovered that the new custodian made an error and put one of my traditional funds into a Roth IRA instead of a Traditional IRA during the transfer.

I filled the direct transfer form correctly so the error was not on my part. But the balance of my current Roth IRA has part of my traditional IRA amount prior to the transfer.

Can I get this fixed and if so, how? What is my tax liability if any? I really do not want to do any conversion and what the current custodian to fix it since the error was on their part.

Elk Grove, CA

July 9, 2013
Job hunting? IRS offers tax deductions for some expenses

If you're job hunting, here's some money-saving advice: The IRS offers tax deductions to help job seekers offset the cost of some expenses, such as printing resumes, hiring an employment agency or traveling for interviews. Here's a look at what qualifies:

1. Your expenses must be for a job search in your current occupation. You cannot deduct expenses related to a new occupation or if it's your first time in the job market (i.e. you're a recent college graduate).

2. Generally, you can deduct:

• Fees paid to employment and job-placement agencies while looking for work.

• The cost of printing/mailing copies of your résumé to prospective employers.

• Travel expenses if you leave town to look for a new job. But not if it's a vacation that just happens to include a stop at a would-be employer.

3. You can't deduct job-search expenses if there was a "substantial break" between the end of your last job and the start of looking for a new one. (Alas, the IRS doesn't specify what "substantial break" actually means.) Also, if your current employer or another party reimburses you for an expense, it cannot be deducted.

4. Typically, job-search expenses are claimed as a "miscellaneous itemized deduction" on Schedule A of your 1040 Form.

For details, see IRS Publication 529, Miscellaneous Deductions. Or call 800-TAX-FORM, or (800) 829-3676.

July 2, 2013
Beware of phony 'medic alert' offers, says BBB

Dozens of Sacramento-area residents are complaining about automated phone calls offering "free" medic alert products. Instead, the "free" offer results in monthly fees that start appearing on their credit cards, according to complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau of Northeast California.

"They say a friend or family member recommended them for a 'free' medic alert device. But they get hounded into giving out their credit card information ... then find they're being billed a monthly fee of $35," said BBB spokeswoman Cailin Peterson.

She said consumer complaints have come in from Auburn, Roseville and Stockton in recent weeks.

In other cases, the caller says a free medical-alert device has already been ordered for them, but the company needs to schedule a delivery or installation appointment, or asks for credit card or bank account information for service charges.

The automated "robo calls" sound as though they're from a legitimate medical-alert system, such as Life Alert or Medic Alert, which sell medical I.D. bracelets and emergency responders for seniors. On its website, the MedicAlert Foundation warns consumers that scammers are fraudulently using its name to "inappropriately solicit consumers."

"No one can figure out where the calls are originating," said Peterson. The first reports started coming into BBB offices in Wisconsin earlier this year, she said, but have since spread across the country. At least three medic-alert companies contacted by BBB officials have all denied being the source of the automated calls, Peterson said.

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.

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