Personal Finance: Ask the Experts

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

August 29, 2013
If a parent's will leaves an estate equally to children, can one sibling take all the real property?

Q: When a person states in their will that adult children shall share equally in the estate, does that include real property, or does real property have to be stated specifically? There are only two adult children, myself and a sister. The deed on my father's home listed his name and my sibling. She kept the home and I only shared in the personal items and money from a bank account. Was I also entitled to share in the home?

GB, Sacramento

August 28, 2013
How do I get employers to see past my age and 33-year work history?

Q: I'm 58 and medically retired from state service in 2001. After 33 yrs of working in an office as an executive secretary, administrative assistant, legal secretary and division training coordinator, I wanted to try a different career path.

I got into merchandising and for the last 5 years was a caregiver. I now want to re-enter an office environment but seem to be getting nowhere. I'm taking online courses for current computer software programs but don't think employers see past my age (it's easy enough to figure out) and my job history since state retirement. Help!
Sacramento, CA

August 28, 2013
How do you get hired as a Pharmacy Tech without previous experience?

Q: My daughter completed a course for Pharmacy Technician. She has passed the necessary state exams and is trying to find a job. The problem is they all seem to want someone with at least one year of experience. But how do you get experience if you can't get hired?
Carole - Lincoln, CA

August 28, 2013
What types of jobs are available for a sex offender seeking employment?

Q: Hi. I am a 25-year-old man and worked so hard to earn a bachelor's degree in Electronics and a master's degree in Electrical Engineering. I was happy working for a good company. But lost my job because I made the biggest mistake of my life.

As a registered sex offender, I will be on probation for 5 years. What possibility do I have to work again in my career? And where? What are my alternatives? Any information will be really appreciated. Thank you.
Paul - Folsom, CA

August 28, 2013
Where should I house my IRAs?

Q: I was told that one should not park their IRAs (both traditional and Roth) at a bank and should have the accounts at a brokerage/mutual fund. Is this true? If so, why?

Sacramento, CA

August 27, 2013
What is reasonable compensation for the trustee of a small trust?

Q: My longtime friend (and attorney) has agreed to become my Trust Trustee.
However, when I inquire how much she should be paid or otherwise compensated, she merely shrugs and says, "Whatever you think is fair," which, of course, doesn't answer my question or help me to stipulate any amount in the Trust that I am now completing. Are there "standard rates" you can inform me of? I'd like to pay her a lump sum per year for each year there are funds remaining in the Trust. My Trust is small (less than $90,000), of which $70,000 will be immediately spent on my charitable beneficiaries listed. The remaining portion is to be my nephew's college fund, of which my friend is to oversee and manage and of course, issue any checks when appropriate. It is not any more complex or involved. I read somewhere that 1% per year of the remaining funds of a trust is fair compensation. Is it?

Stephan, Antelope

August 23, 2013
What steps should one follow to amend estate planning documents?

Q: My wife and I prepared our living trust in June 1990 through an attorney. He sent me a couple of amendments, which I made in the trust. The last amendment was made in 1998 changing the durable power of attorney for health care. There are no changes in the assets or other family changes. My children are now grown, and I want to substitute existing successor trustees, co-executors, agents and conservators with my children. Can I do it myself by making these changes in the living trust? Do I need to make any other changes that may be required in the trust? No changes were made after 1998. Thanks.

Hargopal, Cerritos

August 21, 2013
Sibling questions a brother's changes on promissory note to elderly mother

Q: My brother borrowed $300,000 from my mother to buy an apartment building. He has made interest-only payments for the past three years. He recently brought a new promissory note and deed of trust for our mother to sign, reducing the principal balance of the note by $60,000 and reducing the interest rate from 7 percent to 3 percent. Mother is 94 years old and has been diagnosed with dementia and is under 24-hour care. My brother's wife is a notary and notarized the documents. Does any of this situation seem legal?

Wondering in Folsom

August 19, 2013
Is a trust really necessary for a small estate and, if so, what is a reasonable cost?

Q: My 78-year old father is going in for some heart valve repairs. He is just now getting his information/estate done! He recently informed me that he is being charged $2,500 do draw up papers. He said the attorney was from a list provided by Placer County courts. The fee seems very high to me. All he has is his home, with a large mortgage, $20,000 in a savings account and nick-nacks around his house.
My brother and I will be in charge of clearing/selling the home and then distributing assets among my father's grandchildren. Do we really need to spend $2,500? We have sat down and listed his wishes and agree with them. I will be executor and my brother will be trustee. With so little in his estate, what is the best legal way to handle this? Also, do we even need an attorney involved?

Amber, Roseville

August 19, 2013
Back-to-school shopping? Let your kids calculate the costs

In Sunday's column on back-to-school shopping, we shared some tips from experts and parents alike.
One of those, the financial literacy site, Practical Money Skills for Life, recommends letting young kids or teens figure out exactly what school really costs. It's got an easy-to-use calculator where you and your kids can plug in the numbers to see whether you're going over/under budget. The site also offers budget tips, plus advice on how to manage extra-curricular costs for kids' sports, music, theater and other activities.

August 18, 2013
Why do I have to pay alternative minimum tax?

Q: I have never qualified for the alternative minimum tax in past years. This year I retired and sold my house, which I had to report capital gains on. Do I have to pay Alternative Minimum Tax just because the capital gains pushed me into that tax bracket? Or is Alternative Minimum Tax only on Income received, not including capital gains (since it's only a one-time source of income)? Thanks for your help.

Elk Grove, CA

August 15, 2013
WiFi hotspots at U.S. and foreign airports: Where/what it costs

If you're a frequent flier, this one's for you. Airfare Watchdog has posted a handy chart of WiFi hotspots - what they cost and what they're named - at all major U.S. and foreign airports, everywhere from Pittsburg to Paris.

According to Watchdog's chart, most U.S. airports offer free WiFi but some charge a fee, such as Atlanta ($4.95 for 24 hours), Honolulu ($6.95 for two hours) and New York ($4.95 per hour at both LaGuardia and JFK international airports).

If you're frequently stuck in an airport and firing up your laptop or smartphone, this list might be a handy link.

And yes, Sacramento International is on the list: its WiFi is free and found at "FlySacramento."

August 13, 2013
IRS backs off furlough day; will stay open on Aug. 30

Back in May, the IRS announced a series of one-day furloughs, when it was closing local offices and shutting down many of its taxpayer phone and online services. The five closure dates were scattered from May through August.

But due to "vigorous ongoing efforts by IRS employees to cut costs," the IRS says it is postponing its planned Aug. 30 closure. It made a similar announcement last month, abandoning a planned July 22 furlough date.

That means all of its online tools and local IRS offices, such as 4330 Watt Ave. in Sacramento, will remain open as usual.

In a statement, the IRS said it will re-evaluate the need for another furlough date before the federal fiscal year closes on September 30. So far this year, as part of federal budget-cutting, the IRS put its employees on three furlough days: May 24, June 14 and July 5.

August 12, 2013
Is there an income tax impact from an inheritance?

Q: My parents passed away in 2007. The succession of their estate was completed in 2008. In March 2013 I searched the web site and discovered that the state of Maryland had unclaimed property belonging to my parents. The property was Lockheed Martin Corporation stock. The stock was sold by the state after receiving it. I filed a claim and received a check. Is there an income tax impact from this inheritance?

M. Doyle
El Dorado Hills, CA

August 12, 2013
Getting rid of robocalls: More tips, tools to get them off your phone

In Sunday's column on how to thwart robocalls, we talked with Aaron Foss, a New York software entrepreneur who's developed a solution he calls "NoMoRobo." The software, which uses standard phone features, is expected to become available to consumers - free - in early September.

Here are some additional anti-robocall suggestions from readers and the Federal Trade Commission:

Paul Schiffmacher of Southern California said he gets lots of calls from solar panel installers or contractors or home remodeling contractors. When he sees an unknown number on his phone's Caller I.D., he has a standard procedure: Pick up the phone and say nothing. The robocaller, hearing no voice contact, will automatically hang up.
Schiffmacher said he doesn't have to waste time on the phone and believes it helps prevents callbacks from the same number.

As mentioned in the story, a number of consumers have volunteered their anti-robocall solutions to the FTC, which has them online in a video.
"These tips might not work for everyone, but the good news is that they're working for some people," said FTC consumer spokeswoman Kati Daffan.

August 12, 2013
What are the tax consequences of selling my rental residence?

Q: What are the income tax consequences of selling my residential rental property in 2013? I purchased the property in Gold River in 1997 for $255,000. It was my primary residence until 2006 at which time it became my rental property. Its value in 2006 was approximately $525,000. I sold it in 2013 for $420,000.

During the 7+ years as a rental, I depreciated the property on my income taxes each year. I made no major improvements or other changes during the 16 years that I owned the property. Is there a way to avoid, minimize or shelter the income taxes that will be due in 2013?

Chico, CA

August 11, 2013
Can I avoid paying taxes on the interest when I cash U.S. savings bonds?

Q: I own U.S. savings bonds that will no longer earn interest in 2015. My question is: If I cash them in, is there any way I can avoid paying tax on that interest? I would like to give the money to my three children, but I cannot afford to pay taxes on a large amount. I am an 80-year-old widow on a fixed income. Thank you.


August 11, 2013
How do I get copies of trust tax returns from the IRS?

Q: My friend's inheritance was managed by her husband. After their falling out, he refused to divulge where it was kept. It is unknown if the courts will be able to force him to while the divorce is under way. When she tried to get old tax returns to see where her inheritance-based income came from, so she could go find it herself, the IRS redirected her to collections, for the reason that her husband had not paid the taxes correctly and they owed back taxes. The only way she can pay the back taxes is if she regains control of her money. How does she find the right IRS person to let her look at her old tax returns and find out where her money is / was? I hired a tax CPA for her and so far he hits the same wall.

Sacramento, CA

August 10, 2013
Consumer Reports: Best - and worst - prepaid debit cards

When it comes to prepaid debit cards, there are good ones and bad ones. That's according to Consumer Reports magazine, which recently released its first-ever list that ranks 26 prepaid cards according to convenience, cost, safety and how well fees are disclosed.

What it found: a number of prepaid cards have lowered their fees but the information is often hard to find. And some prepaid cards still lack the safeguards that consumers get with traditional debit cards, such as FDIC insurance and coverage for loss from fraud.

"The good news is that prepaid card fees have come down and a number of cards offer many of the same features you get with a bank account," said Michelle Jun, senior attorney with Consumers Union, the magazine's policy arm, in a statement. "But consumers can still end up paying more than they bargain for because fees are often poorly disclosed and can pile up quickly."

All of the low-scoring cards have high, unavoidable fees, including activation and monthly charges.

August 9, 2013
More tips on avoiding scams on vacation or business travels

In Sunday's column on travel scams, we looked at a number of financial frauds that can trip you up, whether on vacation or business.

Here are a few more savvy-traveler tips, from travel companies Fodor's and Lonely Planet.

1. Look back. Whether you're leaving a train seat or a cozy cafe, always look back at your seat to be sure you haven't left behind a backpack, camera or jacket. And never dangle any of those off the back of your chair, where they can easily be swiped.

August 5, 2013
Am I eligible for the California Training Benefits program?

I received a letter stating I am eligible for the California Training Benefits program. Does this mean I do not answer the question on the continued claim form? Should my school only fill out section C and leave the questions blank? Nancy - Rancho Cucamonga, CA

August 2, 2013
Car sales head list of Top 10 consumer complaints in 2012

Mortgage fraud, "lemon" car sales, abusive debt collectors and shoddy home repairs. Those were among the Top 10 consumer complaints in 2012, according to surveys of consumer protection agencies in 20 states.

The results, based on 360,500 complaints compiled by the agencies, were released jointly by the Consumer Federation of America and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators.

Here's the complete list of complaint categories with specific problems:

August 1, 2013
FTC shuts down S. California debt collectors for abusive tactics

A group of Southern California-based debt collection companies was shut down Thursday by a U.S. district court, based on accusations of "abusive" tactics that included threatening distressed consumers with phony lawsuits and arrests.

The group, operating under seven different business names in Riverside and Orange counties, allegedly had employees pose as law enforcement or lawyers, in order to coerce people into paying debts. According to the FTC's lawsuit, the group was also accused of "calculated campaigns to embarrass consumers" by illegally contacting their employers, friends and family in violation of federal debt-collection laws.

By order of the court, the business assets of the companies and four defendants were frozen, pending the FTC's ongoing investigation. The seven companies went by multiple names, including Asset & Capital Management Group Inc., Western Capital Group Inc., Green Fidelity Allegiance Inc., and Crown Funding Co.

The case is part of the FTC's ongoing crackdown on illegal tactics by debt collectors. Consumers who feel they've been targeted should file a complaint or call (877) FTC-HELP or (877) 382-4357.

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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