After recalculating his client's tab and filing the old returns, Bowen got his client a total refund of nearly $11,000 for the three previous years.
If you owe several years of unpaid taxes or you're having trouble tracking down the documents you need, consider hiring an accountant. And if you think you owe a lot of money -- because, say, you were self-employed for several years -- you may need a lawyer.
Avoid a car insurance hit
Barbara Arcoleo's teenage son Gunnar racked up two fender benders and a speeding ticket in his first two months on the road. You'd think that Mom's insurance premiums also would have taken a big hit, but they didn't change one cent.
Before the older of her two teenage sons hit the road, Arcoleo had the foresight to switch to a policy that affords virtually unlimited accident forgiveness. "I knew that with three men in the house, something would happen sooner or later," says Arcoleo, who lives in Freehold, N.J.
Her Allstate Platinum package costs 10% to 12% more than basic coverage, but it guarantees that her premiums won't rise in case of an accident as long as her family members aren't involved in a socially irresponsible situation, such as driving under the influence. Insurers often offer extra accident protection if you're a longtime customer with a clean record.
But in many cases, your window of opportunity closes on impact. Each black mark for an accident or speeding violation will hound your driving record for as many as three years. "All things being equal," says Raleigh Floyd of Allstate, "expect about a 30% increase" in your premiums for each accident.
Once the damage is done, you have limited options, most of which involve finding other ways to cut your premiums until the black mark is expunged. One quick-and-dirty fix is to raise your deductible. An increase from $500 to $1,000 can save you 25%.
Next, take advantage of every discount to which you're entitled. If a teenage driver is involved, your insurer might cut you a break if your child takes a safe-driving course. Installing an anti-theft device could also lower your costs.
Get a student loan reprieve
If you or your children have borrowed money for college through federal programs and are struggling to repay the loans, the last thing you want to do is throw in the towel and default. Federal education loans come with exceptionally flexible terms that can help you or your kids climb out of a hole without affecting your credit scores or access to future student aid.
In cases of unemployment or other economic hardship, for example, both you and your kids likely will qualify for a loan deferment, which can buy you a respite of up to three years. During that time, you won't have to make payments, and interest won't accrue on federal Perkins loans or subsidized Stafford student loans. (Interest will continue to accrue on Parent PLUS loans during a deferment, however.)
Eligibility for deferment depends on the economic status of the borrower -- your child, in the case of Perkins and Stafford student loans, or yourself, in the case of Parent PLUS loans.
You can also obtain relief by requesting forbearance on your loans, although interest will continue to accrue. Forbearance is basically a permission slip from the lender to halt payments for a certain period; you or your kids should qualify if a loan is not already in default. Lenders can grant forbearance for up to 12 months at a time, for a maximum of three years (call the U.S. Department of Education's Direct Loan Servicing Center at 1-800-848-0979 for information). Private loans, however, usually don't have such lenient terms. Contact your lender to find out your options.
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