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IRS crackdown on those who hide funds overseas is just getting started.

By Karen Datko Oct 15, 2009 3:57PM

Those of us who pay our taxes in full and on time might have mixed feelings about this: About 7,500 tax cheats who hid money overseas have applied for an IRS amnesty program that will keep them out of jail and -- here's the most important part -- substantially reduce their penalties.


Mixed feelings as in: Yay, the cheaters will finally have to pay, but, boo, too bad the book isn’t being thrown at them.

Tax cheats with secret overseas accounts normally face stiff penalties in addition to finally paying what they owe. But under the amnesty, the standard fine of 50% of the unpaid tax bill will be reduced to 5% or perhaps 20%. Plus, The New York Times says, "They also will pay that penalty once, based on the highest balance in their offshore accounts over the last six years, rather than for each of those six years."


Pretty cushy deal, no? Yet, many likely didn't step forward before the amnesty offer expired Wednesday night. Here are their hopefully shrinking options, according to the Times and other sources:


Bank of America calls it a 'membership' fee; others expected to follow.

By Karen Datko Oct 15, 2009 1:29PM

This post comes from Mark Huffman of partner site


When Congress passed credit card reform legislation in May, many industry analysts warned that lenders would find new ways to extract the revenue they would soon be losing from consumers.


Among the mentioned new fees is actually an old one -- the annual fee.

When credit cards were first introduced, almost all cards charged an annual fee. But as the industry grew more competitive, with more and more banks and financial services firms offering cards, the annual fee gradually disappeared from major bank cards.

Now, Bank of America says it will begin test marketing a new "membership" fee for some of its customers. In other words, not every customer will be assessed the charge. If those who are charged don't cancel their cards or protest too loudly, presumably all customers will soon be required to pay it.


You won't find that extra customer service in most big-box stores.

By Karen Datko Oct 15, 2009 11:19AM

This post comes from Trent Hamm at partner blog The Simple Dollar.


When I was in college, there was a local independent bookstore not too terribly far from campus. The name completely escapes me now, but I could still almost walk to it blindfolded.


It was a very popular hangout for the heavy-reading crowd and the store did all it could to maximize customer loyalty, both with students and people in the broader community.

They had book clubs, author signings, frequent-buyer programs, and countless other little perks, plus the staff was spectacular at finding books you’d never heard of that were just perfect for your reading tastes.


That store is now out of business.


Will deals be good enough for you to take the bait?

By Teresa Mears Oct 14, 2009 9:13PM

Retailers are trying a new tactic to lure you into stores for this holiday season: gift cards, or gift card promotions. Their goal: get people to spend money without offering the deep discounts offered last year.


We share MSN Money columnist Liz Pulliam Weston’s distaste for gift cards, and were particularly annoyed that our recent rebates from Verizon and Sears came in the form of Visa gift cards rather than checks we could deposit in the bank. We coped as best we could by immediately spending them on groceries.


Normally retailers expect gift cards to be used in the weeks after Christmas and Hanukkah. But this year they are hoping gift cards, or gift card promotions that offer discounts, will lure shoppers before the holidays, The Wall Street Journal reports.


No-contract Straight Talk offers limited- and unlimited-access plans.

By Karen Datko Oct 14, 2009 3:59PM

Retail giant Wal-Mart has entered the prepaid cell-phone wars in a big way.


It has announced that its 3,200 U.S. stores will offer an unlimited voice, text and mobile Web plan for $45 a month, undercutting not only big providers such as Sprint and T-Mobile but upstart discounters like MetroPCS and Leap Wireless. While the $45 plan offers unlimited access to everything, a $30 plan includes 1,000 minutes, 1,000 text messages and 30 megabytes of Web access.  And 411 calls are free in both plans.


4.5 million vehicles recalled to address fire hazard

By Karen Datko Oct 14, 2009 2:25PM

This post comes from Truman Lewis at partner site


For the eighth time in recent years, Ford Motor Co. is recalling millions of vehicles to fix a faulty cruise-control switch that can overheat and start a fire, even when the vehicle is parked and unattended.


The latest in a series of too-little, too-late recalls affects 1.1 million Ford Windstar minivans, model years 1995 through 2003, that could have the problem, as well as 3.4 million additional vehicles that have the switch, including Ford Excursions, Explorers and Rangers of various model years, going back as far as 1992.


With so many changes afoot, it's essential to study your health care options.

By Karen Datko Oct 14, 2009 11:44AM

Oh, joy. It's open-enrollment season at work, when you get to pick your health care plan and other benefits for the coming year. Argh, I'll just stick with my current plan, you think. Who wants to read all that boring paperwork?


That could be a major mistake. Automatically renew your plan, and you might be surprised to find that family members are excluded in 2010 or your out-of-pocket health care expenses far exceed your grasp. (Plus, 10% of employers will drop your coverage if you don’t actively select a plan for next year, said Gerri Willis, personal-finance editor at CNN.)


All indications are the plan you have today won’t look the same next year. So, what should you be on the lookout for as you study your health care options?


After $48,000 in rent, she's finally selling her stuff.

By Karen Datko Oct 14, 2009 9:32AM

This post comes from Max Wong at partner blog Wise Bread.


Recently I did an intervention on Sarah, one of my dearest friends. It wasn't the first time. Over the last few years I have unsuccessfully attempted to get her to seek help for a problem that has cost her conservatively $48,000 and put financial and emotional stress on her family.


Recently, after more than five years of trying to manage her problem, she finally hit rock bottom. She once again had to borrow money from her family -- this time to pay for her daughter's health care. Sarah had $800 of the $900 doctor bill in the bank, but she'd already earmarked that money for the horrible monkey on her back. Sarah has a substance abuse problem -- but not with drugs. Sarah has a problem with self-storage.

Sarah used to have financial stability. But five years ago she made a major life change when she decided, at age 40, to adopt a child and become a single parent. Sarah sold her beautiful 3,000-square-foot home so she could afford to quit her high-powered job and be a stay-at-home mom until her daughter could start preschool. She moved into a 1,200-square-foot apartment in a good school district.



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