Tax Tip: Uncle Sam Brings Tax-Deduction Apple For Teachers

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- With school districts around the country continuing to cut expenses, teachers in many areas are being forced more now than ever to fill some of the gaps. A number of teachers often find themselves shelling out their own money to purchase classroom books, computer equipment and other supplies.

Kathy Pickering with H&R Block says educators can take a tax deduction on some of those expenses.

“That's $250 for teachers who are using out-of-pocket money to purchase classroom supplies,” she said.

And you can take advantage of the deduction no matter what tax form you use.

“They can claim a deduction on the front of their return, so this is a deduction you can get even if you don't itemize your deductions,” said Eric Smith with the IRS.

Just make sure to keep all of your receipts.

The deduction is available to all teachers, principals and counselors from kindergarten to the 12th grade.  If both spouses are teachers, you can deduct $500 for the household.

The deduction does not apply to parents who home-school their children.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Congress Rejects Measure to Cut Funding for NASCAR Sponsorship

Photo Courtesy - Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR(WASHINGTON) -- The battle over spending continues to rage on Capitol Hill and while Republicans are keen to take an axe to the budget, the Army’s sponsorship of NASCAR was spared on Friday.

The Army spends more than $7 million a year to sponsor NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Ryan Newman and several million more as part of a partnership with NASCAR. It says the prominent ads on the car and presence at the track help attract recruits.

On Friday, the House gave the green light for that sponsorship to continue, rejecting an amendment introduced by Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) that would have blocked the Pentagon from using taxpayer dollars for NASCAR ads.

The amendment failed by a largely partisan vote of 281-148, with Republicans overwhelmingly voting against the measure.

McCollum called the NASCAR sponsorship a waste of taxpayer money and according to her office, the Minnesota Democrat’s fight will not end here. McCollum intends to introduce legislation that would prohibit taxpayer money from being used to sponsor race cars, dragsters, Indy cars and motorcycle racing.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Spring 2011 Seasonal Employment Opportunities

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Most people think of seasonal hiring as taking place during the holidays or the summer.  The truth is that spring is the busiest time of the year for many industries and the need for seasonal help is great.

"As the weather improves, everyone wants to get outside, which means we spend money to make our yard useable and beautiful," says Tory Johnson, CEO of Women for Hire and an ABC News contributor. "So home improvement companies need workers to handle the rush."

Home Depot has announced that it plans to hire 60,000 seasonal workers while Lowe's will bring in some 50,000 seasonal hires, Johnson said.  In both cases, the positions are set to last about 90 days depending on the region with some workers being asked to stay based on their performance.

Johnson also says that while most major tax preparation firms have completed their hiring, opportunities still exist for support staff.  Johnson suggests researching independent accounting firms as well.

Johnson recommends that job seekers looking for seasonal employment take their search beyond the job boards. 

"Use social media and read your local paper.  Post on your Facebook wall that you're looking for a sensational seasonal opportunity -- and ask your friends and followers for suggestions in your area," she says.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Working in America: Public vs. Private Sector

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- As the protests in Wisconsin bring the issues of public sector workers' pay and benefits into the national spotlight, it’s important to understand the actual differences between what government worker and private sector workers actually get in return for their efforts.
The latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2009) show that government workers make about 5 percent more than private sector workers on average.  But, as can be seen in the data listed below, the headline numbers hide some major disparities beyond the headlines.

Average Annual Wage

Federal Govt. Workers -- $67,756
State Police -- $61,000
Local Firefighters -- $60,572
State Govt. Workers -- $48,742
State Legislative Workers -- $48,129
Government (all types) -- $47,552
Private (total sector) -- $45,155
Local Govt. Workers -- $43,140
Local Schools -- $41,113
Average Annual Wage

Private Sector CPA -- $71,216
Federal Govt. CPA -- $67,531
Local Govt. CPA -- $64,050

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2009

Local teachers make 9 percent less than the average private sector worker. And federal employees are substantially better paid than the average state worker.

But working for the government doesn’t automatically mean a bigger paycheck. Take, for example, accountants. Government data shows that a certified public accountant who works in the private sector will have an annual salary of $71,000. That same certification and education will lead to a $68,000 average salary for the federal government and $64,000 if you work for a local government.


Some of this headline pay disparity is likely attributable to the union representation many in government enjoy. In 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics data showed that 36.2 percent of public sector workers were unionized, compared to a 6.9 percent union membership rate for private sector workers.

Workers in education, training and library occupations had the highest unionization rate at 37.1 percent.
Public sector workers also are significantly more likely to have traditional pension plans -- called “defined benefit” plans. The latest data from BLS showed 20 percent of workers in the private sector have pension plans. In the public sector, defined benefit plan coverage is four times greater -- about 79 percent.
The latest Kaiser Family Foundation survey on the costs of health insurance showed government workers are more likely to be offered health insurance while they work and in retirement.

In retail firms, for example, only 48 percent of workers were covered by health benefits offered by their firm (the worst industry for insurance coverage), compared to 80 percent of workers in state and local government (the best industry for insurance coverage).

And those state/local government employees are paying less for coverage than their private sector neighbors.
Data from Kaiser shows the average employee cost for “family” health coverage was around $3,700 in the latest year. Employees in the service sector pay about $4,200 for similar family coverage, mostly because their employers require a bigger contribution from the employee to get the benefit.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Visits Intel Plant, Urges Investment and Innovation

Photo Courtesy - ABC News (file)(HILLSBORO, Ore.) -- President Obama visited a cutting edge Intel plant in Hillsboro, Ore. Friday to learn how to make American kids more competitive in math and science.

“One of my staff said it’s like magic,” the President said to laughs after describing what he’d just seen inside. “I have to say for all the gadgets you’ve got here what’s actually most impressive is the students -- the science projects that I got a chance to see.”

Inside the plant’s manufacturing facility, the president was given a “window tour” of the high-tech chip making process by Intel CEO Paul Otellini.

“If we want to make sure Intel doesn’t have to look overseas for skilled workers then we have to invest,” the president told a group of about 350 Intel employees and local dignitaries. “We have to out build, out innovate and out hustle the rest of the world.”

The trip is part of the president’s efforts to focus education more directly on math and science to compete in a high-tech global marketplace. He pointed out that over the next ten years nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school degree – a significant shift.

“And yet today as many of a quarter of our students aren’t even finishing high school,” he said. “We can’t win the future if we lose the race to educate our children.”

At the event, Intel’s CEO announced plans to hire 4,000 U.S. employees this year as well as plans for a new $5 billion factory in Arizona.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Borders Liquidation Sales Begin at 200 Stores Saturday

Photo Courtesy - Tom Pennington/Getty Images(CHICAGO) -- Borders, the second-largest bookseller in the U.S., will begin holding sales across the country on Feb. 19 as 200 of its stores prepare to close down in connection to the company's bankruptcy filing.

The store closing sales will take place in 35 states and Puerto Rico.  According to Borders, over $350 million worth of inventory, including books, magazines, music and movie media, calendars and posters, will be liquidated.  Shoppers can expect to see discounts ranging from 20 percent to 40 percent.

Borders announced Wednesday it had filed a petition for relief under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code.  In its petition, the bookstore chain listed $1.29 billion in debt and $1.28 billion in assets.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Tax Tip: Electronically Filing Your Taxes for Free

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The IRS is not mailing out tax forms this year, since millions of tax filers pay $20 or $30 for a software program to do their taxes for them. But many of those people could do it for free.

“The majority of Americans, about 70 percent, qualify for free e-filing through,” said Mary Beth Franklin with Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine, who notes that you have to make less than $58,000 a year to qualify.

“They have a partnership with about 20 different software vendors and you can prepare and file your income taxes for free,” she said.

No need to worry about keeping up with the latest tax law changes.

“It is absolutely up to date reflecting all the changes and there are many for the 2010 tax filing season,” Franklin said.

Even if you don't qualify for free filing, you can still use the Free File Fillable Forms. Just put in the numbers, and they will often do the math for you.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Consumer Prices Rise, but Price Apocalypse Not Here Yet

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- For all the headlines this week about a rash of rising prices, the reality for American consumers is that there’s not much there.  At least not yet.

The latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that overall consumer prices have increased just 1.6 percent in the past year.  The increase is well within historical norms for price gains and won’t have people having to choose between fueling the car or buying the "extras."

Of note, most of the increase in prices at the retail level come from an increase in the price of energy, which posted a 7.3 percent rise in the past year.  Gasoline, up 13.4 percent, and fuel oil, up 17.3 percent, lead the way in that category.

But despite rising "input" costs, there are big categories of consumer spending where prices haven’t gone up that much in the past year.

Food prices are up just 1.8 percent from the past year, while clothing prices remain literally unchanged at the retail level for consumers.  Shelter costs –- rents and mortgages -– are up just 0.6 percent.

Meanwhile, during the same period -- from January 2010 to January 2011 –- average weekly earnings have increased 2.5 percent, according to the Bureau's figures.  So the average American is actually coming out ahead, with their wage increases besting the increasing costs, but just by a little.

Why aren’t prices going up more?  Well, retailers have absorbed some of those increasing costs for fear that American consumers aren’t ready to see prices go up.

And this lack of pricing power for retailers is likely keeping hiring in check.  If retailers believe they can’t pass along increasing costs, they're not likely going to increase their fixed costs by adding workers.

But this tepid consumer price environment is likely going to change in the coming months.  Big companies are starting to signal to the markets that they're ready to start passing along increasing costs.

If they are able to increase prices without a significant drop in sales, this "inflation" might actually be a good thing.  It might give the companies confidence to hire, as it’s a real world signal that the economy has recovered enough to handle rising prices.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


'Amish Madoff' Victims Want Bankruptcy Case Dismissed

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(SUGARCREEK, Ohio) -- Daniel Miller, a victim of the Amish "Madoff" scheme in Sugarcreek, Ohio, and dozens of other Amish creditors say they prefer the bankruptcy proceedings related to their $33 million in investments be dismissed.

Miller was one of 2,600 creditors in 29 states, mostly from the Amish community, who invested money with Monroe Beachy, a 77-year old Amish man accused of running a Madoff-like Ponzi scheme, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

"I think the Amish can do a lot better job for the creditors than what the government can do," Miller said.  "Instead of the bankruptcy attorneys handling everything and dragging into the court system, they will take it and distribute it to the creditors involved.  It makes more sense to me."

Miller, 55, does not believe Beachy intentionally tried to defraud his Amish neighbors but actually hoped to recoup unanticipated losses, such as from crashes in the stock market, for his investors.

Beachy, doing business as A&M Investments, raised at least $33 million, according to the S.E.C. complaint filed this week.  He sold investment contracts from as early as 1986 through June 2010, telling investors their money would be used to purchase risk-free U.S. government securities, but instead he made speculative investments, according to the filing.

Media headlines are comparing Beachy to Bernie Madoff, the investment advisor who choreographed a $50 billion Ponzi scheme since the early '90s, because of the long period in which they both falsified positive returns to investors.

As part of the investigation, Beachy filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in June with a court in the Northern District of Ohio.  Court documents indicate he has less than $18 million of investors' money left.

In an unusual twist, according to a motion to dismiss the bankruptcy proceedings filed by members of the Amish community, about 2,550, or 94 percent, of creditors are in favor of dismissal.  The bankruptcy court received 67 filings each containing multiple form letters from Miller and other members of the Amish community in Sugarcreek. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Is Consumer Product Safety Testing Stifling Job Growth?

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- House Republicans Thursday took aim at recently enacted consumer product safety regulations, saying they caused unintended consequences -- creating a burden on small businesses and stifling job creation. The target of their complaint is The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) of 2008.

"For thousands of businesses, who strive to be responsible, let's do what's best for consumers. CPSIA has consumed an inordinate amount of their time trying to understand how each new regulation and standard will affect them," Chairman Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif, said. "Unfortunately, many have gone out of business, attributing their demise to some of the burdens of compliance with the many provisions of the new law."

Representatives from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and various small businesses and manufacturers testified before a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

CPSC commissioner Anne Northup, a Republican appointed to the commission by President Obama, argued that third-party testing requirements mandated by the CPSIA for leading in products had a negative impact on small businesses and job growth.

"It has been shocking to me the number of businesses that we have entirely caused to go out of business, the number of businesses that have left children's product arena completely because of this bill, the number of choices that parents no longer have," Northup said.

According to Northup, businesses have told the CPSC that testing requirements "stifle innovation and product variety by erecting significant cost barriers to adding to toys new accessories, new colors, or other variations."

CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum defended the CPSC's implementation of the CPSIA thus far to ensure safety standards are maintained for consumer products. Democrats joined the praise for the law, calling it a vast improvement from the consumer product safety bills in years past.

"The bottom line issue of protecting consumers and particularly children -- that is the proper role of government," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. "That is our proper role that we will exert today. We're going to protect our consumers and our children."

In March, the CPSC is set to unveil a publicly searchable database, mandated by the 2008 law, which will allow consumers to check the safety of products on the market and submit independent claims about products.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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