Monday, January 31, 2011

How to Detect Counterfeit Money

When a country is experiencing a financial crisis it often results in several increases in other areas such as prices, health issues, unemployment, crime and more. Many criminals think of new ways to catch unsuspecting victims using scams, devices or fake items such as money to make a quick buck. One item that is duplicated as a fake is money. Several people make fake bills and pass them around as real money including banks.

A man withdrew some money from his credit union to pay his roommate his portion of the rent. The roommate deposited the hundred dollars bills at Chase bank. Chase later discovered that one of the hundreds was actually a $5 altered to look like a $100. Chase deducted $100 from the roommate's bank account. When he complained, Chase pretended as though they knew nothing about it and hadn’t put the hundred dollar bill in the drawer and felt that it wasn't their responsibility. After a consumer reporter began asking questions to Chase bank representatives, they credited the roommate back the $100.

By Chase passing the fake hundred dollar bill back to the customer it was conducting a fraudulent transaction. Chase originally had the fake dollar bill in its possession and should have noticed the error sooner. Here are some tips to help you spot counterfeit money.

1. Hold the bill up to bright lighting. You should see a hologram on the face-up side of the bill. Both of the images should match perfectly. You should also notice a vertical strip that spells out the currency’s denomination ($1, $5, $10, etc.).
2. Look for changes in color. Take a $5 bill and move it back and forth while tilting it. Look for a number in the lower right hand corner. The number’s color should shift from green to black and back to green again, if not, it is a counterfeit.
3. Hold the bill up to an ultraviolet light. A $5 bill glows blue, a $10 bill glows orange, a $20 bill glows green, a $50 bill glows yellow and a $100 bill glows red.
4. Check the serial numbers which should be cleanly spaced and printed in the same color ink as the Treasury seal.
5. If you think you have a fake bill in your possession get a good description of who gave it to you, when and where.
6. Write down the license number or any other identifying information about who gave you the fake bill.
7. Do not accuse the person of using counterfeit money.
8. Place the counterfeit bill in an enclosed envelope.
9. Invest in an ultraviolet light if you handle cash as part of your job or accept cash for payments for services or goods you provide.
10. Contact the local police department or Secret Service at and provide them with the fake bill.

Friday, January 28, 2011

First Class is Still First Class With Stamps

Although many households and companies use the internet daily, several Americans still use the post office to conduct business and mail packages and letters. The postal service delivers approximately 177 billion pieces of mail a year. I use the post office frequently to mail letters for personal and business reasons.

The post office offers many services one of which is postage stamps. First class postage has increased since its inception in 1861. The price of first class postage has increased dramatically: in 1900 a first class stamp was two cents, in 1918 three cents, in 1959 four cents, in 1982 20 cents, in 1995 32 cents and in 2011 44 cents.

On April 12, 2007, the U.S. post office created the forever stamp which can be used to mail a first class letter in the future if rates go up. Many customers have complained about the price of stamps over the years and your complaints have been heard. Starting January 2011, all new stamps for one ounce of first class mail can use the forever stamp. The post office implemented the feature to help customers deal with increased first class postage costs and provide more efficiency in the postal service.

Due to the economic crisis in the country many businesses have been affected and have lost revenue including the postal service. The number of mail being delivered has steadily declined due to the use of the internet and email. As a result the post office requested a two cent increase in postage rates for 2011 but the request was rejected. The postal office is appealing the decision.

However, on April 17, 2011, there will be price increases for other postage services. More information can be found at So there you have it - first class is still first class for consumers.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Standard Mileage Rates Changes

The IRS revised the standard mileage rates for 2011 that apply to all employees, self-employed individuals and other taxpayers who use the figure to calculate deductible costs of operating a car for charitable purposes, business, medical or moving purposes. The rates for business, medical and moving purposes increased, however the rates for charitable purposes did not change from 2010.

Effective January 1, 2011, the standard mileage rate for using a car, pickup truck or van will be $.51 per mile. The rate for using a car for charitable purposes is $.14 per mile. The rate for using a car for medical or moving purposes is $.19 per mile.

The standard mileage rate cannot be used for: cars that are used for hire such as taxicabs, cars that claim a Section 179 deduction, for more than 4 cars simultaneously, or cars that use a depreciation method under the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS).

Refer to the IRS website for more information on the amount a taxpayer must use in calculating reductions to basis for depreciation taken under the business standard mileage rate and the maximum standard car cost for cars under a Fixed and Variable Rate (FAVR) allowance.

The IRS is requesting public comments on whether taxpayers should be allowed to use the business standard mileage rate.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Saving is the New 20

Being sexy can be summarized in 3 main areas: attitude, confidence and image. Attitude relates to your views on life, usually an optimistic person who can take criticism well and always remains positive. Confidence is how you feel about yourself no matter what someone else says about you or does to you. Image is the physical appearance of a person, their smile, their teeth, their hair, their walk, their laugh, their face, their body, how they dress, how they smell.

According to a study by ING 61% of the men that participated in the survey feel that women who are frugal are smart and sexy. Cash is king and having a savings account makes you more attractive and appealing. When you are in debt and have bad credit is it hard to focus on anything else and if you do, you can’t give it your all because of your financial problems especially when it comes to relationships.

When you go on dates or out with your boyfriend or girlfriend your conversations will somehow always lead to discussing your financial problems. The lack of a savings account or retirement account may cause you to stay in a relationship longer than you have to or stay at a job longer that you would like because you are living paycheck to paycheck. If you are out on a date and have financial problems you might slip up and make statements like “I wish I had someone to help me pay my bills” or “I wish I had a man to take care of me” which may be a turnoff especially on a first date.

When you start saving you see your money grow which is a great feeling. When you start paying down your debt you feel like a burden has been lifted off of your shoulders and you can begin creating long-term financial goals such as planning for retirement, starting a business or planning for your children’s college education. Saving money also helps to pay for unexpected expenses and prevents you from going into debt. Saving money and have good spending habits is an appealing quality in a mate.

If you don’t feel sexy try to make yourself more appealing by working hard to save money, fix bad credit and set financial goals. Saving is smart. Investing is smarter. Good credit is smart and sexy. Saving the environment is sexy. Saving is sexy.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Another Reason to Use Cash

A trend that has been occurring in some parts of the country for the past two years is continuing but has had a sharp increase in the past few months. Some gas stations and merchants are charging customers more when paying with credit or debit cards. Some states have passed laws to prohibit charging customers fees: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oklahoma and Texas.

Previously processing fees for credit card and debit card transactions were paid by the merchants now the charge is being passed to customers. This is due to increased charges that merchants have to pay when processing credit and debit card transactions. However, fees for debit card purchases are lower than credit card transactions.

In order to legally charge customers for credit card and debit card processing fees gas stations and merchants have to create two separate pricing offers. This is done by offering a discount when paying with cash but a sign must be displayed that states that a higher price will be charged when paying with credit card or debit card. The increase in this practice is due to the changes implemented in the CARD Act of 2009 that stated credit card issuers can charge a discount to customers who pay with cash.

Visa and MasterCard allow merchants to offer a discount when paying with cash that is lower than the price paid for other forms of payment. Discover allows merchants to charge a fee to customers when using a credit card or debit card. American Express states that merchants cannot accept a credit card or debit card for fees over the normal price of an item.

I noticed this week that the local gas station near my office is now charging more when paying with a credit card or debit card. I visited the gas station yesterday and decided to pay with cash but usually pay with my debit card. I am glad I did because I saved $.10 per gallon saving a total of $.80 yesterday for unleaded (regular) gas. For those who buy mid-grade or premium the cost is even more and can easily cost you anywhere from $1.00 - $5.00 more when paying with credit card or debit card.

Be aware of the rules and regulations that govern businesses as well as the rules and regulations that protect consumers to ensure you are not being taken advantage of. For detailed information on the CARD Act of 2009 visit

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Federal Payment Changes for Tax Exempt Organizations

No one wants to owe the IRS but if you do some recent changes have been made regarding payments to the IRS for tax exempt organizations. Previously a tax-exempt organization could send payments by making deposits either electronically, using the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), or by taking its deposit and the Federal Tax Deposit Coupon Form 8109B to an authorized financial institution or a Federal Reserve bank serving your area Blank coupons can be obtained at your local IRS office. However, original coupons must be used, photocopies will not be accepted.

If you owe the IRS and previously made payments using the Federal Tax Deposit Coupon (8109), effective January 1, 2011 you can only use the EFTPS to make your federal tax deposit payments. Using this system allow tax exempt organizations to make payments 24 hours a day from anywhere, by phone or online. Using the system allows reduced payment errors and reduced penalties incurred due to errors. Payers can schedule payments up to 120 days in advance of the payment date. Payments must be scheduled by 8:00pm EST before the due date to receive same day credit.

The EFTPS allow payment via the website or the voice response system. Your bank can create an ACH credit payment on your behalf but you may be charged a fee by your bank. Your bank may make a same day wire payment for you in special circumstances but you may be charged a fee by your bank. Always check the IRS website to get the latest information on taxes, tax filing and tax preparation procedures.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ways to Increase Your Tax Refund

It is that dreaded time of the year when everyone has to gather their receipts if you can find them to begin preparing to file taxes. Many argue that we should have a flat tax for all Americans. There are pros and cons to having a flat tax.

For now, we all have to pay our taxes or suffer the consequences like Wesley Snipes and be sent to jail. Some people try to avoid paying taxes by filing for bankruptcy but not all taxes can be included in bankruptcy.

If you plan on filing taxes this year here are some ways to increase your refund.

1. Tax Deductions. Check your health care costs, mortgage interest, closing and settlement costs, job-related expenses, tax preparation fees, moving costs, student loan interest or credit card interest which are just a few you can claim to increase your tax deductions.

2. State Sales Tax. If you live in a state that does not charge state taxes you can either deduct state and local sales taxes or state and local income taxes but you cannot deduct both. If you choose sales tax remember to include all items eligible for sales tax. Check the IRS website sales tax tables for your state.

3. Refinance. Don't forget to include your refinance costs when filing. When you refinance you have to deduct the mortgage points over the life of the loan so it's better to refinance for less time than your original loan. If you previously had a 30 year loan refinance to 20 years or less.

4. Property Tax. File a Schedule L to claim the property tax for personal property including car registration fees.

5. Casualty Loss. If you claim the standard deduction you can add casualty loss to your standard deduction amount if the loss occurred in an area that was declared as a disaster area by the President. You will have to file a Schedule L with your tax return to include the loss.

6. Read. Read the federal and state tax booklet that corresponds with your tax forms to make sure you are not overlooking any tax credits that you may be eligible for.

7. Avoid Rapid Refund. Don't get a rapid refund or loan. These usually have high interest rates and may not provide your refund faster than filing electronically.

8. Use Software. There are several free tax software available that you can use to file your taxes. Check frequently for software updates that may include additional tax deductions. Also look for free tax filing services in your area.

9. Reinvested Dividends (DRIP). Reinvested dividends cannot be deducted on your taxes but you can subtract the amount from your total taxable income which can save you money because it reduces your taxable capital gains.

10. Estate Tax. If you inherited an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) from an estate that was subject to estate taxes you can get an income tax deduction for the amount of estate tax paid on the IRA you received. You can claim an itemized deduction on Schedule A which will save you money.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Your Wallet Says a Lot About You

Most Americans carry a wallet or a billfold. Did you know that the type of wallet you carry and how you organize it describes how you manage your money and your life?

An old worn or torn wallet may show that your wallet is used to serve the purpose of holding your money and don’t believe a lot of money should be spent on wallet. If your wallet is organized neatly it shows that you organize your money and your finances as well as your life.

If you keep everything in your wallet including receipts from 5 years ago like George from Seinfeld that may show that you are not organized with your money, your finances or your life. Carrying a designer wallet may show that you value image and appearance.

If you never have cash or never have enough cash that is a red flag that you need to adjust your spending habits quickly to prevent a financial crisis such as filing for bankruptcy, foreclosure, judgment, or tax lien.

If you have money in your wallet but never know how much you have you also don’t know how much you spend. This is a red flag that you need to create a budget. I always keep track of how much I spend down to the penny.

If you find money in several places in your home or car that is a red flag that you are not responsible with your money. If you don’t manage the money you have now when you have the ability to earn more you will not be able to manage it which will result in bigger financial problems.

If you have more than one credit card in your wallet that is too many. Carrying several credit cards in your wallet is very tempting and will cause you to spend money you don’t have or don’t need to spend. I only carry my credit card when I know I am going to make a purchase.

Not knowing how much money you have can lead to bad money habits such as frequently using your credit card, bouncing checks or overdrawing on your checking account. This can also carry over to other financial accounts such as your savings, retirements, college savings account, etc.

It takes 23 days to break a habit. If you think about how you spend your money every day or how you manage it, you will be able to break the bad financial habits and become a better shopper, spender and will eventually become a role model for your family and friends.

The first step to managing your money is knowing how much you have and keeping it in a safe place such as a bank account.

My wallet is ten years old and I don’t plan on buying a new one anytime soon. It only matches one of my purses but I don’t care. I will keep carrying it until it can no longer serve the purpose of carrying my money. Until then, I will continue to be unmatched.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Will Black Street Be Repeated

In the 1900s blacks were not allowed to vote, business owners were threatened with violence and black students were forced to go to inferior schools. Lynchings and race riots occurred frequently against blacks.

In 1907, Madame C.J. Walker forms a successful cosmetic company and became the first black millionaire. In 1910, there were 40,000 black owned businesses and blacks owned 13 million acres of land in America. In 1910, the number of black farm owners in the South owned 24.5% of the farms. In 1913, federal segregation was implemented.

During the Progressive Era from 1895 to 1920 racism played a pivotal role in the failure of some successful black businesses and communities such as Black Wall Street. Black Wall Street was a wealthy all black community with a population of 15,000 in Tulsa Oklahoma that was bombed from the air and burned to the ground by white Americans on June 1, 1921. Black Wall Street consisted of 36 black businesses. The event killed 3,000 blacks and destroyed over 600 businesses including 21 churches, 30 grocery stores, 21 restaurants, 2 movie theaters, jewelry stores, medical schools, a hospital, a bank, a post office, libraries, schools, law offices, a bus system, two airports and private planes. Will Black Wall Street be repeated or has it already been repeated?

A study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2005 found that hate crimes were 15 times higher than reported by the FBI. According to the 2008 FBI Hate Crimes report of the hate crime offenses reported, 72.6% were motivated by anti-Black bias. Eric Ward stated, “Because democracy is contingent on participation, hate crimes are also a blow against democracy which is a reason why all incidents are not reported. If individuals are afraid to participate in society, all of society suffers. “With the election of President Obama the FBI and other government agencies reported a dramatic increase in hate crimes and violence against blacks.

In 2010 there are over 1 million black owned businesses which is about 1/10 of the total number of businesses in America. However, each dollar earned in the black community today leaves the community every 15 minutes. During Black Wall Street it could take up to a year for a dollar to leave the community. In 2010, there are at least: 7 black owned winemakers, 10 black owned hair care businesses, at least 3 black owned radio broadcasting companies, 30 black owned banks, 12 black owned hospitals, 22 black owned churches in America. There are 3 black billionaires and over 100,000 black millionaires in America. The number of black politicians in 2010 has dwindled to 42. All we can do is hope that future generations will never experience these events and will know that America is the land of freedom and not the land of hate. “It demands great spiritual resilience not to hate the hater whose foot is on your neck, and an even greater miracle of perception and charity not to teach your child to hate. – James Arthur Baldwin”.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

How Your Degree Affects Your Income Potential

When in school you are told to explore different areas and find things you like to do. You are taught to use this information to help you decide what area to major in when you go to college. Unfortunately, you were not told that if you attend college and get $100,000 in student loans you have to get a job making $100,000 to even come close to paying back your student loan debt.

Getting a bachelor’s degree allows you to earn on average $1,000,000 over the life of a career versus just having a high school diploma. However, a college education can come with a price. According to, the top 10 majors with the highest salaries are: electrical engineering, computer engineering, petroleum engineering, biomedical engineering, aerospace engineering, chemical engineering, nuclear engineering, applied mathematics, economics and physics. Art, literature, foreign languages, history and social work majors tend to make the least amount of money per year.

The cost of college tuition increases faster than the rate of inflation. It is difficult to decide what to major in at college but now college students have to consider the earning potential before deciding a major. If you have $100,000 in student loan debt and earn $30,000 a year you may never be able to pay off your student loans and probably won’t have enough money to pay for anything else.

Deciding to get an advanced degree depends on the major and the job market. For those with an undergraduate degree who decide to go to law, dental or medical school, the education pays off. However, if you major in English and get a graduate degree in history you may not increase your earning potential by a large amount. Advanced degrees provide more income potential when starting a job or if you have several years’ experience in a particular field. Here are some tips if you decide what you should major at college.

1. Living. Stay home at least 2 – 3 years after you graduate from college. This will help you save money and you can get a handle on paying down your student loans. During this time try to work a part-time job plus your full-time job to double or triple your student loan payments. The most interest on the student loans accrues during the first 2-3 years of the loan so if you are able to pay more than the minimum monthly loan payment you will be able to pay your balance down faster.
2. Major. Major in a field that has income potential. If not, you can get a minor or take classes in areas that you love or enroll in a dual major program.
3. Volunteer. You can do volunteer work in the field that you love. Try getting internships in the field you love where you can apply skills learned in your major. When looking for a job after college this will make you more appealing as a candidate for employment.
4. Interest. Figure out what subjects you are interested in or like, what classes you received “A’s” or “B’s” in and explore what industries use that knowledge.
5. Get feedback. Ask your school counselors, teachers, parents, friends or family members what skills they think you have or what areas they think you would do go good in and explore those as a major.

If you decide to live a modest lifestyle you can major in a field you truly love. However if you want to live a certain lifestyle, go on yearly vacations, plan for retirement, own a home and have a family you may need to think hard about what to major in college and how you will pay for college.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Save Money Paying Bills

Over 15 billion checks were written in 2009. If you write checks make sure you get a checking account with no monthly fees. If you are struggling paying bills there are several ways to save money when paying your bills.

Paying bills by check can be costly. If you write 10 checks per month, it costs you $4.40 per month or $52.80 per year plus the cost of ordering checks which can range from $12-$40 per order or $144-$400 a year. If you buy money orders to pay your bills the average cost for a money order is $1.20. If get 10 money orders per month, it costs you $12 or $144 per year. Here are 9 ways to save money paying your bills.

1. Online. Use online banking to pay bills online. Make sure you get a checking account that includes the online bill payment service for free. Online banking can save you between $50 - $144 a year.
2. Many companies offer the option of paying bills by phone for a small fee. Only use this option if your payment will be late using postal mail. Pay $5-$10 versus a $25-$30 late fee.
3. Transfer. You can transfer your credit card balance to a credit card with a lower interest rate. Be cautious with transfers and make sure you pay the full balance before the promotional period expires.
4. Automatic. You can use automatic deduction to pay your bills. Make sure you have enough money in your account to cover the bills each month. Request an email confirmation for each bill paid.
5. Extra. Send more than the minimum monthly payment to save money on interest and finance charges each month. You can also send multiple payments during the month.
6. Consolidate. Get a debt consolidation loan to combine all debt into one payment. Use caution and make sure you use a reputable company. Request monthly confirmations for each bill paid. Don’t get a home equity loan to consolidate debt because if you miss a payment you may lose your home.
7. Ebilling. Get your bills online and save money. Some companies now charge for sending bills by postal mail.
8. Verify. Verify your monthly bills to make sure no errors appear on your bill. Also verify all charges. Read the fine print and ask questions. Many companies offer discounts or specials that they do not advertise. See which ones you may be eligible for.
9. Card. You can pay bills using your debit or credit card to save money on check writing fees. Check to see if the company charges a fee for paying by debit or credit card. If paying by credit card make sure you pay the amount charged in full when your credit card bill arrives to avoid interest and finance charges.