February 1, 2023

IRS Shares Unfortunate News About This Year’s Tax Refunds

2003: Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrates during reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts aboard.

While rising prices continue to wreak havoc, many people may be depending on their tax refunds to tide them over. Unfortunately, this year’s refunds may be significantly smaller than expected.

The IRS warned that many Americans will receive a smaller tax refund this year, amid the expiration of several pandemic-era policies.

Last year, the average tax refund was $3,039 — a 7.5% increase from 2021. But now, things are set to trend in the opposite direction as key tax breaks implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic come to an end.

For instance, the child tax credit is no longer available. Eligible parents previously received $3,600 per child, and now that number is back down to $2,000. Similarly, the Child and Dependent Care Credit, which alleviates childcare costs for working parents, drops from a maximum of $8,000 to $2,100.

During the pandemic, even taxpayers who took a standard deduction could also take a $600 deduction for charitable donations. Now, those charitable payments can only be deducted by those who itemize.

For childless taxpayers, the Earned Income Tax Credit is lower this year.

Americans who purchased an electric vehicle in 2022 could qualify for a $7,500 tax credit. But now, there’s a caveat. In order to qualify for the credit, EVs purchased on or after August 16, 2022, must have been assembled in North America.

The IRS is now accepting tax returns

Tax returns are typically due on April 15, but Americans get a few extra days this year, since that date falls on a weekend. Returns are due on April 18. Additionally, those impacted by storms in Alabama, California and Georgia have until May 15 to file.

The IRS said that those who file electronically should expect to receive their refund via direct deposit within three weeks.

Keep in mind, financial experts warn against rushing to file. Make sure you’ve gathered all the relevant forms, and wait for any slow companies to mail out any 1099s or W-2s.

Source: Axios

January 30, 2023

5 Things You Shouldn’t Buy at Dollar Tree

Every item at Dollar Tree costs $1.25. With that low price, it might seem like any purchase would be a bargain. But that catch-all price can actually make some things overpriced. And in the worst cases, some of the products offered at Dollar Tree simply aren’t up to par. Read on to learn what you should avoid buying at Dollar Tree.

1. Nonperishable foods

When Dollar Tree upped the price of their products from $1 to $1.25 in Nov. 2021, some savvy shoppers realized that 25 cents actually made a big difference.

“[Dollar Tree’s] cereals tend to come in three-ounce bags,” popular YouTuber Bargain Bethany explained. “With the 25-cent increase, you’re paying even more per ounce. For the same three-ounce bag that I’m going to pay $1.25 for, I can go to Walgreens and get 11 ounces for $1.99; or I can go to Target and get a family-size that has 15 ounces and pay $3.59.”

For instance, the price per ounce of Lucky Charms at Dollar Tree was almost double that at Target, per Best Life.

2. Anything that plugs in

Unfortunately, cheaper electronics can pose a safety issue.

Last April, Dollar Tree recalled over one million hot glue guns due to fire and burn hazards. The glue guns malfunctioned when plugged in, resulting in four fires and the burning of one person’s skin, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Per the Washington Post, “Off-brand electronics can be risky purchases, as their supply chains are not as consistent as the name brands you find at other retailers. Power strips and chargers are likely to be cheaply made and could damage your devices.”

3. Frozen meat and fish

While some frozen foods at discount chains might be ok, you should avoid buying unprocessed food, such as meat or seafood.

“I don’t eat any of the frozen fish or rib eyes because I don’t trust frozen seafood or meat that costs a dollar,” a Dollar Tree manager told Mental Floss.

Another Dollar Tree manager said he “would never buy the steak” because he “heard from more than one person that it doesn’t cook [well] and it feels like rubber.”

In fact, Cincinnati television station WCPO conducted a taste test with the local fire department in 2016. The $1 steaks weren’t very popular, with one firefighter declaring it “not terrible” and another saying, “I guess it was meat.”

4. Laundry detergent

While laundry detergent initially seems like a better deal at the Dollar Tree, it ends up costing more in the long run.

“Dollar Tree has Tide detergent for $1.25 for 10 fluid ounces—that’s about 17 cents a fluid ounce,” Bargain Bethany explained. “The same type [of detergent] at Walmart is $0.11 per fluid ounce or $3.29 for 31 fluid ounces. So yes, I’m going to pay more initially, but in the long run, I am saving money.”

The same is also true for name-brand fabric softeners and dryer sheets, the YouTuber said. Inflation aside, buying these items elsewhere in larger quantities will cost you less money.

5. Vitamins and supplements

According to Consumer Reports, supplements “aren’t regulated as carefully as OTC drugs.”

If you plan on purchasing vitamins and supplements at Dollar Tree, Consumer Reports recommends checking “to see whether they bear the USP (U.S. Pharmacopeia) seal or the seal of another independent testing group, such as NSF International.”

Additionally, the outlet conducted a test in 2012, finding that some dollar store multivitamins didn’t actually contain the number of nutrients listed on the labels.

Source: Best Life

January 28, 2023

New Bill Takes Jab at Nancy Pelosi

1986: Space Shuttle Challenger explodes 73 seconds after liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center, killing all seven crew members. Among those who lost their lives was Christa McAuliffe, who was to be the first teacher in space.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) introduced the PELOSI Act, a bill that would ban lawmakers and their spouses from trading and owning stocks.

The Preventing Elected Leaders from Owning Securities and Investments (PELOSI) Act, takes a jab at its namesake, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

“Members of Congress and their spouses shouldn’t be using their position to get rich on the stock market,” Hawley wrote on Twitter.

The bill would give lawmakers six months to either divest their holdings or place them in a blind trust while in office.

“For too long, politicians in Washington have taken advantage of the economic system they write the rules for, turning profits for themselves at the expense of the American people. As members of Congress, both Senators and Representatives are tasked with providing oversight of the same companies they invest in, yet they continually buy and sell stocks, outperforming the market time and again,” Hawley said in a statement.

“While Wall Street and Big Tech work hand-in-hand with elected officials to enrich each other, hardworking Americans pay the price. The solution is clear: we must immediately and permanently ban all members of Congress from trading stocks.”

Pelosi and her husband Paul Pelosi have faced criticism over their substantial stock market gains made during her tenure in Congress. Between 2007 and 2020, the Pelosis saw their portfolios grow as much as $30 million.

Paul Pelosi sold $3 million worth of Google stock a month before DOJ antitrust lawsuit

According to a new report, Paul Pelosi sold 30,000 shares of Google stock in December — a month before the Justice Department and eight states sued the company over alleged antitrust violations.

Congressional disclosure filings show that Paul Pelosi sold the shares in three different transactions between Dec. 20 and Dec. 28, 2022, Fox Business reported. The former House Speaker’s Periodic Transaction Report filed Jan. 12 shows that the transaction amounts varied ranged between $500,001 and $1 million.

The transactions yielded capital gains of more than $200, but the total amount is unclear, according to the report.

Hawley cited the breaking news story as an example of why he named his stock trade ban after Pelosi.

“People have asked why I named my stock trade ban the PELOSI Act. Now you know,” the GOP senator tweeted.

Hawley previously introduced legislation last year to ban members of Congress and their spouses from holding or trading stocks while in office. The Democrat-led Congress was poised to vote on the matter, but it was shelved shortly before the midterm elections.

Source: The Hill | Fox Business

January 22, 2023

Bank of America Customers Overdraft After Money Vanishes from Accounts

1973: Roe vs Wade – U.S. Supreme Court legalizes most abortions.

Bank of America is under fire after customers logged into their accounts and found that their Zelle payments had either not arrived or were missing entirely.

The apparent technical malfunction left some account holders with minimal funds, while others were overdrawn.

Bank of America customers said their Zelle payments went missing

Customers weren’t able to get through to Bank of America customer service, so many took to Twitter to make their complaints known.

“So, I woke up to find hella Zelle deposits missing from my Bank of America account,” one customer wrote on Jan. 18. “When I called customer service they said ‘due to extenuating circumstances we cannot take your call’ and the phone hung up.”

“I spent two hours on hold when $1,000 I received yesterday went missing this morning,” another user wrote.

“So cool how Bank of America magically disappeared a large Zelle transaction that HAD ALREADY POSTED and I had used to pay bills,” another frustrated customer wrote. “Now I’m extremely in debt in my checking and I can’t get ahold of them. Unbelievable.”

Some customers were missing thousands of dollars — and some weren’t even aware that their money was missing until their debit cards were declined.

The situation captured the attention of Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

“Bank of America and Zelle are apparently failing customers again, with money somehow disappearing from accounts,” Warren tweeted. “This should be fixed immediately and customers should be compensated. I’ve called out serious fraud issues on Zelle, and this is their latest failure.”

The issue was resolved, but neither company is accepting responsibility for the error

Bank of America said the problem had been resolved, but they didn’t specify what had caused the alarming issue.

A Zelle spokesperson told the New York Daily News that the problem was on Bank of America’s end, not theirs.

“Transactions on the Zelle Network outside of Bank of America are not impacted,” the spokesperson said in an email.

Source: NY Daily News

January 19, 2023

5 Warnings From Ex-Walmart Employees

Millions of Americans turn to Walmart for its low prices and wide selection. But even the most frequent shoppers might not know everything there is to know — until former employees started sharing their inside information. Here are five major warnings from former Walmart employees.

The security cameras can read your texts

Walmart’s security cameras mean business. They cover the entire store and are capable of zooming in to read a shopper’s text messages, according to Athenia Marie, a former employee who goes by @obeygoddess on social media.

“One of the first things they did [during training] was bring us to the loss prevention room and zoom in so far [on a camera image] that you could literally read the date on the newspaper,” she said in a viral video. “They were trying to show us that if you steal from Walmart they will see.”

The self-checkout machines are heavily monitored

It might feel like you’re on an island in the self-checkout lane sometimes, but that is not the case. According to Athenia Marie, Walmart has devices that show employees what each shopper is ringing up at the self-checkout lanes. If they think you may be stealing, they can halt your transaction from afar. When this occurs, it just appears as if your machine is broken.

“At that point, you have no choice but to call for help,” says the employee in another viral video. “When we come over, we pretend something is wrong with the machine.”

At that point, the employee will remove all your items from the bags and ask you to go to a regular checkout instead. And with that, the retailer has covertly thwarted the shoplifting attempt.

Not all security guards wear uniforms

Former Walmart employee Paris Mars, a social media influencer, disclosed that the retailer has undercover security guards working in the store.

“There is security dressed in plain clothes and they look like customers,” Mars said. “They pretend that they’re shopping—they might have a cart, they might have a basket—but they’re watching you.”

And that’s not all. The employees may even be incentivized to catch would-be shoplifters.

“I was told that for every person that they catch in Walmart they get like a percentage, or raise, or commission for the person that they caught,” she said.

Athenia Marie echoed a similar experience.

“At my store, we had two people that would be there [at] all times like every day seemed like… They would walk around the store from morning till night time until we closed,” she explained.

Employees have practically zero product expertise

If you have a question about a particular product at Walmart, the workers likely don’t know any more about it than you do.

“We’re trained to read the box and basically tell you what we see on the box,” Mars said. 

One former employee said Walmart workers don’t have specific expertise about the departments they’re assigned to.

“No, I don’t know which non-clumping litter would be best for your asthmatic rescue cat. Yes, I do work in the pet section. Today, that is. Yesterday, I was in hardware, and tomorrow, I might be in health and beauty, or I might be in paper and chemicals,” the ex-worker wrote on Reddit. “Same goes for everyone else here.”

Beware of hearing “code brown” over the intercom

Your ears may be trained to ignore the announcements that blare over the store’s intercom, but you should be alert for a “code brown.”

Code brown means that there’s a shooter within the building, according to one former employee.

There are other intercom color codes used to convey information to employees as well. Black is a weather condition, green is a hostage situation, blue is a bomb, red is fire, and orange is a chemical hazard.

Sources: The Sun 1, 2 | Mashed

January 17, 2023

USPS Makes More Changes to Your Mail

1946: The United Nations Security Council holds its first meeting.

As Americans continue to battle rising inflation, the United States Postal Service is about to raise some of its prices.

Postal Service raises price of PO Boxes

The USPS sent a notice to certain Post Office (PO) Box holders earlier this month, informing them of a price change that takes effect on Jan. 22.

“Fees paid on or after that date are subject to new rates,” the USPS said.

PO Box rental rates vary significantly by location and the size of your mailbox, but they can start anywhere from $4.33 to $21.50 a month, with some people paying several times that, according to the USPS.

When the new prices kick in this month, certain customers could pay up to $367 for three months or $639 six months — meaning that some prices will increase by almost $40.

Another January price change approaches

PO Boxes aren’t the only USPS service seeing a price increase this month. The Postal Regulatory Commission approved the Postal Service’s proposal to increase its mailing and shipping costs for 2023.

A 4.2% increase for first-class mail, marketing mail, periodicals, package services, and special services kicks in on Jan. 22.

These changes also include:

  • Three-cent increases for the price of First-Class Mail Forever Stamps and domestic letters
  • Four-cent increase for domestic postcards
  • Five-cent increase for international postcards and international letters

Shipping services are also getting more expensive on Jan. 22. Priority Mail services will increase by 5.5%, Priority Mail Express by 6.6%, and First-Class Packages by 7.8%.

Postmaster General defends price hikes

In August, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said he believes the USPS needs to make “more aggressive” pricing changes in order to avoid further financial hurdles driven by inflation.

DeJoy has pushed for twice-a-year rate increases at the maximum percentages allowed by law, according to Linn’s Stamp News.

“The Postal Service has been severely damaged by at least 10 years of a defective pricing model,” he told the outlet. “We need to use our authority to adjust market dominant product pricing as part of our Delivering for America plan to become self-sustaining, as required by law.”

Sources: ECommerce Bytes | Linn’s Stamp News | USPS

December 16, 2022

New IRS Rule Could “Shock” Millions of Americans

Financial experts say that Americans who earned income online this year could be in for a major shock when they file their taxes in 2023.

Starting next year, the IRS will require taxpayers to report transactions of at least $600 that are received through apps like Venmo, PayPal, and Cash App.

Previously, the third-party payment processors were only required to report a user’s business transactions to the IRS if they exceeded $20,000 or they had 200 separate transactions throughout the year.

Now, the apps must send users a Form 1099-K if their transactions total at least $600 for the calendar year.

Financial experts believe this will be a “shock” to taxpayers.

“I think it will come as a shock out of nowhere that people are getting these,” said Nancy Dollar, a tax lawyer at Hanson Bridgett.

The change comes as part of the American Rescue Plan, passed by Democrats — without any Republican votes — in March 2021. The adjustment is meant to mitigate tax evasion, but critics say the move is a textbook example of government overreach that could end up hurting small businesses.

Data from the Pew Research Center shows that about one in four Americans earns extra money online — whether it’s selling something, renting their home through sites like AirBNB, etc.

But now, Dollar believes that the change could ultimately discourage Americans from participating in the so-called gig economy.

“Everyone I know offloads old goods that they have on these platforms because it’s so easy,” Dollar said. “Or they’ve been engaging in gig work on a very casual basis, and that affects gig workers as well who have been underreporting their income. I think it’s going to force people to either cut down on those activities or kind of take them more seriously and track them.”

The new rule doesn’t apply to transactions like sending your loved one a gift via Venmo or PayPal, paying your friend back for dinner, or sending your roommate rent money.

“This doesn’t include things like paying your family or friends back using PayPal or Venmo for dinner, gifts, shared trips,” PayPal previously said in a statement.

To clarify, business owners have always been required to report online income to the IRS. The new rule means that the IRS will be aware of money earned by business owners on the third-party payment apps — regardless of what the taxpayer actually reports on their 1099-K.

“For the 2022 tax year, you should consider the amounts shown on your Form 1099-K when calculating gross receipts for your income tax return,” PayPal said. “The IRS will be able to cross-reference both our report and yours.”

The payment apps may request additional information from users, such as their Employer Identification Number (EIN), Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN), or Social Security Number (SSN).

Source: Fox Business | Internal Revenue Service

December 5, 2022

McDonald’s Offers Chance to Win Free Food For Life

McDonald’s is offering the chance to win free food for life.

The fast food giant unveiled its “SZN of Sharing” promotion, announcing that customers who use their app in December will have a chance to win the McDonald’s Gold Card for themselves and three friends — giving them free food for life.

The promotion runs from Dec. 5-25. Customers who take advantage of various promos in the app throughout that time will be automatically entered to win the big prize.

“Our fans have been fascinated by the lore of the McDonald’s Card and if it really exists. And now, we’ll make this McDonald’s legend a reality for our fans by giving them the ultimate holiday gift – a chance to win a card and then share access to it with three of their family or friends,” said Tariq Hassan, McDonald’s USA chief marketing and customer experience officer.

“Just by using the McDonald’s App, everyone can experience the joy that comes with sharing McDonald’s this holiday season.”

The card’s fine print entitles recipients the equivalent of two meals per week for 50 years — potentially a total of 5,200 free McDonald’s meals.

The McGold Card was rumored for years. Business Insider reported that McDonald’s franchisees have previously given the card to individuals they consider heroes.

A handful of celebrities have also snagged the card, including Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, and Rob Lowe. The actor actually showed off his McGold Card during a 2015 appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”

Source: Parade

November 22, 2022

Transgender Residents To Receive $1200 Monthly “Guaranteed Income”

San Francisco, California, is launching a program to provide a monthly payment exclusively to transgender residents.

The city started accepting applications for the Guaranteed Income for Trans People (GIFT) program last Wednesday, San Francisco Mayor London Breed said. Under the new initiative, 55 transgender residents of San Francisco County will receive $1,200 a month in “guaranteed income” for 18 months.

“Our Guaranteed Income Programs allow us to help our residents when they need it most as part of our city’s economic recovery and our commitment to creating a more just city for all,” Breed told KRON 4 News. “We know that our trans communities experience much higher rates of poverty and discrimination, so this program will target support to lift individuals in this community up.”

According to the program’s website: “Guaranteed Income for Transgender People (G.I.F.T.) will provide economically marginalized transgender people with unrestricted, monthly guaranteed income as a way to combat poverty our most impacted community members face.” 

“The Transgender District and Lyon-Martin Community Health Services, in partnership with municipal city departments in the City and County of San Francisco, will provide 55 Transgender residents of San Francisco County with $1,200 a month in guaranteed income for a year and a half. The program will prioritize enrollment of Transgender, Non-Binary, Gender Non-Conforming, and Intersex (TGI) people who are also Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC), experiencing homelessness, living with disabilities and chronic illnesses, youth and elders, monolingual Spanish-speakers, and those who are legally vulnerable such as TGI people who are undocumented, engaging in survival sex trades, ​or are formerly incarcerated,” the website reads.

The city is accepting applications until Dec. 15.

According to KRON 4 News, the city will launch another two guaranteed income programs in 2023.

Sources: KRON 4 News | The Daily Wire | G.I.F.T.

November 6, 2022

9 Million Americans Entitled to Extra Money From IRS

If you recently received a letter from the Internal Revenue Service — make sure you don’t ignore it. You might be one of the millions of Americans entitled to extra money.

The IRS announced that it was sending out letters to more than 9 million individuals who may qualify for thousands of dollars worth of stimulus payments and tax credits.

The agency said that certain Americans can still claim the 2021 Recovery Rebate Credit, the Child Tax Credit, and the Earned Income Tax Credit.

“The IRS wants to remind potentially eligible people, especially families, that they may qualify for these valuable tax credits,” IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said. “We encourage people who haven’t filed a tax return yet for 2021 to review these options. Even if they aren’t required to file a tax return, they may still qualify for several important credits. We don’t want people to overlook these tax credits, and the letters will remind people of their potential eligibility and steps they can take.”

The agency noted that individuals and families can usually get these benefits even if they don’t make very much income. The IRS encourages Americans to file a tax return this year, even if they don’t normally need to do so.

Taxpayers have until Nov. 17 to take advantage of the Free File to claim their benefits. The free-to-use software is available on the IRS website until the aforementioned deadline.

What if I haven’t received a letter?

The IRS says people can file a tax return even if they haven’t yet received their letter.

Source: The Hill

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