Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Search and Ye Shall Receive: Audit Freedom, Paperless Statements, and College Superstars

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , , , ,

comic 19 - tax return

You search for it, you get it here at Punny Money with our not-too-frequent feature Search and Ye Shall Receive. Today we look at three search engine queries that brought some people seeking financial enlightenment to this humble quadrant of the internet.

Since the IRS Gave Me a Refund, Will They Not Come After Me For Deducting My Hair Extensions?

If you get your tax refund, will you not be audited? (via Google)

Oh if only it were that easy. No, my friend, when you get that delicious little refund check in your hands, your IRS worries are only just beginning. Uncle Sam has three years from the day your tax return is filed (or the April 15th deadline, whichever is later) to audit your return. If it establishes that you owe money, it has up to ten years to come after you for it. And if it determines that you filed a fraudulent return (i.e. you claimed your weekly visits to the local brothel as a “medical expense”), there’s absolutely no statute of limitations.

So always live in a state of paranoia because you will get audited and chipmunks are waiting to steal your car keys when you go to work tomorrow.

What Benefit Is There to Not Having My Account Information Sent By Pieces of Paper Anyone Can Steal?

What are the benefits of paperless statements? (via Google)

Well, I kinda gave away one of the answers to this question in the snarky headline; getting your bank and credit card account statements sent to you online is about 83 thousand times safer than having them molested by half the U.S. Postal Service before being deposited in a mailbox that’s about as easy to break into as a papier-mache ATM machine. But there are other benefits than just security to keeping stacks and stacks of statements from hitting your home:

  • It takes up less room in your trash can.
  • It saves you time spent weeding out junk mail from important account information.
  • It’s easier to store electronic statements for years than shoe boxes full of papers.

I Can Has College?

Can I go to college? (via Yahoo!)

Without knowing anything else about your situation, and basing my answer solely off your question, I would say no.

Oddly enough, someone else searched for the phrase “I can go to college” shortly after this query was received. To this person, I say congratulations and I look forward to having my Big Macs served by you in the future.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Search and Ye Shall Receive: I’m Embarrassed to Use Coupons

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

apparently all groceries are red and all coupons are green in this world

This month’s edition of Search and Ye Shall Receive comes to us via an emotional cry for help from a desperate internet denizen who asks this heart-wrenching question:

What do I do if I am too embarrassed to use coupons?

Unfortunately given the nature of how these queries show up in Punny Money’s search referral logs, we can only imagine the full story behind this sad tale. Or we can just make up something crazy like this:

Dear Nick,

I am a 27-year-old physicist from Little Rock, mother of two, loving wife, but with a terrible secret: I am embarrassed to use coupons. Maybe it’s because I feel bad cheating the grocery suppliers out of their hard-earned money. Maybe it’s because I look silly whipping out a coupon at a restaurant when all of my friends usually pay full price. Or maybe it’s because I make six million dollars a year and everyone in town knows it. Still, I really want to be able to save 60 cents on my next purchase of two (2) cans of tuna fish. Is there anything you can do to help?

Sincerely,
Ashamed in Arkansas

I won’t argue the merits of whether coupons are a smart investment today. Instead, for everyone out there who so desperately desires to use coupons but, for whatever reason, is humiliated by the very idea of trading a piece of paper for a discount, here is a short list of reasons why nobody should ever be embarrassed to use coupons:

  1. You’re probably not saving money. Okay, so this goes against the basic idea of what coupons are meant to do: keep more cash in your pockets. Unfortunately, unless your use of coupons nets you items for free, then you are shelling out some of your money—albeit not as much as the next couponless person—to buy those cans of tuna fish. You may think using coupons is embarrassing, but what’s likely more embarrassing is the crap you’re using those coupons to buy in the first place. (Feeling better yet?)
  2. Everything is overpriced. The last time I checked, virtually every grocery store, restaurant, and anywhere else that accepts coupons operates as a for profit entity. That means that a small chunk—or possibly a large chunk, depending on what you’re buying—of an item’s price tag is going to a big pot of profit for some company. Most everything is priced above what it cost to make, ship, and sell those items in order to add to that pot of profit. So if the reason you’re too embarrassed to use coupons is because you think you’re depriving some poor farmer in Iowa of his livelihood, rest assured that that farmer in Iowa, if he had a chance, would absolutely screw you out of your money if he could too.
  3. Coupons are meant to be used. If businesses didn’t want you using their coupons, they wouldn’t make them to begin with. And there’s probably a very good reason for businesses to issue those coupons in the first place. Perhaps they’re trying to tempt you into trying a new product, hoping they’ll get you hooked so that you pay full price in the future. Maybe it’s a restaurant looking to draw in new customers, so they’re willing to give away a free meal to do it. Or it could just be one of those “fake deal” coupons that gives you 30 cents off an item that is overpriced by $1.50 to start. Whatever the reason, coupons are there to be used, so you shouldn’t feel embarrassed using them.
  4. Coupons aren’t just for poor people. Yes, it’s generally the case that people with lower incomes will use more coupons than folks with six-figure salaries. But I don’t think it has anything to do with income differences as it does monetary motivations. People making less money are more motivated to find discounts on everyday products than those who are raking in the dollars. Thus lower-income consumers will invest more time clipping coupons and hunting bargains. As I’ve said in the past, the main reason I don’t use coupons in grocery stores is because of the time investment involved. I will, however, gladly use them at restaurants for deals like buy-one-get-one or save 50% off a meal because the savings is much more significant and the time investment is minimal. And if someone were willing to clip me grocery coupons every Sunday and give them to me for free, I’d gladly use those too.
  5. Coupons are a great way to uncover a person’s true intentions. One of the most common instances when people may feel too embarrassed to use coupons is on a date at a restaurant, especially if it’s a first date. If you’re paying for the meal and your use of a coupon somehow turns off your date, then I think that says a lot about your date. Perhaps he or she isn’t as fiscally intelligent as you. If nothing else, it’s a great way to sort out who likes you for you and who’s in it for your wallet. So if you’re loaded and want to find somebody who isn’t looking to raid your bank account, purposely use a coupon on your first date and see how he or she reacts.
  6. Who cares what others think? 99 percent of the people who will see you use coupons are business employees and random people in checkout lines—people you’ll never have to interact with on a personal level. But what if your gossipy neighbor hops in line behind you at the supermarket? Do you hide your $50 worth of coupons out of embarrassment? Sure, if you care what the other housewives think of you. Who cares if they think you’re “thrifty” or “cheap” or whatever! That just means they’re wasteful, selfish, and dumb with money.

If, after considering the facts above, you are still too embarrassed to use coupons, then that’s just a personal choice you’re going to have to live with. Hopefully one day the world will right itself and people who don’t use coupons will be the ones who have to live with the embarrassment.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Search and Ye Shall Receive: Retirement Notice, Pregnant Buffets, and Uh…

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , , ,

It’s time for another episode of everyone’s favorite long-running Punny Money feature: the Personal Finance Swimsuit Competition. For the eighth year in a row, Nick wins by a mile! Now on to Search and Ye Shall Receive and even more answers to questions people have asked search engines that brought them to Punny Money.

How Much Notice Should I Give Before Retiring?

retirement guy is walking into the ocean

How much notice to give before retirement? (via Google)

Unlike your standard job quitting notice, people tend to give more than two weeks warning if they’re retiring. That’s because people in a position to retire are probably doing so from a higher-ranking job with more responsibilities than your typical career stepping-stone job. The CEO of a Fortune 500 company may let its employees and investors know of her impending retirement six months or more in advance. A middle manager may be able to get away with a couple months of notice.

But if you’ve somehow amassed a retirement nest egg working 45 years as a McDonald’s drive-thru cashier, you can probably give the standard two weeks notice so they can outsource your job to an Indian call center.

It may also be traditional at your place of employment to give more warning than is necessary before your retirement, so ask some of the old folks down the hall how they plan to do it.

Buffet + Pregnancy = Giant Mutant Baby?

candy buffets probably not best for baby

Are buffets bad when you’re pregnant? (via AOL)

Buffets are bad when you’re not pregnant! Anytime you stuff yourself with more food than you need for nutritional upkeep, you increase your risk of horrendous diseases like diabetes and gonorrhea. Okay, so maybe it’s not that bad, but balancing your buffet trips with diet and exercise in between can help you lead a long and healthy life.

It might seem like carrying a baby gives a woman the perfect excuse to make extra passes through the buffet line. After all, they’re eating for two. Just keep in mind that unborn babies are not garbage disposals, so you can’t just dump any old food into your body when you’re at the buffet.

So before you and your bun-in-the-oven sit down for ten rounds at the Olive Garden’s Never-Ending Pasta Bowl, consult with a physician to determine which alfredo sauce your baby will like the best.

Uh…

i just happened to have the answer to this question handy

Do you lose nutrients when you masterbate? (via Google)

Possibly. Just to be safe, eat a sandwich afterwards. Or go to a buffet.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Search and Ye Shall Receive: Payday Loan Jail, Property Tax Liens, and Teenage Daughters

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , , , ,

Search and Ye Shall Receive returns with more answers to questions people have recently asked search engines that brought them to Punny Money.

Jail for Unpaid Payday Loans?

payday lenders leave you out to dry but not in jail

Can I be sent to jail for not having money for payday loan? (via Google)

This person might want to consult with a real lawyer and check his or her state and local laws, but I’ll still share my view on this. I previously stated that you could go to jail for lying on a credit card application (e.g. stating you make $250,000 a year when you really make $6.50 an hour). In theory, the same could be true for payday loan applications. That said, payday lenders typically don’t collect the sort of information you would normally lie about, so the chances of incriminating yourself over a payday loan are very slim. If you’re worried about payday lenders getting you arrested for not paying your loan, you can relax. It’s illegal for payday lenders to threaten you with jail over unpaid loans. Just be sure not to write any bad checks when paying back the loan; they can still land you in legal trouble.

Do Delinquent Property Taxes Mean No Income Tax Refund?

your tax return is likely safer than your property

If you owe back property taxes, will you not get a tax refund? (via Ask)

Your Federal income tax refund is likely safe because property taxes are collected by state governments. Your state income tax refund is also probably safe, but that’s because the state has a much easier way to collect property taxes in arrears: tax lien sales. Normally once a year, counties or states will “sell” the rights to collect unpaid property taxes on a property to whomever wants to buy them. The buyer then jumps to the head of the line on most liens placed on the property (like mortgages and judgments, but not other state tax liens). When you go to sell the property, you’ll have to cough up the money to pay off those liens.

There are also tax deed sales in which your property is sold out from under you to pay off your delinquent taxes. Obviously this is far worse than just having a lien placed on your property.

So the answer to this question is no, your tax refunds will likely not be affected; but you might want to hold on to those refunds to pay for an apartment if your property goes to a tax deed sale.

How to Talk to Your Teenage Daughter?

aaaah, floating lips, nooooooooooo

How do you talk to a teenage daughter? (via Google)

Good question. When I’m talking to your teenage daughter, I usually ask these questions first:

  1. Are your parents home?
  2. You are 18, right?

Oh, you probably wanted advice on talking to your own teenage daughter. Uh, good luck with that.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Search and Ye Shall Receive: Credit Card Jail, Inflated Salaries, and AP Exams for the Lazy

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , , ,

It’s time for a triple dose of Search and Ye Shall Receive. Here are some questions people have recently asked search engines that brought them to Punny Money.

And don’t worry, these are genuine answers, unlike my answers to a certain other set of questions.

Jail for Credit Card Debt?

hamster debtor in jail

Will I go to jail if I don’t pay my credit cards? (via Google)

I feel it necessary to reiterate that I am not an attorney, so this is not legal advice. The answer to your question is probably not, assuming you’re in the United States. Now most people would tell you “definitely not if you in the United States” since the U.S. no longer has debtor’s prison. That said, credit card debt can still land you in jail if you misrepresented yourself in any way to the credit card company. For example, if you claimed that you make $100,000 when you really make $15,000 a year in order to get a larger credit line, and then you proceeded to max out that credit line and can’t pay it back, you better hope the credit card company doesn’t find out because lying on a credit card application is a criminal offense.

If you don’t pay your debts and they’re sent to a collections company, you may be threatened with jail by heavy-handed collection agents. These intimidation tactics are illegal. You won’t go to jail simply for having an unpaid debt.

Now for the scary part. Even though there is no debtor’s jail in the U.S. anymore, you can still go to jail for certain unpaid debts, most notably child support and alimony. Thanks to the Child Support Enforcement Act of 1984, you can send your state’s attorney after a deadbeat spouse to garnish wages and tax returns, seize property, and suspend licenses. If these efforts don’t squeeze some cash from your ex, he or she can be found in contempt of court and thrown in jail for failure to pay child support and alimony.

Photo by SantaRosa OLD SKOOL

Pay Keeping Pace With Inflation?

picture of a pound, because it is british

Is my salary keeping up with inflation? (via Google UK)

We recently talked about income vs. inflation for the U.S. in a reader poll showing that less than half of people expect their 2007 incomes to keep up with 2006 inflation (4% for the U.S.).

Now since this search came from the United Kingdom version of Google, it might be more helpful to know the British inflation rate. Over there, the chief measure of inflation is the Consumer Price Index (CPI). As of March 2007, the annual CPI was 2.8%.

So if your British employer didn’t bump up your 2007 pay by a good 3% or so, and you’re not finding other ways to make some extra pounds, you might want to get shirty with your twat of a gaffer and throw a right jolly good wobbler at him so he can see how narked you are.

AP Exams Without Class?

take the class and avoid the evil red pen

Can you take an AP exam without taking an AP class? (via Google)

Advanced Placement (AP) exams are one of the best ways to get through college cheap. For just $83 (the cost of an AP exam as of 2007), you can test out of an entire college class (sometimes more than one!).

The short answer to this question is yes. There is no requirement that you take a course labeled as “Advanced Placement” before taking an Advanced Placement exam. The longer answer is I don’t recommend it, and here’s why:

  • AP classes can be much more challenging than regular or even honors classes. That extra challenge and the additional content you cover in the AP version of a class can mean the difference between a marginal and an excellent score on the exam.
  • AP exams have unique formats. Don’t think you can walk in from the street and ace the AP U.S. History exam just because you know your American Revolution. Certain AP exams have question formats you won’t see anywhere else like the dreaded Document-Based Questions (DBQs).
  • AP classes teach you how to do well on AP exams. I have seen AP classes that teach exactly the same material as their Honors or Gifted and Talented counterparts with one very important addition–AP exam skills. In my AP U.S. History class alone, we spent no less than four weeks of class practicing DBQs. You won’t get this kind of practice in non-AP classes unless you do it on your own… and kids don’t do schoolwork on their own.
  • Your teacher might not appreciate it. If you wanted to take the AP exam, you should have taken the AP class. That’s what the AP class teacher will likely tell you when you ask to take the AP exam with his or her students. The AP class teachers will look down on the fact that you didn’t challenge yourself throughout the year by doing the AP coursework, and they may be more reluctant to help you prepare for the AP exam now.

So if you’re a home-schooled student or carrying an A+++ in your regular classes, AP exams are still an option for you. Heck, they’re even an option for the dumb students too if they don’t mind wasting 83 bucks (but they’re probably bad at math and won’t notice the money is gone anyway).