FINANCE

Free Tax Preparation

Filling Taxes for Free Telecommuting Small Businesses Bridge Design and Engineering Home Finance Options Online Gift Cards Life Insurance Investing In Communities

Free Tax Preparation And Advice

(NAPSI)—This year, there’s good news for taxpayers.

First, you don’t have to file and pay by April 15th. Due to a holiday in Washington, D.C., the deadline’s been pushed back to April 17, 2012.

Next, you may be able to get free help filing your tax form. That’s because the Walmart Foundation is committed to providing hardworking Americans with access to tax-time savings opportunities. The foundation granted $4.35 million to several philanthropical organizations so they can provide free tax-filing services. The grant will:

• Fund 100 United Way-led, community-based tax preparation campaigns;

• Support the MyFreeTaxes.com National Tour, operated by One Economy, that provides free self-tax preparation tools;

• Support the National Disability Institute’s Real Economic Impact Tour to better reach and serve taxpayers with disabilities.

There are a number of ways that you can file your taxes for free this year. If you earn less than $49,000 a year, a trained volunteer tax preparer will help you complete and file your federal and state taxes at no charge at any one of the hundreds of Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites located in communities nationwide. These sites are run by nonprofit organizations with funding from multiple sources, including the Walmart Foundation. Go to www.myfreetaxes.com to find a VITA site near you, or text the word “taxes” and your zip code to 91011.

You can also file your federal and state taxes online at no charge at www.myfreetaxes.com. This service is available to individuals and families that earn less than $57,000 per year.

Finally, many hardworking Americans won’t have to pay anything at all thanks to tax credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)—a refundable federal income tax credit for low- to moderate-income working individuals and families. When the credit exceeds the amount of taxes owed, it results in a tax refund to those who qualify for and claim the credit.

To find out if you qualify for this tax credit, download the free app for iPhone and Android smartphones at http://bit.ly/mytaxbackapp.

More Help

Dial 2-1-1 for more information about free tax preparation options in your area, including how to schedule an appointment and what documents you need to bring with you.

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Filing Taxes For Free Can Offer Savings

(NAPSI)—There’s good news for Americans looking for ways to save money. Surprising as it may sound, there is a way to file your taxes that can be less taxing—and can help you save time and money.

Made possible through the Free File Alliance, a public-private partnership between the IRS and nearly 20 of the leading tax software companies, the program is called Free File, and it’s available exclusively from the IRS.

Already used by 33 million taxpayers, it’s designed to provide a fast, safe and easy filing option. Some products are even available in Spanish.

What You Need to Know

Free File Options: The Free File program is available to all taxpayers. Brand-name tax software is available to those who made $57,000 or less in 2011. If you made more than $57,000, Free File’s online fillable forms are the electronic alternative to IRS paper forms and have no income limit for eligibility.

How it Works

Step 1: Collect your tax information and log on to Free File through the IRS website: www.IRS.gov/freefile.

Step 2: Choose an option: Tax software or fillable forms.

• Software: You don’t need to be a tax expert to use tax software. Browse the list of brand-name tax software companies. The “Help Me Choose a Company” option will direct you to the most suitable software. Follow the instructions on the company’s website and Free File.

• Free File Fillable Forms: The electronic forms perform basic math calculations and are designed for people who are comfortable preparing their own paper tax returns.

Step 3: E-file your return for free.

No matter what option you choose, IRS and software providers use the most current technology to ensure tax information is secure.

Getting Your Refund

By e-filing your return and selecting direct deposit, you can get a refund in as few as 10 days. You can even track your return with the “Where’s My Refund?” tool on the IRS website. Or you can download IRS2Go, the new IRS smartphone application, so you’ll always know the status of your refund.

What if You Can’t Meet the April 17, 2012 Filing Deadline?

You can use either Free File software or online fillable forms to file an extension-just remember it’s an extension to file, not an extension to pay. Use Free File to complete and submit Form 4868. Return to Free File by October 15, 2012 to file your return.

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A Better Telecommuting Option For Small-Business Workers

(NAPSI)—If you work on your own at home-or would like to—you’re not alone. According to research by the University of Oregon, about 6 percent of the work-force (over 8 million Americans) telecommute to company jobs from their homes on either a part-time or full-time basis—and the number is increasing. By some estimates, a full 30 percent of the workforce will be telecommuting by the year 2020.

There are many good reasons for this. For one thing, it saves fuel. For another, it saves time and money for both employer and employee.

One thing making telecommuting easier is cloud computing. It involves several computers connected though the Internet or an Intranet. Together, they can reach out and retrieve data processed elsewhere. Now you can even add business voice service to the cloud through Voice over Internet Protocol, or “VoIP.” Essentially, the phone system works over the Internet rather than over traditional phone lines.

That means workers can be at home or on the road but appear to customers to be sitting in company headquarters.

One system that serves nearly 15,000 small businesses, many with multiple locations to be tied together via the Internet and their phone system, offers such features as:

• Business communications that can be provisioned quickly and grow as you grow

• The ability to let workers plug in and get working nearly anywhere they have a broadband connection

• Auto call attendant

• Music and messages on hold

• Call forwarding and follow me

• Different greetings according to the time of day and the day of week

• A dashboard that keeps track of real-time status of workers

• Extension-to-extension, click-to-call functionality

• Companywide directory

• Outlook integration

• Mobile command and control through iPhone and Android devices.

All that because the company, Vocalocity, specializes in bringing remote office workers together for virtual collaboration.

As one customer expressed it, “I unpacked the box, assembled the phones, plugged them in and they worked. It was a very simple process. With our headquarters being 3,000 miles away and having to travel a lot, I needed a phone system that worked and that I could count on having no troubles with. Vocalocity eliminated the need for any IT support in my company.”

Another, describing how handy the system was when an ice storm shut down his city for a week, said, “We forwarded all phones to our home the night before and remoted in with the computers. We might as well all have been in the office for the whole week.”

The storm had left many workers stranded at home and forced many businesses to lose a distressing week of work, sales, profits and production. Roads became ice-skating rinks and driveways became sledding terrains. Public transportation, the post office, schools and donation centers all closed. Gas ran short, as did supplies at grocery stores and city hospitals.

A poll of the people in the community who had the telecommuting system in place, however, found that 92 percent were at full functionality and no one could tell that they were not in the office.

Free Information and Advice

You can learn more and get a free quote at www.vocalocity.com or by calling (877)-VOCALOCITY.

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Bridging Infrastructure Needs And Funds

(NAPSI)—While allocating the funds needed to rebuild or replace deficient bridges is a significant challenge for the nation, discovering new ways to do more for America’s bridge infrastructure with fewer resources is the challenge—and an opportunity-for those who design, engineer and build bridges. That’s especially true considering that more than one in four bridges in America is structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

“Bridges are first and foremost socioeconomic lifelines, vital to our economic health,” said Ted Zoli, national technical director for bridges at HNTB Corporation, an employee-owned infrastructure firm. “They bring people and goods together and if they fail, we fail. It’s necessary that we see bridges for what they are: a durable investment in our future.”

According to a recent survey by Kelton Research, a majority of Americans believe most U.S. bridges are in poor condition and nearly three-quarters think they are not inspected as often and thoroughly as they should be.

“It’s true much of the nation’s bridge infrastructure—built in the middle of the last century as public works projects or as state highways expanded and the Interstate Highway System was constructed—is reaching the end of its anticipated life,” Zoli said. “However, the vast majority of these structures remain sound and they undergo regular inspections to maintain safety.”

While Americans tend to underestimate the average lifespan of a bridge (36 years versus the actual 50 to 75 years), a majority agrees that most bridges are safe (65 percent). Concern, however, runs higher in rural areas, as 50 percent assume the bulk of the nation’s bridges are unsafe versus 33 percent in more populated areas. More rural Americans also worry that most bridges are in poor condition.

One of the biggest problems facing the nation’s bridges is how to pay for the repair and the replacement of deficient structures, as well as the routine inspection and maintenance of bridges. Traditional state and federal gas tax revenue is in steep decline due to the increased fuel efficiency of vehicles while departments of transportation are facing severe budget cuts. “We need to leverage new and improved ways of identifying and financing infrastructure, as well as to develop new strategies to design and deliver bridges more efficiently,” Zoli said.

Many Americans agree. Nearly half said in the future they would prefer to pay for the maintenance of existing bridges and construction of new ones through more tolls rather than higher sales taxes, higher gas taxes or higher property taxes.

“Bridges help define our sense of place, enhance our quality of life and contribute to our economic vitality. Preserving, protecting and improving them are investments worth making,” Zoli added.

For more information, visit www.hntb.com.

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Internet Helps Consumers Investigate Home Financing Options

(NAPSI)—Not only are more people moving toward online banking (62 percent, according to an American Bankers Association survey), they’re also using the Internet to research such big decisions as selecting a home loan. A survey of homeowners by Wells Fargo found that nearly half visited their financial institution’s website to learn more about products and services.

A home loan is one of the most important financial decisions most people will make and the difference in a few key variables can have a significant effect on your borrowing costs over the life of the loan.

Here are a few questions and answers you may want to consider when researching your home financing options:

What type of loan do I need?

• There are two basic categories of home loans. A mortgage loan can be used to purchase a home or to refinance an existing mortgage. A home equity loan or line of credit lets you access your home’s equity to fund such things as home improvements or large purchases, or consolidate outstanding debts.

What will the money be used for and how much could I borrow?

• Whether you’re buying your first home, fixing up an existing home, refinancing, looking for a home equity line of credit or trying to identify ways to manage existing debt, researching how much you can borrow is an important step. Credit experts, such as the National Foundation for Credit Counseling and others, suggest spending no more than 28 percent of your monthly pretax income on housing payments, which include principal, interest, property taxes and insurance.

Should I get a fixed- or adjustable-rate mortgage?

• Depending on your personal financial situation, either choice could be an option for you. If you’re planning on staying in your home for a long time, a fixed-rate mortgage may be a good choice since it offers predictable monthly payments and guarantees that your interest rate will not increase over the life of the loan. However, if you’re planning to refinance or move within a few years, an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) might be better. Typically, ARM loans have lower initial rates and then adjust within a predetermined range, usually annually.

Learn More

For online calculators, product comparisons, checklists, guides and other information on the entire homeownership life cycle, visit www.wellsfargo.com/mortgage/home-loans.

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Giving The Gift They Really Want

(NAPSI)—If you’re looking for a gift people really want, pick up a gift card. According to a study by the National Retail Federation, it is the gift of choice over clothing, consumer electronics and jewelry. In addition, a gift card never has to be returned and is convenient to buy at the grocery store.

To personalize gift card giving, Michele Beschen, host of PBS and Create TV’s B. Organic, suggests some fun, simple, homemade ways to get creative. These ideas can be made on your own or as part of family time:

• Help someone relax with a SpaFinder Gift Card presented with a beautiful homemade tea kit created from an old tin box and cardboard. A SpaFinder Gift Card is good for spa treatments in over 7,000 spas, salons, yoga or Pilates studios and fitness centers. There’s likely a spa or wellness experience in most areas and global travel destinations.

• Make a homemade fishing pole using a long branch that incorporates handmade tackle accessories and a bobber. Hang a Bass Pro Shops gift card from the end of a hook. Bass Pro Shops has great gear for people of all ages and for a number of outdoor activities such as hiking, fishing, hunting, camping and kayaking.

• Planning a night out with family or friends can be easy. Make a handmade magnetic calendar from a dry erase board and pair it with an Applebee’s gift card. Mark down your next family, girls or guys night out. Applebee’s has a healthy indulgence menu and is a great place to watch a game.

• If you’re shopping for a music lover, you can make a one-of-a-kind scarf out of a few T-shirts from favorite bands. Cut the shirts, sew them together and add a pocket to hold an iTunes gift card, which can be a great gift for anyone. iTunes gift cards provide one-stop entertainment as they can be used to purchase music, movies, TV shows, apps, games, books and more.

• Make a wall rack organizer using the front of an old dresser drawer. Add vintage doorknobs, accessories and hooks. Hang a jcpenney gift card from it. jcpenney offers a large selection of unique and affordable gifts for just about everyone. It’s a great place to find style at compelling prices that make sense in this economic climate.

Gift cards and many of the materials used to create these unique gifts are conveniently available at grocery stores.

To learn how to save with gift cards and other creative tips and to share your gift card tips, visit www.facebook.com/GiftCardsRock.

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The Benefits Of The Fastest-Growing Type Of Life Insurance

(NAPSI)—Life insurance has been around for hundreds of years, but one of the newest products in the market is becoming increasingly popular with consumers.

Indexed universal life insurance is a flexible premium policy that credits interest based on the movement of a stock market index. These products offer the security of lifetime death benefit protection along with great flexibility through access to policy cash value.

A few carriers introduced the first indexed universal life products in 1997. Just nine life insurance carriers offered the product at the start of 2005, but in the past couple of years that number has ballooned to 46. Sales of the product approached an all-time high of $800 million in 2011 alone, quite a contrast to the $667 million sold over the six-year period from 2000 through 2005.

The reason? Indexed universal life is perfect for consumers seeking the middle ground in the risk continuum. It’s a product with more upside potential than traditional fixed universal life—especially in a low-interest rate environment—that also offers strong guarantees, eliminating downside market risk associated with a variable universal life product.

Indexed universal life policy performance is typically linked, in part, to a major stock index such as the S&P 500. Generally, these policies include a cap on the upside movement of the index, typically ranging between 10 and 14 percent, as well as a minimum interest rate that is applicable should the index perform poorly during a particular period.

“Consumer needs and preferences change, and so do market opportunities,” said president and CEO Chris Littlefield of Aviva USA , which has been the leading provider of indexed universal life since 2001. “Our indexed universal life products are battle tested through all conditions. During two of the worst bear markets in recent history [early 2000s and 2008-09], none of Aviva’s indexed universal life policyholders lost any accumulated value in their policies because of a declining stock market.”

Through the first three quarters of 2011, the life insurance industry saw modest 5 percent growth. Indexed universal life sales, however, grew a whopping 38 percent over the same nine-month period. The only other life insurance product hitting double-digit sales increase during that time frame was whole life, with a 10 percent jump.

“Relative to other products in the industry, indexed universal life is fairly new,” Littlefield said. “It’s the fastest-growing product in the life insurance business because its cash accumulation features, death benefit protection and flexibility are simply a great fit for many consumers.”

 

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Being A Good Citizen Can Be Good Business

(NAPSI)—A growing number of corporations are finding that good works and good business can go hand in hand.

Whether they are volunteering, helping fund community-based projects or working to strengthen public-private partnerships such as United Way, more companies are taking Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) seriously and investing in communities where they are located.

Here are some examples:

U.S. Bank works closely with United Way and its partners in communities across the United States to provide financial education, affordable housing and more. United Way is U.S. Bank’s largest grant recipient and sole partner of the annual employee giving campaign. Employees are encouraged to volunteer through eight hours of paid time off. In 2010, more than 36,000 employees volunteered.

Microsoft provides software and cash grants and employee fundraising—overall providing $14.3 million in cash, software and in-kind donations to United Way in 2010. Plus, when its employees volunteer more than 10 hours for an eligible organization (employees volunteered 363,000 hours last year), Microsoft provides a $17 matching donation for every volunteer hour.

Bank of America employees volunteered more than 1 million hours last year. The bank was also the first financial institution to support the United Way Financial Stability Partnership, with $4.5 million in grants over the past few years, plus employee volunteers, providing free tax preparation and filing assistance, resulting in $2 billion in total tax refunds, reinvested into communities.

Procter & Gamble works each year to touch and improve lives around the world through its partnership with United Way. Last year, P&G employees joined together to participate in more than 145 volunteer events. Since 2007, more than 300 million children worldwide have benefited from the company’s Live, Learn and Thrive Program.

Dominion granted $24 million and partnered with United Way to provide heating assistance in 2010. Last year, Dominion employees volunteered 150,000 hours.

To learn more, visit http://liveunited.org/soa.

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