By Janet Groene, F47166
Life today is lightning-paced, with constant changes in everything from taxes to technology. Overdraw a checking account because your automatic electronic deposit was late by a few minutes, and you’re charged $50. Miss your credit card payment due date by a few hours, and you’re out $39. As a result, full-timers find themselves running faster and faster just to keep up. Here’s some information to help you stay ahead of the game.
Did you ever get back the deposit you paid years ago when you applied for electrical service at your first house or apartment? Did the “worthless” stock you abandoned when you quit the brokerage suddenly spring to life and accumulate value? Did you open a bank account while visiting a city you have never returned to? After a time determined by state law, inactive accounts or unclaimed assets become the property of the state. They’re held for a specified period, then are absorbed into state coffers.
At one time, most states gave citizens 10 to 15 years to locate and collect forgotten assets. Now some cash-hungry states are shortening the length of time they hold unclaimed funds before they gobble them up. You may now have as little as five years, and that number could keep shrinking as states seek more sources of revenue.
Some legitimate businesses seek out unclaimed assets and restore them to their owners for a commission of approximately 25 percent, but you can do the detective work yourself for almost nothing. If you get a letter stating that monies have been found for you, investigate further. It is not illegal for someone else to discover your unclaimed assets and charge you a finder’s fee.
To do your own search, start by checking out www.missingmoney.com, which includes an unclaimed assets database compiled from information provided by 12 participating states and the District of Columbia. Even if your state is not part of the program, the Web site has links to other states’ unclaimed property Web sites. Do a search for every state in which you have had financial dealings, in all names you have ever used. Search, too, under the names of spouses and relatives for whom you have rights of inheritance or power of attorney. Other Web sites cover other assets, such as pensions. Go to www.pbgc.com for help from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.
According to Michael Dershowitz of the Federal Trade Commission, approximately 50 percent of all rebates go unclaimed because customers lose receipts, misplace rebate forms, miss deadlines, or fail to fill out the forms correctly. Since substantial sums are often involved, such as a $50 rebate for a computer printer or a software package, it pays to read the fine print before you buy the product. Then get all the required paperwork and comply with all rules to the letter.
A helpful sales clerk can assist by supplying a duplicate cash register receipt or pointing out the expiration date hidden in the micro-fine print. I recently bought a piece of computer equipment that qualified for a $10 rebate from the store and a $20 rebate from the manufacturer. I had to fill out two separate rebate forms, both in such fine print that I couldn’t read them without a magnifying glass. One required the original UPC from the box but would accept a copy of the receipt; the other would accept a copy of the UPC but required an original cash register tape. Both had different starting and expiration dates.
Residents of California are subject to a 7.25 percent state sales and use tax, plus an additional district use tax, on personal property purchases made in states that do not charge sales tax. Now the rumor is that the revenue-starved state is stepping up enforcement of that tax, which must be paid on the full price of the purchase. Even if you paid sales tax in another state when you made the purchase, you may be required to pay the difference if the California use tax rate is higher than that of the other state. However, if you’re moving to California and have owned and used the property at least 90 days before that, you are exempt from the tax. For more information about the use tax, visit the California State Board of Equalization Web site at www.boe.ca.gov.
Medical savings account
If you have an MSA, or medical savings account (an account similar to an IRA in which pre-tax dollars are diverted to a savings plan that can be used only to pay medical expenses), the IRS now permits those monies to be credited to a special debit card. When you go to a doctor or hospital, you simply present the card and it will be charged for the amount of the service. The card is good only for medical expenses. Ask the company that provides your MSA if such a card is available.
No more late fees
The new, disposable DVD movies are perfect for full-timers who are on the go, because you never return them or pay late fees. Within 48 hours after the package is opened, the DVD self-destructs. Look for these new DVDs in supermarkets, gas stops, and convenience stores. Just make sure you don’t open the package until you’re ready to watch the show! The cost is just slightly more than the price of a DVD rental. At first, distribution will be in limited areas and only a small choice of movies will be offered. But if the idea catches on, disposables may replace rental DVDs.
When deadlines count
If it absolutely, positively has to be there by a certain date, you may be better off using the U.S. Postal Service instead of a private delivery service. Postmarks are usually the determining factor in dealing with the government, and in a recent court decision, a receipt from an overnight delivery service was not accepted as proof that an application had been sent in time. The sender made a mistake in the address, delivery was delayed past the deadline, and the court decreed that the sender was out of luck. If the application had been postmarked instead, it would have been acceptable despite the one-week delivery delay.
Here’s some information that’s sure to save you time and money.
- Space-pinched full-timers no longer need a printer to make photos from their digital cameras. Do-it-yourself Kodak Picture Maker kiosks are now found in drugstores, supermarkets, and retail outlets. Bring in the CD, diskette, or memory card that holds your electronic image files and make as many prints, in as many sizes, as you like. The Picture Maker even allows you to enlarge; zoom and crop; reduce red-eye; restore color; and add text and a border to your images.
- Hot competition among cell phone providers is expected to get hotter now that the FCC has decreed that consumers can take their phone numbers with them starting later this month. The inconvenience of changing phone numbers has kept many customers from shopping around for a better deal. Now that you will be able to keep one number for life, it is likely that carriers will work harder to keep your business. Beware of hopping around, however, if you sign a contract that carries a penalty “” up to $200 “” for bailing out early. Read the contract carefully. At first, number portability will apply only in the United States’ 100 largest cities. Stay tuned.
- Do you shop regularly at Kroger supermarkets? The chain’s Visa card carries no annual fee (as long as it is used three times during a 12-month period) and pays a rebate of 1 percent on store purchases and 1/2 percent on everything charged to the card elsewhere. Once the rebates total $25, a certificate good for $25 in groceries at Kroger company stores will be sent to the cardholder. Pick up an application at any Kroger store or online at www.krogervisa.com. Interest is charged on unpaid balances and a fee is levied for cash advances.
- If you pay for a landline phone at your permanent or seasonal campsite, prepare yourself for significant increases in state and federal charges, including service and repair fees. If a technician makes a “house call” and finds that the trouble is not in the phone company’s wires but in your telephone equipment, it’s typical to charge $80 or so for a “house call.” Here’s how to avoid the fee.
If your phone doesn’t work, plug a phone that you are certain works into the outlet where the phone line enters your own service box. (It’s outdoors, probably on a pole, and is locked with a screw. Open it and look for a telephone plug.) If you get a dial tone there, you know the trouble lies in your wiring or equipment; if the phone is dead there, it is a good bet the phone company’s equipment is at fault and the service call should be free.
- You may be paying more for prescriptions than necessary. Do an Internet search by drug name or the name of the pharmaceutical company. Almost every manufacturer offers a deal or discount that may be in the form of a coupon, an application for a special membership, or participation in a program for low-income consumers. Don’t assume that all prescriptions are cheaper in Canada or that deals are available only for senior citizens. They are not.
- A new Web site, www.rvdumps.com, is devoted to just one topic: emptying the holding tanks. More than 1,200 dump sites are listed, making it easy to plan when and where you want to empty the tanks along your route. The site also offers links to other RV-related Web sites. While there, sign up to receive “RoadNotes,” a free e-mail RV newsletter, by clicking the link on the home page or visiting www.roadnotes.com to subscribe. The current and back issues of the newsletter also can be read online at the “RoadNotes” Web site. Of course, FMCA members also can refer to the “Directory Of Sanitary Disposals” that appears each January in Family Motor Coaching magazine and is accessible online at www.fmca.com. (For this year’s list, click on “FMC Magazine,” then “Back Issues,” “2003,” and “January.”)
Books for travelers
Full-timers are travelers, not tourists, and two new books published by the University of North Carolina Press point out the difference better than any others I’ve seen yet this year. Blue Ridge Music Trails ($15.95) and Cherokee Heritage Trails Guidebook ($16.95) are perfect for those who focus their travels on a theme, a goal, or a lifelong passion. These books can provide miles and years of itineraries based on either the music of the region or the culture, history, and arts of the Cherokee nation. They are filled with photographs and maps, as well as superb guides to meaningful sites. They can be found at bookstores, online booksellers, or by visiting www.uncpress.unc.edu.
My newest book is Fantastic Discounts & Deals for Anyone Over 50 (Simon & Schuster), and I promise you’ll save the $9.95 cover price in the first month or two. The book lists hundreds of restaurants and services where senior discounts are available “” and tells you how to get them. The book is available in major bookstores, from online booksellers, and by contacting the publisher at (800) 223-2336 or www.simonsays.com.
If vineyard hopping is one of your travel pleasures, read The Wines of Baja California: Mexico’s Undiscovered Treasures ($19.95, Wine Appreciation Guild). It’s a comprehensive guide to driving Baja as well as a tribute to the fine vintages to be found in this beautiful part of the world. The book is available through online booksellers or by calling the Wine Appreciation Guild at (800) 231-9463.
Are you finding fewer fellow full-timers in your travels? As a full-timer, do you find yourself having to fight harder for the right to vote, enroll your children in school, or anything else? Please e-mail me at [email protected] or write to Janet Groene, Family Motor Coaching, 8291 Clough Pike, Cincinnati, OH 45244. Replies will be kept confidential if you wish.