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By Eileen Ambrose Personal finance | January 26, 2010
T he one-year suspension of the federal estate tax may be a bit of good news for the bereaved - but it also could upend some careful estate planning. That's because a will or trust could unintentionally disinherit a spouse or child because the language in the document refers to the federal estate tax that, for now, doesn't exist. Some in Congress promised to fix the problem by restoring the estate tax early this year. But several states, including Maryland, aren't waiting for federal action.
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BUSINESS
By Eileen Ambrose eileen.ambrose@baltsun.com | January 19, 2010
W hen a leading debt collections law firm that had been accused of breaking consumer protection laws collapsed in Maryland last week, debtors searched for answers about what Mann Bracken LLP's demise would mean for them. The episode was a stark reminder: You need to know your rights in case a creditor or debt collector comes calling. While federal and state laws offer a range of consumer protections, thousands of people complain each year that debt collectors ignore these laws.
BUSINESS
By Eileen Ambrose eileen.ambrose@baltsun.com | January 12, 2010
T he days are numbered for paid tax preparers who don't understand tax law - or intentionally flout it - yet file returns anyway, leaving the taxpayer to suffer the consequences. The IRS proposed last week that all paid preparers be registered and, with a few exceptions, undergo testing and continuing education. Maryland also has a law that allows state regulators to license preparers, but that effort has been stalled by a lack of funding. A state regulator hopes money is made available this year despite a huge budget shortfall.
BUSINESS
By Eileen Ambrose and eileen.ambrose@baltsun.com | January 5, 2010
T he number of debt-settlement companies nationwide has grown into the thousands as more strapped consumers are turning to them to help wipe away debt. But complaints are also on the rise, with some consumers saying they ended up in worse shape financially after going to a debt settler. Meanwhile, the companies go largely unregulated. This year, Maryland's General Assembly is expected to take up the matter for the third year in a row. Let's hope the third time is a charm.
BUSINESS
By Eileen Ambrose eileen.ambrose@baltsun.com | December 22, 2009
D avid Derby was driving home when he heard a radio ad from BlueHippo Funding, offering to sell a computer on an installment plan while helping people with no or poor credit history build a good track record. Nineteen at the time without a credit card to his name, Derby took the bait. Now a year later, the Nevada resident says he has shelled out $2,100 for a computer he never received. His credit report shows no record of his faithful payments. And, to make matters worse, the Maryland-based company is seeking to liquidate under bankruptcy court supervision.
BUSINESS
By Eileen Ambrose eileen.ambrose@baltsun.com | December 15, 2009
A fter last year's harrowing stock market ride, many college savings plans - including Maryland's - plan to play it safer. These state-sponsored plans expect to add more conservative options, such as principal-protected funds or federally insured certificates of deposits. In Maryland's case, the Maryland College Investment Plan early next year will add a money market fund that invests in U.S. Treasuries. "It was driven by a concern people had in the last year that they would like to have a safer option," says Joan Marshall, executive director of the College Savings Plans of Maryland, which oversees the state plan.
BUSINESS
By Eileen Ambrose and Eileen Ambrose , eileen.ambrose@baltsun.com | December 13, 2009
By now, you're probably aware of the wide use of credit scores, and how this three-digit number can determine whether you get credit and under what terms. But there is a lot of misinformation about scores, too, and what you don't know can hurt you. You could end up unnecessarily paying interest on credit cards or lowering your score in attempts to improve it. Here are some of the myths: Myth: You must carry a credit card balance for a good score This fallacy is prevalent.
BUSINESS
By Eileen Ambrose and Eileen Ambrose , eileen.ambrose@baltsun.com | December 8, 2009
The first-time homebuyer credit was expanded more than a month ago so that even some longtime homeowners could claim up to $6,500 if they bought a new principal residence. But as the weeks went by, a huge nagging question remained: Must both spouses qualify for the $6,500 credit, or can a couple claim it if only one of them meets the necessary conditions? On Monday, the Internal Revenue Service finally weighed in. The agency said that both spouses must meet the criteria to claim the credit.
BUSINESS
By Eileen Ambrose eileen.ambrose@baltsun.com | December 8, 2009
T he first-time homebuyer credit was expanded more than a month ago so that even some longtime homeowners could claim up to $6,500 if they bought a new principal residence. But as the weeks went by, a huge nagging question remained: Must both spouses qualify for the $6,500 credit, or can a couple claim it if only one of them meets the necessary conditions? On Monday, the Internal Revenue Service finally weighed in. The agency said that both spouses must meet the criteria to claim the credit.
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