By Jens Odegaard on April 10th, 2009 • Taxes, Life

So, you've got a nice weekend ahead of you. The sun is shining, your significant other is looking hotter than ever, the dog is panting happily: Good. Now drop all those plans and get down to doing your taxes.

Seriously, the filing deadline is April 15th, which is next Wednesday.

Luckily, the IRS has online free file available as long as "your adjusted gross income is $56,000 or less in 2008." You should check it out.

Here's how free file works:

  • Go to this link.
  • Choose a company to file with from the IRS' list, or let the IRS' help you choose one.
  • Follow the instructions on your chosen company's website (it does all the math for you).

Filing your federal taxes is free with free file, but you'll probably get charged if you decide to file your state taxes electronically. Jennie (my boss) claims that she found a company that filed her state taxes for free along with her federal taxes, but conveniently she can't remember which company she filed with.

[*Note from Jennie: I went to the department of revenue for my state, compared the companies that offered free file in my state with the list for federal taxes from the IRS, and killed two tax returns with one website. Jens just thinks its funny that I don't remember the exact website, which doesn't matter because it might not be the best option for everyone anyway. *sigh*]

If your state doesn't offer free file, you should be able to do it online with a fee of $9 to $39.

It only took me about an hour to free file, but if you still want to procrastinate, here's the link to file an extension form (it gives you 6 more months to file). 

And now, as a quick reminder that you don't only pay federal and state taxes, but also pay sales, property, fuel, alcohol and tobacco taxes (depending on where you live and what you consume), here's a cool story about The best and worst states for taxes.

Have a good weekend.

Photo taken from this photostream and used with permission of a Creative Commons license.

   

By Cody Wetmore on April 8th, 2009

Online radio's audience has doubled since 2005 according to a report by market research firm Arbitron. This is good news for those who like to avoid wading through endless crummy stations and antenna static.

42 million Americans now listen to the radio online every week. This has caused advertisers to line up and increase their investment in these services, while traditional radio revenues have gone down for the last 22 months.

Check out live365.com, slacker.com, music.yahoo.com, last.fm, pandora.com and iTunes radio to find a station you like.

Now I just have to find a way to attach a laptop to my dashboard...

 --Cody

Photo taken from this photostream and used with permission of a Creative Commons license.

By Lauren Sigel on April 2nd, 2009 • Life

Hey! My name is Lauren Sigel (pronounced seagull) and I am the new Editorial Intern at brass. In other words, I’m the newbie. I’m currently a junior at OSU majoring in liberal arts--with an option in new media communications--and am working on minors in French and writing.

I can already tell that my six months here are going to be très magnifique, because I have my own desk with not one, but TWO monitors! I feel less like a 21-year-old college student and more like an adult in the real world. Woot!

Not only that, but as a college student I could use plenty of financial advice and helpful tips on how to stretch a dollar. At this rather depressing period in our economy, it couldn’t be a better time to land an internship at a company that is dedicated to teaching young adults how to make the best of whatever financial situation they might be in. My time at brass will be spent blogging, editing, and doing whatever people want me to do. 

I'm looking forward to sharing with all of you everything I learn while I'm here. See you around!

That's right, a statistic has caught my eye and I can't turn away. It's standing over there in the corner batting its eyelashes at me. I can't wait to meet it. 

It's a very nice statistic--U.S. household debt fell 2% in the fourth quarter of 2008. That's the first decrease on record according to those hotties over at the Fed. Cnn.com postulates that this happened because a lot of debt is encapsulated in mortgages--which are harder to get now--and because consumer spending and credit card use is down.

There's just one caveat: less spending also means that less money is flowing into the economy, which can lead to lower profits, store closures and increased unemployment.

But overall, budgeting and staying away from credit card debt will make us stronger in the long run--rampant spending was part of the problem that got us into this economic mess in the first place.

As an added bonus, with decreasing debt has come increasing savings: household deposits in the fourth quarter of 2008 were up $212.1 billion.

Less spending, avoiding more credit card debt and increased savings all look sexy to me. 

Photo taken from this photostream and used with permission of a Creative Commons license.

   

By Cody Wetmore on March 30th, 2009

Recent graduates (or soon-to-be graduates) from college are in a tricky position. Due to the current economic climate there are fewer jobs to be had, and many more people (some with much more experience) vying for these jobs. At the same time college isn't getting any cheaper, and most graduates have thousands of dollars in loans that they'll need to start repaying soon.

To relate this blog to its picture, I suggest that this situation is like walking down an alley, only to find yourself cornered by a bloodthirsty bear you owe thousands of dollars to. If you find yourself in this situation, it's time to look into forbearance

Applying for forbearance with your lender (either the government or a private financial institution) allows you to postpone payments for a set period of time (usually no more than a year) because of unemployment or an inability to afford payments. It's like throwing a heavily laden pic-a-nic basket to the bear, satiating its hunger... for the time being.

In most cases, while payments are postponed interest still accrues. So when you start paying the loan back again, it will take even longer to be rid of. Also, this option is usually only allowed for a year, which could be problematic if you still haven't found a job. 

Contact your lender and find out the specific details on their forbearance program. Just remember that this is only a temporary situation, and you should continue payments as soon as you can. Because as we all know, the only way to get rid of a loan payment, is to finally settle your debt. Otherwise you risk damaging your credit.

--Cody

Photo taken from this photostream and used with permission of a Creative Commons license.

One of my professor's in college taught us to think outside the box by making us draw pictures of our own hands over and over again. While I'm not going to tell you to go that far--or dress as weird as she did--the principle of looking at an everyday thing (or situation) in detail and from different angles often leads to creativity and innovation.

Here are a few cool examples (let me know about others by leaving a comment):

  • An alarm clock seems like a pretty standard household item, but Bedol took it to the next level by creating alarm clocks that run on water. Check them out: Bedol. Here are some more cool water-powered devices from ecofriend.org
  • Urban farming can change empty spaces in urban environments into produce-producing plots. Check out urbanfarming.org.
  • Houses don't have to be made from brick and mortar or wood and sheetrock. Check out homes made from old railroad cars--thegreenestdollar.com. There are even whole complexes made from shipping containers: containercity.com.  

Hopefully these ideas will inspire personal innovation. And if you need monetary motivation, rather than just a feel-good buzz, remember that companies like Apple have made billions of dollars off of outside-the-box thinking. It's not like the iPod was the first portable mp3 player; it was just approached from a different angle. There's very real success to be found in The Business of Being Creative.

Photo taken from this photostream and used with permission of a Creative Commons license.

During a recession, people are more likely to go back to school as it's harder to find a job. However, many may be surprised at how expensive it has become. According to a report by the National Center For Public Policy and Higher Education, since 1982 the median family income has only gone up 147%, while college tuition and fees have increased by 439%. This has resulted in a doubling of student aid over the last ten years.

To further illustrate the point, the report shows a map rating each state on the affordability of their higher education. California was the only state not to receive an F (don't get excited, Californians. Your state barely passed with a C-).

So, be aware that while education can give you the skills to get a better job, it does come at a price. Consider attending a community college before heading to a four year university, and instead of relying on just student loans, search for grants and scholarships at students.gov, fedmoney.org, and collegescholarships.org.

--Cody

Photo taken from this photostream and used with permission of a Creative Commons license.

These are dangerous times--and I don't mean that you should be extra wary of desperate unemployed people. Everyone is cutting prices, but you have to be careful, because some deals aren't all they're cracked up to be.

For example, I read an article about the New York City Ballet cutting prices for orchestra seats (orchestra level, not seats in the actual orchestra, though that would be cool). Six months ago an orchestral seat cost $90, but now you can get one for $25.

At those kinds of prices, now is the perfect time to see some of those shows you couldn't afford before. And there's the rub! Get too carried away, and you end up spending more than you should, regardless of the great deal you're getting.

For idea on how to get great tickets, check out brass article Ticket Tricks. Also, here are a few things I've picked up over the years to keep an eye out for deals and sales.

  • Always start your search with websites like ticketmaster.com or tickets.com--both of which are in the primary ticket sale market (rather than secondary, where resellers and scalpers lurk). This will show you the basic seat price for the event.
  • "Sign up for exclusive email offers!" Even though it seems silly to set yourself up for ticket-related spam, allowing ticket selling sites to tell you about upcoming sales is more efficient than checking for updates every day yourself.
  • Call the event venue and ask when "last chance," "rush," or "lottery" tickets sales begin. These are leftover tickets that are often steeply discounted in the hours just before the show.

Summer is creeping up on us, which means that tickets for big shows will soon become available. Keep an eye out for deals, and you might score big before the economy bounces back and entertainers no longer need to cut prices.

Photo taken from photostreams 1 and 2 and used with permission of a Creative Commons licenses 1 and 2, respectively.
 

By Jens Odegaard on March 20th, 2009 • Giving, Life

I'm usually critical of Hollywood's capacity for social and fiscal responsibility: We've all seen the self-righteous actors who latch onto the latest, popular movement to garner attention, and, no matter how much I enjoy watching them, it's pretty hard to argue that using $100 million to make a summer blockbuster is really helping the world.

But, not even I can find anything to complain about with this: According to a report by CAFAmerica, The Oscar-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire has raised the level of awareness about Indian slums, and it's helping in a material way. Several charities that serve Indian street children have seen increases in membership and monetary donations since the film was released.  

It's nice to see--in a world that usually idolizes Hollywood excess--that a Hollywood production can be a catalyst for helping out those in desperate situations.

If you want to join in, check these charities out:

In this economic environment, it's easy to get caught up in being focused just on self. But it's always good to have our eyes opened to someone else's situation and to be spurred on to lend a helping hand. Like the quote goes, "It's better to give than to receive."

Photos taken from photostreams 1 and 2 and used with permission of two Creative Commons licenses (1 and 2).  

By Cody Wetmore on March 19th, 2009

While they are a popular distraction for many people (65% of American households, apparently), it's hard to argue that video games help society in any way. I've personally wasted over 80 hours on certain games, 80 hours I will never get back (I would have wasted them anyway.)

That being said, it's also hard to argue that video games are a hazard to public safety. But that's exactly what happened in 2006 when a video game tournament organized by high school student Zach Wigal was shut down due to a protest by a local police officer.

Rather than give in or complain about the cancellation, Wigal decided to show that interest in video games could be put to good use. He organized another tournament, this time making it a charity event, and raised $15,000 for the Austism Society of America.

This was the first event put on by the Gamers Outreach Foundation, an organization headed by Wigal that uses video games to help people. Currently, the organization is working on initiatives to make a video game center in a local children's hospital, provide video games for American troops overseas, and work with teachers who use video games to teach children. Other organizations like Child's Play do similar work.

So, the next time you fire up a console or computer, be reminded of what else you could be doing with your time.

--Cody

 Photo taken from this photostream and used with permission of a Creative Commons license.