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More Secure Shopping Ahead
August 21, 2014 - Money and Taxes
(Family Features) Following several high-profile security breaches in recent years, consumers have more reason than ever to be concerned about their privacy when using debit and credit cards. Fortunately, an effort is underway to implement new technology across the United States that will better protect shoppers and their private information.

The Europay, Mastercard and Visa (EMV) card is widely used overseas and can be found in the United States. You may have an EMV card in your wallet without knowing it. In fact, according to EMVCo, 45 percent of the total payment cards in circulation globally include EMV chip technology. New guidelines being rolled out in the United States will hold banks or retailers that have not implemented this new security liable for fraud, so by late 2015, consumers can expect to see these changes closer to home.

What is EMV?

The Smart Card Alliance describes EMV as a set of specifications for smart card payments and acceptance devices that provide strong transaction security features and capabilities not possible with traditional magnetic stripe cards. The EMV chip in the payment card is an embedded microprocessor that keeps your money and financial information from falling into the wrong hands.

What makes EMV more secure?

EMV offers greater security than the traditional magnetic stripe debit or credit cards. An important distinction is that data is stored on a chip rather than the familiar magnetic stripe, making it nearly impossible to counterfeit an EMV card.
"As opposed to magnetic strip technology commonly used in credit and debit cards throughout the country, the EMV chip is extremely difficult to crack by hackers," said Philippe Benitez, vice president of business development for secure transactions for Gemalto, a digital security company that provides the EMV technology. "The card also contains a unique 'stamp' that prevents your personal and financial information from being used fraudulently in the event that your card is stolen or lost."

From a technology perspective, EMV boosts security through:

The chip: A smart card chip is a small computer (or microprocessor) that has its own data storage, processing power and application software.

A unique code:  EMV cards generate a unique code that is validated by your bank for each transaction and cannot be re-used. A transaction using a fake card with stolen data couldn't happen at an EMV terminal because it wouldn't be able to generate the proper code.

Advanced cryptography: EMV security is based on strong cryptography, which is used to generate the unique transaction code that allows the terminal to authenticate the card. 

How will EMV change my shopping experience?

Instead of swiping your card, now you'll "dip" your card into the payment terminal, holding it in place to allow the transfer of data. Shoppers should expect that this process will take slightly longer than the traditional quick swipe of a magnetic card. EMV technology also enables contactless payments, so shoppers may instead "tap" their contactless EMV cards, which are just as secure and speed up the check-out experience.

Card issuers (your bank or credit company) will determine whether you are required to enter a pin or sign to verify your purchase.

Initially, cards will include both EMV and magnetic stripe technology, so you can be assured your card will work whether the retailer has adopted the new system or not.

For more information about EMV and how it will affect your future card-based purchases, visit www.thatsemv.com or www.gemalto.com/emv.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images (cashier and consumer)

SOURCE:
Gemalto

 
2014 Tax Law Changes That Could Impact Your Return
January 06, 2014 - Money and Taxes
(BPT) - The majority of this year's key tax law changes were the result of two acts - the Affordable Care Act of 2010, also known as-Obamacare, and the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012.

The easiest way-to navigate all the tax law changes-and determine if you qualify for hundreds of tax benefits, is to use an-online or mobile tax preparation solution. The programs ask easy questions, covering all-available-credits and deductions to help minimize your tax liability and maximize your refund. Leading solutions such as-TaxACT also provide guidance for the implications of the Affordable Care Act on your taxes and health insurance situation.

If your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is under $200,000 ($250,000 if filing jointly), you may benefit from several tax breaks that have been extended or made permanent.

* The standard deduction for married taxpayers filing jointly is now permanently increased and expands the 15 percent tax bracket.

* The child tax credit is $1,000 for each child under age 17 on Dec. 31. The amount decreases at higher income levels. A portion of the credit also remains refundable through 2017. In addition, the maximum amount of expenses for the Child and Dependent Care Credit has been made permanent at $3,000 for one child and $6,000 for two or more children.

* The American Opportunity Credit,-tuition deduction, student loan interest deduction, and-$2,000 annual contribution limit to Coverdell Education Savings Accounts are still available for 2013.

* Elementary and secondary educators can again deduct up to $250 in related job expenses, even if you don't itemize deductions. Unlike most employee expenses, educator expenses are not reduced by 2 percent of your adjusted gross income.

* If you pay mortgage insurance premiums, also known as private mortgage insurance (PMI), you may be able to deduct premiums as mortgage interest.

* The Alternative Minimum Tax was created to ensure wealthy taxpayers receiving large tax benefits pay some tax. It will now be adjusted for inflation each year so fewer taxpayers are subject to the tax. The exemption amount rises in 2013 to $51,900 ($80,800 for married couples filing jointly). For married individuals filing separately, the exemption is $40,400.

* You may qualify for a credit equal to up to $12,970 of your adoption expenses including fees, court costs, attorney fees, traveling expense and other expenses directly related to and for the principal purpose of the legal adoption of an eligible child. If your employer provides adoption benefits, you may also be able to exclude up to the same amount from your income. Both a credit and exclusion may be claimed for the same adoption, but not for the same expense.

* For 2013, you can still deduct state and local sales taxes. You can take this deduction or a deduction for state income tax but not both.

* Qualified dividends will be taxed at preferential capital gains rates rather than those used for ordinary income.

* If your MAGI-is more than $200,000 ($250,000 if filing jointly), you may pay an additional Medicare surtax on earned income, as well as higher taxes on net investment income, long-term capital gains and qualified dividends. The amount of your personal exemptions and itemized deductions is also less starting this year. The marginal income tax rate for incomes above $400,000 ($450,000 if filing jointly) also increases from 35 percent to 39.6 percent for 2013.

* One change affecting taxpayers of all income levels is the increased floor for deducting medical expenses. Taxpayers under the age of 65 can now only deduct unreimbursed medical and dental expenses that exceed 10 percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI). The floor remains at 7.5 percent if you're 65 or older.

Learn more about these tax law changes in Publication 17 at www.irs.gov-or visit www.taxact.com/taxinfo. To file your simple or complicated federal taxes free with-TaxACT-Free Edition, go to-www.taxact.com.

 
Six Tax Mistakes and How to Avoid Them This Year
December 26, 2012 - Money and Taxes
(ARA) - Tax time is a stressful time, even for the most prepared filer. And for the many people who aren't perfectly prepared when the season rolls around, each commercial, ad or sign that mentions tax preparation can be a painful reminder that the daunting task still lies ahead.

This year, don't let yourself be affected by the stress - or at least find ways to cut back on it. By avoiding these six common mistakes, you'll be making the process of filing your taxes a lot easier on yourself.

Mistake 1: Rushing to file by April 15
If you aren't ready by the 15th, you don't need to panic. Six month extensions are now an easy-to-use option. You no longer have to give a reason about why your taxes aren't ready by the initial deadline - just fill out and file Form 4868, and you'll give yourself some extra time to get it all complete.

Mistake 2: Being a perfectionist
Of course, you can't and don't want to lie on your tax return, but you don't have to panic about making sure that each minute figure is perfect. The IRS isn't going to hunt you down and send you to jail over a simple mistake - even they understand that we're all human. If you've lost some information that's necessary to your tax return, do your best to fill it out using reasonable estimates. Don't let perfectionism get in the way of filing.

Mistake 3: Going it alone
We aren't all tax experts, and that becomes particularly clear when you start filling out the labyrinthine forms. And if you've had any major (or even minor) changes to your life this year, the whole process can get even more confusing. Getting help from a tax professional is much more affordable than you might imagine, and can pay off in a lot of ways, not least of which could be a lower overall tax bill.

Mistake 4: Not reviewing your work
You had to do it for your homework, but you should be doing it for your taxes, too. Going back to your taxes with fresh eyes can help you catch mistakes or areas that were simply missed. Check the details. Are your Social Security numbers right? Were any credits or deductions missed?

Mistake 5: Being afraid to ask questions
The old axiom "there are no dumb questions" applies to your taxes. If you're not an expert, there will almost certainly be something that you don't understand or find confusing. Luckily, there are plenty of resources out there that can answer your questions.  You can go directly to the IRS website or the IRS help line, but if you still need more assistance, ask your question at Equifax's blog or check with a tax professional.

Mistake 6: Not being careful with direct deposit
The advent of direct deposit has been a benefit to those waiting for their tax refunds, but you have to do the footwork for the IRS. They can only deposit the funds into the account you tell them to use, so make sure that the information you provide is correct. If there's a mistake and your money is deposited into the wrong account, it's a nightmare, at best, to get it back. At worst, you might not get it back at all.

Preparing taxes might never be your favorite activity, but it doesn't need to be a painful experience. Get the help you need, be cautious and don't let the stress get to you - tax season will be done before you know it.
 


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