Use IRS Free File to Do Your Federal Taxes for Free
By Nancy Mathis, Internal Revenue Service
Looking for a simple way to do your taxes? Trying to save time and money? The answer is Free File, and it’s available only at www.irs.gov/freefile.
There is a Free File option for everyone. Free File offers brand-name tax software to people who earned $57,000 or less last year, which is 70 percent of us. For people who earned more, there are free online fillable forms.
This program is a part of a public-private partnership between the Internal Revenue Service and 15 leading tax software companies that have agreed to make their products available to the public for free.
Here’s how to get started:
Step 1: Gather your tax materials
Here’s some of what you will need:
A copy of last year’s tax return
Valid social security numbers for yourself, your spouse and children
All income statements such as your Form W-2
Interest/dividend statements, such as the 1099 forms
Documents for any tax deductions or credits
Step 2: Choose a Free File option
Do your taxes with either Free File software or online fillable forms. Because there are 15 participating companies, each offering slightly different rules for qualifying, it’s easiest to select “Help Me Choose A Company.” This tool will help you select a software option right for you.
Step 3: Prepare and e-file your return
You can prepare, print and e-file your federal return all for free. Some companies also offer state tax returns for free or for a fee. Using electronic filing and direct deposit remain the fastest way to get your federal refund. The IRS also has upgraded “Where’s My Refund?” so you can start tracking your refund after 24 hours.
Free File is available at www.irs.gov/freefile around the clock, giving you the freedom to choose when and how you do your taxes.
Super Bowl Sunday is a great American tradition, and a great way to bring together the three Fs: football, friends, and food. Super Bowl Sunday is also the second biggest day to consume food in the United States, only after Thanksgiving.
One of the most popular ways to celebrate is by inviting family and friends to enjoy a buffet. But if cold foods are left out of refrigeration and hot foods sit cooling for too long, you may be leaving the door open for some other, unwanted, guests – bacteria that can cause food poisoning.
Certain foods left at room temperature for more than two hours enter the so called “Danger Zone,” between 40°F and 140°F. The “Danger Zone” is the perfect environment for harmful bacteria to grow and multiply. Because the game itself takes about four hours and Super Bowl parties can last for several hours longer it’s important to pay special attention to this on game day.
A lot of food combined with a lot of people who are focused on the big game creates a significant risk of food poisoning – so there’s no better time to pullout the food safety playbook and Check Your Steps.
Avoid an offsides penalty. Always serve food on clean plates — not any that previously held raw meat and poultry. Bacteria which may have been present in raw meat juices can cross- contaminate the cooked food to be served.
Use a food thermometer to make sure that meat and poultry are safely cooked.
Divide cooked foods into shallow containers to store in the refrigerator or freezer until serving. This encourages rapid, even cooling. Reheat hot foods to 165 °F after halftime.
Arrange and serve food on several small platters rather than on one large platter. Keep the rest of the food hot in the oven (set at 200-250 °F) or cold in the refrigerator until serving time. This way, foods will be held at a safe temperature for a longer period of time.
Replace empty platters rather than adding fresh food to a dish that already had food in it. Many people’s hands may have been taking food from the dish, which has also been sitting out at room temperature.
If you have other food safety questions, please feel free to contact us via our Hotline (1-888-674-6854 toll-free) or online at AskKaren.gov (English or Spanish). Please continue the discussion on our Facebook page.
Help Inspire a Child During National Mentoring Month
January is recognized annually as National Mentoring Month, and it’s a chance for you to get involved in helping children in your community.
Mentoring usually consists of pairing a young person with a caring adult, helping create a successful path of growth and development for the child. Mentoring can lead youth to be more engaged in school, finish high school, go onto college, and form more positive social attitudes and relationships.
While mentors are not a replacement for parents, guardians or teachers, they play a supplemental role of inspiring and engaging youth.
If you’re interested in mentoring a child, there are free resources available to help get you started. You can use a “Mentoring Tool Kit” to learn more about what mentoring entails. You can also find National Mentoring Month resources including bookmarks, posters, thank you mentor note cards and more at Serve.gov.
Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and is estimated to be responsible for more than 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year.
You can’t see, smell, or taste radon—it’s a radioactive gas that comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock, and water and gets into the air you breathe. Radon can be present outdoors and in any type of building, but you’re likely to get the most exposure to radon in your own home.
Internet dating and romance scams, commonly called “sweetheart scams,” target people with online dating profiles or through social media networks, and are becoming more common. The Internet makes it easy for people to create fake identities, using other people’s pictures to pretend they are attractive and interested in you.
After a bond has been formed, the scammer will typically ask to borrow money, either for a travel expense to come visit, or because of an “emergency” to one of their family members or even to themselves.
The State Department offers these tips on how to recognize sweetheart scams:
The scammer and the victim meet online – often through Internet dating or employment sites.
The scammer asks for money to get out of a bad situation or to provide a service.
Photographs that the scammer sends of “him/herself” show a very attractive person. The photo appears to have been taken at a professional modeling agency or photographic studio.
The scammer has incredibly bad luck— often getting into car crashes, arrested, mugged, beaten, or hospitalized — usually all within the course of a couple of months. They often claim that their key family members (parents and siblings) are dead. Sometimes, the scammer claims to have an accompanying child overseas who is very sick or has been in an accident.
The scammer claims to be a native-born American citizen, but uses poor grammar indicative of a non-native English speaker. Sometimes the scammer will use eloquent romantic language that is plagiarized from the Internet.
Whether you’re interested in investing for the first time or whether you’ve been investing for years, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has advice on how you can get the most from your investments.
Checking the background of an investment professional is easy and free.
Details on an investment professional’s background and qualifications are available through the Investment Adviser Public Disclosure website and FINRA BrokerCheck. If you have any questions on checking the background of an investment professional, call the SEC’s toll-free investor assistance line at (800) 732-0330.
Diversification can help reduce the overall risk of an investment portfolio.
By picking the right mix of investments, you may be able to limit your losses and reduce the fluctuations of your investment returns without sacrificing too much in potential gains. Some investors find that it is easier to achieve diversification through ownership of mutual funds or exchange-traded funds rather than through ownership of individual stocks or bonds.
Promises of high returns, with little or no associated risk, are classic warning signs for fraud.
Every investment carries some degree of risk and the potential for greater returns comes with greater risk. Ignore so-called “can’t miss” investment opportunities or those promising “guaranteed returns” or, better yet, report them to the SEC.
Some investments provide tax advantages.
For example, employer-sponsored retirement plans and individual retirement accounts generally provide tax advantages for retirement savings, and 529 college savings plans also offer tax benefits. Individuals who are interested in learning about the tax impact of their investment decisions should consult their tax adviser or visit the IRS website.
Active trading and some other very common investing behaviors actually undermine investment performance.
According to researchers, other common investing mistakes include focusing on past performance, favoring investments from your own country, region, state or company, and holding on to losing investments too long and selling winning investments too soon.
Warning for Small Businesses: Don’t Open E-mail Falsely Claiming to be From FTC
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning small businesses that an e-mail with a subject line “NOTIFICATION OF CONSUMER COMPLAINT” is not from the FTC. The e-mail falsely states that a complaint has been filed with the agency against their company.
The FTC advises recipients not to click on any of the links or attachments with the e-mail. Clicking on the links may install a virus or other spyware on the computer. The FTC’s advice is to delete the email.
5 Things You Can Do to Have a Healthy Baby in the New Year
By: Dr. Peggy Honein, CDC’s Birth Defects Branch Chief
Did you know that every 4 ½ minutes a baby in the United States is born with a major birth defect? January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month, a time to raise awareness about birth defects and of the steps that can be taken to prevent them. While not all birth defects can be prevented, there are things you can do to get ready for a healthy pregnancy.
In addition to eating a healthy diet, be sure to consume 400 micrograms of folic acid every day before and during early pregnancy.
See a health care professional regularly. Talk to them about taking any medicine, including prescription and over-the counter medicines and dietary or herbal supplements, and take only what is needed. Talk to your health care provider before starting or stopping any medication.
Work to get health conditions, like diabetes, in control before becoming pregnant, and keep them in good control during pregnancy.
Managing health conditions and adopting healthy behaviors before becoming pregnant is important, because many birth defects happen very early during pregnancy, sometimes before a woman even knows she is pregnant. Take care of yourself today for a healthy baby tomorrow.
If you’re suffering from a cold, the flu, or another virus, there are things you can do to help relieve the symptoms, but taking antibiotics will not help. Antibiotics only treat bacterial infections, such as strep throat.
Antibiotic resistance is a serious public health problem that is primarily being caused by the repeated and improper use of antibiotics.
You can help prevent antibiotic resistance by taking these actions:
Don’t take antibiotics for viral infections, such as colds or the flu.
If you are prescribed antibiotics for a bacterial infection, take the full course of treatment even if you begin to feel better after a few days.
DIY Tips and Assistance Programs to Help You Save on Home Heating
As the cold weather firmly takes hold in most parts of the country, you might notice a steep spike in your utility bills as your heating system works to keep your house warm.
If you’re trying to keep your heating bill in check, there are some assistance programs and DIY-tips that might help.
See if you qualify for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Families who meet the qualification standards are eligible for assistance with their heating bills. You must apply for LIHEAP benefits through your state. Some states also offer assistance to help you weatherize your home. If you need additional help applying for LIHEAP benefits you can call 1-866-674-6327.
Federal Buildings Promote Open Spaces, Environmental Conservation
Do you usually think of federal buildings as places to shop for fresh produce, listen to live music or enjoy a colorful art gallery? Perhaps not, but many people regularly do these things at federal properties across the country.
That’s because some federal properties are open for events like farmers markets, concerts, book readings, lectures and more.
“We’ve had weddings, aerial dance shows on building facades, concerts, holiday markets and even an insect museum. We’ve seen a lot of creative uses at federal buildings,” says Frank Giblin, director of the Good Neighbor Program at the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA).
The program promotes public use of federal properties and works with federal agencies and local communities to locate federal buildings in places that minimize the environmental impacts of commuting and offer easier access to a wide range of employees, including those from low income areas.
Federal Buildings as Community Spaces
Nonprofit organizations and members of the public can use many of the country’s 2,000 federal buildings for community events for low or no cost.
Some of these buildings might include a historic site such as the James R. Browning U.S. Courthouse in San Francisco or a local Social Security or Veterans Affairs office. Others include lesser-known office buildings, warehouses, and laboratories.
Events that last fewer than 30 days are often free unless the building needs to pay for additional costs such as security, heating, air conditioning and trash removal. Long-term, commercial use is also available at some federal buildings for businesses like restaurants and stores.
Federal Buildings Help Protect the Environment
GSA works closely with local communities to make sure that, when possible, federal buildings are designed, built, renovated and managed in a way that protects the environment. GSA’s Good Neighbor program works to promote the location of federal buildings in neighborhoods that minimize commute times and distances for employees by choosing locations that are easily accessible by public transportation, bicycles and pedestrians. Shorter commutes and less need to rely on employees driving to work protect the environment by reducing traffic congestion and improving air quality.
Through the Good Neighbor Program, GSA works to make federal buildings more open to the public and to create policies that promote the use of federal properties while protecting the environment.
“These are public buildings,” says Giblin, “And we want to make sure that the actions we take as an agency keep them as public as possible and provide great benefits to communities.”
How to Use a Federal Building
Because federal properties vary in size, functionality, security and location, it can be tricky to figure out which ones are best for public use. You can find that out by contacting the on-site property manager of the building you’re interested in. The process for obtaining a permit is easy and usually includes:
Filling out a page with basic information and copies of material that will be displayed or distributed during the event
If approved, you will get a permit within 10 days of the date you applied
Where to Learn More
Visit GSA.gov for more information on the Good Neighbor Program or contact the federal building manager closest to you if you are considering organizing an event on federal property.
Also, you may contact your local representatives if you have issues with federal real estate. You can visit an inventory of properties owned or leased by GSA and find information on how to contact the agency’s regional staff.
By Sima Michaels Dembo, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Population Affairs
Cervical cancer is the only gynecological cancer for which there is a screening test. Screening can help find this cancer early, when treatment can be most effective. To help you be informed and stay healthy, the Office of Population Affairs (OPA) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has information on screenings and warning signs to help with early detection:
Pap tests check for abnormal cells changes on the cervix.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease, and is responsible for more than 70% of cervical cancers
Cervical cancer can be treated by removing the cancerous cells or through radiation or chemotherapy.
You can use the clinic locator on OPA’s website to find a family planning clinic where you access low-cost, confidential care including Pap tests.
If you’re interested in helping people in your own community file their taxes, you can volunteer with the IRS through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) or Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) Programs.
You will receive the necessary training to help low-to-moderate income families with their taxes. Volunteer hours are flexible.
2012 is now the warmest year on record for the contiguous United States, according to the data gathered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center. 2012 had a record warm spring, second warmest summer, fourth warmest winter and a warmer-than-average autumn. The average temperature in 2012 was 55.3 °F, 1°F warmer than the previous warmest year, 1998.
2012 was also filled with extreme weather, making it the second most extreme year on record for the contiguous United States. Precipitation was almost 3 inches below average, making it the 15th driest year on record. 2012 had 11 disasters that reached beyond $1 billion in losses, including Hurricanes Sandy and Isaac, and the tornado outbreaks in the mid-west.