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Monday, February 9th, 2015
Ellie Kay, a Moms Money Clinic advisor for Parents, guest blogs regularly to answer mail about money issues. Today she’s helping parents prepare for tax season.
Q. We recently had our first baby. Is it time to hire an accountant, or can we just use a tax software program? What are some things we should be aware of when filing this year?
A. Congratulations on your new arrival! As a mom of seven, I know that having kids is both a joy and a nice tax break. You should be able to save money by using tax software, because all the info you need is in these programs. Here are some important guidelines:
Direct Deposit If you’re getting a refund from the IRS, choose direct deposit and e-file your return for the fastest possible processing. That way you’ll also be able to track the status of your return and refund.
DIY for Free You can file your federal taxes for free at TaxAct.com. It will guide you step-by-step through benefits, deductions, and your entire return.
Don’t Spend It! If having a new baby makes you eligible for a tax refund, avoid spending the money. Instead, pay down your debt (such as credit card balances and student loans), beef up your savings account, or invest it in a 529 college savings plan (for your baby’s future) or an IRA or Roth IRA (for yours).
For more on filing, go here.
Q. I am a military spouse and mom. What tax benefits should we look for when completing our return?
A. As a military spouse for 20 years, welcome to the club! There are many tax benefits for members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families. For example, you don’t have to pay taxes on certain income and benefits, including:
• The Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) and Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS).
• Dependent-care assistance programs.
• Combat pay.
You may also be eligible for these deductions:
• Moving expenses for a permanent change of station.
• Unreimbursed travel expenses (if you travel more than 100 miles from home for service), including mileage, meals, and lodging. Be sure to keep detailed records and receipts.
• You can claim a $3950 exemption for each qualifying child. Also be aware of the Child Tax Credit (worth up to $1,000 per child) and the Earned Income Tax Credit for lower-income working individuals and families. The amount of your credit depends on your adjusted gross income and the number of children.
While it’s important to file your tax return on time, do you know when yours is due? The deadline is April 15 for most Americans, but if you or your spouse is serving outside the U.S. or in Puerto Rico on that day, your tax return isn’t due until June 15. If you or your spouse is stationed in a combat zone, your return is generally due 180 days after your last day stationed there, or your last day in a hospital for injuries sustained in combat. If you need to file a state return, TaxAct offers it for $5 to military families. You’ll receive it automatically after entering your Form W-2 information.
Please thank your spouse for his service!
Ellie Kay is a family financial expert, the author of The 60-Minute Money Workout, and a mom of seven. Read more of her advice at elliekay.com.
Photo via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, January 20th, 2015
I didn’t watch the first season of Friday Night Tykes, a documentary series chronicling the ultra-competitive Texas Youth Football Association (TYFA). I had heard about it—the intensity, the injuries, the cussing—but I figured that having seen Dance Moms with my 10-year-old daughter, it would be a testosterone-fueled version of that popular reality show. Boy, was I wrong.
The 20-minute preview of the second season, which begins tonight on Esquire Network, is like nothing you’ve ever seen before (even if, like me, you are a sports parent who has coached your kid for years). It depicts 10- and 11-year-olds being put through a training regimen that puts many high school athletes to shame. They complete endless tackling drills in searing heat, in which the object is to hurl your teammate to the ground. As a 10-year-old lies on the ground in agony, a coach tells him, “If you can’t play with pain, you’re in the wrong sport.” Another says having feelings is a “girl thing” that has no place on the gridiron.
During a game, one coach removes a center that has made two errant snaps and yells, “What the f— are you doing?” I quickly lost count of the number of curses, but I can tell you that the coaches hurl expletives at their players, the referees, and each other with alarming regularity. It paints a brutal picture—of the state of youth sports in America; of the parents who allow their kids to be verbally harangued and put them at risk of serious injury (not to mention burnout) in pursuit of a long term, long-shot college or NFL dream; of the well-meaning but sometimes misguided coaches, who push these young kids so hard to win at all costs.
And yet, at the post-screening forum, I was surprised by the muted reaction of the panelists, including ex-NFL stars Tiki Barber (now a CBS sports radio host) and Bart Scott (now an NFL analyst) as well as psychotherapist Robi Ludwig, Psy.D. All agreed that the footage was difficult to watch at times. The show’s executive producer Matt Maranz, said the show is designed to provoke debate on “how far is too far, how young is to young, to push kids.” But when the moderator, ESPN commentator Jeremy Schaap, asked if the footage amounted to child abuse, all three replied no.
Barber conceded that the use of profanity around kids this age is wrong, and that coaches should keep in mind that not everyone—even highly motivated young athletes—responds best to yelling. Dr. Ludwig, though, pointed out that the coaches were likely revisiting the methods they had experienced when they were players, and that despite their hard words they truly meant the best for the children in their charge.
As far as the safety of having kids participate in full-contact drills and play tackle football as early as age 7 (as they do in the TYFA), opinion was divided. Schaap pointed to research suggesting that concussions are particular dangerous to young children, whose skulls are thinner and more vulnerable than those over age 12. Barber, whose 12-year-old has already suffered a concussion, supports his son’s right to play. “The key is educating him and making sure he follows the proper protocol if he has a head injury,” Barber says.
Scott, who in the past had said he wouldn’t want his child playing football due to the risks, now coaches his 7-year-old. “Once he decided to play, I knew he would be safer if I taught him the proper technique for tackling and falling so he doesn’t get hurt,” says Scott.
Scott and Barber were both playing pee-wee football by age 9, so neither is shocked by the physical nature of the youth game depicted in the series. Scott, who grew up in a tough neighborhood in Detroit, believes the backlash against the show is due in part to the fact that American kids today are too soft. “They need to learn how to work hard and push the limits,” he says. “And I like that this league doesn’t give everyone a trophy or make sure they get equal playing time. You earn it on the playing field.”
Scott makes a valid point about our “everyone’s a winner” mentality. I can’t say I agree that grade-schoolers are ready to work out ’till they vomit or to be instructed by a coach before a game to “rip their freakin’ head off and let them bleed.” But I do recommend you tune in and make your own judgments. It’s riveting TV, even if you often need to cover your eyes.
Photo courtesy of Esquire TV
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abusive coaches, concussions, injuries, profanity around kids, sports parenting, youth football | Categories:
Big Kids, Child Development, Education, Health, Must Read, News, Parenting, Safety, The Parents Perspective
Monday, January 12th, 2015
I’ve been battling my annual cold that morphs into a nagging cough. Although I wish could take antibiotics and be done with it, I know they won’t really have any effect on the virus that made me sick. Similarly, whenever my daughter has a bad sore throat and I take her to the doctor, I admit that I kinda hope she does have strep throat—because then we’ll get a treatment that works and she’ll be healthy enough to go back to school in 24 hours.
However, pediatricians prescribe more than 11 million unnecessary prescriptions for antibiotics each year for children and teens who have viral ear and upper respiratory infections, according to a study from the University of Utah. It’s not because they’re bad doctors, but more likely because parents are eager to give their kids antibiotics just in case they might help.
The problem, of course, is that they can also cause harm: Overuse of antibiotics has led to a scary increase in antibiotic resistance. One way this may happen: When you take antibiotics for a viral infection, the antibiotic attacks other (healthy) bacteria in your body, and can promote antibiotic-resistant properties that are then shared with other bacteria, say experts at the Mayo Clinic. Another factor: Not finishing an entire course of prescribed antibiotics. Let’s say your kid does have a bacterial infection but feels better on day 4 and hates the taste of the medicine. You might figure she doesn’t need to take it for a week. But this can leave lingering bacteria that become stronger and multiply.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, antibiotic-resistant bacteria cause at least 2 million illnesses each year and 23,000 deaths in the U.S. (The situation is even more serious in other countries; this article about the epidemic of antibiotic-resistant infections in newborns in India is heartbreaking.) Last fall, the federal government launched a new national strategy to combat resistance, which includes tracking infections to try to slowing their spread, and also supporting research. Part of the problem is that developing new types of antibiotics has not been a priority for drug companies.
I was grateful to read the news that smart scientists are doing the nitty-gritty research needed to dig up—literally—new antibiotics. As reported in the journal Nature, researchers at Northeastern University have discovered a new way to extract antibiotics from bacteria that live in dirt. Animal studies suggest that that the novel antibiotic they found has a unique ability to resist resistance.
For now, if you or your kids have a cold, home remedies and TLC are your best bet. (My new favorite tea is Stash Lemon Ginger.) If a cold lasts longer than two weeks, it makes sense to check in with your doctor because it might be caused by something else. In fact, a chronic cough is one of the most common reasons why children see the doctor.
Take our quiz to test your cold and flu IQ.
Diane Debrovner is the deputy editor of Parents and the mother of two daughters who’ve frequently had coughs, croup, and strep throat, but not one ear infection. You can follow her on Twitter @ddebrovner.
photo via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014
When Jack Frost rolls into town and unleashes a winter storm, it’s a hassle to add shoveling to your daily routine. But for military families and wounded or disabled veterans, coping with the aftermath of heavy snowfall can be even more difficult.
Project EverGreen, an organization that works to maintain outdoor community areas, created a solution to this problem. With their SnowCare for Troops initiative, they provide snow and ice removal services for families of currently deployed service members, as well as veterans who have been injured or disabled. This is the fifth season that Project EverGreen is offering this service, which has more than 3,700 families enrolled and connections to over 1,300 contractors.
By signing up for the SnowCare for Troops program, eligible applicants receive 9-12 months of assistance with their snow removal chores, including like clearing their driveways and sidewalks, for free. Project EverGreen and their program partner BOSS Snowplow believe that providing this service is beneficial to the wellbeing of military families.
“A well-maintained yard provides kids a safe place to play, stressed moms a natural environment to unwind and a connection to neighbors to create a community environment where families look out for one another,” says Cindy Code, executive director for Project EverGreen. “Maintained yards prevent vandalism and crime, helps kids become confident in their surroundings and peer interactions, and maintain the value of real estate.”
In addition to their SnowCare for Troops service, Project EverGreen works throughout the year to care for the homes of military families with their GreenCare for Troops program, providing general landscaping services.
For more information on SnowCare for Troops, or to complete an application for your family, visit their website.
Image courtesy of Project EverGreen
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Monday, December 1st, 2014
Scooters are cool, but they’re sending kids to the emergency room. Toy-related accidents increased almost 40 percent between 1990 and 2011, according to a new study in Clinical Pediatrics by researchers from the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, and foot-powered scooters were the #1 cause of injuries such as lacerations and fractures.
My older daughter had a Razor scooter when they first became popular—even before organizations like Safe Kids Worldwide and the American Academy of Pediatrics had issued safety guidelines. I remember watching her and a friend come speeding down a hill in the park and thinking, “This is an accident waiting to happen.” Fortunately, she never got hurt.
In addition to wearing helmets, kids should be wearing knee pads and elbow pads, urges study senior author Gary Smith, M.D., Dr.P.H., a Parents advisor. However, our editors have noticed that fewer kids are wearing them these days—and the rise in stunt scooters may encourage more dangerous scootering. Any child younger than age 8 needs to be closely supervised when scootering. And parents, if you’re riding with your kids, set a good example and wear a helmet too.
Buy the safety gear you need here.
Photo via Shutterstock
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