So Chase updated their web site. To the AdBlock!

Chase Bank, of which I’m a happy customer, has recently updated their website for online banking.

There was nothing (much) wrong with the old one, IMHO, but it seems to be a trend for online service providers to move to a model of a site optimized for all devices. As part of that Chase decided to redesign their online banking site to be more suitable for tablet/phone users at the expense of the desktop users.

So far so good, from IT perspective it is definitely easier and cheaper to maintain one version that suits all than multiple versions for segmented markets. No complaints there.


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The IRS On-line Transcripts Service is No Longer Available

I wrote a while ago about the new IRS service allowing to download your tax return transcripts online.

Unfortunately, this service is no longer available.

The IRS took the online service down due to the compromised security, after a large amount of taxpayers’ personal information has been accessed by unauthorized persons.

For those who still need to get the transcripts, you can do it by mail, using the form 4506. You can download the form here.

Posted in Taxes - General, Uncategorized | Tagged | 1 Comment

Happy Holidays, and Remember to Donate!

It’s that time of the year again, and as always, I encourage you to donate to various charities. Qualified donations done before the end of the year may qualify for deduction on your 2015 tax return, so it is a good way to bring your total tax bill down.

Keep in mind that you’ll need a receipt for your donations that will state the date, what was donated, the organization receiving, and will explicitly state that no consideration was provided for donations. Keep in mind that such receipts should not be backdated, as that may invalidate the entire deduction.

This year, as always, I encourage you to donate to the Wikimedia Foundation, The Red Cross, the Human Rights Foundation, and also the Planned Parenthood and its affiliated organizations. The Planned Parenthood Action fund will even match your donation.

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A little bit on how easy it is to manipulate you…

I’ve been busy lately, and haven’t posted anything for a while, but there is something that keeps bugging me. So I decided to come back and write about it.

How easy it is to manipulate you. Yes you, the average consumer of the average news. So very easy. Public opinion can be swayed very easily by a strategically placed dead (or not very dead) child, or a touching story shown in prime time, or a not factually correct allegation that plays on your deepest fears… And then – torches, forks, witches burning – the usual stuff.

Let’s see what we had…

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God wants to love gays in Kentucky, but needs more help in doing so!

We’ve all heard about the Kentucky county clerk adopting the Sharia law instead of the United States Constitution and claiming that doing so is the governments’ god-sent right.

Well, God apparently disagrees. In his/her recent post, God said that he/she would like to post a billboard in Kentucky to spread his/her message of love, however was unable to find a billboard provider to allow him/her doing so. Because in Kentucky they don’t want to hear God’s message coming from God, only from a multiple-divorcee and adulteress.

So if you want to help God in spreading his/her message of Love, and help the people of Kentucky freeing themselves from the oppression of the religious fanatics, please donate here for a mobile billboard.

Your Little Agnostic Advisor

PS: I truly believe Kim Davis should be able to practice her religion as she wishes. Kentucky County Clerk, however, has no such privilege. Government is not allowed to prefer one religion over the other in the United States, and if Ms Davis cannot work as a government official without violating her beliefs – she should quit her job. Just as MLK would probably not hold a position as a janitor at the KKK offices, now would he?

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Do you have foreign accounts? Then the Highway Bill affects you.

That’s right. You’re not a truck driver, nor a construction worker. You merely drive on highways, and even that not every day. But if you have any foreign accounts, this bill that has just been passed in the Congress – affects you.

If you immigrated to the US or a US citizen living or investing abroad, you’re probably aware of the FBAR requirement – the requirement to report foreign bank accounts (including investment accounts, pensions, and what not).

Until now the deadline for FBAR filing was June 30th.

Not any more.

According to the report published yesterday in the Journal of Accountancy, the Highway Bill had some tax provisions, one of which changed the FBAR filing due date from June 30th to April 15th. It’s right there, section 2006.

That’s right, two and a half months earlier than before.

It’s a good thing and a bad thing.

It’s a good thing because now the FBAR should be filed at the same time as the regular tax return, so people won’t need to remember three months later that they need to file another piece of paper.

However, in many countries year-end reports only start flowing towards the end of the first quarter, which doesn’t leave a lot of time to gather all the needed information.

Fortunately, the provision also adds a new thing: extension. Now, FinCEN form 114 form due date can be extended for 6 months, like the regular tax return. That helps with the bad thing a bit.

So for all of you US citizens living abroad, L1/H1B/Green Card holders living in the US, and just visitors who happen to end up US tax residents for whatever reason – one more change to be aware of in the already convoluted US tax system.

Your Little Advisor

This is not a tax advice, and I’m not a tax adviser. For any specific tax issues please talk to a EA or CPA licensed in your State.

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The new “Chip-and-Signature” cards aren’t really that safe!

Like probably most of you, I’ve got the new credit cards from most of my credit card issuers. Those with a large square chip on the left side. The new “Chip-and-Signature” cards.

The US banks are going out of their way to explain why these cards are safer than the old magnetic-stripe-only versions. But they don’t really tell you exactly why they are in fact safer. Let me tell you why: because they’re much harder to be forged. Magnetic stripe cards were so easy to forge, literally anyone could duplicate a credit card. With the chip – its much harder.

However, this doesn’t make the card safe. This makes the account safe, since the cards accessing the account cannot be forged. It can only be accessed with the card you have.

But what if you no longer have it? Forgery is not the only security problem with credit cards. Lost/stolen cards are quite a concern for many.

If your chip card is lost or stolen, and being used without your knowledge – there’s nothing really you can do. It is no safer than the good old magnetic stripe card. Anyone can use it. They’ll sign, the merchants won’t check (or check, but it will look similar), and that’s it. In automatic machines – the thieves won’t even need to sign.

No added safety or security at all. The only thing the chip promises is that the card used was indeed the same physical card issued. That’s it.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

In the rest of the world, there’s an additional layer of protection on top of the actual chip: a PIN. A Personal Identifying Number, that only you would know. If such a card is stolen – the thief cannot use it, since they wouldn’t know the PIN. It would just be a piece of plastic for them, completely useless. The vendors don’t need to worry about signatures, and the automated machines won’t charge these cards – because the thief won’t be able to authenticate. This is similar to the way we all use ATM/debit cards. Except that your account is not charged right away, the charge goes the same way the credit card charges had always gone.

So why don’t the US banks allow the standard Chip-And-Pin mode of operation for these cards?

Probably because they think the American consumers are stupid. Look at all the related advertisements and publications: the banks are emphasizing exactly the point of lack of security. The fact that you still need to sign, instead of using the PIN – is actually the main selling point. The main disadvantage of these cards – is what they’re advertising the most. Why? Because in their twisted minds, you using your card the same way as you used to is more important than keeping you and your account safe. They’d rather pay more on fraud and chargebacks, than try to explain to you, the consumer, why you need to use a PIN with your credit card. And who do you think will end up paying for these chargebacks and fraud transactions? You, of course, the consumer. Because the banks think you’re stupid.

Tell your bank you’re not an idiot. Insist on a Chip-and-Pin card.

There are some banks that do provide chip-and-pin cards in the US. Do your homework and shop around.

Your Little Advisor.

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