Money Q&A: Savvy Holiday Shopping Tips and More
IstockphotoFrom Health magazine
Q: I'm looking for deals—am I better off shopping the day after Thanksgiving or closer to Christmas?
A: Black Friday (aka the day after Thanksgiving) is when retailers offer the best discounts—typically 20% to 35%, though especially aggressive stores may offer seasonal merchandise like winter coats at 50% off. The problem with putting off your shopping until closer to Christmas is that most stuff won't be dramatically marked down until December 26. To get the true deals, get out of the house early: You'll often find bonus discounts during the early-morning hours. And lots of companies have Black Friday "Internet only" specials, too. Log on to www.dealsofamerica.com for a list of these bargains.
Q: My doctor is starting a boutique practice. To stay her patient, I have to pay a flat fee annually for unlimited service. What's the financial bottom line?
A: Flat-fee medical clinics are becoming increasingly popular. Patients pay a set fee (from $1,000 to $20,000 or more), that covers unlimited visits and a variety of services, including checkups, lab tests, shots, and X-rays. The more expensive practices may offer "platinum" services, such as 24-hour house calls and availability via cell phone or e-mail. These physicians can offer such personalized service because they scale back their practices to see seven or eight patients daily, instead of the usual 30 or 40 patients per day. So you definitely get more time and attention from your doctor.
But know that your insurance wont cover the fee. (And don't cancel your policy, either, since you'll need it to help pay for surgical procedures and other forms of care not provided by a boutique practice.) You might get a tax break, though: You can deduct medical costs that exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. So for example, if you make $70,000, you can write off fees that are in excess of $5,250. One good book on the subject is Concierge Medicine, by Steven Knope, MD. To find a practice in your area, visit the Society For Innovative Medical Practice Design.
Q: I give a lot of clothing to charities for the homeless this time of year. Do I need a receipt to get a tax deduction?
A: You need records of your contributions to prove what you donated. But the types of records depend on how much money you're writing off.
For donations up to $250: You need a receipt showing the name of the charity, the date and location of your donation, and a description of what youre giving away. (No receipt is required if you're donating clothes to an unmanned drop box.)
For write-offs of $250 to $500: Make sure to get a receipt, plus a letter from the organization that states an estimate of your donation and if you received any goods or services in return.
For donations of more than $500: Check IRS Publication 526 to see what additional records you should have.
Lynnette Khalfani-Cox is the author of Your First Home: The Smart Way To Get It and Keep It.