Written by Phil Cerroni
By Jason Alderman
From now until New Year's is probably when you have the least amount of time to spare on mundane financial bookkeeping tasks. But if you can dedicate a few minutes to review your benefits and tax paperwork, you might be able to shave hundreds – or even thousands – of dollars off your 2012 taxes.
Here are a few suggestions:
If you haven't already maxed out on contributions, ask your employer if you can make a catch-up contribution to your 401(k), 403(b) or 457 plan before year's end. Most people can contribute up to $17,000 in 2012 (a $500 increase over 2011), plus an additional $5,500 if they're over 50.
If you contribute on a pretax basis, your taxable income is reduced, which in turn lowers your taxes. At a minimum, if your employer offers matching contributions (essentially, free money), be sure to contribute at least enough to take full advantage of the match.
If you participate in employer-sponsored flexible spending accounts (FSAs), which let you use pretax dollars to pay for eligible healthcare and dependent care expenses, an important change is coming next year: Beginning January 1, 2013, the maximum annual contribution for healthcare FSAs will shrink to $2,500 from the $5,000 limit many employers currently offer; however, if your spouse has FSAs at work, you still may contribute up to $2,500 to each account. Dependent care account limits remain unchanged.
It's vital to calculate and use any untapped 2012 account balances before your plan-year deadline (sometimes up to 75 days into the following year); otherwise, you'll forfeit the remaining balance. If you have a surplus, consider which 2013 expenses you could pay before December 31, 2012. And, keep the new limit in mind when planning your 2013 healthcare FSA.
You can use your healthcare FSA for copayments, deductibles and medical devices such as glasses, contact lenses and braces, among other expenses; over-the-counter medicines are only eligible with a doctor's prescription (an exception is made for insulin).
Charitable contributions. If you plan to itemize deductions on your 2012 taxes, charitable contributions made to IRS-approved organizations by Dec. 31 are generally tax-deductible. If you've got extra cash now and want to lower your 2012 taxes even further, consider moving up donations you would have made in 2013.
Gifts. Unless Congress intervenes, the federal income tax exemption for estate distributions and lifetime gifts will drop from the 2012 limit ($5.12 million) to the pre-2011 level of $1 million (for married couples, it drops from $10.24 million to $2 million); in addition, the tax rate on gifts or estate distributions above those limits will increase from 35 percent in 2012 to 55 percent in 2013.
One way to exceed the lifetime gift limit – and avoid having to file a Gift Tax Return – is by giving separate, annual gifts of up to $13,000 per year, per person. (Married couples filing jointly can give $26,000 per recipient.) Rules for gift and estate taxes are complex, so read IRS Publication 950 (at www.irs.gov) and consult your financial advisor.
This isn't an ideal time to take on any additional tasks, but if some or all of these situations apply, you could considerably lower your tax bill – wouldn't that be a great way to start the New Year?
Last Updated on Sunday, 02 December 2012 22:25
Written by Phil Cerroni
By Jess Paniszczyn
Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) reached another milestone with the opening of the North Lake College Station and Belt Line Station on Nov. 28. The two stations bring the Orange Line ever closer to the Dallas Ft. Worth International Airport’s Terminal A, which is scheduled to begin carrying passengers to and from the airport in December of 2014.
Earlier this year, DART opened three stations along the Orange Line, the University of Dallas Station, Las Colinas Urban Center Station and the Irving Convention Center Station. The Orange Line now offers services to and from both the University of Dallas and North Lake College. The North Lake station is also a short walk from Irving ISD’s Jack E. Singley Academy. To recognize the importance of the Orange Line to current and future students, DART representatives and area educators met with community members for the DART Celebrates Education Orange Line Phase II Education Breakfast on Nov. 28.
“The segment of the Orange Line that opens today is a critical next step to our ultimate goal, having Irving and the entire DART system directly linked to DFW International Airport,” said John Danish, DART Board Chairman.
“With the opening of Irving II, DART also forges another connection to an institution of higher learning, North Lake College. Access to institutions of higher learning like North Lake College and the University of Dallas, which got its Orange Line Station earlier this year, is one of the core missions of DART
“Making that connection with young people is especially important in this world of transit. If you are a 20 year old working your way through college, why would you want to spend $10,000 a year on an automobile? Wouldn’t you rather spend that time and money on your education and maybe graduate debt free? It is literally possible now to live on a mass transit rail corridor, work on that corridor and attend your university on that corridor.
“The Beltline Station is Irving’s Orange Line’s first park and ride station, a new option for Irving area commuters. The Beltline Station will also provide shuttle service to DFW Airport, and it will offer special provisions for long term parking.
“Today we celebrate more than the opening of two new Orange Line stations, we celebrate the fact that we are on a path to a new way of life for Irving and for our region.”
In addition to regional access, the DART transit system creates area jobs according to Gary Thomas, DART President/Executive Director.
“When we open the Orange Line station at DFW Airport, we will be one of a handful of transit agencies throughout the country that will actually be connected to an airport,” Thomas said. “At that point, not only will the kids at the Academy and North Lake College be connected to the region, they will be connected to the entire world. That really is pretty special for the people of our region.
“The Orange Line has been and continues to be a major creator of jobs. As a matter of fact, 600 construction jobs were created as a result of this project. And 80 different companies were involved in the building of this project.”
Thomas Keefe, President of the University of Dallas, said mass transit projects and education are the responsibility of great nations.
“I was in the city of Arlington lately. And I noticed they have this great theme park and stadiums, but they don’t have any transportation. As we know, that stadium will eventually fall down as well,” Keefe said. “The city of Irving has invested in education. But the students being trained in Irving schools, North Lake and the University of Dallas will continue to grow.
“You’ve invested in the future, and I will tell you it is a darn good investment. We have a moral responsibility as a great society to educate our youth. It is not just about economics or how we are going to remain the wealthiest country in the world. It is about what we owe these kids. We owe them a respectful way to get to school. We owe them great schools like we have in Irving. We aren’t doing this because it is a great business deal. We are doing it because as a great society, this is what we are supposed to do.
“The DART Line is part of that infrastructure. We will be a city that people will look to 20 years from now and say ‘How did they do that?’ They did it because you all were willing to make the sacrifices necessary to invest in an infrastructure that allows these schools to survive. By the way, it is a darn good business decision.
“The University of Dallas is the most international university in the state of Texas. Fifty-eight percent of our students come from outside the state of Texas. When they graduate, the majority will want to stay here for some reason. That means as opposed to a brain drain like so many schools have, we have a brain gain. We are a brilliant school. Our admission rate to law school was almost 100 percent last year. Our admission rate to med school was 85 percent. The national average for admission rate to med school is 38 percent. Eighty percent of our students go on to graduate school within five years of graduating. We are the second largest MBA program in the Dallas area. We are a spectacular academic enterprise.
“We are not the best manufacturing country in the world anymore. But we are the best education country in the world. It is the one thing we do that everybody worldwide tries to emulate. Investing in education is a really smart thing.”
The Orange Line Phase II is just the lastest chapter in the cooperative partnership between DART and the Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD), according to Dr. Wright Lassiter, Jr, Chancellor of DCCCD.
“The Dallas County Community College District has had a very long history with DART. We’ve had a rich and very supportive relationship,” Lassiter said. “Many of the 105,000 students who are enrolled in our seven colleges and our five community campuses take advantage of DART’s efficient and cost effective transportation options.
“The Orange Line Phase II is a major newcomer that will support enabling individuals who are struggling with the cost of living and then the cost of education to be able to have an affordable means of transportation.
“A University of North Texas study determined that DART’s recent rail expansion efforts, the Green Line, Orange Line and Blue Line, will generate a total of $5.6 billion in economic benefit from 2009-2014. And 32,000 jobs have been created as a result.”
Dr. Dana Bedden, Superintendent of Irving ISD, indicated that DART and the school district share several features.
“DART and Irving ISD are both drivers of economic development. Like the Orange Line Phase II project, the success of Irving schools builds community pride, provides quality workers, increases real estate values and attracts new businesses to our community,” Bedden said.
Last Updated on Sunday, 02 December 2012 22:29
Written by Phil Cerroni
Dr. Jeff Livingston, an Irving-based physician and managing partner of MacArthur OBGYN, received the 2012 Heroes for Children Award from the Texas State Board of Education for his public school volunteerism and his demonstration of character, heart and passion. Livingston, one of 15 recipients of this year’s award, received it from Texas’ top educators group on Nov. 16.
The Heroes for Children Award is given annually to individuals who dedicate their time -- often ranging in the thousands of hours -- to Texas public schools. The Board of Education’s award recognizes volunteers from across Texas for their passionate and strong desire to give back to their communities and schools, and their hard work to improve the lives of children.
Dr. Livingston is a volunteer in the Irving Independent School District where he educates students, parents and educators about health issues, teen pregnancy and STD prevention.
Throughout the past nine years, Livingston has spoken to countless Irving ISD students, providing information about making proper sexual choices, personal responsibility, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy prevention. His volunteerism in the schools began shortly after he began to practice in 2003.
“Shortly after I joined Macarthur OBGYN I began seeing a large number of young teenagers and was surprised at the prevalence of sexually transmitted disease, teen pregnancy and an overall lack of knowledge regarding sexual health. I reached out to the local school nurses and offered myself as a resource,” Livingston said. “Navigating through a politically charged issue like teen pregnancy was a challenge at first, but after gaining the support of Irving ISD administration I began giving lectures and presentations on teen pregnancy and STD prevention.”
Livingston also sponsors and works closely with the Teenage Parent and Parenting (TAPPS) workshop each spring, focusing on child development, parenting, child abuse prevention, healthy relationships and other health information.
TAPPS is a district-wide program that meets the needs of pregnant and parenting students. While the national high school graduation rate for teen parents hovers around 40 percent, the graduation rate for TAPPS students is higher than 90 percent. By creating a partnership between the TAPPS program and community physicians, the partnership extends the reach of the program beyond the four walls of the classroom.
“The physicians and I in my practice not only care for the pregnant student, but also work with them to make sure they are enrolled in the TAPPS program,” he said. “We enroll them in the YWCA Nurse Family partnership, which provides mentorship, prenatal and parenting education and schedule visits around their school day.
“We empower students to be ready to parent, and we aggressively educate on contraception to avoid a second teen pregnancy. We have demonstrated that identifying the pregnant students and meeting their specific needs can change lives. We see successful pregnancies and help the students achieve success in the classroom. The payoff for these efforts will be seen for generations to come.”
Dr. Livingston is a board certified obstetrician and gynecologist who grew up in Dallas. In 2009 he received the Golden Apple Award in recognition of outstanding contributions to students and teachers. He also serves as the medical director of a crisis pregnancy center called Real Choices and is former chairman of the OB/GYN Department at Baylor Medical Center of Irving.
The Heroes for Children honorees are selected by the state education board members and are recognized for volunteering their time, talents and skills to help improve the public schools in their communities. One recipient of the award is chosen from each Board of Education district.
Source: MacArthur OBGYN
Last Updated on Sunday, 02 December 2012 22:23
Written by Phil Cerroni
Kids are willing to do almost anything to get the toys they want for Christmas according to Walmart’s Talking Holiday Toys Survey, which found that 68 percent of kids said they would clean their rooms daily for a year, while 84 percent would work hard and give up playtime. But every child has limits; only 23 percent of kids would eat spinach for a year to get their holiday toys. The survey also found that mom and dad favor educational toys and are focused on price.
“The survey reflects what we are seeing in our stores. Parents are intent on fulfilling their kids’ holiday toy wish lists and at the same time, are looking for the most affordable options,” said Laura Phillips, senior vice president of toys, seasonal and celebrations, Walmart U.S. “As the largest seller of toys in the U.S. we have a unique ability to leverage our size and scale in a way that meets those needs and helps parents deliver a Christmas to remember.”
Walmart’s Talking Holiday Toys Survey, which polled 1,009 children between the ages of 3 – 11 and their parents, also discovered:
Naughty or nice? Kids who’ve had a few time outs this year are in luck. While the majority of kids think their behavior impacts the amount of holiday toys they get, 78 percent of parents plan to buy the same amount of toys for their children regardless of how naughty or nice they’ve been throughout the year.
Wish list toys – parents and kids disagree: The top toy gifts parents want to give their kids this Christmas are “toys that teach;” however, the top toys on kids’ wish lists are dolls and action figures.
“We have seen that educational toys – including kids’ tablets – are one of the most popular categories this year,” shared Phillips.
Those sneaky kids: Parents are in the dark when it comes to knowing whether or not their kids find their gifts ahead of Christmas. Nearly twice as many kids as their parents say they found their gifts before the big morning (23 percent vs. 14 percent). The top hiding place? The closet.
Nagging works. Asked about the most persuasive technique their child uses to get the toy he/she wants for Christmas, the top response for parents is their child asking them repeatedly for the gift. Similarly, when kids are asked what they think is the best way to ensure that they get the toy they want for Christmas, the most popular response was to keep telling Mom or Dad over and over and over again.
The toy store parents are looking for: Price is the most popular factor among parents for determining the type of store to shop at for Christmas toys.
Last Updated on Sunday, 02 December 2012 22:23
Written by Phil Cerroni
Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) debuts two new bus connections to DFW International Airport and Dallas Love Field on Dec. 3 making airline travel in North Texas easier than ever. Route 500 from the Belt Line Station on the Orange Line to Terminal A at DFW is a preview of the direct light rail connection customers will enjoy in December 2014. Route 524 from the Inwood/Love Field Station on the Green Line improves service to Love Field with more frequent bus trips.
Route 500 will serve DFW Airport, area hotels along Plaza Drive, and CentrePort Station. It operates seven days a week between the new Belt Line Station and DFW Terminal A with most trips also connecting to Trinity Railway Express (TRE) service at CentrePort/DFW Airport Station. Buses depart every 15 minutes during rush hours, 20 minutes mid-day, and 30 minutes late evenings and meet every Orange Line train. Buses to CentrePort/DFW will be available Monday through Saturday when TRE trains are in operation.
The new route offers a benefit to those airline customers wishing to take advantage of DART's long term parking feature at Belt Line Station with its 596 parking spaces. Options for passengers under DART's enhanced Fair Share Parking Project range from no fee daily parking for vehicles displaying a valid resident parking pass, to long-term (more than 18 hours) parking of $7 to $9, and $60 per month for vehicles without a valid resident parking pass.
The new Route 524 will begin connecting customers arriving on board either the Green or Orange Lines at Inwood/Love Field Station with access to Dallas Love Field Airport. Operating every 15 minutes during rush hours, 20 minutes mid-day and 30 minutes late evening, bus service will match Green Line train frequencies, and provide direct service to the Love Field terminal.
Source: Dallas Area Rapid Transit
Last Updated on Sunday, 02 December 2012 22:22
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- DCCCD staff honored for work with veterans