Monthly Archives: March 2009

Tax Act and a Business Tax Tip Roundup Here at Crunch Time

Last week, I chose Tax Act as my tax preparation software for tax year 2008.  Last night I began preparing our taxes using the software.  Although I have not yet completed our taxes, here is a run down of the features that I am finding helpful: 

·      TaxAct offers the user a tour, which helped me anticipate the process and what guidance would be available to me while I complete my taxes.

·      Information Method choices:

a.     Q&A Entry/Interview Method – this provides the simplest process.  You enter information based on answers to questions that are asked interview-style.   Your information is transferred to all applicable forms, including the state return; or

b.     Tax Form Entry – where you fill in tax forms electronically just as you would on paper.  The only difference is that as you fill out one form and any information applicable to other forms is automatically transferred to the other forms, including the state return. 

·      Joint vs. Separate Comparison allows you to see the difference in filing married filing jointly or married filing separately.

·      National Averages Comparison “identifies hotspots that may catch the eye of the IRS, and let you know where you stand with respect to the rest of the taxpaying public.”

·      TaxWatch 2009 lays out changes that will occur in 2009, the impact of those changes, as well as tax-planning tips.

·      Next Year Step – helps you look forward to filing taxes for tax year 2009 by helping you determine your withholding allowances and to adjust your withholding to prevent over- or under-withholdings. 

·      Tax Calculator helps you perform “what-if scenarios to determine your tax liability for both this year and the coming years.”

·      TaxTutor Guidance features expert tax assistance, including J.K. Lasser’s Your Income Tax Guide

Tax Tips Around the Web

Tax time is right around the corner, here are a few places to find business tax tips right here at crunch time:

Madison DuPaix at My Dollar Plan writes about Tax Deductions for the Self Employed.

Jennifer Molin at bMighty writes about Tax Tips: How To Deduct Your Home Office, And Why You Want To Avoid Penalties.

Gina L. Gwozdz, CPA at Tax Tips Blog answers a question from one of her readers about tax tips for when you Convert Personal Residence to Rental.

TECHY TUESDAYS is a forum to discuss various software, technology and web applications.  If you like what you see here, please use the orange icon at the top right to receive updates by email or RSS reader.  


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Filed under Taxes, Techy Tuesday

Rental Property Conversion Series: Refinance Settlement, Power of Attorney and Escrow

Last week, I went to settlement on our mortgage refinance. Refinancing was our first step toward converting our residential property to a rental.

Our new interest rate is 5%, which is 0.75% lower than our previous rate and ended up lowering our mortgage payment by $350/mo.

A lower mortgage payment will allow us to set a more competitive monthly rate when we put the property on the market for rent while also netting a profit on the rent after management and maintenance fees.

For the most part, our refinance was a pretty smooth ride for the nearly 90 days it took to complete all of the paperwork and underwriting for the loan. But, there were a few things I needed to set in place and one hurdle that I had to jump in order to complete the transaction.

Loan Restriction

Many finance loans for primary residence properties require the owner to occupy the home for a certain period of time following a refinance transaction such as ours. Our loan documents indicated a 60-day period following this transaction during which we are required to occupy the property as a primary residence.  This is consistent with our planning since I intend to occupy the premise until the move to Mississippi in July. 

If you are refinancing with intent on converting the property to a rental, therefore, please ensure that you plan to occupy the home in accordance with your loan’s occupancy requirements.

Power of Attorney for Absent Party

Whenever there are two or more persons on the title of a piece of real estate, all parties may be required to participate in such things as the transfer or finance of the property. For all intents and purposes, refinancing a property is like transferring the property back to yourself under different finance terms. In my case, since I was adding my husband to the title of the home, it was like transferring the property back to myself and also to my husband.

Since he was going to be on the title and since his financial credibility, including income and credit health, would be considered for the loan, he would also be responsible for cosigning all of the paperwork at settlement. But he would be away at deployment on the settlement date, so I needed to have him sign a Power of Attorney giving me the power to sign on his behalf.

Through a Power of Attorney, one party can appoint another party to handle the affairs of the first party in that party’s absence. Powers of Attorney can be general or specific, but are meant to give the appointee the right to sign documents and make decisions on the absent party’s behalf.

The title company had instructed me to produce a Power of Attorney that was specific to this transaction. The form can look something like this. It must be signed by the appointer and sometimes by the appointee agent. A notary public for the state must also notarize the document.

As an attorney, I felt comfortable doing a simple search on Google for a Power of Attorney document specific to real estate transactions. Although you don’t have to be an attorney to execute and produce a Power of Attorney, please bear in mind that different states may have different requirements for the Power of Attorney and it may be advisable for you to speak with an attorney about conforming any Power of Attorney to your state’s requirements. Any person appointing another to be an attorney-in-fact through this document should also keep in mind that your appointment gives that person the power to make potentially important decisions on your behalf and possibly about assets belonging to you.


During the 90 day rate lock-in period, I submitted the requested documents to the title company, including the Power of Attorney. The documents were approved by the title company, and our loan had gone through underwriting successfully. We were ready for closing. They assigned the date and we were ready to go. Once you make it all the way to closing day, you assume that the mortgage lender and the title company have done their due diligence and that everything should be smooth for the taking. Wrong.

On the day of closing, Wells Fargo told us that a state tax lien had appeared on my husband’s credit report and had been there since November 2008. I’m thinking, “if I requested this loan at the beginning of this year, why have they only found this now???” Anyway, they were requiring me to pay the amount of the lien and they would hold it in escrow.

What is escrow? Escrow is an account for holding funds until the consummation or termination of a transaction or until some condition is met.

The lien assessed against my husband was assessed in error. It was actually something that we thought had been taken care of as the state tax lien office acknowledged the error, but it had not been released. Although I was able to have the state lien office fax a letter to our mortgage lender indicating that the lien was in error and would be released, since the lien had not already been released, they insisted I pay the amount of the lien and they would hold it in escrow until the lien is released. The state tax office indicated it would take approximately 5-7 days to release the lien. At that time, I expect the money to be returned to me. At any rate, I made the title company give me something in writing indicating that fact.

Due Diligence

If my husband and I had done our own due diligence, we might have discovered the lien on his credit report beforehand and could have resolved it before I applied for the loan. What puzzles me is that this didn’t hurt us at all when getting the terms for the loan and, although it had been there since November 2008, the mortgage lender only found it on closing day. One possibility is that there are three credit reporting agencies and things don’t always hit each one at the same time. So, it may not have been on the credit report reviewed by the mortgage lender when we first requested the loan. I would imagine that if it were on there, they would not have accepted our application.

Fortunately for us, the lien was erroneous. But, these types of blemishes on your credit report can really hurt your credit worthiness. It will be up to my husband now, once the lien is released, to ensure that it has also been removed from all of his credit reports. We now have learned that one should never assume something has been resolved. Always do a follow-up.

Have you refinanced a mortgage? Did you have any hiccups in the process?

MAKE MONEY MONDAYS is a forum to discuss ways in which you can create additional sources of income. I try to focus on particular ideas and steps you can take to create alternative income and passive income sources. I have also begun a series of posts called “Rental Property Conversion.” This series follows my husband and I as we turn our property into a rental property. I will also research and post other useful information in this category. If you like what you see here, please use the orange icon at the top right to receive my content updates by email or RSS reader.


Filed under Alternative Income Sources, business, investment, Make Money Mondays, Passive and Alternative Income, Real Estate

Glimpse and a Peek

Woohoo! Yesterday was my busiest day here on Aspire to Grace!  Someone submitted a link to my post yesterday on Road Courtesy and Distribution to StumbleUpon and I had record amounts of traffic. 

I thank whoever made the submission and I welcome all new visitors.  In the hopes that some of my new visitors from yesterday saw something they liked here and will return today and next week for more, I want to provide a glimpse into the future of Aspire to Grace as well as just a peek at the past: 


Here is a glimpse into the topics that I want to discuss next week:

Make Money Monday:  Rental Property Series: I closed on the refinance of our house this week – let me tell you what hurdles I faced, how I got them resolved, and some things that you can do to prevent these types of hurdles.

Techy Tuesday: I’m going to start my taxes this week using Tax Act, I will let you know what I think of the software. 

Wedded Bliss Wednesday: Aidan vs. Big – after watching reruns of Sex and the City this week, I started wondering, why did Carrie choose to marry Big instead of Aidan?

Tough Life Thursday: Setting Goals – I want to talk to you about why goal-setting and even goal-sharing are motivators and share with you my immediate goals for Aspire to Grace.

A Peek

Tuesday next week will mark Aspire to Grace’s two-month anniversary!  I invite all new visitors and those who might have just missed it to take a tiny peek at the past two months:

Alternative Income Sources:

Rental Property Conversion Series: Refinancing Mortgage Loans – If you are converting your current residence into a rental property, think about refinancing your mortgage.

 Why Not Franchise a golfTEC? – where I talk about a golfTEC experience I had and the golfTEC franchise prospects.


 Facebook Etiquette: Photo Tags – where I talk about the etiquette of tagging married friends in photos with their exes.

My RSS Feed Is Back… and Better! Please Subscribe – where I write about losing my RSS feed when I did some redesign of this website and then eventually finding a better one – well a better icon anyway.  

Military Marriages: Are You Living While Your Spouse Deploys? Military spouses should maintain an active life once their spouses deploy. 

Marriage and Relationships: Husbands & Housework – How does a girl get a little help from her husband around the house?

LITE FARE FRIDAYS is anything interesting that I feel like discussing.  I will try to keep it light just in time for the weekend!  If you like what you see here, please use the orange icon at the top right to receive my content updates by email or RSS reader.  

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Filed under Light Fare

Tips for Proper Courtesy and Distribution on the Road

Please take notice! Courtesy and proper distribution of traffic on the road goes a really long way toward peace and happiness!  Seriously.  What I am about to say is ugly and I know a few people that will hate me for it.  But it needs to be said. 

Me on the Road

My daily commute consists of driving on Rte. 295 in DC, which is like a three-lane inner-city highway.  The lanes are generally narrow, the speeds vary, and drivers are out of their frickin’ minds.

I am a very engaged driver on the road in that I am always anticipating what others will do.  I am aggressive, although not as much as I used to be.  Since I am aggressive, I respect other aggressive drivers on the road.  I know enough to know when someone is more aggressive than me and I generally try to accommodate, rather than challenge, those drivers.  But, as aggressive as I am in terms of speed and maneuvering, I try to follow as many rules of etiquette on the road as possible.  

I use my turn signals to let you know what I am about to do, I always try to acknowledge another person’s right of way, and I yield where I am supposed yield.  In my younger years, I tended to get upset over things like someone cutting me off or riding too close to my rear.  Nowadays, these things don’t anger me as much because I can anticipate when someone is going to cut me off and I tend to submit to someone coming up close behind me in the fast lane by getting over to the right to allow them to pass. 

What angers me now more than anything are drivers that don’t know the basics of courtesy and the art of distribution on the road. Courteous behavior are the little niceties we allow each other, such as allowing another person that has properly signaled to cut in front of you even though you have the right of way.  The art of distribution is being aware of where your vehicle is in space relative to the other vehicles around you.  It is ensuring that you are not needlessly blocking passage by another vehicle.  

The Basics

I shouldn’t have to review the basics of road manners, but it is necessary.  Just think of these tips as kind of an Emily Dickinson version of road etiquette: 

  • When pulling up to a four way stop sign at the same time as other cars, the car to your right has the right of way.  Allow that person to pass before you proceed.
  • When entering a shopping center and there are two or three entering roadways with stop signs, be aware of whether you actually have a stop sign before stopping.  Many shopping centers automatically give the right of way to the car entering the shopping center from the main roadway.  If you have the right of way, do not stop, you are slowing down the incoming traffic.
  • If you are driving on a two lane road, the left lane is the fast lane.  Please only use the fast lane if you are going fast enough to pass the cars in the right lane or use it to pass a car in the right lane going slower than you desire and return to the right lane. 
  • If you are driving on a two lane road and you are in the left lane, you should not be going at the same speed as the person to your right.  If you are going the same speed then you and the other car are blocking others’ ability to pass through.  If you are going the same speed as someone in the slow lane, then you should also be in the slow lane either behind or in front of the person you are riding next to.
  • If you are slowing down to stop in the middle of the street for no apparent reason, use your hazards so I know to go around you.
  • If you are entering a roadway in a lane that has to yield to passing cars, then yield.  You should also have your turn signal on.  Although I usually know what you are trying to do, I will do my best not to let you enter if you don’t signal me first. 

These are just some of the most overlooked principles of the road that I encounter on a daily basis.  Please leave a comment if you can think of any more.  If you share the same sentiments, give me a holler.  If you disagree, then for the sake of peace, happiness and sanity on the road, please read these tips again.  

TOUGH LIFE THURSDAYS is a self-development forum.  This is likely to be biased toward my own experiences and desired self-improvement, but I hope it will evolve through input by you and others.  If you like what you see here, please use the orange icon at the top right to receive updates by email or RSS reader.  


Filed under Self-Development, Tough Life Thursdays

The Second Deployment

Sometimes deployment can be just the breath that a relationship needs.  If you’ve read previous posts, you know that I am currently in the midst of my husband’s second deployment.  We are approaching the middle of this deployment and there are so many ways that this one is different.  Going into this deployment, we were each moving from such a different place than we had been the first time he deployed.  These long periods away from one another are very significant but, if your time is used productively, they can refresh your priorities.  I am such a different person than I was before our first deployment.  At that time, I was newly engaged and planning a wedding.  That time apart was a bit of a test of our love and our relationship.  We were still learning how to be compatible with one another long term… and long distance.

Once he returned and after we married, we spent a year and a half getting acquainted with our married lives. It was both the greatest time that we’ve had together and the most stressful.  He was in school full-time for a year while I worked.  We knew that our next duty station, the one we’re in now, would be a lot more demanding on him because it would require him to deploy two more times.  We took advantage of the year we had together as best we could. While we were able to spend a blissful year traveling and playing house, we were both still settling into married life.  I was still working everyday.  At the same time, my husband was studying while also renovating just about our entire house.  We were both stressed.  We also knew that he would be leaving at the beginning of this year on a six-month deployment. 

Time to Regroup

When he left for deployment, I initially used this time apart as a way to regroup.  I missed him terribly, but it was also an opportunity to grow and expand.  The previous year was enough time for me to figure out my most favorite things like spending some evenings alone with my husband just watching TV or a movie, or like playing golf with him on the weekends.  But, I could also see my least favorite things like trying to stay up as late as possible with him and then get up early for work the next day; like spending so much of my time working and not playing and not spending nearly enough time socializing with my friends.  After he left, I suddenly had all this time on my hands.  I had time to spend thinking about what I wanted to do differently in my life to remedy these least favorite things of mine.  I had time to think about he and I in the abstract and what our lives would, or should, be like once he returned home.  I had time to think independently and was able to act upon some ideas, like this blog, that I might not have had the time or energy to act upon before.  I’ve used this time initially as a time to vent.  As a time to release some of the pressure of working and being responsible while also being a good wife. 

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Now that I’ve taken the opportunity to channel some of my energy into work and other projects, I am reorganized.  I have found my priorities and can emerge from this deployment a better wife.  I miss my husband more than anything and I can’t wait to have him home.  This deployment has been very different than the first one in a lot of ways.  But just as with the first one there is a course to follow and a sort of purpose to mold.  For each person this time apart will mean something different.  For me, it means find myself and love better my husband. 

Have you experienced multiple deployments? What have you taken from the experiences?


Filed under Family, marriage, Marriage and Military, Marriage and Relationships, Wedded Bliss Wednesdays

I Picked My Tax Software and Discovered a Rat

The time has come for me to decide which tax preparation software or online filing version to use for our taxes.  I thought about writing a full comparison of tax software. But, who am I kidding?  I went to a couple of comparison websites – where the comparisons are already done for you.  I already know what I am looking for and I will tell you which one I’ve chosen in just one moment. 

This will be the second year that I am on a joint tax return with my husband but the first year that I will complete a joint return myself.  I have done my own taxes in the past as a single person, but last year, a friend of ours that is a tax preparer filed our first joint tax return for tax year 2007.   This year, I am also considering taking deductions relating to my sole proprietorship  – Aspire to Grace.  So, I am looking for software that will provide more comprehensive guidance.  For the most part, I have all of our information for input.  I can account for all of our income, charitable contributions, stock and other investment income and losses, as well as business expenses.  I will need the most guidance on when to take credits or deductions.  I want a software that will provide this guidance for personal income as well as for business transactions.

Some of the most popular tax preparation assistance comes from the following:

Intuit’s Turbo Tax

Tax Cut

Tax Slayer

Tax Act 2008

IRS free tax file

I found comparisons for these and other tax software at Top Ten Reviews and Consumer Search.  Based on these comparisons and the things that I was looking for, I decided to go with Tax Act.   Tax Act has specific guidance for finding deductions, and also has a guided interview interface, which I would prefer.  It seems to be the most elementary guidance.  The only thing that Tax Act doesn’t offer that I would have preferred is a chat feature, where you can get instant tax advice.  However, it still has unlimited tax advice via email or phone.  So, it was worth it to me to pay a lot less ($19.95, including the state return) versus the runner-up version at TurboTax ($99.95, including state return).

Here’s the Rat

Let me explain what seems to be the cause of the great disparity in price between Tax Act and Turbo Tax, and another factor reinforcing my choice of Tax Act.  When I anticipated purchasing tax software, I assumed I would have to buy a home and business version to include my sole proprietorship in the return.  When I researched filing for a sole proprietorship, I discovered that I would need to file schedule C to form 1040.   Tax Act says that schedule C to form 1040 can be filed with its Free Online Standard version, Deluxe version and its Ultimate Bundled version.  I chose the Ultimate Bundled version because it included the state filing and also had the most features of all of the non-business software versions.

When I first decided to go with Tax Act, however, I discovered that Tax Act did not make a Macintosh version.  Since I do most of my non-work tasks on my Macintosh, I initially thought about going with the next runner up software – TurboTax, which has a Mac version (come on, isn’t it about time that Tax Act get a Mac verion?).   Anyway, TurboTax seems to require you to purchase their Home and Business version when filing for a sole proprietorship, which is $65 more than their basic version.

The discrepancies in price among the TurboTax choices, as well as between TurboTax and Tax Act, all seemed rather excessive to me, so I decided to just go with the Tax Act software and install it to my work laptop.  It is a small inconvenience for me to switch computers versus taking an $80 hit in the difference in price between TurboTax and Tax Act.  Unless I am missing something, it is rather ridiculous that TurboTax would require you to go to their business software to merely file a schedule addition to your personal income tax on form 1040.

Now that I’ve got the software, I should be completing our taxes this weekend.  Finally.

Do you complete your own taxes? Which software did you choose to go with, if any?  Please share any experiences that you’ve had with Tax Act. 

TECHY TUESDAYS is a forum to discuss various technologies and web applications. 


Filed under business, Taxes, Techy Tuesday

Unemployment Series: Preparing for the Unexpected

It is hard to be prepared for something that you are not expecting.  But, in this economy, with unemployment numbers through the roof, why not just expect unemployment and put a few things in place to better protect yourself in the event unemployment becomes a reality?  I recently adopted this mentality to prepare for the unknown in my own life.

Last year is when I finally took the reigns on my finances and began to look at the big picture.  Among all of the other changes that come along with being newly married, since we were now a military family, I was unsure of what my employment situation would be moving forward as we changed locations.   For much of last year, we faced what is very common for military families, not knowing exactly where our next duty station would be.  While this is very exciting for me, at the same time, it was a little scary.  I am an attorney in the consulting field and although I felt like I’d be able to work wherever we went inside the U.S., I didn’t know what the nature of that work would be (consulting or law) or what type of salary I would have coming in, if any.

Since so much was unknown to us at the time, I decided to assume the worst case scenario – that I would not be working at all after our move during the summer of this year – and do as much as I could to ease my financial burdens and put us in a better financial position.  If I were out of work, my husband would have to carry the weight and we would have to make a lot of changes to our lifestyle. Since I am the one in the relationship who carries most of the debt, with student loans, a newer car, and more consumer debt, I felt like I needed to do as much as I could to reduce my debt and contribute to our savings while I was still making a salary.  At the end of the day, if I remained employed this year, the steps I took would only put us in a much better place financially. 

Here are the things I did over the past year, as we moved closer toward the unknown:

Paid Down Debt

At the beginning of last year I made a commitment to myself to pay down my credit card debt and be more aggressive with paying on my other commitments such as the car and my student loans.  At the time I had about $20,000.00 in credit card debt.  I put myself on an aggressive payment schedule and paid about $1200/mo. toward my credit cards.  I also paid at least a hundred dollars over the minimum amount due for my car loan and my student loans each month.  My husband’s salary also helped to offset my payment schedule as well, as he took care of most of the large purchases that we made toward the renovations to our house last year.   He also took care of most of our social activities.  

By yearend, I had paid down my credit card debt to $5000.  I also moved the remaining debt to 0% interest credit cards by taking advantage of 0% balance transfer offers I found.  I had also paid down my car loan by $6000.   In December, I took myself off of the more aggressive payment schedule temporarily in preparation for our travels during the holiday season and for my husband’s deployment this year.  But, overall, it felt really good to see the progress I had made throughout the year.  It also added momentum and made me want to continue being aggressive.

Since my husband left for deployment at the beginning of the year, I have had to modify how I am handling my finances.  I have modified my payment schedule and now also have to account for some expenses, such as social spending, mostly taken care of by my husband when he was here.  While I am still being more aggressive with my debt payments, I have redirected my most aggressive payments toward my highest interest debt, my car loan at 6.75%. 

The change in my behavior toward debt repayment was initially triggered by the insecure future I envisioned short-term, but it is something that will stay with me in the long run.  My forward-looking goal now is to continue the aggressive repayment of my debt while being a lot more responsible with the assumption of debt.

Made Consistent Savings Contributions

Putting money to savings has always been an area of weakness for me.  I seemed to ignore the mantra about paying yourself first.  My priorities were paying on my debt, while also living a comfortable, yet no so frugal lifestyle.  Somehow, savings was always sacrificed.  My husband entering my life was definitely a positive for me.  Before him, living on my own as a single woman, I didn’t have a big picture perspective.  I lived for the day and paid as I went.  I always had enough, if only barely, and I didn’t consider much about the consequences of catastrophe if one ever occurred.  I planned well for the moment, but I didn’t have a plan B for the unexpected. 

My wake-up call came when my husband once called me ‘reckless’ with my money. This stung because I’d always considered myself to be responsible because I never had trouble with money, but he was right.  My plan was a day-by-day plan, not a forward-looking one.  Many people caught up in the current economic crisis became that way for failure to adopt a forward-looking plan.  

So, last year, I began to save on a routine basis.  Before, I would put money into savings, only to spend that money and then replace it with new money later on.  So, I could consider myself saving, but I never really accumulated much cash saving this way.  Now, I have money automatically debited from my checking account and deposited to a savings account at another bank.  This is better for me because the money is not as accessible.  Since I started saving this way, I have opened other savings accounts at banks online to take advantage of higher interest rates.  The immediate inaccessibility of these accounts makes me less impulsive with the money in those accounts. 

At the beginning of this year, I doubled my automatic savings deposits.   Now, I have twice as much money deposited into savings.  This also increases the momentum of my plan.  The more money can see accumulating, the more money I want to add to keep amassing cash.   I also try to contribute to savings whenever I have a little extra money.  The difference now is that I have a certain amount of my money designated for savings every month and I can make a budget that excludes that money.  It is like that money was never paid.

Increased Contributions to 401(k) from 10% to 12% of My Salary

I have a 401(k) retirement plan with my job.  Every year, we can change our contribution amount.  I have increased my contribution amount every year for at least the last three years.  This year, I increased it again.  Even though this had been something I was doing every year, it is also a part of my forward-looking plan.  If I were to become unemployed this year, we would be in a better financial position for retirement by the middle of the year than we would have been if  I had not increased the contribution.  It may be a small step, but it is something.   

Every Small Step Is Still a Step

Over this past year, I made the assumption that I would not be employed after our move to Mississippi.  I took some small steps to put us in a better financial position in the event that we would become a one-income family.  I certainly could have done a lot more, but every little bit counts.    Even if I am able to keep my current position, I have taken steps to create the momentum to keep working toward our financial security.  

If you could prepare to become unemployed, what small steps would you take?

MAKE MONEY MONDAYS is usually a forum to discuss ways in which you can create additional sources of income. In light of the current employment environment, however, I am using this forum to write a series of posts focusing on unemployment issues.  This is the last post in the Unemployment Series.  If you missed the previous posts, please go here to find them.  If you have any questions, or would like to have another unemployment issue discussed in this series, please let me know in the comments below.  You can also email me at

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Filed under Make Money Mondays, Unemployment