Blogs: Government

The IRS is now accepting tax returns until April 15, and the tax software choices for e-filing are numerous.  Have you asked yourself, “Aren’t they all the same?”  If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the choices, here are several web sites that compare features of various tax software products to help make an informed decision of where to turn next. 

Reviews.com has gathered a list of 19 online tax software products and chose 6 leading products to review based on 67 features.  They also include a discussion on which online tax software features matter the most, and why?  TaxSoftware.net has reviewed their top 5 online tax software products, comparing the costs and benefits of each.  top10taxsoftware.com lists their selections for the Top 10 Best Tax Software products, along with informative articles like “10 Tips for Choosing Tax Software”.

There are many other web sites that provide information and reviews for online tax software, but the sites mentioned above can be a great starting place.  I found them to be very helpful guides to making a decision on which product to use, and hope you do to!

Happy Tax Season!

Do you own a small-business? One of the best ways to get tax information and help for your small business is by visiting the IRS Small Business Tax Center where you can learn everything from how to get an Employer Identification Number (EIN) online to how to best navigate an audit.

You can also call the IRS Business & Specialty Toll Free number at 1-800-829-4933, open Monday – Friday, 7:00 am – 7:00 pm.

The IRS began accepting 2013 business tax returns on Monday, January 13, 2014. This start date applies to both electronically-filed and paper-filed returns. The only exception is Form 1041 for Estates and Trusts, which cannot be filed until January 31. More information can be found in the IRS’ press release titled “Starting Jan. 13, 2014, Business Tax Filers Can File 2013 Returns.”

Once again, the library is here to help small businesses, so go ahead and contact us!

Guest Blog Post by Janet Hawkins, Community Action Coordinator, Department of County Human ServicesTax Filing Services Can Save You Big $

It's tax time again!  And lots of consumers go into the marketplace looking for commercial tax preparation services or expensive on-line software for completing their tax forms. Unfortunately, it’s definitely a buyer beware situation out there. 

Don’t pay for expensive tax preparation software you may not need. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) offers free tax preparation software to individuals whose income is less than $58,000. Visit the IRS website at irs.gov to learn more about accessing the brand-name software that can be downloaded for e-filing. 

Be sure to avoid tax preparation companies that charge high fees or emphasize predatory tax refund offers. The National Consumer Law Center’s “2013 Report on Tax-Time Financial Products” reports that over 80% of American households receive a tax refund when they file their tax returns. This high refund rate has generated an industry geared toward taking advantage of low-income, working households. Many tax preparation companies have developed financial products like “refund anticipation” checks or loans as well as tax refund buying schemes to prey upon taxpayers who need immediate cash. Fees or interest charges for these financial services or products, which are typically deducted from the taxpayer’s refund, may end up costing hundreds of dollars.     

The National Consumer Law Center report also documents classic “bait and switch” practices like the company that charged twice as much for their services as had been advertised to consumers. Households with bank accounts are much better off to forgo the refund anticipation checks or refund buying schemes and wait for the IRS to electronically deposit their tax refund. The IRS refunds normally take only 21 days or less from the date of e-filing your tax return. 

What’s a taxpayer to do?  There are two reliable options for receiving free tax assistance in Multnomah County.

  • CASH Oregon is a non-profit organization that provides free tax assistance to consumers.  Worried about quality?  Their volunteer tax preparers are IRS trained and certified.  Visit their website to learn more: www.cashoregon.org
  • AARP Tax-Aide serves people of all ages.  They have a contract with IRS to provide tax preparation services in library branches, community centers, and other locations. Their volunteer preparers are also IRS trained and certified.  Call AARP at 1-888-227-7669 to find a free tax preparation site near you or visit www.aarp.org/money/taxes/aarp_taxaide to learn more.

Need more information on local tax preparation resources?  Contact 211info, a local information and referral service, by calling 2-1-1. 211’s staff can provide more details on local services.

 

While the Better Business Bureau recommends donors avoid any charity spending less than 65 percent of their money on their charitable mission, a small but persistent group of charities continue to spend most of their money on fundraising and administration. A groundbreaking new law passed in Oregon in 2013, one aimed at protecting donors from charities that spend too little on their charitable programs and services. House Bill 2060 eliminates the state income tax deduction for donors who give money to charities that fail to spend at least 30 percent of their donations on their charitable mission. For charities that spend more than 70 percent of donations on management and fundraising, Oregonians who donate to them cannot not take state income-tax deductions on those gifts.

The Nonprofit Association of Oregon has compiled a list of Frequently Asked Questions for nonprofit organizations regarding the new law and The Oregon Attorney General's office compiles an annual list of the 20 Worst Charities that are registered to do business in Oregon. To find out how much of your donation will go to a charity’s actual purpose, search the Oregon Department of Justice's database of registered charities.

Multnomah County Library subscribes to Guidestar, a database available at the Central Library that provides information on programs and finances of charities and nonprofits. Need help finding information on your favorite charity? Librarians are happy to help!

 

Two women at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel operating tickers and stock exchange boards, December 11, 1918.Tracking down a historic stock price can be really easy... except when it’s really hard. And it is a common question that we get during tax season.

Here is an example of an easy stock price search.

1. A stock price is needed for a company for a particular date. (Let’s say Nike on February 13, 2009.)
2. You go to a website with financial information (like Yahoo! Finance or Wall St. Journal’s MarketWatch), search for the company name or ticker symbol, and voila! You have the closing price for that day. (Keep in mind that the closing price may or may not already be adjusted.)

But this only works if the company is still in business and hasn’t changed names, hasn’t been involved in a merger or acquisition, and is still trading on the stock exchange under the same ticker symbol. If any of those situations have occurred, the historic price that you need might not be available online.

Take, for example, Macy’s, which went public in 1922 under the name R.H. Macy, and which for many years traded under the symbol MZ. You won’t easily find historic stock prices from before 1992 for this company on Yahoo! Finance or in other online databases because on that year Macy’s merged with Federated Department Stores. (Thanks to New York Public Library for this example!)

Steps for trickier stock price searches.

So how does someone get a historic stock price from before 1992 for Macy’s, or for any other company whose historic prices aren’t online? There are two steps: first, researching the company history to find out any information about different names, ticker symbols, and listings on stock exchanges; and second, looking in a newspaper or newspaper database for the date that you need. The library can help you with both of these steps.

Step 1: Research the company history.

This step can require a little detective work. It is where you figure out the name and ticker symbol of the company or security at the time of the historic price and the stock exchange which it was trading on. Here are several sources that the library offers for learning about a company’s history (you may need to look at more than one of them in order to get a full sense of a company’s history):

  • Capital Changes Reporter: Lists capital changes (such as mergers and splits) for companies, by date, and includes information about stock exchanges and ticker symbols that the company traded under. Available in print in the Science & Business room at Central Library, or online through the CCH Intelliconnect database.
  • International Directory of Company Histories: Provides detailed corporate histories for many companies, both U.S. and international. There are currently 149 volumes. Available in print in the Science & Business room at Central Library.
  • Mergent Intellect: Available through the library website. A database with lots of information about companies, including company histories.
  • Directory of Obsolete Securities: Lists and gives brief info for companies and banks whose original identities have been lost to events like changes in name, acquisitions, mergers, or bankruptcy. Available in print in the Science & Business room at Central Library.
  • EDGAR: This is not a library resource, but it is freely available online through the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and we can help you if you have trouble using it! It contains many documents that public companies are required to submit to the SEC, including company reports.

Step 2: Look up the historic price in a newspaper or other source from that historic date.

Once you have done some research about the company whose historic stock price you are looking for (and hopefully learned their name, ticker symbol, and the stock exchange they were traded on at the time of the historic price), you are ready to find the stock price in a newspaper or other source from that time. Note that you’ll want to look at a newspaper or publication for the day immediately after the date for which you need the historic price, since the price would not have been published until the next day’s paper. Here are two sources for this, both of which are available electronically through the library website:

  • New York Times Historical (1851-2009): Contains scans of articles from the New York Times, including stock prices. Choose “Advanced Search,” enter the date that you are looking for in the “Publication Date” section, and choose “Stock quote” from the “Document Type” menu. Leave the other search boxes blank, and do your search. You will retrieve a list of articles containing stock prices - to find the major stock exchanges, choose the articles with the most page numbers, then look in them for the company whose stock price you need.
  • The Historical Oregonian (1861-1987): This database will be most useful for stock prices of companies from the Pacific Northwest. Enter the date you are looking for in the “Custom Date Range” box, and then do a search for a word like NYSE or NASDAQ which would appear on the page with stock prices.

In addition to these electronic databases for the New York Times and the Oregonian, the library also has a number of useful resources available in print and on microfilm at Central Library:

So there you have the basic steps for finding historic stock prices. It can indeed be a little bit of a research project sometimes. But don’t despair! Librarians are happy to talk to you about your particular stock price need, and to help you find the information you are looking for. Just get in touch with us using one of the methods on our Contact a librarian webpage. Happy stock price searching!

The new year is upon us! 

In addition to remembering to write 2014, making and following our new year’s resolutions, and welcoming the gradual return of the light, we also have a slew of new laws in the state of Oregon that will take effect January 1, 2014.

Large stack of papers.

The news outlets, such as The Oregonian and KVAL 13, have published stories about the new laws, providing a digest of some of the most interesting or unique laws soon to be in effect.

Highlights include Senate Bill 444 A that makes smoking in a motor vehicle with a minor under the age of 18 present a secondary traffic violation ($250 fine for first offense). The Oregon American Lung Association has additional information online as part of the Smokefree Cars for Kids campaign. Another motor vehicle law of interest for many may be Senate Bill 9 B that increases the fine to a maximum of $500 for using a cell phone or other mobile communication device while operating a motor vehicle, some limited exceptions do apply.

A more specific law due to take effect January 1, 2014 is  House Bill 2104 A that will prohibit medical imaging procedures done for any other reason than a medical purpose ordered by a licensed physician or nurse practitioner.  While this bill stops the creation of ultrasound images by nonmedical professional made purely as keepsakes, another bill House Bill 2612 will now permit postpartum mothers to take home their placentas from the hospital if they so wish. Even more unique is House Bill 2025 B that establishes economic liability for bison owners who allow their bison to run at large and cause damage.

Oregon State Legislature Bill and Reports IconsAs you can see there is a new law for almost every occasion. If you are interested in browsing all of the bills from the Oregon State Legislature, even the ones that did not pass, you can view them online.  The bills are broken up into the 2013 Regular Session and the 2013 1st Special Session.  From the  Oregon State Legislature website you can search the bills by Bill Number, Bill Text, or Bill Sponsor by clicking on the Bills icon in the upper right hand part of the screen.  You can also access a list of just the Senate and House Bills that were actually enacted in the Regular Session and the Special Session.  These reports and a number of other legislative reports can be found by clicking on the Reports icon. You can also learn how an idea becomes law and review a flow chart illustration of the process.  For a more animated version try Schoolhouse Rock's I’m Just a Bill.    

As always librarians are not lawyers and cannot give legal advice, including selecting or interpreting legal materials, but we can happily make suggestions about research tools to use to find the information you are seeking.

Wishing you the best in a lawful new year!

 

In the United States, our democracy relies on three branches of government. These branches -- executive, legislative and judicial help to ensure that laws are fair and balanced. The system created by these three branches is called checks and balances. Here's a video that explains the idea of how the three branches balance one another. 

 

 

Follow these links to find out more about the  President (executive), Congress (legislative), and the U.S. Supreme Court (judicial.) Or learn more by playing a game on iCivics.org. Games like Branches of Power and Supreme Decision give you a look at some of the real-life issues faced by Congress, the President and the Supreme Court. (You can register for a free account or play as a guest.)

Here are some more places to explore for more information about the Federal government:

Ben's Guide to US Government for Kids has information for grades K-2, 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12.

Kids in the House is published by the Clerk's office of the US House of Representatives. This site has sections for Young Learners, Grade School, Middle School and High School.

For detailed information about state government in Oregon, the Oregon Blue Book is the go-to guide!

The City of Portland's Bureau of Planning and Sustainability is developing the Comprehensive Plan, a long-range plan for the growth and development of Portland through 2035. The public review draft of the Comprehensive Plan is being published in two parts. Working Draft Part 1 was published in January 2013 and contained the draft goals and policies. Working Draft Part 2 is now available for public review and consists of two products:

  1. The online Map App, an interactive series of maps showing the geography and location of various policy proposals. For example, the “storm water areas of concern” mapshows areas that have both a potential for new development and significant stormwater management constraints.

  1. The Citywide Systems Plan, a 20-year, coordinated infrastructure plan for the City of Portland. It updates the City of Portland’s Public Facilities Plan, which was last done 24 years ago in 1989.

All Multnomah County Library locations, except for Gresham, Troutdale and Fairview, have been given a binder which contains a one-page overview of this Map App and a copy of the Citywide Systems Plan. This binder is available for public review and the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability are accepting comments until December 31, 2013.

More information on the Comprehensive Plan, as well as how and where to give feedback, can be found on the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability website.

A 1975 chart of Yaquina Head to Columbia RiverWhat is a nautical chart?

To someone who has not been at the helm of a vessel, a nautical chart might look like nothing more than an oddly detailed water map.  To a boater, a nautical chart is much more than a “road map” of the water.  Instead of roads it details water areas, ports, and coast lines; it also includes information about depth of the sea floor, obstructions, restricted areas, recommended routes, and aids to navigation such as lights and buoys. The main purpose of a nautical chart is to give boaters up-to-date information to avoid grounding or traveling in restricted waters, and to navigate safely for themselves and the vessels around them. 

Where can I find current navigational charts?

The United States Office of Coast Survey (USCS) has been producing nautical charts for more than 200 years, ever since President Thomas Jefferson asked for a survey of the coast in 1807. The USCS has made and maintains over 1,000 charts at varying levels of detail that cover all of the U.S. and U.S. territory coastal waters and the Great Lakes. These charts are conveniently available online for viewing and downloading. They are free of charge and regularly updated.

To find a particular nautical chart, start at the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Charts for U.S. Waters Online Chart Viewer. From the Online Chart Viewer you can select a region to view or navigate using the Graphical Catalog. Also available are BookletCharts for printing to help recreational boaters locate themselves on the water.

The Graphical Catalog shows the outlines of charts that are available on a basic geographical map. As you click on a chart, information to the right of the map show you the coordinates for the selected point as well as the Chart number, panel number, and scale of the chart selected. When you zoom in on an area, more detailed charts with larger scales become available to select. The name of each nautical chart is listed below the map as a Panel Title, as well as the date of the most current edition. Each nautical chart is available to be viewed online, downloaded as an RNC (Raster Navigational Chart), or ordered as a paper chart. In addition to finding nautical charts by browsing the map, you can also find nautical charts by entering the coordinates of the location you are seeking.

In addition to these current nautical charts you can also find nautical charts to view at the library by searching for cruising atlas in the online catalog.

Chapman Nautical Chart No. 1 by the U.S. Coast GuardDid you know that nautical charts may have more than one compass rose printed on them?

A compass rose shows both the true North in the outer circle and the magnetic North in the inner circle, and the difference between the two is called the magnetic variation.  It is important to always use the compass rose nearest the area for which you are plotting directions. For detailed guidance on how to read a nautical chart, check out How to Read a Nautical Chart by Nigel Calder or Chapman Nautical Chart No. 1 from the U.S. Coast Guard.

What did nautical charts and maritime maps look like in the past?

In addition to modern nautical charts, the USCS also has beautiful and detailed historical maps and charts available on their website. Other recommended historical resources are The Charting of the Oceans by Peter Whitfield (an overview of Europe’s charting history) and Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor by Hali Felt (in the 1950s, Marie Tharp turned her husband’s records of sonar pings measuring the ocean’s depth into illuminating maps of the ocean floor that proved for the first time the theory of continental drift).   

Finding these charts can be complicated! If you have any questions, do not hesitate to Ask a Librarian.

The NOAA website includes this note: Use the official, full scale NOAA nautical chart for real navigation whenever possible. These are available from authorized NOAA nautical chart sales agents. Screen captures of the on-line viewable charts available here [on NOAA's online chart viewer] do NOT fulfill chart carriage requirements for regulated commercial vessels under Titles 33 and 46 of the Code of Federal Regulations. 

There has been much tragedy in the news lately and consequently, much talk about how we prevent further tragedies. One topic we are hearing a lot about involves gun control, and today the Senate will be voting on the current gun control measure in Congress. We hear from gun control advocates, we hear from gun rights activists - there are a lot of opinions and facts out there - and it can be overwhelming. But the library is here to help.

We have an amazing resource called Congressional Quarterly Researcher (or CQ Researcher*) that consists of weekly reports written by experienced journalists on current issues. Each report includes an overview, background, data tables, images, opposing viewpoints and bibliographies, and features comments from experts, lawmakers and citizens on all sides of every issue. The different topics they cover are varied, and one of the most recent reports was on gun control*, published in March of 2013 . Whether you are doing a report for school, preparing an op-ed piece for your local paper, or just staying well-informed, CQ Researcher is an excellent first step.

Also see this recent post titled Gun rights and gun control, which includes a reading list.

And as always, if you want to dig even deeper, Ask a Librarian! We're here to connect you to the information you want and need.

* Note: you will need your valid Multnomah County Library card number and PIN to access this database from outside the library

Pages

Subscribe to