DEAR SUN SPOTS: I have received a startling email claiming that the per-person Medicare insurance premium will increase to $247 in 2014. Could you determine whether this is true? — No Name via email
ANSWER: Sun Spots checked with Roland Bussiere, a Medicare specialist at SeniorsPlus, who said it is not true and sent Sun Spots a link to a response to the same question on the AARP website:
“No, it isn't true. A mass email making this claim has been circulating since before the 2010 elections. But it's just another attempt to scare older Americans and has no basis in fact.”
DEAR SUN SPOTS: In a recent column I believe you wrote about keeping track of the donations we give and deducting off our income tax.
I have price lists from Goodwill and the Salvation Army, and when I give clothes or household items, I always take the medium or low prices, not the highest prices on their list.
Now I just heard that I’m doing all that for nothing; that nowadays we can no longer deduct these at income tax time.
We are seniors and could really use those deductions, as I have donated a lot in 2012. Can you tell me if I’m wrong for listing my deductions? — Waiting to Hear, Lewiston
ANSWER: The question isn't just whether you can take the deductions; it's also whether you should, as it may not benefit you financially.
The first criteria you need to meet in order to take charitable donations off your taxes is that you need to make enough money to have to pay income taxes. This is not the case for just under 47 percent of Americans, as presidential candidate Mitt Romney so infamously stated. And many seniors are among those who no longer pay income tax because Social Security isn't taxable (usually, there are some exceptions).
The other is that you need to have enough deductions to exceed the standard deduction. The standard deduction, which every taxpayer gets, varies according to your marital status and number of dependents as well as some other factors, such as disability.
For this example, say you are a basic married couple. The Tax Policy Center website says the current standard deduction for 2012 would be $11,900. If you don't have more than that in deductions, there is no advantage in itemizing.
So, if you donated $5,000 to charity, you could choose to take that as your deduction instead of the standard deduction, but it would make no sense. You would end up paying more in taxes than if you just took the standard deduction of $11,900.
Beating that $11,900 by itemization can be difficult. Some of the key deductions (mortgage interest, property taxes) may not apply, since many older Americans have their homes paid off and don't have a big property tax bill, thanks to the Homestead Exemption and other breaks for low-income or elderly people (in some states). A percentage of medical bills are deductible, but thankfully most of us don't have more than $12,000 in medical expenses.
So unless you are already itemizing your deductions, charitable giving may not benefit you — other than the good feeling you get from helping others.
Sun Spots hopes she explained this adequately. It is not an easy topic.
OLD COMPUTERS: An official from the Lewiston Regional Technical Center — which is separate from Lewiston High School, even though they are in the same building — has informed Sun Spots that they no longer take old computers.
This means Sun Spots has no local outlet for old machines, although requests for old computers do come to her. If you have a machine you'd like to get rid of, you can offer it for free in the column. (Be sure and include a way for people to contact you.)
And Sun Spots will try to keep readers informed of disposal opportunities. Most transfer stations take them, but there is usually a charge. Occasionally there will be a free day for dropping them off. Readers should let Sun Spots know if they are aware of such an event.
This column is for you, our readers. It is for your questions and comments. There are only two rules: You must write to the column and sign your name (we won’t use it if you ask us not to). Please include your phone number. Letters will not be returned or answered by mail, and telephone calls will not be accepted. Your letters will appear as quickly as space allows. Address them to Sun Spots, P.O. Box 4400, Lewiston, ME 04243-4400. Inquiries can also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.